I don’t know if anyone reads this, but sometimes I like to post things to help other people in similar situations. So today, we’re going to look at a project and the costs that go into doing said project to better understand how everything fits together. This is by no means a dig at any clients or budgets or anything. It’s just a look at how costs fit into budgets. When you own the gear you don’t usually think about those things.

The Project

We were hired to shoot photographs of sponsor activations, at a three day concert. I would arrive an hour before doors and we’d shoot until the sun went down. The clients would provide shot lists ahead of time and we’d be responsible for cover that and doing some same day edits, the first day. The budget for this was $1,000/day all in. Meaning no expenses added, we were getting paid a flat $3,000 for the photography and editing.

At first glance you’d think… couple hours a day to make $1,000?! That’s a no brainer, but let’s dive in a little deeper.

The Hours

So the first thing we should do is figure out just how long we spent on this project. I advise doing that on everything you do, so you can see if you’re really making money, but if you do it periodically you’ll get a decent state of where things are.

  • Pre Pro - 2.5 hr - We had emails, calls, and shot lists to go over.

  • Friday - 9 hr - The venue was an hour from our office, and we try to get there a half hour before we’re needed. Then we shot all day and had to drive back home.

  • Same Day Edit - 3 hr - Three of the sponsors had requests for same day edits. That means after shooting all day, we went back to the office and edited/uploaded photos.

  • Saturday - 9 hr - Same stuff as above.

  • Sunday - 8 hr - We left an hour earlier due to weather.

  • Editing - 10.5 hr - Importing everything, sorting it, editing it, uploading it, emailing about it.

Total? 42 hours. It’s about what I would have thought. I don’t know exactly how many photos we shot total, but it was about 280gb worth. That takes a minute to go through.

The Expenses

This is the main reason I wanted to go through things. Because we own our own gear, like many people, you don’t always factor those costs into budgets. Which is a fine approach, as long as you’re cognizant of what that stuff costs. So for gear, I went with 3 day rental prices. For hard costs, I dropped those in. For software costs, I just took a stab. Keep in mind, the client budget was all-in. That means every penny spent came out of my end, not added on to theirs.

  • Parking - $150 ($50/day times 3)

  • Food - $40

  • Gas - $15 (approx)

  • Canon 5d Mark IV w/ grip - $137

  • Canon 6d Mark II w/ grip - $86

  • Canon 24-70mm - $42

  • Canon 70-200mm - $53

  • Canon 25-105mm - $28

  • Batteries/Cards/Etc - $42

  • Hard Drives - $100

  • Software/Hardware - $50 (computer, smug mug, adobe, etc etc etc)

Total? $743. Like I said, some of that is a hard cost (parking, gas, food) others are more approximations (the gear), but the stuff isn’t free. Every shoot knocks down the value a little bit, so it’s good to know how much that is.

The Number Crunching

$3,000 gross minus $743 in expenses leaves us with $2,257. We worked 42 hours on the project. That means we took in $53.74 per hour. At first glance that seems like a pretty solid number. But there are other things to consider. That’s obviously pre-tax. You’ll lose 20-30% to Uncle Sam, plus payroll taxes, 401k, electric, rent, internet, etc. Then there’s the other gear we need to own for projects but didn’t use for this one (video cameras, tripods, flashes, etc). Even though we didn’t use them for this, we have a general “Cost of Doing Business” that needs to be covered to pay for everything.

Was It Worth It

That’s a question you need to ask yourself after every project. You should be doing stuff you like. For us, this project was probably not worth it. But for a reason we haven’t discussed yet. Generally speaking if we can slot in a project in an open time, make some money on it, and some new contacts, we’ll consider it. But the problem with this came in an unexpected way. An event came up on Friday that we didn’t know about and needed filmed for a documentary we’re working on. Because I committed to this shoot, I had to hire someone to shoot that for me, which cost $1,000. That takes our income on this project from $2,257 to $1,257 or $29.93/hr. At that rate, a video / photo business cannot remain open. There’s just no margin there.