By Jess Dudley, Wonderful Machine Producer
The creative director of a small West Coast graphic design firm recently contacted one of our photographers asking for a quote on a portrait for use in an annual report. The client was a large insurance company and they needed a picture of a financial planner who refers a lot of work their way.
The designer said the picture needed to be a tightly-cropped, environmental portrait at the subject’s office (about a 20 minute drive from the photographer’s studio). They wanted to see a variety of situations: “…the guy at his desk, at the computer, on the phone, looking at the camera, not looking, maybe outside.” The CD told me that the image would be used as a “supporting image within a sidebar in an annual report.” “Supporting image” was a little vague for me, so I asked to see a layout of the page to get a better idea of the size, placement and context of the picture. Looking at that, I saw that the picture would be relatively small, among other larger pictures, and that it was going to be used inside the brochure (rather than on the front or back cover). I also saw that it was a nicely designed brochure with other good photography comped in.
Looking back at a similar estimate I had worked on recently, I first set out to establish the fee. In this other project, the actual shoot was comparable, but the licensing was more extensive. It included Publicity Use and Collateral Use for a year. The subject in that case was also much more prominent within the company. In this case, they just needed one-time annual report use and the subject didn’t even work for the company that was producing the report. Also, looking back, the previous fee was probably a little fatter than I’d expect to get in the current economic climate. So I placed the fee for this one at 1000.00. The expenses are fairly straightforward. We wouldn’t need hair or makeup, props, wardrobe or backgrounds. That left us with the basic expense items: assistant, digital capture, strobe rental, file prep, miles and parking (since it was going to be less than 1/2-day, there wouldn’t be any meals to bill for).
Here’s the first estimate I sent over.
After confirming that they had received the estimate, there was no word from them for about a week. When the CD finally got back to me, he wanted us to shave 695.00 off the quote. “The client feels it’s a bit high for a simple head shot (half-day shoot). Would you be ok with $1200? Take a look at the comp again. I’m sure the photographer can do this without an assistant and rental equipment.” I took another look at the layout. The picture they showed in the comp was clearly strobe lit. I confirmed with the CD that he’d be happy with available light only. He said yes; so I called the photographer to discuss whether he’d be comfortable working without strobes or an assistant. It was a little awkward for the photographer because he only shows lit photos in his portfolio. So even though he was confident that he could do a good job without strobes or an assistant, the job was becoming less interesting to him. The photographer decided that he was comfortable working without an assistant and strobes as long as the client understood that the picture was going to have a different look from the comp.
With that resolved, we were still 180.00 over what the client wanted to spend. There really weren’t any other expenses we could do without, so the rest was going to have to come out of the fee. I couldn’t just arbitrarily reduce the fee just to meet the “budget.” (Probably the single most important rule of negotiating is that you can’t reduce what you’re getting without reducing what you’re giving. If you do, you’re just demonstrating to your client that you were trying to gouge them from the start.) But again, it raises the question for the photographer whether the job was worth doing. In my role as producer/estimator, I’m working for the photographer. So while it’s my job to lay out all the information and help him weigh his options, it’s ultimately his decision whether there’s enough money in a project to make it worth doing.
There are certainly a lot of reasons not to work too cheaply. The first is opportunity cost. If you commit to a low-budget project (that doesn’t have some other benefit), and another more interesting or lucrative assignment comes up, you’re going to miss out on it. Another is that clients tend to view your value partially based on what you charge. If you work cheap this time, they might not think to use you when they have a more lucrative job. A third reason is that a photographer only has so much time and energy. It can sometimes be better in the long run to rest or get caught up on your paperwork or marketing or working on your portfolio, rather than get bogged down in projects that you aren’t enthusiastic about or don’t pay enough.
It seemed clear that the client was not going to pay 1895.00 for the job, but I thought there was a good chance that they would be satisfied with the concession of taking out the assistant and strobes and agree to 1380.00. An alternative would be to pull out the web use, which was about proportional to the 180.00 we would need to get down to the 1200.00 the client was looking for. The photographer chose that option. The subject’s availability and the deadline gave the photographer the flexibility to move it around if something else came up. And it was about as simple as an assignment can get. So he decided to meet the client’s price rather than risking not getting the job over the remaining 180.00.