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We will only need 1 day of photography in total – over the 2 days or on 1 of the days – TBA. There’s also a bit of a disconnect in that we’ve got a Connecticut client hosting a conference in Florida; they’re discerning enough to hire a designer in the United Kingdom, but they’re apparently looking for a cheap photographer to create the actual content. It’s a start that Phil wants to know more about what he has to do, but he also needs to know more about how the pictures are going to be used.
I am looking for what we call fly on the wall documentary shots of the event – nothing posed or to camera, rather just natural interactions and scenarios as they emerge.
My typical day rate for corporate events like you describe is $2,000 for a single day, $3600 for two days plus an overnight stay usually at the event hotel. Regarding the fees, I am blessed with a very robust business so I really hold the line on the fees. We are trying to arrange a separate room by the meeting area where we can have the photographer set up for the head shots.
Now that Phil has committed to a price, it’s safe for Dennis to tell him more about the shoot. These meetings usually have portraits involved because it’s a rare occasion to get everyone together….25-30 portraits plus the meeting shots is a good amount of work, I usually tack on a little more with the portraits.
Again, Phil is focused on the fact that the head shots are a bit more work rather than the fact that it’s an important project for the client. Can you still do it for $2000 Phil?? We do want to match an existing look – I will send you a reference for that and talk you through it too for clarity. The fact that the designer wants to “match an existing look” makes the assignment more valuable than if the photographer was being asked to do the shoot in their own style. Good morning Dennis…no worries, I have to move something, I can work on that this morning, but just confirm…back to the original, 2 days = $3600 including all the portraits. This additional direction tells me that the designer has thought a lot about the project and they’re looking for a very specific result. Reviewing this document shows me that the client wants a little more then what was original described. The photography assignment was originally described as “fly on the wall” documentary type photography, nothing posed, just natural. It’s really important for me to have a clear understanding of the work at the bidding process so I can price accordingly.  I don’t think you nor I had this on Wednesday.
Please see what you can do regarding the creative fee with your client now that we know what is required and then I can make a few more simple requests to be sure we all have what we need and move forward. We don’t want you to set anything up – in fact our preferred way forward is for fly on the wall type shots that are candid and unposed. Having now seen Jane’s shot list you have a busy day on the Thursday and then a shorter day on the Friday which doesn’t look too onerous. If you have any questions, or if you need help estimating or producing a project, please give us a call at (610) 260-0200. Even for “Low budget” what kind of moron charges so little and gives away the farm! Filmmakers, writers, directors, actors, etc, they all have a union that fights to create standard rates so people can’t get screwed on either side.
I work in both the still and film industries – trust me, the last thing you want is what the film world has. I think you are totally justified in saying, “I did not bring the necessary equipment to shoot a group portrait, sorry. The Designer was obviously baiting the photographer into committing to a fee before sucker punching him with the unlimited usage and actual details of the shoot. Ignore these fundamentals of contract management and you get what happens in the situation described by Bill Cramer in this post.
I always wanted to know who was going to use the photographs, where were they going to be used and for how long, how they were to be delivered and if there were any other uses.
Both people are doing a little dance, enticing the other with the least amount of info that they can give, while appearing to be enthusiastic about the prospects.
Another great example by Bill – very comprehensive step by step of how (and how not) to deal with these kind of requests.
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I wonder if you could confirm your availability and day rate for a photo shoot on the following days.

The fact that he’s looking for a local photographer means that travel expenses (however modest) would break the bank.
Dennis doesn’t seem to mind that he doesn’t have answers to any of the above questions and all he wants to know is if it could be even cheaper. The shoot day would be 24 Jan only and I have ?1700 so we are not so far apart on price so hopefully not a barrier to trade! If Phil is as busy as he says he is, why is he ignoring usage when he has the leverage to charge for it? First, it’s more difficult to satisfy a client when you’re being asked to match some other photographer’s picture and you don’t know exactly how they did it and you might not even like the way they handled it. I approached 3 photographers in the FL area after looking at work online – you were by far the most responsive and easy to work with so I am really pleased you can do the new date. But the fact that he’s concerned about what the photographer might say indicates to me that he’s not telling the client what the photographer is charging him (which would be the case if he were actually charging a mark-up).
Call me cynical, but I can’t help thinking that Dennis intentionally pulled a bait-and-switch on our hapless photographer. So the photos of the executives are not typical business head-shots, which usually take 5-10 minutes each. Now that we both have the shot list from the creative team, I think we need to re-address the creative fee which at this point should be at least $4,500.00. I understood that I was buying your time over two days based on what I can see from your online creds. I would ask you to work with the time you will get allocated for this task and do your best possible work mindful of what we are looking for – if you can only deliver ‘typical business head-shots’ in the time allocated then we will have to go with those. As a gesture I am pleased to provide you with $3800 as the total fee but I will not go higher – hopefully you feel you can agree to work on this basis so we can move on. The photo direction clearly states that, “…the subjects should be directed…” Now he’s saying that he wants to go back to fly-on-the-wall. As an actor that is moving into filmmaking, I always know that there is an industry standard base pay regulated by unions. It’s obvious they want to low ball the photographer so they can mark it up exponentially to their client.
Unfortunately, he jumped at the chance to book a day or two and looked like an ass when he came back for more money. If a guy comes to paint my kitchen and I actually want him to paint my whole house, he’d charge more. His comment wasn’t about asking for more money, it was about the photographer effectively asking if he could ask for more money. If a client requests changes to the shoot list, that’s a change of requirements, which dictates a written and signed off change to the estimate.
This goes on all the time with clients, and photographers have to play along until clients tip their hands to let you know what’s really at stake with the job.
Considering that most clients will look to get the best price and product for any job, it is the photog’s job to get as much info as possible prior to giving ANY pricing info to the client. I guess I just don’t understand how throwing an arbitrary number out there is a benefit to either the photographer or the client.
In Vietnam I’m trying to get more photographers to charge this way but most give their work away and bend very easy in order to get the job.
It seems that these vague requests are becoming more prevalent and I frequently find that the final detailed specification is quite different to the initial summary. Not only did we get to see how one photographer chose to handle a situation, we got so much information on how to handle it differently. The fact that he’s looking for a photographer who’s willing to quote a “day rate” without knowing the details of the shoot doesn’t bode well either. They see their value as a function of their time and effort and they ignore the value that they’re providing for the client, which is a much bigger driver of the price. It’s a director-level meeting and the pictures are for the annual report (plus other uses). No experienced photographer should let a client arbitrarily dictate their fee (especially a busy photographer).
Second, the pictures aren’t going to be as useful in the photographer’s portfolio since they’re in someone else’s style. Even if he already has one that he could bring, if it’s providing additional value to the client, he should charge for it.
In fact, I suspect he’s not really doing a modest mark-up, but rather I think the designer is charging a reasonable amount to the client, paying as little as possible to the photographer and pocketing the difference. I think that Dennis intentionally underplayed the significance of the project and once he locked in the price, he revealed the true details and expectations of the job.
All the above is fine, and I am perfectly comfortable doing this, but not what I originally envisioned.
Since we are 5 working days out, I really really don’t like to upset the citrus cart, but the job is up a few notches. The answer will generally be “no.” The photographer should simply say, “Thank you for letting me know about the changes.

I think you are signalling that you are up to the task which is great – what I don’t understand is why that should now suddenly cost me more. I am not available for the rest of the day as traveling so will not be able to respond to you until Monday am UK time. It took me far too long to learn this, but negotiations are now all about transparency, deliberation, and getting everything in writing.
When it comes to usage, the education process sometimes just doesn’t go well because they just want to hear a number and the usage and all that sounds like trickery to some people. A Professional will get all the details even if it takes a couple of phone calls or emails then draft a detailed estimate containing the number of shots, content and usage. Photographers who are good at the preliminary gavotte will divulge costs involved with the jobs as described, but leave open the possibility for scaling up as more responsibilities and demands come to light. I think the point of this article is to show that the photographers don’t often lead this dance, but should. That he’s looking for a photographer who can do “one day’s work” over a period of two shoot days tells me that he’s looking for a low price.
That’s all significant because the stakes are higher for the design firm and the communications people at the corporation.
Instead of offering a one-size-fits-all approach to his pricing (and his production values), he would do better to recognize that different projects may require different levels of service and different pricing. I would love to see a schedule so I know the hours, and if they provided you with a shot list.
All perfectly legitimate, but just evidence of how often photographers sell themselves short, oblivious to the fact that everyone else around them is making money.
It means that even if I choose not to be a creative, there is a base pay that I can count on as long as I have work.
In the end, Phil made about half of what he should have but he was smart enough to grant no Advertising or Promotional use without additional compensation. All I’m saying is that timing plays a great part in getting the client to come clean about the extent of the job. It’s what the job could cost if it truly were as simple as the client had originally said.
Either the designer has never worked with a professional photographer before or he only works with low-end photographers or he may be testing the photographer to see what kind of questions he’ll ask. If they’re processed, can the client order any number of processed files or is there a limit?
That makes the pictures more valuable than a routine sales meeting which Phil is more accustomed to.
Phil is accustomed to working without an assistant (he just finds someone to sit in for a test shot) and he just does basic tweaks to the files, converts them all to jpgs and sends them off to the designer.
Even if Dennis is merely disorganized and not malevolent, the mission creep has left Phil shooting an annual report at event coverage prices.
So that makes it difficult for him to change the price when the project changes but the time doesn’t.
As my name recognition increases or my level as a filmmaker (above or below the line), so does my pay.
This leads to wasted time haggling about prices and teaching people the worth of a good photographer. Peel away every layer and then some to get to the bottom of what’s really being paid for and what the end result will be. I often hear people talking about educating clients, but what’s more important is educating photographers. These pictures aren’t just to document the event, they’re for the most important publication that corporation will produce that year. In the end, the photographer agreed to a 4000.00 flat fee without any conditions on the usage or payment schedule. Sometimes, you never get a true description of the scope of the job, and you have to rely on your own experience to assign a reasonable cost for what you’re dead sure is gonna happen once you get on set. That’s the time to drive home that the job needs to be billed not as originally described by the client, but as now understood by the photographer.
I would be inclined to bring an assistant to help carry the lights, set up, break down, sit in for test shots, run errands in an emergency.
For the small additional cost, it’s a valuable insurance policy to make sure things go well when you’re photographing the CEO and the board of directors.
I’d also be inclined to process the files individually once the client has chosen their favorites, rather than batch process a thousand pictures most-of-the-way.

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