NASA doesn't know a goddamned thing about commercial photography pricing. Americans should know how badly they're getting screwed.
Story by Craig Boehman
I can't help but wonder how much quicker humanity would be reaching Mars if NASA knew how to price commercial photography shoots.
Hats off to the Estee Lauder agent who landed the $128,000 contract for NASA astronauts to photograph their 'Advanced Night Repair' product in space. I mean, this is the deal of the fucking century. Estee Lauder, if you're reading this, promote this motherfucker already!
According to Forbes, Estee Lauder will pay NASA "for a four-and-and-half hour photoshoot shot by NASA astronauts." That's astronauts plural.
Oh, and it's to be shot in SPACE. On the INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION. Making use of a view that looks like this:
Yes. $128,000 is a lot of money. Yes. NASA needs funding, for better or for worse. But whoever is running the show over there needs to read up about how to price their photography shoots. Do they even know how much top-pier photographers get for commercial photo shoots - down on shit-house Earth?
Let's assume, no. Because if the NASA rep did know, he or she ought to be fired. Or at least forced to read my following examples of how much photography can be worth. Let's be nice!
Quotes from this excerpt: "Some of the budgets these agencies have to spend on photography...it's really astronomical." - Patrick Hall, Fstoppers co-owner.
"A small budget would probably be between $80,000 to $100,000," said Andrea Johnson, Photo Producer at Lions Gate. "A bigger budget, probably $300,000." Looks like Estee Lauder only has a "small budget" for a galactic advertising campaign, according to industry leaders.
Photographers who got paid beaucoup bucks for single images: Andreas Gursky sold an image for $4.3 million in 2011.
Richard Prince was the first photographer whose work sold for more than one million dollars.
And how can we forget Kevin Abosch, who sold a picture of a potato to a businessman for over $1 million?
Let's get real for a moment
Granted, not all ad campaigns for Nike and Apple are going to pay photographers millions or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for every campaign. Not every photograph or image is worth millions of dollars. But such campaigns have existed and will always exist for as long as companies have millions to spend on global advertising campaigns. And there will always be single photographs and images which will sell for fortunes.
Now, let's ask ourselves this question:
Why would a photoshoot in space, conducted by a multi-billion-dollar, publically-funded agency like NASA, and by the way, one of the few entities in existence which has a fucking space program, be willing to stoop so low as to accept a bid for $128,000 from Estee Lauder, a company with a global net worth of over $14 billion in 2020?
Secondly, how much is Estee Lauder spending on their 'Advanced Night Repair' campaign? Is it budgeted for millions, or tens of millions? Thirdly, how much will Estee Lauder stand to make in sales off of their customers from this campaign? Will it be for millions above their millions-budget, or will it be tens of millions above their tens-of-millions-budget?
The answers to questions two and three are, unquestionably, many millions of dollars.
The fourth question, what in the hell are NASA's costs for shooting this ad? The costs that should be passed along to Estee Lauder?
The fifth question, based on all previous questions, did NASA make the right call in charging just $128,000 for a global campaign?
Don't expect NASA to answer this last one for us. But there are clues to how much it costs to hall cargo into space.
Costs to blast shit into space
According to Business Insider, the costs of NASA missions are to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars to American taxpayers. Ouch. But let's not dwell on this fact and assume it's all for the common good of humanity.
The costs of shipping cargo into space vary though, depending on who's doing the hauling. This cost is most commonly determined by dividing the total launch cost by the total weight.
- The cost of sending cargo to space on space shuttles was around $10,000 per pound
- To send cargo up on the Orbital Science's Cygnus craft costs over $43,000 per pound
- NASA now uses SpaceX to haul its cargo at a cost of $27,000 per pound
Based on these numbers, we can make some educated guesses at how much NASA's costs could be for the Estee Lauder shoot.
The cheapest line item would arguably be the small bottle of 'Advanced Night Repair'. How heavy is that little thing? According to one Amazon listing for the product, one bottle weighs in at just over 18 grams. After conversion, that equates to nearly $1,100 to ship just one bottle. Let's calculate on the assumption that NASA will be shooting this single bottle and not multiple products.
Next is the photography gear. The camera itself and lens, and possible accessories, like a flash unit. Assuming that NASA will try to shoot this with minimal lighting equipment and accessories is a safe bet because of the high costs of transport. Let's take a flash unit and other accessories out of the equation to keep things simple. That leaves us just with the camera and lens combo.
According to DIY Photography, astronauts have been using the Nikon D4 for many of their shoots, at least as of 2016. Pictured in this referenced article is also one of the likely lenses astronauts may choose to shoot Estee Lauder product, the Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 lens. Now, they may be shooting on a new mirrorless system with a different lens, which would weigh less than their DSLR counterparts. But for the sake of confirmation, let's use these two items as base factors.
Nikon D4 weighs 2.96 pounds with battery | Costs $79,920 to ship into space Nikon 24-70mm weighs 2.36 pounds | Costs $62,100 to ship into space
What about labor? Well, we know that astronauts plural will be working some 4-4.5 hours on the Estee Lauder shoot. Let's just call that a half-day rate for two astronauts. How much do astronauts get paid?
According to Metro, NASA pays astronauts anywhere from just over $66,000 to $100,000 and change, per year based on experience and performance. For the sake of argument, let's say NASA will be using two astronauts who make $75,000 a year to work four hours on the photoshoot. Let's also assume that NASA will only bill Estee Lauder based on the two astronauts' hourly rate of almost $39 per hour. Let's assume NASA has no clue about commercial photography day rates and only factor in labor only.
Turns out labor is cheap: $312, cheaper than it costs to ship a small bottle into space.
But wait a minute. What about the weight of the two astronauts? Won't we pass these costs onto the client too to accurately cover all our costs? If we did, let's assume both astronauts are male and weigh 170 pounds each.
Costs to ship two astronauts for the shoot into space: $9.1 million!
NASA ultimately decides to not bill Estee Lauder for this line item. Who's going to pay that rate? Plus, there could be other companies paying for various services, helping to offset the costs. If not, the US taxpayers will gladly flip the bill for Estee Lauder.
What real commercial photographers charge for their shoots
To be realistic, commercial photographers will bill all their production costs to a client, including a creative fee plus licensing. If this were a "real" commercial shoot, for instance, Estee Lauder would be on the hook to pay for more line items than what we're accounting for here, including part or all the costs of sending those astronauts into space.
My estimate for the bare bones costs for this Estee Lauder shoot Here's my estimate, excluding the $9 million line item: $143, 432
Amount NASA actually charged Estee Lauder: $128, 000
Looks like NASA not only doing this photoshoot for free, but is losing money too, to the sum of over $10,000.
Or are they?
Here's my point
By grossly undercharging Estee Lauder, NASA is effectively kicking themselves and the American public in the balls. Because who in the hell is picking up the bill? Who's subsidizing NASA for losing fantastic sums of money for bungling a commercial photoshoot contract in outerspace? The American public. The American taxpayer. Who ultimately wins? Estee Lauder.
Enjoy your Advanced Night Repair product, Estee Lauder customers. Your skin may get repaired at the cost of an unrepairable space program.