Photographers just want to shoot pictures. They want to be on the set, arranging the lights, telling the model how to stand, and looking for the killer composition. They want to be busy creating the perfect image that makes the client gasp and which gives them a belly full of warm fuzzies. They don’t want to be marketing. They don’t want to be interviewing assistants. And they certainly don’t want to be listing everything they’re going to need for a shoot and trying to figure out how much they’re going to have to charge for each item. But however large a headache invoicing and bidding might be, it’s an essential part of paid photography.
Lou Lesko, however, is trying to make it easier, less time-consuming and more efficient at providing buyers with the information they need to consider a photographer’s bid. A fashion photographer with experience of photojournalism, Lou moved into videography and in 1999, began directing commercials. As the work came in, he started looking for a way to spend more time behind the camera creating and earning, and less time in front of the monitor creating inventory lists for clients. The search wasn’t as easy as he thought it would be:
“As I was directing more, I had less time to do my own photography bids,” he told us, “so my producer and I went on the hunt to find easy-to-use software. There really wasn’t any available.”
Rather than continue preparing his bids and invoices by hand, Lou created his own software program. He produced a design for a workflow and asked a programmer he knew to create a custom database. After working with it for a few months, he realized he had a product that other photographers might find useful.
BlinkBid Means You Don’t Forget the Talent
BlinkBid allows photographers to click and choose their way through a huge range of different options, making creating invoices and detailed bids simple and automatic. The program has already been used by thousands of creative professionals who work in four different languages and is particularly popular in the UK, Australia, the Netherlands and New Zealand. In India, it’s used by videographers and it’s now taking off in Sri Lanka as well. At $229 it’s not cheap, but you wouldn’t need to save too many hours working with your own invoicing system to ensure that it pays for itself.
And it’s not just time that a proper billing and bidding system can save. BlinkBid also makes sure that any bid you submit is comprehensive and accurate.
“The biggest issue I had [before creating BlinkBid] was remembering everything I needed for a shoot,” explains Lou. “I was notorious for forgetting things like food and talent and — back in the day — Polaroid. Also, I had no idea what a usage license was or how that all worked.”
Those details might seem small but they are important. Any creative professional knows the feeling of mission creep, when the client continually asks for just a little more and the professional ends up supplying a much bigger service than the quote originally included.
For creative types like photographers, it’s a real problem, says Lou, and one that can have a serious affect on your income even beyond the costs involved in completing one particular job. The more you do beyond your original agreement, the more you dilute your value as an artist, he explains. But when you’re faced with an interesting project, one that you’re actually going to enjoy shooting, it’s tempting to forget about the money and agree to everything.
“In a creative industry, especially when you’re providing service for money, you must have an agreement indicating what the expectations are for your talent, otherwise you’ll get cheated,” he says. “Paradoxically, creative people aren’t usually inclined for all this paperwork, because all we really want to do is create – whether we’re getting paid or not….
[T]here are times when I was jonesing so bad to be on a set anywhere, that I had to bite my tongue during negotiations to keep from saying, ‘Screw it, I’ll pay you, let’s just go shoot this thing.’”
Notoriety Affects Photography Prices
That’s also why BlinkBid won’t create the prices. It’s possible that the software simply isn’t set up to provide the kind of complex pricing information supplied by fotoQuote – data that involves thousands of different variables and needs to be constantly updated – but according to Lou, the lack of automated pricing is deliberate. The market value of a photographer, he says, depends on more than the product. Notoriety and reputation also have a huge effect on the price a photographer can charge; a photographer who is known for creating the kind of bold, innovative images that buyers are looking for will always be able to charge more than a less creative competitor even if both are bidding for the same job.
It might be best then to think of fotoQuote as a useful tool for pricing off-the-shelf stock images but BlinkBid as a method for assignment photographers to organize their invoicing and bidding, and ensure that their copyrights are protected.
For professional photographers struggling to create the kind of comprehensive bids that are clear, comprehensive and which avoid conflict with clients in the future, BlinkBid looks like a useful solution. But it also represents a model of untapped opportunity for photographers. Lou Lesko isn’t a programmer. He’s not a software designer and he’s not a coder. He’s a professional photographer who was struggling with one aspect of his photography business. When he created a solution to deal with that problem, he realized that he had a product for other photographers too.
If you’re struggling with some of your photography business then – whether it’s cataloguing, pitching, sharing your portfolio or preparing for art fairs – look for a way to automate the solution. You might just have found another way to make money with photography.