Is a photo worth 1000 words…or just $43,000?

They say a picture is worth a 1000 words, but in this case is a $43,000 picture worth a 1000 new Navy recuits? The Herald Sun had an article about a new recruiting campaign photo commissioned by the Royal Australian Navy using up to 100 sailors in the shape of a warship. And this is costing you, the taxpayer, $43,000 for the photographer’s services, another $11,000 for the accompanying behind-the-scenes video, and there would be unspecified expenses for updating the website, not to mention the $20,000 or so to pay for the sailors 2 days of wages that the shoot occupied.

Here’s the article, and the video and website.

I actually think it’s a novel campaign and a pretty cool photo. But what I found most interesting is that we get to find out how much the “top fashion and advertising photographer” Andreas Smetana charges for a shoot. I wish snowboard photographers made 40 grand a shoot!

But really, why don’t we? Obviously market forces come into play, and the Australian Government has millions to spend on Defence Force recruiting. But from a technical point of view, snowboard photographers work probably harder than anyone else in the world to get a shot. Yep, big call, but think about it. To get a photo to be used in a snowboard ad, we have to fly to either North America or Europe (Aussie photos don’t really cut it anymore, plus the new gear isn’t ready the previous Aussie season), get to a location (either deep in the backcountry via sled, or hike, or some sketchy urban location in the middle of the night, dodging potential trespassing convictions), set up lighting, compose the scene, get the shot (which you might just get one attempt at before the landing is bombed), check that the rider’s style is acceptable and that the gear is visible, then photoshop the end result if needed (for colour correction or dust on the camera sensor). 

Take for example this shot I took of Darragh Walsh, which was bought by Destyn Via for their advertising campaign. We had shot on this chimney feature already, and showed Destyn Via a preview, but partly because Darragh had forgotten to wear his jacket, we had to go back and shoot it (and also so that I could try to get the dark glow of dusk sky to show the distant trees, instead of a big bob of black in the original). As Destyn Via wanted us to reshoot the image to be expressly used in an advertising campaign, it’s not alot different to a commercial photographer’s assignment…except in what we get paid.

By comparison, Smetana has come up with the unique concept, probably hired the cool white warhouse (or perhaps it is a Defence Force loaner?), executed the shots and Photoshopped the end result. And as far as I can gather, fashion photogs organise the whole shoot, paying for models, makeup artists, assistants and have to get to the location (usually some overseas exotic beach), and they charge an all-encompassing fee to proved Armani (or whoever) a series of finished photos. I wish I knew how much they charged! (Check my previous post about Terry Richardson and his Pirelli 2010 Calendar shoot to get an idea of how it works in fashion).

Unfortunately, in Australia, the market rate for a 12 month unlimited licence for a photo to be used in snowboarding advertising, posters, point-of-sale etc seems to be in the range ot $1000 to $1500. And it’s about half that if the image is bought for just a “once off” use. The situation is even more dire with magazines, who pay $130 for a full page shot! Yep, think of how few shots actually get run full page, and you can start to imagine the level of work you all have to undertake (photog and rider) to get a shot worthy of full, or double-page-spread. And it’s not much better overseas. I was sent the payment rates for Transworld Snowboarding a couple of years ago: Cover – US$900, Double page spread – $250, Full page – $200, and a sequence – 1.5x the listed (size) rate. And of course, you get proportionally less if the shots are smaller than full page.

So if you are an up-and-coming snow photographer, and you’ve sold a photo to a company for less than $1000 you are undervaluing yourself. But worse, you are also undervaluing the whole photographic industry – companies will expect that they can pay a couple hundred bucks for a photo, plus some free gear- you might be stoked to see you shot in print or on a poster, but by underselling yourself you are costing the rest of us who want to do this as a real career and charge higher prices accordingly.

While I inderstand that companies like Destyn Via can’t afford to pay $43,000 for a photo (but Billabong probably could), I’d like to see all the rates (for both private advertising sales and magazine publication) be at least double. Then maybe more photographers could justify the travelling expenses for a season overseas again. This year unfortunately I was just about the only Australian snowboard photographer who spent any length of time overseas to take photos of riders. As far as I can gather, it just got too expensive without the right level of financial return for all the other core photogs. And when companies can fork out $2 G’s  for a piece of paper (ie just a bit of blank space in a magazine to put their logo and photo – it costs on average around $2000 for a advertising spot in a snowboard mag), they should be able to pay more to the guys (and girls) that actually go out and get the shots for them: the rider who risks injury just to wear/use their gear, and the photog who gives them a commercial-grade advertising photo.

I guess all the Aussie snow companies will cry poor (we’re such a small industry, last year was so bad for us, blah blah blah) – but until things start to change, the quality of ads and photos in print will drop away as photographers stop bothering to travel and make the effort to get shots.

Please drop some comments if you have anything to say on this topic. Oh, in case you haven’t seen it yet – here’s the finished advertisement for DV. It came out pretty cool, I reckon.



Committed to all things rad ... man! Snowboarding, surfing, photography, journalism, travel, fashion, art and anything else that pops into my mind is what you might find here. And the Radman nickname? It was coined by a couple of snowboarders back in 2006 and has well and truly stuck!

10 thoughts on “Is a photo worth 1000 words…or just $43,000?”

  1. Well put Radman, well put indeed. The Aussie snowboard photographer is a dying breed.
    Would be great to see a lot more companies supporting photographers rather than just magazines.


    1. Yeah man. I’m glad a small(ish) company like Destyn Via was willing to put some bucks on the table to not only support an ad with an Australian rider in it, but pay an Australian photographer for the shot. I wish other companies, some with much bigger marketing budgets, supported the Australian industry the same too.


  2. A great point of discussion and insightful to see the comparisons between the snowboarding industry to the outside world.

    By the way Sean, awesome photo/add!

    Being from the same side of the lens with a film camera I agree totally with the sentiment and opinion. Though I will also add that I think we get to take the coolest looking shots that give a personal payment to the heart and soul.

    Keep it up Radman! Top 5 favourite blogsites!


  3. Hey Jez, thanks man. But how do you feel knowing that Visual Jazz (a company started by my 2 mates a few years ago, and which does all the mutimedia for the Defence Forces) made $11,000 for the behind the scenes video alone? Less effort and skill went into that than you behind-the-scenes June Mountain vid.
    Of course, as i said market forces and economics get into it all. But it’s further food for thought for videographers too. You guys are in the same boat.


  4. This is a very valid point and an issue I’ve seen rear it’s head time and time again; and not just in the snow industry.
    Maybe it’s time all profesional photogs and videogs created an association to set some standards and stand up for what they’re worth. Yes, there will always be someone willing to undercut; however, quality and experience will always shine through. Advertisers will keep paying pittiful fees because they know they can get away with it. If everyone stands their ground there will be no choice but to pay what your awesome photos and videos are worth. Easier said than done though! That’s my two cents.


  5. Well put Radman!
    Way to speak your mind…..Your profesionalism is something to admired to!
    You make a fantastic point about riders pushing themselves to the limits for potential consequences that may in the long run not be worth it!
    Walk into any art galley these days and pieces of work that a 7 year old could have produced are being labelled as “masterpieces” and sold for thousands whilst a high quality shot involving so many elements eg rider, environment, lighting, angle blah blah blah are sold for scraps!
    Shit is disgraceful!
    Good to see someone standing up for what they produce and stand for!



  6. As a photojournalist who has covered more wars and conflicts around the globe than you’ve seen on TV I had to chuckle at your ‘hardest working tog’ line. I’ve been kidnapped, shot at (they missed), had grenade frags taken from my leg and shoulder, tortured, had camera gear stolen so many times I can’t get insurance anymore and all for $43,000US per year.

    But it sure beats driving a desk.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: