In January 2010, photographer Carlos Santos was commissioned to conduct an editorial shoot in Berlin. He contacted a local model agency, hired the models, prepared his equipment and planned the shoot. But the project was low budget and there was no room for the additional fees that would have been demanded by a location agency. Even as he boarded the plane, Carlos had no idea where in the city he would be taking the pictures. Recommendations from a local photographer eventually led him to three suitable sites, but it still took him two days to pin down all of the permissions he needed, bureaucracy that would have been better handled before he left.
That experience of preparing a low budget shoot in an unfamiliar location led Carlos to establish an online forum on which location owners around the world could offer their sites directly to photographers. Instead of going through an expensive agency, photographers would be able to use a community resource where they could comment on photos, provide testimonials, score ratings and even moderate locations.
“We Want All the Locations in the World”
In the three months since its launch, GetLocations has picked up more than 240 sites in over 30 countries. The venues include vacation homes and bars, art galleries, pools, apartments and some of the best studios in the world, including that of Hasselblad in the UK. Photographers have even been contributing a number of free public locations, sharing knowledge that enables them to create great images at little expense.
“We want Getlocations.com to become number one when searching locations to shoot,” says Carlos. “Our goal is that within five years all places of the world where you can photograph and film are listed by us. I know it’s a great goal but we are committed to achieving it.”
The site has been designed to enable photographers and property owners to communicate directly and without passing through GetLocations itself. While that makes it simple for the two sides to negotiate, it does mean that GetLocations has no way of tracking exactly how many venues photographers have hired through the site. Based on the volume of visits and query data however, Carlos claims that “a lot” of property owners and photographers are already striking deals.
Prices vary broadly and not all venues list their fees, inviting photographers to call and inquire instead. Some locations state that they’re willing to provide space in return for nothing more than a credit and a copy of the image used; others are charging as much as $1,750 a day (although prices for many venues can also be set by the hour.) By way of comparison, Shoot Factory, a UK-based location agency, tells property owners that they can expect to receive between £500 and £1,000 a day for a photo shoot — more for film, and presumably more for the photographer who has to pay the commission.
“We have many different options,” says Carlos. “It’s really not possible to establish a standard price. We like that way. Diversity is the key.”
Rent out Your Studio
One of the more surprising consequences of launching GetLocations though has been the number of photographers not just looking for locations in which to hold shoots but offering their own studios for other photographers to use. They enroll as members, explains Carlos, enjoy the service and realize that some of the money they’ve invested in their own locations can be recouped in the same way that other property owners are doing. Their studios come equipped and the photographers themselves are often experts in certain fields of photography, providing a source of advice for enthusiasts using a professional studio to improve their skills.
Estimating a rate to charge won’t be easy though. Large, well-equipped studios will be able to charge more than small home studios, and privacy and light equipment are likely to be essential.
“Everything depends on the project,” says Carlos. “The most important thing is being honest with the customer and set[ting] a price according to the investment.”
GetLocations does appear to offer a new kind of opportunity then that may be particularly valuable for professional photographers who own studios with continuous maintenance fees but which have occasional use. In addition to earning from their images and selling their knowledge through workshops, photographers can now rent out their space and their lighting rigs, providing one more revenue source.
But location agencies tend to offer beautiful homes and unusual vistas rather than location alone. The Shoot Factory’s listings include football clubs, basements, barber shops and log houses. Those are venues that provide more than just space; they also supply the kind of atmosphere and appearance that suits a specialized shoot. GetLocations’s current emphasis on studio rentals may be limiting to a photographer who needs a shoot to have a particular style —urban, rural, luxurious, etc. And offering a studio space alone may bring in responses from local photographers who need room for a one-off job but may be less likely to pull in assignment photographers looking for unique sites to suit the art direction.
And when the owner of a studio that has nothing to offer but white walls and big lights does win a hire from another photographer, the job is likely to generate two questions: how much can they charge; and why didn’t they win the job from the client in the first place? After all, they could have even supplied the studio.
It’s early though for GetLocations. With new venues being added at a rate of more than two a day, and with the site open to submissions of every possible location from garages and gardens to waterfalls and mountains, it’s clear that there is an opportunity for property owners and photographers to come together, cut out the middle man and match sites with a professional need. That will just leave the bureaucracy of payments, insurance, damage assessment and equipment to arrange — but at least they can all be done in the days before the flight, leaving the photographer to focus on the models, the shoot and the pictures.