The marketing assistant for a ceiling fan manufacturer called me in early November for a quote. She needed photographs of a Chicago restaurant interior to be used in a brochure and on their website. She had located my business by searching on Google for a Chicago architectural photographer. She liked our work, especially the lighting of the interior spaces.
Her photography list included images with and without people, showing various angles of the space making sure to highlight their fans. My contact did indicate they had no budget for professional models, but she would not share her overall budget with me. I was cautiously optimistic - she was thorough, indicating she hired photographers regularly, she had a deadline, and she appeared to want my expertise.
I put together the estimate making sure to cover all the details necessary to give this client the same quality of work featured on our website. The quote included scouting the location, planning with the restaurant owner, lining up restaurant employees to pose as customers and budgeting to pay those employees a small fee allowing me to secure signed model releases, an assistant and an average amount of digital postproduction. I wrote up the license for the client to use the images as they outlined. The estimate came to $3,200.
The marketing assistant thanked me for my time, but told me we were too expensive. She said they customarily paid $600 to $700 for this type of assignment.
Wow. I have become accustomed to low budgets, but this was really incredible. This manufacturer was looking to complete a commercial assignment with very specific parameters, released models and a bundled license of rights for a budget comparable to a one-time use editorial job.
This was an easy one to walk away from as their budget did not even come close to covering my cost of doing business, let alone qualify as fair compensation for the licensing package requested. Still, the experience nags at me. Did someone take this job? Has this manufacturer been using photographers with no liability coverage? Quite a risk when they are asking for fans 14 feet in the air to be cleaned and polished. Do they have releases for all the people appearing in the photographs on their website?
It was hard to imagine a professional working at this rate and covering all these bases. Did the client eventually pay more? I hope this is what happened, but I also know that many photographers are running scared in this economy.
Pricing professional photography - even in good economic times - requires the careful consideration of many factors, including:
How the images will be used
The photographer's cost of doing business
What the market will bear for the specific type of work
The production needs of the project
Pricing in a tough economic climate adds an additional layer of difficulty. The downward pressure on photographers' fees has been intense in recent years due to the increased democratization of the service we provide, the new ease of image distribution and the ever-growing availability of free or nearly free photographs. When this recession hit the entire global economy in late 2008, our existing problems were compounded.
There are times when you may need to lower your price to get the work, but it is much wiser to negotiate a change in the parameters of the job rather than unilaterally lowering your fee.
Let's say, for example, that a client needs four products photographed, three views each. Your estimate is over their budget. Rather than cutting your price, suggest they only do two views per product or use the same background for each image. The client gives something up and you can give on the price.
The biggest risk you take in lowering your fees in tough times is that clients will not be willing to raise them again when the economy improves. If you work with clients creatively to meet their currently tighter budgets, you do not damage your fee structure for the future.
Remember that your fee structure is not a dartboard: Your fees should be based on the costs of being a professional, the production needs of the assignment and the licensed use of the work. When you price based on specifics you can pinpoint, you can negotiate and defend your fees with confidence. This is what distinguishes you as a professional.
Creative Fee: Your cost of doing business + the specifics of the assignment
Licensing Fee: How the client will use the image
Production needs of the job: These are the expenses
Know your market: Industry practices for a particular kind of work
PRICE = 1 + 2 + 3 (adjust for 4)
IF YOU DISCOVER THAT YOUR COST OF DOING BUSINESS IS DRAMATICALLY HIGHER THAN THE PREVAILING FEES CHARGED FOR THE TYPE OF PHOTOGRAPHY YOU WANT TO DO, YOU MUST REEVALUATE YOUR BUSINESS PLAN. EITHER CHANGE YOUR OVERHEAD AND SALARY GOALS OR CHANGE THE TYPE OF PHOTOGRAPHY YOU ARE DOING. THERE IS NO WAY TO BUILD A SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS IF THESE TWO FINANCIAL ASPECTS ARE CONSISTENTLY OUT OF SYNC.