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Film Crew Glossary
MOVIE CREW JOB TITLE DESCRIPTIONS
Curious to know the difference between a Best Boy and a Key Grip in a movie’s ending credits? Ever wonder what it takes to become a Director of Photography? Check out our film crew glossary below and learn all about the different job positions that take place on a film set.
Acting Coach – An acting coach helps actors reach their full potential by teaching them in-depth character development for specific role preparation and/or auditioning. Acting coaches provide personal attention and specialized acting techniques to both individuals and groups.
Casting Assistant – The casting assistant works closely with the casting director during auditions. This person helps organize and maintain much of the information and other details concerning the actors and actresses throughout the casting selection process.
Casting Director – This person works closely with the director during the audition process. While the director or producer usually has the final say on selecting the leading roles, the casting director is primarily responsible for selecting, hiring and contracting all of the other major characters with speaking roles.
Choreographer – The lead person who plans, designs and directs major action sequences on a production. These action sequences may include dancing, fighting, or other scenes which involve a high degree of coordination.
Dialect Coach – The dialect coach assists in training the actors the proper dialogue and diction of a given script. This includes teaching them the accents, dialects and proper annunciation to suit a particular character.
Animal Wrangler – The person who controls, instructs and cares for a specific animal used for filming on a production. This person has expertise in handling this animal and is usually the owner of the animal as well. Popular types of animals that are wrangled include dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and other trainable pets.
Livestock Coordinator – A person who can provide and control a sizable herd of a particular animal for filming in a production. The most popular types of livestock requested are horses, cows and other various large animal herds.
Art Director – The art director works with the production designer and is responsible for the design and construction of a movie set. They are essentially assistants to the production designer and help construct the “look” and “feel” of the movie.
Carpenter – Set Carpenters physically construct and build the sets under the supervision of the construction coordinator. This typically includes all general building of sets, walls and other types of large construction pieces.
Concept Illustrator – The concept illustrator (or previs artist) can create a 3D computer generated model of the storyboard that allows the production designer to determine how a scene will ultimately look. The concept illustrator constructs and renders the desired shots, camera angles, focal lengths, camera movements and choreography. This computer generated model can also depict various surface textures, lighting schemes and even costumes.
Construction Coordinator / Set Builder – The construction coordinator supervises the fabrication and physical integrity of the various sets needed as directed by the production designer and art director. This person is also in charge of budgeting and ordering the needed materials for the set designs. The construction coordinator may also be responsible for hiring the carpenters.
Production Designer – The production designer works with the director and is primarily responsible for the design and overall visual “look” and “feel” of a movie. This includes the use of costumes, landscapes, props and other visual scenery that could reflect the movie script.
Scenic Artist – The scenic artist is in charge of designing and treating all of the set surfaces. This may include painting, plastering, coloring, texturing or applying any other sort of treatment to the set surfaces to create a look. Often times the scenic artist simulates stone, wood, lettering, metallic or brick on the various sets and scenery.
Storyboard Artist – The storyboard artist creates a series of illustrations and sketches based on the director’s vision during pre-production. Each sketch represents a different camera set-up. These drawings usually include camera angles, characters and set design. The illustrations are then used to assist the other head departments in understanding their tasks.
1st Assistant Camera (1st AC) – The 1st AC is the chief assistant to the camera operator. The 1st assistant camera person is in charge of measuring and pulling focus during filming. The 1st AC also threads the film through the camera when a new magazine is loaded. This person also helps setup and build the camera, as well as maintain and clean the camera and lenses.
2nd Assistant Camera (2nd AC) – The 2nd AC is also known as the loader. The 2nd assistant camera person is primarily responsible for loading and unloading the new rolls of film into the different magazines, as well as maintaining and filling out all the camera reports for the film lab. This person also runs the slate or clapper to maintain sync and the correct labeling for each and every shot.
Aerial Photographer – The aerial photographer or camera operator is qualified and equipped to photograph and film aboard aerial devices. This usually refers to small airplanes and helicopter camera filming.
Cinematographer – HD & Film – The cinematographer or director of photography (D.P.) is in charge of the overall visual look of the movie as seen through the camera. They assist in choosing film stocks, camera bodies and which lenses to use. They decide on shot framing and camera movements in conjunction with the director. They are also in charge of the camera crew, lighting design and collaborating with the gaffer.
Director of Photography – Video – The video director of photography (D.P.) is in charge of the overall visual look of the video, as seen through the camera. They recommend which cameras and lenses to use for the production. They design the shot’s framing, and the camera movements in conjunction with the director. They are also in charge of the camera crew, lighting design and collaborating with the gaffer.
Data Handler / Wrangler – This is a fairly new job position that has been created in response to the popular use of digital video formats. The data wrangler is usually responsible for organizing, labeling, downloading, duplicating and reformatting the digital storage disks for use on set and the editing room.
DIT – Digital Imaging Technician – This is another new job position that was created in response to the popular use of high-end digital video formats. The digital imaging technician uses various image manipulation methods to achieve the highest possible image quality during the production. This person usually manages the transferring and storage of the image data as well.
Steadicam Operator – The steadicam is a camera mounting device that utilizes a mechanical arm attached to a body harness to provide extremely smooth hand-held shots. The steadicam operator is responsible for setting up and operating the steadicam during production. Most steadicam operators are very physically fit due to the amount of strength and endurance needed to operate the steadicam.
Still Photographer – This person takes still photographs and essentially documents the behind-the-scenes making of the production. Often, this person photographs images used for marketing purposes such as movie posters and DVD box art.
1st Assistant Director – The 1st assistant director works with both the production manager and the director to make the shooting schedule efficient as possible. The 1st A.D. breaks the script down into a shooting schedule and also helps manage the scheduling of talent, crew and equipment needed for each shooting day. This person sometimes helps direct the background extras in a scene.
2nd Assistant Director – 2nd A.D. works directly with the 1st A.D. to accomplish their duties. The call sheets for each shooting day are created by the 2nd assistant director. The 2nd A.D. also helps manage the scheduling of talent, crew and equipment that is needed for each day. This person also assists in directing the background extras in a movie scene.
Director – The director is the leading creative artist on a movie set. The director works directly with the actors on their performances and has final creative control on almost every aspect of the the film. The director plays a large role in casting, script revisions, shot composing and even editing. Usually, the director is hired by the producer of the film.
Craft Service – Craft Services are the various snacks and beverages that are provided to the film crew throughout the day. This is separate from catering. The person in charge of craft service sets up and maintains a station near production that provides these snacks and beverages. The craft service person is given a budget prior to attaining all the refreshments.
Caterer – The caterer plans, organizes and prepares all the main meals for a production. Having a location caterer allows the crew to be more efficient, and also saves valuable production time and money transporting the crew to and from lunch. Production caterers can serve crews ranging from 10 people, to hundreds of people. Gluten-free and vegan options are common requests for caterers, to meet specific needs of the cast and crew.
Food Stylist – The food stylist will prepare and arrange food in an appealing way to be used in photographs, commercials or movies. This person usually has an extensive background in cooking, recipe development, and the ability to achieve creative solutions for making the food look its most attractive.
Assistant Food Stylist – The assistant food stylist assists the lead food stylist in the preparations and arrangements of the food. This person usually has an extensive background in cooking, recipe development, and the ability to assist in achieving creative solutions for making the food look the most attractive.
Crane / Jib Operator – This person is responsible for setting up and operating the mechanical camera crane also known as the “jib arm”. The jib arm is primarily used for large establishing shots that require substantial elevation and smooth motion.
Dolly Grip – The camera dolly is a small rolling cart with a mechanical elevating boom arm for the camera to be mounted to. Dolly shots provide the smoothest possible movements for filming. The camera operator and 1st A.C. commonly ride on the dolly during the shot. The dolly grip sets up the dolly track, levels it and builds the dolly on the track. This person also creates starting and stopping marks, pushes the dolly and operates the boom arm during the shot.
Grip – Grips essentially “shape the light” that is provided by the electricians. This includes creating pattern and shadow effects, coloring light, diffusing light or blocking light. While electricians set up the lights and cabling, grips provide everything else that is built around the lights to create the quality of light that the gaffer desires. They also provide a variety of special rigging, securing and safety measures on set.
Key Grip – The key grip is the lead grip on a film set and in charge of all the other grips. The key grip and best boy collaborate with the gaffer and D.P. to formulate the best tactic for accomplishing a given shot. The key grip oversees the proper camera rigging mechanisms as well as manages the light blocking and diffusing techniques.
Best Boy – The best boy is the lead electrician on set and is in charge of all the other electricians, similar to how the key grip is in charge of all the grips. The best boy usually operates, adjusts and balances the electrical load on the generator where required. This person is also responsible for distributing the electrical cabling properly providing the required power to each of the lights.
Electrician – The electricians (or juicers) essentially set up and operate all the lighting instruments and cabling as instructed by the best boy or gaffer. This is a physically demanding job due to the large number of heavy lights and cabling often required. Electricians must be knowledgeable of tungsten and HMI lighting as well as changing and installing bulbs properly.
Gaffer – The gaffer is also known as the chief lighting technician. This person is primarily responsible for developing a lighting plan according to the desires of the Director of Photography. The gaffer informs the best boy and key grip on where and which lights are to be placed. The gaffer is in charge of creating the best possible lighting scenario according to the camera framing.
Location Assistant – The location assistant helps the location manager and location scout with all duties relating to coordinating locations, crew parking and production vehicles. This person may also assist in attaining legal filming permits and other clearances needed.
Location Scout – Quite often the location scout is one of the first crew members to be contacted on a production. The location scout assists in finding the various filming locations according to the producer and director’s desires. Location scouts often have a large database of location photographs to show before traveling to the actual location for filming.
Locations Manager – This person is in charge of attaining all the legal permits and other clearances needed to gain proper permission for filming in a particular location. The location manager also takes care of attaining and processing any other location permit fees as well. On some smaller shoots, the location manager assists in coordinating the parking of vehicles.
MAKE-UP & HAIR
Hair Dresser – This person is responsible for styling and maintaining the talent’s hair throughout filming. The hair dresser usually brings all of the appropriate styling supplies needed for the hair styling process. The hair dresser works in conjunction with the make-up artist to attain the best possible look for the actors and actresses.
Makeup Artist – The makeup artist’s main task is to apply and create a variety of looks on the actors and actresses skin surfaces with makeup, from current trends to classic or period pieces. The makeup artist creates a look according to the director’s desires, often inspired by the characterizations in a story.
MEDICAL & SECURITY
Security – Productions often hire security services for variety of reasons on a film set. Many times, security guards are simply used to watch over and protect the equipment and sets off-hours, when the crew is not working. Other times security guards are needed during the production for help with crowd control or escorting high-profile actors to and from set.
Set Medic – On most large productions, a set-medic is hired as a precaution to any medical emergency or accident that might occur on a film set. This person comes equipped with a variety of medical supplies, from repairing minor cuts to more severe injuries. Having a set medic is simply a safety precaution that ensures the proper handling of crew member or talent when an accident occurs.
Accounting Assistant – The accounting assistant works closely with the production accountant who is responsible for managing all the financial transactions during a production.
Producer – A producer is one of the top positions on a film crew. This is because the producer is responsible for gathering funds for a movie, hiring the director and keeping track of finances throughout the production of a film. The producer also helps to hire other key crew positions and often assists in creating a final distribution plan for the movie.
Production Accountant – The production accountant is the lead person responsible for organizing and managing all the financial transactions during a production.
P.A. – Production Assistant – Many individuals start their careers in the film industry as a production assistant. A production assistant usually does any general duty or minor task that the production heads may need. Basic duties may include dispersing walkie-talkies, setting up pop-up tents and tables, running basic errands as needed or attaining any other last-minute item that the production might need. It is essential that the P.A. has their own transportation to perform these various errands.
Production Coordinator – A production coordinator is responsible for coordinating the “behind the scenes” logistics, which can include renting equipment, hiring crew members, and coordinating talent. In addition, this crew member may handle the paperwork needed to organize the production. For this reason, the production coordinator is an important crew member in ensuring a production’s goals are on budget and on time.
Production Supervisor / UPM – The production supervisor works closely with the production coordinator and basically supervises the organization and distribution of the production budget, crew and talent scheduling, salaries and day rates, equipment rental scheduling and other office related paperwork. This person is responsible for keeping the production under budget on a day to day basis. The U.P.M. or Unit Production Manager performs these same tasks but with the 2nd Unit.
Production Supervisor – Assistant – The assistant to the production supervisor or manager helps and assists with the organization of crew and talent scheduling, timecards and invoicing, equipment rental scheduling and other office related paperwork.
Props Assistant – An assistant prop person helps place and organize all the props that are provided by the prop master. This person directly works with and assists the prop master in handling all the various props that are used in a movie. This includes all moveable items like guns, knives, books, phones, dish-ware, food, musical instruments, pets or any other item that needs to be present to fulfill the story line.
Prop Builder / Sculptor – Prop builders and sculptors construct unique and specialized set props that are too difficult to attain, or too expensive to buy. This person builds these needed props from scratch using various materials that may include styrofoam, plastics, electronics, metals, woods or glass types of materials. This person is usually skilled in a wide variety of machining, construction and sculpting techniques.
Prop Master – The prop master acquires, organizes, maintains and accounts for all the various props needed for the production. A prop is basically any set decoration piece that can be moved readily easily. This includes many items like guns, knives, books, phones, dish-ware, food, musical instruments, pets or any other item that needs to be present to fulfill the story line.
Set Decorator – The set decorator makes the decisions on what furnishings and other decorations are going to be used on set. This person works closely with the art director and production designer to create the optimal visual environment for filming. This may include various items such as paintings, fabrics, and other non movable decorative set pieces.
Set Dresser – This person works closely with the set decorator to help furnish and decorate the movie set accordingly. Types of decorations include all non movable items such as furniture, paintings, fabrics, drapery and other like items. The set dressing assistant basically assists with anything the lead set decorator needs to properly dress the set.
Script Consultant – Script consultants assist screenwriters with adapting books or stories into polished screenplays. Script consultation services provide script analysis, consulting, proofreading, dialogue revisions and story or character development where needed. They can also help with shortening or lengthening a screenplay to the proper lengths. Generally, one page from a screenplay equals approximately one minute of movie time. For this reason, screenplays are usually 90 to 120 pages long.
Script Supervisor – The script supervisor works closely with the director by taking detailed notes concerning what has been shot, needs to be shot, and also notes any deviations from take to take. He/she also makes sure that the dialogue corresponds with the script. The script supervisor also takes logging notes that are essential in the post production editing process, such as locating shots and finding the best takes. Many times the script supervisor assumes the role of continuity, ensuring the consistency between scenes and shots.
Script Writer – Script writers assists clients who have ideas, but need help putting them down on paper. Script writers work in a variety of formats including screenplays, TV or radio spots, promotional & educational videos, documentaries and much more. Script writers can also adapt books or stories into screenplays, which is essentially the map for making the movie. A screenplay involves screen direction, character dialogue, and prop descriptions while telling the story.
Teleprompter – The teleprompter is a device that mounts to the front of the camera and contains a scrolling text for the actor to read while looking into the lens. This technique is also used by newscasters. The teleprompter operator helps set up the teleprompter on the camera as well as the computer that provides the scrolling text program. This person is usually given the script ahead of time so that they can enter it into their computer before arriving on set.
Video Assist / VTR – The video assist person operates the VTR (Video Tape Recorder) during production. Most film cameras include a video tap that allows the VTR to record and instantly playback what was just filmed. Since you can’t review 35mm film without it getting processed in the laboratory first, this can be an especially useful tool on set. Video assist is the term used to describe this record and playback process. Reviewing the footage instantly allows the director to confirm performances, camera focus, framing, choreography and other elements for accuracy.
Boom Operator – This person is responsible for properly positioning the microphone boom pole during the actual filming. The boom operator is the assistant to the sound mixer. Many times the boom operator is required to hold the boom pole for several minutes at a time, which can be physically demanding. The boom operator must also be able to follow the actors movements while staying clear of the camera and lights. This makes it a challenging job for achieving the best possible audio.
Sound Mixer – Film – The sound mixer for film is head of the sound department and is responsible for leveling, monitoring and recording of audio during production. The sound mixer decides which microphones to use as well as placements of the mics. This person can also mix the various sound tracks and audio signals in real time. A film sound mixer supervises the boom operator and/or sound utility person.
Sound Mixer – Video – The sound mixer for video is head of the sound department and is responsible for leveling, monitoring and recording of audio during production. The sound mixer decides which microphones to use as well as placements of the mics. This person can also mix the various sound tracks and audio signals in real time. A video sound mixer supervises the boom operator and/or sound utility person.
FX Make-Up / Prosthetics – The prosthetics or special effects makeup person uses a variety of techniques for applying and gluing different materials such as latex, gelatin and other colorations which are used on the face or skin of an actor. Gore and blood, burns, creatures and aging special effects are the more commonly used prosthetic makeup techniques.
Pyrotechnics / Firearms – Sometimes also known as the armorer, this person is primarily responsible for the handling, maintenance and care of all firearms, weapons and pyrotechnics that are used during filming. This includes all live-action explosives and and battle scene pyro effects. Pyrotechnicians are usually trained and certified to handle these dangerous props and explosives.
Special Effects Technician – A special effects technician assists in creating special effects using mechanical and/or optical illusion techniques for filming live visual effects. The special fx technician helps provide the visual elements needed such as recreating weather elements or assisting with props that break, shatter, collapse, burn, smoke or explode. They also provide the special mechanical rigging that allows you to fly an actor.
Precision Driver – Movies and films use precision drivers for major driving action sequences that require skillful maneuvering. The precision driver is usually certified and highly skilled in operating a variety of vehicles, under multiple weather conditions. They are able to use pinpoint accuracy for stopping, maintaining speeds and turning on cue for multiple takes.
Stunt Coordinator – The stunt coordinator manages and coordinates all the dangerous action sequences in a movie that require a stuntman or stunt performer. The stunt coordinator always follows the appropriate safety regulations during filming to ensure the safety of every stunt performer. Types of stunts may include jumping, flipping, diving, free-falling, crashing cars, catching fire, underwater stunts and other dangerous action sequences where stunt doubles are needed.
Stunt Performer – The stunt performer, also known as the stunt double or stuntman, is experienced in performing a variety of dangerous action maneuvers on camera. Under the close supervision of the stunt coordinator, the stuntman assumes the role of an actor who is incapable or unwilling to perform a specific action stunt in the script. Types of stunts may include jumping, flipping, diving, free-falling, martial arts, crashing cars, catching fire, underwater stunts and other dangerous action sequences where stunt doubles are required.
Gang Boss / Transportation Captain – The transportation coordinator, or gang boss, organizes and provides a variety of vehicles and transportation for all crew, equipment and actors to and from the filming locations. The transportation coordinator/captain deploys the appropriate vehicles and drivers at the proper times to keep the production on schedule and on budget. They also work closely with the locations manager in attaining the proper parking permits and parking locations for all vehicles.
Transportation Driver – The transportation driver or captain works under the supervision of the transportation coordinator. Transportation captains and drivers physically drive and operate all provided production vehicles to and from the filming locations. This includes the transport of all crew, equipment and actors safely to and from the film set while staying on schedule. Types of production vehicles may include cube trucks, passenger vans, stake beds, flatbeds, limos, cars or any other needed production vehicle.
Costume Assistant – The costume assistant works under the supervision of the costume designer, and physically assists with everything related to the actors clothing, costumes and wardrobe. Common tasks of the wardrobe assistant are helping to organize, disperse and account for all the costumes used on set. They also assist in maintaining and caring for all the wardrobes used by the various actors. Sometimes this job can be very demanding, especially when filming period pieces with hordes of extras.
Costume Designer – The costume designer makes decisions on which wardrobes and costumes actors will wear based on the script requirements and character portrayals. Costume designers create or choose various clothing patterns, designs, colors, sizes and accessories for each wardrobe used during production. On larger movies, the costume designer has several assistants helping to organize, disperse and maintain all the costumes used by the cast.
written by: Justin Griesinger ©2014
The short answer is, of course: As much as possible.
The long answer depends a lot more on where you personally fit into the photography industry and your local market.
In this article I am going to explore the seven critical factors that determine how much should photographers charge per hour, along with an example of how to calculate a reasonable billable rate.
WARNING – WE ARE GOING TO TALK ABOUT MONEY
Money is a touchy subject for a lot of people – and it seems especially so for photographers.
Everyone’s personal circumstances are different, and we have a global audience with drastically different markets and ideas about income levels – so the numbers I am presenting in this article are what I would consider realistic for a typical middle class Canadian – but please feel free to make adjustments to suit your own income goals and local market.
WHAT YOU BILL IS NOT WHAT YOU EARN
Say it with me – what I bill per hour is not what I earn. What I bill per hour is not what I earn. What I bill…OK you get the point – but for some reason this seems to be a particularly hard lesson for photographers to learn – especially those just starting out.
The reality is that all professionals who bill by the hour – such as lawyers, engineers, architects, accountants etc. bill their clients at a minimum two to three times their take home pay rate. For example, if a lawyer earns $60 per hour – they would typically bill at least $120 to $180 per hour.
For photographers who own and operate their own businesses (often as the sole employee), the ratio of billable rate to take home pay is even higher, as we will see.
To estimate how much you will earn in a year based on an hourly rate, simply double the hourly rate and move three decimal places.
For example $35 per hour is approximately $70,000 per year.
($35 per hour x 8 hours per day x 5 days per week x 50 weeks per year = $70,000)
HOW MUCH IS YOUR TIME WORTH
If you are a recreational photographer and you practice photography purely because you love it and you would do it for free – that is awesome – do us all a favor and just do it for free. Seriously!
There is nothing wrong with working for free – as long as everyone knows you are working for free. The problem is when photographers fall into the trap of working almost for free. Photographers that undervalue their services are not doing themselves any favors, and are in fact contributing to the wholesale undervaluing of the entire industry – but that is an argument for another day.
If you are a part time photographer, you can look at what you earn in your day job to gauge how much your time is worth. If you earn $30 an hour at the office, chances are you’d like to earn at least $30 an hour from your photography.
If you are a full time photographer, you can work backwards from what you need to earn in a year to support your family and your lifestyle. Or, you can figure that if you had to quit photography to put food on the table, you would presumably have a suitable full time job and rate of pay.
For the purpose of providing an example, the average income for a married person with a family in Canada is around $60,000 per year. That’s about equivalent to $30 per hour.
HOW MUCH OF YOUR WORK IS NON-BILLABLE?
Nobody that charges by the hour is working on something that they can bill to a client 100% of the time (nobody honest about it anyway). So, the question becomes, how much work do I do that I don’t get paid for?
For a photographer, this is a substantial portion of time.
Think about everything you do on a daily basis that is related to your photography business, but does not directly earn income.
Email, answering the phone, proposals, bids, social media, promotion, your website, blogging, personal projects…the list goes on and on.
I estimate that I easily spend 50% of my time as a photographer doing work that I can’t bill to a client – and that is probably on the low side.
That means that in order to earn that $60,000 a year goal, I would have to bill $60 per hour, not $30 per hour.
To adjust your billable rate depending on your own ratio of billable versus non-billable time, take your target hourly rate, multiply by the total number of hours per week you work, and divide by the number of hours you bill to clients.
For example, if I want to earn the equivalent of $30 per hour for a 40 hour work week, but I can only bill 20 hours, I have to bill $60 per hour. I am still working 40 hours per week, but only 50% can be billed to a client so my billable rate doubles.
($30 per hour x 40 hours per week total / 20 billable hours per week = $60 per hour)
PAY IN LIEU OF BENEFITS
As independent small businesses, photographers are on their own to cover the costs normally paid as benefits to salaried employees.
Of course, benefit plans vary greatly, but most companies cover some portion of dental, medication, vision, life insurance, sick time etc.
Where I live in Ontario, Canada, salaried employees may occasionally work in lieu of benefits – such as when they are picking up extra shifts or working overtime. In these instances, they are normally paid an additional 18% on top of their regular pay rate “in lieu of benefits”.
If you live somewhere that does not have universal healthcare, the value of a corporate benefit plan that covers health insurance would be substantially more that 18%. If you live somewhere that has social dental, medication and / or vision plans, the value of a corporate benefit plan would be less.
For the sake of this example, I am going to equate the value of a corporate benefit plan to 18% of my adjusted billable rate.
That means that I have to add $10.80 per hour to my $60 per hour billable rate to cover the cost of benefits – bringing me up to $70.80 per hour.
($60 per hour x 18% = $10.80 per hour)
WHO WANTS TO WORK UNTIL THEY DIE?
Not me, that’s for sure.
Problem is, we all need to eat, live somewhere, and have something to do between the time when we stop working and when we kick the bucket.
If you’re a self employed photographer, you’re not getting a corporate pension – so tough luck – you’re on your own.
Therefore, saving for your retirement is not a luxury or an option – you must build it into your photography business plan.
How much money you actually need to save for retirement depends a lot on your personal circumstances.
Where I live, the maximum annual contribution to a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) is 18% of your net income, which is roughly 10 to 15% of your gross income.
For this example, I am going to plan on putting 15% of my gross income away for retirement.
If I plan on earning $60,000 per year, I need to save $750 per month – or approximately another $9 per hour.
That brings my billable rate up to 79.80 per hour.
($60,000 per year x %15 / 50 weeks / 20 hours per week = $9 per hour)
VACATIONS AREN’T FREE
You might have noticed that so far there are two weeks out of the year we are not accounting for.
We are assuming that we are on vacation for those two weeks and as an independent small business, cannot earn income.
However, Canadians typically get 4 to 6 weeks per year of paid vacation – Europeans a little more, Americans a little less.
That means that if I want to take more than two weeks off and still reach our target $60,000 per year, I have to adjust my billable rate to make up that lost time.
For our example, I’m just going to stick with two weeks of vacation because I would have to start the math all over from the start based on working 46 weeks in a year instead of 50 – but you get the point.
WHAT’S YOUR OVERHEAD
Finally, we have to consider our overhead.
Again, like many of the other factors, overhead varies greatly depending on a photographers personal circumstances and business model.
At a minimum, overhead would include things like: camera upgrades, computer equipment, home maintenance or rent, software, cellphone, internet, advertising, web hosting, transportation, insurance etc.
Most photographers drastically underestimate their overhead, and if you are a recreational or part time photographer, the lines between what is overhead and what you are just buying for your own enjoyment blur together a little.
But, for our example, lets put an overhead budget together:
Camera Upgrades – say maybe a new body and maybe a lens, and some lighting gear every three years – roughly $2400 per year, or $200 per month.
Computer Equipment – say a new computer every three years too – roughly $600 per year, or $50 per month.
Home Maintenance or Rent – this can vary a lot – but lets say a modest $200 per month would cover a home studio.
Software – upgrades, Photoshop CC etc. – $100 per month.
Cellphone & Internet – I pay around $200 per month.
Advertising and Web Hosting – depends on how heavily you advertise – but say $100 per month.
Transportation – again depends on your mode of transportation – but easily $200 per month.
Insurance – say $100 per month.
That all adds up to $1,150 per month in out of pocket expenses (and that is on the very low home studio end). To cover $1,150 per month in overhead, or 23% of your target annual income, you have to add another $13.80 per hour to your billable rate.
That brings our total billable rate up to $93.60 per hour.
SHOW ME THE MONEY!
OK – so here is how the whole example breaks down.
If we bill $93.60 per hour and we work 40 hours per week but only bill 20 hours per week, and we take two weeks of unpaid vacation, in one year we will gross $93,600 per year.
($93.60 per hour x 20 billable hours per week x 50 weeks per year = $93,600).
Now we get to play Bill Cosby and figure out where the money goes.
$10,800 goes to pay for benefits (18% of $60,000), $9,000 goes to retirement savings (15% of $60,000) and $13,800 goes to cover overhead (23% of $60,000), leaving us with our target income of $60,000.
($93,600 – $10,800 – $9,000 – $13,800 = $60,000)
THE BOTTOM LINE
In the end, we can see that a photographer’s billable rate should be at least triple of what they plan to take home as pay – and even four times would still be reasonable in most cases.
HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK PHOTOGRAPHERS SHOULD CHARGE PER HOUR
What have I overestimated? What have I underestimated? What do you think photographers should factor into their billable rate? Do you agree that a billable rate three to four times of take home pay is reasonable for photographers?
Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!