Keeper Rate, Pricing, Bookkeeping, and Gels for Softboxes

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff Harmon2 Comments

Jeff and Connor talk about keeper rates as a tool to get better, how photographers can figure out pricing for their services, how photographers can do bookkeeping, and gels for softboxes!

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What is a Keeper Rate for Photographers?

A “keep rate” is the percentage of photos from a shoot that are “keepers” compared with the total number of shots taken.

Connor, have you ever tracked your keeper rate from a shoot?  Tracked the percentage of shots that survive your culling process?

Connor: Absolutely! I don’t keep as close of an eye on it now as I once did, but I found that an incredible tool for pacing myself and goal setting in the past and still use it as a metric for how I am doing for any particular session I shoot. I don’t use spreadsheets to track these things, but I do think it is really important to make an effort to be intentional in the way you shoot, and this is one of the best ways to do it.

When it comes to the question of “what is considered a passing image and what is a rejected image, it is up to the individual and the goal currently being worked towards.  I think in general, you have a much better metric for how you are doing with ANY goal if you are paying attention to your ratios.

At this point in my shooting if I pulled up any general session I shot, knew what type of session it was, and looked at my ratios I could likely tell you a long list of things about my shooting for that session, the client, ballpark of how much I was paid, etc.

Jeff: I had a post a couple of weeks ago in our Master Photography Facebook Group where I shared a few of the best shots I got at a high school basketball game and I included some information about how many shots I took and how many I evaluated to be keepers.  Super subjective thing but we had a lot of comments on that post so I thought it would be good to go over why it is I decided to track my keeper rate.

Here are the raw numbers I shared on Facebook.  My wife and I both shot the event. She used our Canon 80D and this time I used a Fuji XT-3 that Fuji sent me to evaluate.  I will be providing my review of the camera in a future Photo Taco episode, but I have to say the camera is so much fun to shoot!  We took 1,364 photos at the high school basketball game. 188 of them (13%) were worth sharing with the team and 57 of them (4%) were really good keepers.

Why Track Keeper Rate?

I was happy with the results, though David Taylor commented on my post saying he has shot NBA for 9 years and we took far too many shots and our keeper rate was really poor.  I am obviously not as good at this as David. I have never shot an NBA game, this was my 13th high school game, so I would put myself very much in the learning stages here. That is part of why I decided to track this, I want to see my keeper rate trending up, taking fewer throw away shots and having a much higher percentage of shots I keep.  A way to see that I am getting better.

The other reason I decided to do this was a far more practical one, I have been too lazy with my culling for a while now.  I have taught effective culling processes, I have a Photo Taco episode called “Culling Like a Pro” you can check out to hear how even in Lightroom you can do culling really quickly.  You may also want to check out the Photo Taco episode called “Lr Embedded Preview Workflow” to see how to do culling quickly.  With the basketball shots in particular I get so excited to find the very best ones and share them that I have set aside my culling process and just kind of dug through to find a few to share.  

I decided that I needed to be more disciplined here in 2019 with my culling and since you can’t find the keeper rate without doing culling that is going to be the way I kind of force myself to do it with my basketball shoots.  I think tracking my keeper rate over time, especially for high school basketball, will be a tool for me to kind of see how I am doing. Tell me if I am improving, and if I am not look into ways I can get better.

Why Not Spray and Pray?

I also saw several comments to my post asking why would I care to do this when it doesn’t cost me anything to take as many shots as I want at the games.  Certainly this is something that is only a problem today using digital cameras because that was not the case back in the film only days. With beginning photographers it is an approach they take we call spray and pray.  They are taking a lot of shots because they don’t really understand what settings or how to use their camera in order to get the shot of things that aren’t moving, let alone athletes moving really quickly in a very dark space.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing spray and pray when you are starting out in photography.  I know I learned a lot by looking at the photos that worked, what the settings were when they worked, and why it was those settings made it work.  The key is moving on from spray and pray at some point. Staying in spray and pray means you aren’t really getting better as a photographer.  You don’t really know how to create a photo and are hoping that by dumb luck you will succeed.

To some degree, that is what I am still doing at high school basketball games.  I am learning every game how to get better at it, developing a skill for shooting basketball that is a little bit beyond knowing how to use your camera.  Yes, I have a little bit of a spray and pray approach here where I use high speed continuous drive mode on my camera and then hold that shutter button down for a second or so as I create an action shot photo.  Yes, I am going to throw away all but one of those shots taken in each burst. Based on David’s comment, it sounds like as I continue to get more practice shooting basketball I may take a little more of the pray out of it.

What’s the Downside of Spray and Pray For Sports Photography?

For photographing action sports what is so bad about spray and pray?  It doesn’t really cost you anything. A little wear on the shutter in the camera that doesn’t last forever.  A little extra time to cull through a lot of photos you won’t keep. A little storage if you do keep the photos around even if they don’t survive culling.  However, it isn’t like the film days where it really cost you a lot for extra frames.

I don’t see a problem with spray and pray with action sports shots so that you improve your chances of getting THE shot.  Tracking my keeper rate isn’t with a goal in mind of getting to something like 80 or 90%. I don’t have plans to stop using high speed continuous drive mode on my camera and getting 7-11 frames from a single action.

In fact, spray and pray might just be more needed the more amateur the athletes are.  High school basketball doesn’t flow as predictably. The players have good form less often.  It is more likely that you will take a few frames hoping to capture some good action that should have happened but the athlete didn’t make it happen and all of them are now not going to survive culling.

There is another reason we took so many shots at the high school basketball game.  We are doing this for the team. Not for a single news story or only trying to create the very best action shots, we are shooting so that the athletes will have photos of themselves playing.  Not all of them are driving in the lane or making a tremendous defensive block. Some of the shots the athletes have liked the most is a simple one of them in their defensive stance with a serious look of determination to stop their opponent.  We take a lot of shots of all the players so that we can create photos that all of them like of themselves and that means taking more shots than I would if I was looking for one to put in a newspaper.

How do Photographers Price Their Service?

There isn’t a universal answer to how photographers should price their service.  Some do sitting fees, others focus on in person sales of marked up prints. The key is thinking through how much money you need to make over a year to cover your expenses plus a little more.

This is a question that comes up pretty regularly on the podcast.  Good to keep discussing it. Things keep changing and our answers here will keep changing.

Question from Suzy Parish in the Facebook Group:


I’m REALLY struggling with how to start out my pricing. I don’t feel like I can charge a regular price yet, and I want to do IPS (in person sales) when I do really start….I’ve just been doing stuff for free & was told I should start charging. I cannot decide how to charge…for the session & files/prints. How many files to include??? I just can’t figure this out. When I do IPS, I won’t be selling many files, but feel like, since I’m trying to get my foot in the door, continue to practice, etc, I should be extremely competitive and give lots of files. Ugh. Please help!

Suzy Parish – Master Photography Podcast Facebook Group
Pricing Thought Process

Jeff: I’m still where Suzy is at.  I hate in person sales. I get that it means I leave a lot of money on the table.  For me personally, I like the capturing and creating part of photography. I don’t really enjoy the printing or sales after the shoot.  I offer a service that is not the same as most who are actually trying to make money through their photography. That isn’t my objective.  Connor, what suggestions do you have for Suzy?

Connor: In regards to pricing, there are a number of philosophies out there, some people say never work for free, some say price yourself where you ultimately want to end up with your pricing from the start and provide discounts, some say charge a little and increase as you go.

You have to make sure you think through the pricing to cover your expenses and make the yearly income you need.  In a ridiculous example, let’s say that you need to make $750K a year in order to have $30K of income. Nobody would ever have that, but just an example of the thinking.  Then you think through how many clients you can handle a year so that you can figure out where each session with a client should be.

If the per session cost to the client seems to high for what you can produce, then you can look at how to reduce expenses or use some kind of introductory pricing so that the client knows they are getting a deal because you are getting started.  Something along those lines.

One of the biggest issues photographers seem to run into is not thinking through what they need to make in a year, setting their price to low, and then when they realize they need more per session and raise their prices a lot, they lose clients.

You could also charge a certain rate and then offering a larger number of photos from the shoot as you get started so that the client perceives more value.  Then as you skill grows you can decrease the number of images you shoot, edit, and deliver.

Sitting Fee vs. In Person Sales for Photographers?

Jeff: What about sitting fees vs in person sales Connor?  Do you charge sitting fees?

Connor:  I don’t charge sitting fees.  I don’t like people paying for something when they don’t know what it is yet.  They don’t know if they are actually going to like the work. I have yet to have a customer come back and say they are so unhappy with the work that they don’t want to pay for it.  I do a shoot and then I work with them after the shoot to sell them the shots they want. I can guarantee the client that they will get photos out of the shoot and I get paid for the work I do.

Jeff: Just as an alternative idea.  The way I do this is something I know is not for everyone.  A model I have been running for quite a while now. I am not suggesting this is THE way to do pricing but it might be a bay step they can take to figuring this out.  I think I will always be in the “just getting started” phase of a photography business.

My goal is not to make a lot of money on my photography over the year.  My goal is to make enough money from my portrait shoots that I can pay my taxes for the year.  Kind of break even there. Not how a person who wants to do photography professionally should do this for sure.

With my clients we work out a sitting fee and for that fee they have hired me to push the shutter button on the camera for two hours.  They get every image we take in that time. I am not trying to protect a brand or my livelihood. They are paying a sitting fee for me to take as many frames as I can for those two hours.

Families never go the full two hours.  They work out the math on the sitting fee and see an hourly rate that isn’t too bad and they feel good about the price that way, but after an hour they are usually done.  I deliver all of the photos that aren’t out of focus or exposure test shots to the client so that they can proof them. I use Zenfolio to send them the proof photos that are sized smaller and unedited.  For the sitting fee the get the two hours of me pushing the shutter button and 10 edits of the photos.

If they want more than 10 photos edited, the price for each edit beyond the 10 is $5 per edit.  My clients almost always choose to have me do additional edits. I also offer to do prints for them if they just don’t want to deal with that, but I don’t enjoy that process much and most of my clients want to do that themselves because they know this is where photographers really mark things up so they are happy to take that on themselves.

Connor: I think you are doing some in person sales, just not in person.  You are selling them on getting more edits after the shoot and paying the sitting fee.

What Bookkeeping Workflow and Programs Should Photographers Use?

There are so many options for photographers to do bookkeeping from fee solutions like google docs spreadsheets tracking income and expenses to paid solutions like QuickBooks, FreshBooks and others.  We suggest you talk to your accountant and find out what they would have you use.

Closely related to Suzy’s question, this one came from Breanna Miller on the Facebook group:


I’d love to hear your workflow on bookkeeping and how to stay on top of it each month with what programs.” and Veronica Bareman added “Including what software you use for invoicing and billing and how you accept Credit Card payments….

Breanna Miller – Master Photography Podcast Facebook Group
Hobbyist Free Bookkeeping

Jeff: I will provide my answers first and then I’ll let you talk about what you use Connor.  My book keeping is not very complicated. I am a hobbyist photographer who mostly shoots for the love of the art.  I take on several clients a year doing family portraits mostly, though I have done some seniors and other portraits as well.  I don’t shoot wedding unless it is close family that I love a lot.

I don’t have very extreme needs so my wife and I have a google docs spreadsheet that we share.  I put our expenses like monthly charges for Google G suite so that we can have legit email addresses that don’t end in gmail.com.  We have Adobe subscriptions. We have a Zenfolio subscription. Then I track the camera gear we buy too, which isn’t a lot being on a hobbyist budget.

On that same spreadsheet we include the paid shoots we do and how much we get from them.  We set aside 30% of the proceeds from those shoots for taxes and then I pretty much use the rest on the expenses I just talked about.  We do a little more than break even every year, and that is all I am looking for. I have fun with this, it is far from being a serious business for me.  I don’t know that I will ever make it something where I am doing this to make money.

I take a print out of that spreadsheet to our accountant at tax time, he punches in the numbers, and he tell us how much of that tiny bit of income we have to give back to Uncle Sam.  Even for me as a hobbyist who isn’t focused on making a lot of income from my photography I HIGHLY recommend getting a tax guy to help you with filing every year. The costs of the tax guy are pretty small and the time and headache it has saved me is enormous.  Can’t recommend that enough.

As to credit cards, I don’t really take them.  We get our payments for our portrait shoots by check, cash, and Paypal/Venmo.  Again, not dealing with a lot of money here, so no need for something more extravagant for my needs thus far.  I haven’t had a single client say they wish they could pay me using a credit card.

Professional Bookkeeping

Connor: Totally agree with the recommendation you gave for hobbyists in getting a tax professional to help you with your taxes.  Last year I did a bit of an experiment. I did my taxes on my own using Turbo Tax right up to the point of sending the filing off.  Then I had my tax professional do the same filing and she saved me about $4,000 to $5,000 in taxes I didn’t have to pay. Worth every penny to pay for that service.

I love WaveAapps for my accounting.  The main thing is to have a routine.  Make sure you are tracking your expenses and income in the software or app at least quarterly if not monthly.  Last year I didn’t do a good job of this. I didn’t reconcile everything until about half way through the year and then again at the new year.  It wasn’t often enough and became a chore. Plus, I couldn’t remember what some of the expenses were when I looked at them when they went back so far.

Wave apps has about the same processing fee as other apps like Stripe or Square, maybe a little under.  There isn’t a device with the app that allows you to swipe their card, but you can put the numbers from the card into the app to charge the card.  Mostly I just send the client the invoice after the shoot so that they can click on the link and provide payment however they like, including credit card.

One thing to be aware of is that many of these apps will double count the income.  They count the payment of the invoice and they count the credit card transaction from your bank, so watch out for that.

Jeff: I know that Erica uses QuickBooks for her bookkeeping even though she also uses 17 Hats, which has bookkeeping functionality.  I believe she does that because her accountant prefers QuickBooks and it makes her life easier to do that. I think it would be good to check with your accountant if they have a preference on what software you should use.  You could even ask if they would give you a discount on their service if you would use a specific program that costs you money to license.

Speedlights to Strobes

Good friend of the show, Mr. Brian Pex, posted in the Facebook group: “Talk about moving from speedlights to strobes and the topic of coloring your light with modifiers in place! A softbox on the strobe mount. Not any really good solutions!!”

I am dabbling into strobe-ish lights with the Godox AD200, haven’t tried to do any gel work with them yet, but I think there are some decent solutions Godox has for that.  I am also intrigued by the MagMod Softbox that isn’t yet available because they specifically designed it for adding gels in there.  Not sure I will go there given the cost, but I think that would be a pretty good option when they are available.  Connor, what do you have on this?

Connor: This is really a big one that depends on the specific type of strobes and softbox that you have.  One of the primary things to consider is that most gels are not terribly heat resistant. They will melt if they are too close to the light that is on for longs periods of time.  What you need to do is get the gel taped inside the softbox and kind of seal things off so that the light is forced through the gel.

I use umbrella style softboxes.  I cut a hole in the gels and then push them down over the rod of the umbrella and then use gaffer tape to secure the gel in place.  You don’t need a gel that can cover the entire softbox, that can get pretty expensive. You only need one big enough to be a little bit away from the light that gets so hot and then seal things off so that all the light passes through it.

Doodads

Jeff: Odd selection from me today.  May not be another listener out there that might need this, but if there is then it might just save you.  OWC Envoy Pro Portable, Bus-Powered USB 3.0 Enclosure for Apple Flash SSDs ($100)

Connor 10 Pieces Colored Overlays Light Gels Transparency Color Film Plastic Sheets Correction Gel Light Filter Sheet, 12 by 12 Inch,10 Assorted Colors

Reminders:

Comments

  1. Hi Jeff! When you deliver your mass photo shoot of low rez, does the client ever have concerns how the unedited photos “look”? We know that an unedited jpg is completely different than one that’s gone through the editing process 🙂

    1. Author

      @Miguel,

      Thanks so much for listening! My process is certainly not for everyone. Many photographers feel like they want to protect their brand and never let an unedited fully professional photo out of their grasp. That just isn’t how I feel about it.

      I do very light edits on the raw files to get the exposure and colors to be about the same across all of them. As I have practiced and improved they are coming out of the camera more consistent that way too. I don’t share the test exposure shots or those where I have massive technical issues like missing focus. But I deliver all the rest of the photos for my clients to proof because they are far better judges of what a real smile and real moment looks like than I am.

      I do also provide instructions as I am shooting with the client and when I deliver the proofs that they shouldn’t worry about the brightness/darkness or colors in the photo because I will make all of the photos they choose look their very best as I professionally edit them. None of my clients have ever said they were disappointed because those proofs were not the full quality. I think it is because I set the expectations right up front that the proofs are not going to be extremely high quality, only enough for them to pick which are their favorites. In fact, many of my clients tell me it is a real struggle for them to pick because they like them all.

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