Empty diaries!

Many thanks for the valuable feedback on photo books – it helps to focus the mind when respected colleagues offer an informed view. So here’s another one and again, I have to concede this is another ‘fishing trip’ for different perspectives (as I seem to have lost mine completely!)

Thank to geography as much as anything, I’ve never been a regular speaker on the camera club or natural history group circuit. Most places are just a long way from where I live. But I know plenty of photographers who ‘speak’ regularly and seemingly at least, are happy with whatever fee they can negotiate. My experience is that most smaller clubs simply cannot afford to pay what I would consider to be an appropriate fee. So what is an ‘appropriate’ fee for a speaking commission?

Let’s assume the talk has to be assembled – or at least tailored and tweaked from a previous presentation. That’s one day taken care of. It has to be rehearsed or at least test-run – another half day. In my case almost everywhere involves a decent drive and by the time travel and delivery is factored in, that’s another day gone. So we’re looking at two days minimum already. Projector (£2,000), laptop (£1200), speaker system (£800) and for me, external AV help (thanks John) – these all have to be accounted for too. And this doesn’t even touch on the years of investment gathering the images/stories which the audience wants to see and hear.

All of a sudden the £75, or £100, or arguably even £500 that the average ‘club’ is able to offer, just doesn’t stack up. Like most photographers, I do some talks for free. They might be good causes, organisations I support or one-off events where, for whatever reason, you want to show your images (we’re all show-offs at heart). Increasingly however, I’m struggling to justify the time against the fee. I’m also increasingly annoyed with myself for ‘apologising’ for quoting a figure which I’ve come to know will shock the enquirer; I feel somehow that I should offer a discount, or at the very least, an explanation. Why?

Photographers, like most in the wider field of ‘wildlife’ or conservation, are under-valued – always have been. That’s something that I accept to a degree, but I don’t accept that my time (along with a decent amount of experience) is any less valuable simply because I choose work that others might consider to be simply ‘fun’.

So back to the question: how much should we charge? To be honest I’m not entirely sure but for what it’s worth, here’s what I do.

My standard fee is £650 + vat + travel. I reduce that to £350 ++ for ‘charities’ and/or good causes and if I’m pushed (which invariably I am), I’ll agree to £250++. I have little idea of how this compares with others (I hope you’ll tell me) but irrespective of how accomplished a speaker and/or photographer you are, the time investment alone makes this a good deal by anyone’s standards.

So is my diary full of speaking engagements? Well no, to be frank. But it’s not empty either and that suits me fine. Some organisations – mainly outwith the traditional ‘conservation’ sector – are happy to pay a realistic fee and where that is the case, I’m delighted to take the booking. I recently delivered a talk and was offered a ‘standard’ fee of £1500. For me that was very much the exception but proves nevertheless, that an audience exists and is willing to pay realistically. It really isn’t about the money; it’s about being valued and there’s a BIG difference.

Against the backdrop of falling sales across almost all sectors in this business, my view is that we shouldn’t buckle on this front. There are some fantastic speakers, images and stories out there just waiting to be told. Anyone who attended Wildphotos recently will I’m sure, attest to that. I’m not suggesting a militant uprising by the hard-line mavericks of our small industry, but I am suggesting that if we continue to under-value ourselves, we can’t blame our potential customers for doing the same.

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11 thoughts on “Empty diaries!

  1. As someone who is part of the camera club scene the difficulty of course is the size of the audience – an average club will have 50-100 members who are expecting to see 5-10 talks a year at the club as part of their membership fee (as well as take part in a range of photography competitions which will need judging on 5-10 evenings). You then realise that budget for any given evening is likely to be £50-100 per night and out of that has to come the cost of hiring the venue. So generally £50-75 is going to be tops for most clubs. Natural history societies tend to be much smaller so routinely can afford less. So no-one is going to make their fortune talking to clubs, and most speakers do it because they like showing their photography to others and doing so for travelling costs rather than profit.

    Smart clubs do however sometimes put on special events, often by banding together, so that they can hire a larger venue, charge a decent ticket price and therby hire a professional speaker (although the Inland Revenue have been taking an interest in these and may make it less profitable). They are high risk however, as any shortfall in revenue would end up being covered by the committee members which could be very costly.

    I guess the real question has to be why do traditional entertainment venues such as theatres not book photography speakers as routinely as they would ballet or drama or comedy events. Chris Packham has twice sold out our local University theatre (in double quick time) in the last 12 months or so. I know he has tv exposure so he is in an advantageous position but do wonder whether the public has more of an appetite for quality photography talks than theatre promoters realise.

    Finally of course all of the revenue lines are linked- CP shifts enormous numbers of prints on evenings when he gives talks (never of his best work, more usually the cute animals in snow kind of thing, but more lucrative than books). Clearly book sales at the venue also give you extra revenue as well. And of course it is hard to quantify how many tour bookings you get from the exposure as well.

    But really this is all about different markets – to make any money out of talks you have to be aiming at proper venues not camera clubs and natural history groups.

  2. Hello Pete

    My “product” is perhaps a bit different from other photographers: I offer a package that includes a talk and a workshop for the club on the same day or day following the talk. I charge £350 – £480 plus travel and VAT, make book sales and make no charge for the workshop. Between ticket sales for the talk (usually open to the public) and what the club can charge for participation in the workshop (typically £15 – £25, depending on the number that will take part) , most organised clubs can turn a visit from me into profit. And I get not a bad return. In the winter of 2010-11 and at the back end of 2011, I did quite a few of these, mostly in England. I currently, however, have no bookings.

    I’d say though that the majority of clubs err on the side of…. lazy…. and would much rather just book someone for £50 and a meal and not have to do anything that looks like work and business.

    My best


  3. Hi Pete,
    Currently having the exact same dilemma , finding the correct balance will be nigh impossible I think, as the variances of clubs and who runs them is massive. However there are sensible clubs out there who are willing to pay a reasonable fee for a good presentation. My approach for next season is to charge a mid range fee of £200-£250 plus travel and during the evening offer the club a discount if any members come on organised outing we can arrange for them over a weekend. One recent example of this was 6 members 3 per day over a weekend. Interest from recent talks a week ago for similar proposal has been positive also. So the way I am looking at it now is not just the talk on the night but what else can I possible get as a knock on as a result of doing the presentation , risk is of course nothing, which does and will happen but a few take ups on the offer are very worthwhile. Its a win – win for both me and the club as they get a special discount not normally available and they are always looking for things to do on outings anyhow.


  4. Hi Pete,

    From a Camera Club members point of view I have always really enjoyed the talks you have given, from a photographers point of view you definitely need to turn a profit as the bills wait for no man!! My personal opinion is that you have to use your own judgement and conscience. Weigh up whose asking and what for and use your own judgement. On the other side of the argument it would be a shame for people to miss out on the high standard of presentations you provide because they WON’T pay the fee as opposed to CAN’T, I know this probably isn’t much help but you did ask an opinion.


  5. Another great topic Peter

    When I lived in England use to present on average about 20 times a year and commanded a fee of £300.00 plus travel and sell about between 5-10 board mounted printed for £30.00 each event, this made up for the shortfall in what I thought I was worth. I would have liked to have charged more but camera clubs are not runs to the best of my knowledge as businesses more a meeting place for their congregation. It might also be worth suggesting that several clubs unit for a big event… both Ben Hall and I have presented to the L&CPU with great success.

    These days I charge €500 here in Spain and yes you’ve got in right in one not one booking from a camera club, thankfully as I don’t speak good Spanish and most folks speak zero English, except on the coast. Though the numbers of confirmed bookings from the posh hotels and the numerous international schools along the Marbella/Malaga coast has made me increase my fee to €650 and to date I have 9 bookings from the first batch of advertising (mailers) we sent out. That said getting the radio gig here on the Costa has helped promote my presentations (audio-visual/talk combo) and gallery profile, no end.

    Anyone interested, please feel free to drop me a line and I’ll inform you are the big gigs in England. Also there are 2 RSPB groups where have over 250 attendees to each meeting so they are well worth approaching and they will pay the asking fees in the aforementioned posts.

    Might be worth looking promoters…. I know that “Speakers from the Edge” have been incredibly successful with the mountaineer futurity.

    Warm regards from Andalucía


  6. Perhaps the comment about Chris Packham is the telling one here. He has cultivated a ‘celeb’ persona through TV, radio and public appearances at big events. Is he a wildlife photographer first and foremost? Nope. He is far too savvy to be just that!

    For ‘rising stars’ in this genre – Charlie Hamilton-James et al – the ‘wildlife’ element is only part of the package. Their agents aren’t booking them on ‘lowly’ conservation organisation gigs, more the corporate entertainment circuit. Why? They are selling celebrity commodity, a glimpse into the lives of the glitterarti. Okay, perhaps I’m stretching it a bit with this example but you get my point (Daily Mail . . . here I come!).

    ‘An Evening with Sir David Attenborough’ would probably sell out most venues, for a lot of money, not because he is a wildlife film presenter/maker but because he is an extraordinary man whose life story holds intrinsic interest value due to his achievement.

    X-Factor = ££££££.

  7. Talks, Show, Images,Commissions, Popcorn, – its all the same. Its worth isn’t set by how much the vendor wants for it; its how much the vendor can get somebody to pay. Pete, down here, there is a lot of people selling popcorn.

    In todays ‘current climate’, and according to Mervin King until 2018 (that’s sobering) funds are short, renewal of organisation memberships are being reconsider and direct debits cancelled. Travel over distance has become a monetary rather than environmental consideration. The speculation of interest has been truly garrotted by the bankers (sp?) and replaced by a return to the core. Interest (in all senses) is on the lower rung, the only conservation being observed is fiscal..

    Labouring a point. Doom and gloom – no not really. Its actually quite refreshing. It’s a holding pattern as for with all things it’s cyclic and out of the ashes will arise a new product that people will pay for and whatever that product is – it will be capable of being talked about.

    But the days of talks of ‘this is a photo of a X in habitat Y – using Camera Z with setting A,B,C’ has probably gone for good – you can get a free viewing of these, at no travel expense, at a time of your choosing, on Flickr.

    The now product may well be the narrative of not just the conservation but the human core as punters await a phoenix.


  8. Hello Pete

    Interesting discussion you’ve started! I have two comments/observations from a recent experience.

    Firstly, picking up on Tom W’s comments, whilst times are certainly not easy at the moment, judging from the number of photographers and birdwatchers that have recently travelled (in some cases considerably distances) to an unremarkable industrial estate a few miles from my home to hopefully catch a glimpse of a Waxwing and the value of the equipment they have with them, there are people who are still prepared to part with their money to pursue their hobbies and interests.

    Secondly, whilst waiting myself for the Waxwings to turn up, the conversation amongst the photographers turned to the usual subjects: who has seen and photographed what recently; did you know who use live mice to get his Great Grey Owl pictures; are the photo tour operators responsible for pushing the prices up for independent photographers etc… The conversation at one point turned to talks and one photographer expressed disappointment at a talk given to his club by one of the UK’s top wildlife photographers, whilst the images were excellent the photographer could not talk.

    From these simple observations, it appears that there are those who are still prepared to pay to see a photographer present his images but the presentation had better be worth the money. If not, word will inevitably get around and bookings may suffer.

    Best wishes


  9. The benchmark for AV presentations IMHO – John Beatty and/or Kenton Cool
    The benchmark for actually using his vocal chords in an engaging manner IMHO – Keith Offord (Wildwings)

    There is nothing worst than watching someone deliver a presentation tied to the keynote screen………….. know your subject inside out and speak with genuine passion.

  10. Thanks for your interesting comments guys. To be clear, I wasn’t touting for business, simply trying to get a feel for what are undoubtedly challenging times ahead. Reading your comments, perhaps the theme that emerges actually has little to do with photography but the fact that as photographers, we have interesting ‘human’ stories to tell?

    As ever, time will tell.


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