There is an oft-told story of Picasso drawing on a napkin. If you Google “Picasso Napkin Drawing” you’ll find endless variations of the story. Here’s the short version:

Someone sees Picasso at a café and asks him to draw something on a napkin. Picasso complies and signs it. Pablo then says, “$25,000 please”. (Sometimes the request was for $1 million depending only who is telling the tale). The person balks saying, “But it only took you 30 seconds to draw it”. “No,” answers Picasso, “it took 40 years.” Picasso understood he was a creative person, not a day laborer punching a time clock and getting paid a “day rate”. So he charged appropriately.

It seems to us that agents are more culpable than the photographers they represent when it comes to using the terms “creative fee” and the disfavored “day rate”. Using the term “creative fee” in your invoices will result in more money in your bank account than doing business on a day rate basis. Here is an explanation of the giant difference between the two terms.

Creative fee – this is the fee that a photographer charges for conceiving and/ or creating images. The term encompasses the photographer’s reputation which may include both his/her, status within the industry and any public recognition of name and/or style or body of work. It takes into account factors including the photographer’s work, creativity, experience, skill, degree of difficulty, total amount of time spent on the assignment, specialized equipment employed and/or unique talents required to do the job. It also takes into consideration the number and relative abilities of competitors available to the client to do the same job in substantially the same way. It means doing a realistic and frank evaluation as to where you are in the pecking order.

Some reps and photographers also include the nature and extent of the usage of license extended to the client for the work in the creative fee.  Doing so, in our opinion, is simply wrong. The nature of the license should be a separate line item. The forms contained in our book address this issue simply and effectively.

An “Avedon” or a “Demarchelier may charge more than a photo student for identical licenses for use on say, a Clairol package. That pricing is a product of name, experience and other market forces but it ought not be mixed and conflated with the creative fee. Also, other than a mega name photographer, a so-called “blue collar” shooter can charge and receive a mega fee for expansive consumer use on a widely distributed product even if the images created are although of professional quality, not particularly noteworthy.

Day Rate – The term “day rate” is really out of date. It is an anachronism.  Don’t use it if at all possible. It was used by some photographers and lower tier models to signify the minimum amount a photographer or model would accept to shoot or be in an image (usually) created for an editorial use. Additional money would typically be paid if multiple images were used or if images were used in publications that employed “space rates” in determining licensing fees. We do recognize there are some uses, such as catalog use, where the client dictates are set in stone, and they will only work on a day rate basis.

The term is often employed by clients and ad agents as a negotiating tool in an attempt to pay the least amount of money for the broadest usage possible. Defense attorneys attempt to employ the very same term to minimize the amount of money their clients should pay in copyright infringements cases or in “right of publicity” cases.  A flat rate that a photographer or model may be offered for shooting for a publication, eliminates all of the factors that makes a particular photographer or model commercially valuable, especially the benefits gained by the client by using those very professionals.

The term “day rate” ought never be used when doing an assignment job. It is an attempt to classify the creator or model as in effect, an hourly employee of no greater value than any other photographer who would work on “hourly” jobs.  Use of the term represents and assumes that four hours of shooting a table top job for a single local hardware store, equals four hours of shooting a pro-football game, which of course equals four hours of shooting nine six year olds on a swing set for a catalogue to be used by a world wide chain of toy stores, which equals working four hours filming a coral reef while loaded with scuba gear a few hundred feet under water.  Four hours work equals four hours work, right? Kinda like four hours of flipping burgers equals four hours of performing a quadruple heart by pass operation.

Charging day rates not only minimizes your value but it can also lead to arguments over full day vs. half days and even raise the specter of billing smaller hourly rate vs. day rates. Next step? Billing by the minute. Most day rates, as it is, are barely enough to cover a creators cost of opening their doors. Profit? What a concept! You don’t need no stinkin’ profit!

When pricing always consider the financial benefit gained by your client from using your images. Many an attorney will say with a straight face that, “Yes my client sold a zillion boxes of face cream every year for five straight years and made tons of money but it only took the photographer 2 hours to shoot the damn thing and he/she has a day rate of $2,000 a day so we will give the photographer three times that amount for the infringement and call it a day“. Both inexperienced agents and attorneys representing the talent, fall for that line of drivel daily. That is the very reason smart defense lawyers use it. When they do, just pull out your Picasso.