Thomas E. Schmuki Photography

Phone: (954)439-1999 Email: tesphoto3@gmail.com

Is it FREE, or What's the cost?

Tom SchmukiComment
 Self Portrait taken in Gatlinburg Tennessee

Self Portrait taken in Gatlinburg Tennessee

What is YOUR opportunity cost, here is a stab at mine.

Why am I writing this article anyway?  One of the first questions I get from a photo shoot potential participant is what is the cost, or is it FREE?  These are the things that go through my mind every time that question is posed to me.

Here I go again writing a controversial article.  My college degree was in finance with a dual minor in accounting and economics.  My first economics class was a huge discussion on... "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch".  This lesson should be learned early in life and not as a freshman in college.  However, my discussion  of free will relate only to photography shoots which are done with models on a TFP basis (Time for Print).  Historically this term has evolved over the years and frankly has a different meaning to every photographer and model.  I do a LOT of TFP work, as many as 2-3 per month.  Let me digress to discuss the true costs of a photography shoot that I do, not to compare with any other photographer.  My opportunity cost of time spent can only be compared with my other occupation as a software professional and developer with over 30 year's experience.  Contracting rates range from $75-$225 per hour in my field.  I will use $100 in my opportunity cost calculation. 

Actual Hours Calculation

  • Shoot preparation, planning and preparation: 2 hours
  • Pack up appropriate gear for shoot: 1 hour
  • Drive time 2 and from shoot: 2 hours
  • Actual shoot time: 3 hours
  • Break down and put away equipment: 1 hour
  • Culling, Editing and posting images: 12 hours
  • Communication with participants before and after shoot: emails, IM's shot sheets, etc: 2 hours 

Total Hours: 23 hours @ $100/hour = $2,300

That is the number I think of when I decide on doing a shoot TFP.  It is a real commitment, and when I am committed, I do all I can do to execute EVERY time.  There is no question my opportunity cost in high school, college and at the beginning of my career is was much less than it is today.

So let's make more sense out of that $2,300 commitment to a TFP collaboration shoot. 

What is MY return on Investment (ROI)

  1.  Marketing of REAL paid business in the future. Value unknown but is REAL
  2.  I become a better photographer, better at my craft, better at everything
  3.  Participants return to me with PAID business
  4. Participants refer PAID business … wedding and event photography, head shots, model and fashion shoots, etc. 
  5. And most importantly, the FUN factor.  What is my opportunity cost of the real FUN and satisfaction I get out of these shoots. 
  6. The real internal value of a JOB well done, the value of a pat on the back or an accolade from a respected peer. 

If the intrinsic or real value I receive from items 1-6 does not come close to $2,300, my opportunity cost, then I need to re-evaluate the whole concept of TFP.

Not included in this COST calculation is sunk costs like thousands of dollars of photography equipment brought to a shoot and put at risk.  A lifetime of study, preparation and a gift from GOD to visualize, see, create and execute my craft.

This gets to my REAL point of TFP.  I would like to get rid of the term TFP.  I would rather use the term collaboration.  A true collaboration means disparate parties get together to create something they could NEVER have created alone, no matter how great their individual talents and skills are.  A true collaboration means each participant will receive compensation or benefits commensurate with their contribution. 

Models and Fashion Participants, I ask YOU to calculate your own true opportunity cost of doing a TFP shoot.

So, next time I am asked if the shoot is FREE, you know what is going through my mind.