Just wanted to send out a heads-up that I'm going to be taking two weeks off for some greatly-needed vacation time. No shooting - just relaxing. The next 'season' (not sure you could even call it that) of the podcast will resume the second week of August. Until then, enjoy!
Anyone who follows the podcast and blog knows that I'm a huge fan of Cloud Engine's PogoPlug. It's FTP without the hassle of an FTP for both you and your clients. The one and only negative I consistently find with the product is it's goofy title and pink-accented color theme. For all it does right, I find myself apologizing to clients in advance when I say "you'll be receiving an email invitation from something called a 'PogoPlug', I know, it sounds silly…"
Well, those days are numbered with the introduction of the PogoPlug Biz. It's essentially a beefed-up version of the PogoPlug we know and love, but this iteration gives business users the ability to customize and monitor the presentation and content on the drive(s).
We'll be able to customize the interface, background image, color scheme, even the domain name that invites users to the files. Web-view only sharing allows clients to preview images, but not download them (pretty nifty for use photographers, eh?). The cloud-printing adds a twist to the concept - not sure I'll get any use of it, but good to know it's there. It also has things like multiple users and remote backup.
The one bummer about this product it's cost: $299. I can't help but feel a little gouged on the price when the price of the pink-version is 1/3 the cost - plus it seems like almost all of these features are software-based, not hardware.
You can check out the PogoPlug Biz info and pre-order page here.
First and foremost, when dealing with the subject of state sales tax, we must acknowledge that the principles of this topic vary from state to state. Now that we've put that out in the open, let's get to the heart of the matter: does a real estate photographer charge sales tax to her/his clients?
Let's begin with the tax itself: it's a tax administered to the end-user for purchasing a good, collected by the party making the sale. The business doesn't make money on the deal, in fact, state sales tax can deter people from purchasing large-priced items.
The Sale of a Good vs Providing a Service:
The whole reason we're even talking about whether or not to charge sales tax is because there's a significant amount of grey area involving what we as photographers provide: do we provide a good or a service? See, goods are subject to state sales tax. Goods are tangible, touchable, purchasable things. You walk into the store, buy a good, and you walk out with it. Services are labor, time, and above all, intangible. This is the crux of the matter - in the digital age, we don't have to create tangible goods to make a living.
Let's go back a few years, to a time when our medium for capturing light was film. In those days, there was no point in taking pictures unless you had the intention of selling them. Quite frankly, you'd be wasting your time. The state tax laws covered everything from head to toe, the prints to the negatives - if you were a photographer, you were definitely collecting sales tax. Fast forward to today - a photographer can be create digital images, deliver them online, never produce a tangible product, and be paid for the service/time/labor. Think about it, when the medium changed, the entire business model was flipped on it's ear - even if your efforts never come to tangible fruition through your own efforts, your service is still valued.
Ok, So What if I do Produce a Tangible Product?
So like I said, each state defines who does and doesn't have to pay sales tax a little differently - so be sure to do your research. In this case, I'm going to use the most common guidelines.
If you make a DVD of the images, prints, photo albums, etc. - you're producing a good. Goods are subject to sales tax, as we've covered, but that's not all - in the field of photography, the good is recorded as a sale, and now the service/labor that went into creating the image is subject to sales tax as well as the good could not exist without the service/labor. I don't make the rules, so don't yell at me. So to be clear: no product, no sales tax. Product, sales tax on the good as well as the service (should be recorded separately as well).
Is This Just Dome Kind of Loophole or Something?
No, I personally don't think it's a loophole, I think some states view digital goods not to be taxable, while others are ‘catching up with the times’ and realizing it’s lost revenue. Try and think about it in another way - when you download software, do you pay sales tax? Most would answer no. Thats because you didn't physically acquire a product, you just transferred 1's and 0's from one place to another. If you purchased that same piece of software in the store, you would have to pay sales tax. The same is true for digital photographers who only deliver their files electronically - no product, no tax. The moment you make a product, you are now required to charge sales tax.
Define the Service in Writing:
The best way to steer clear of any confusion down the pike is to put the terms of service in writing. In your invoices, think about including a one or two-sentence statement outlining how the digital images will be delivered to the client. If you state it in writing and follow-through with it in practice, there should be no doubt of whether or not a tangible product was transferred.
Talk to the Professionals - Interpretation is Key:
This topic came about because a reader/viewer who also lived in my state, Virginia, was informed (incorrectly) by the state tax office that she should be charging sales tax on digital photography. What I did was get on the (electronic) horn and chatted with a number of tax agents, each of which gave me conflicting interpretations of the tax law. I got on the real phone the next morning and got the ‘official’ scoop (everything I just said in this article, essentially) and realized that not even the professionals have this area down to a science. After that, I talked to an accountant and they confirmed what the agent on the phone said. I would highly advise talking through the tax law with a human being and confirming that information with an accountant, it'll not only give you a better understanding of the law, but peace of mind that you are operating your business correctly.
Know your state’s tax rules and stay current - if the rules change, you probably aren't going to get an email, you're going to be responsible for knowing the rule changed. Knowing and following the tax laws in your state will help your business run smoothly.
Hey all, just wanted to inform everyone that there won't be anything new this week. I'm resting up from non-stop shooting on all fronts - residential shoots during the week, 3 weddings in the past two weekends, as well as gearing up for a massive architectural shoot with a deadline right around the corner. Thanks for understanding.
Well, the day is here. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom has graduated beta and is available for download this very moment.
I'm sure you already know the run-down of features, so there's no need to rewrite the litany of improvements. The only feature I wanted to highlight was the lens correction addition. It seems that Adobe has taken the time and energy to implement an addition that makes our lives easier - kudos Lightroom team. The setting allows you to select the make, model, and profile of the lens, adjust the profile, or even manually adjust the lens correction and save it as a new one. I recall reading something from a company that creates software specifically for this cause - and that company was not impressed with this feature. From what I understand, it's too complicated for end-users and it should be left to the professionals, so they say. Wrong. Anyone with the willingness to learn how to correct lens imperfections is better for it, it'll also teach you a great deal about optics in the process.
The obvious relation between this feature and real estate photography is just that - obvious. Real estate photography demands the accurate recreation of reality and most lenses distort reality in one way or another. Even if the lens is 'perfect', the photographer probably isn't. I'm not suggesting you should ditch PTLens or DxO Optics just yet, I'm just saying that there's another player in this game and so far it looks very promising.
So check out Lightroom 3 here, it's well worth your time and energy.