Pricing & Negotiating: Low-Budget Annual Report Shoot

By Bill Cramer, Wonderful Machine

The following is actual email correspondence between a U.K.-based graphic designer (whom I’ll call Dennis) and an experienced Florida-based photographer (whom I’ll call Phil), concerning an annual report shoot in Orlando for a Connecticut-based medium-sized corporation. My comments are in italics.

Hi there Phil,

I found you on Google. I wonder if you could confirm your availability and day rate for a photo shoot on the following days. The <hotel in Orlando> on January 24 & 25. <Client> based in CT are holding a conference at this time and I have been asked to find a local photographer and liked the work you have online.

We will only need 1 day of photography in total – over the 2 days or on 1 of the days – TBA. I work for <graphic design firm> and we are their design consultancy, I am based in the UK. I look forward to hearing from you just as soon as.

Kind regards, Dennis

That’s not much to go on. The following questions come to mind. Can I see a shot list (or at least a description of the pictures)? Who are the subjects (what level are they in the company)? How will the photos be used? How many final pictures do you expect to use?

This initial inquiry doesn’t give me high hopes for the budget. The fact that he’s looking for a local photographer means that travel expenses (however modest) would break the bank. 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. 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. 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.

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 doesn’t quite add up.

Hi there Dennis,

just need to know are you looking to document the event, or do you need portraits of people as well? If yes to the portraits, would they be simple grip and grins or real portraits…


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. This is a classic mistake that photographers make. 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.


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. Does that answer your question Phil?


Yes, it does, Dennis.

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.

Regards, Phil

Is that 2000.00/day plus expenses or including expenses? How many pictures does the client get, for what purpose and for how long? What about assistants, file processing, mileage, parking, meals, sales tax? Will you be delivering raw files or processed files? If they’re processed, can the client order any number of processed files or is there a limit? Will you convey the licensing to the design firm or the client? Who will pay the bill – the design firm or the client? If a UK design firm pays the bill, who pays for the wire transfer fee? How long do they have to pay? What’s your turnaround time on the pictures? What’s your cancellation policy?


And you are available yes? Are your fees negotiable – you are a bit more per day than I was envisaging!

Let me know, Dennis

Yikes! 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.


I have to check with a client to be sure. We are working on a campaign next week and need to talk to them.

Regarding the fees, I am blessed with a very robust business so I really hold the line on the fees. However, what was your budget and i will let you know for sure.


It sounds like Phil is saying, “My fees are firm, unless your budget is less.”

Hi there Phil – thanks for your help with this. I now have a bit more information re the shoot from <client>.

<email apparently from client to design firm:> “We would like business headshots for our Directors and Managers (total of 25 – 30 people).  We would also like to have a few “meeting in progress” type candid shots taken – these should be all about business (nothing Disneyesque!). The photos will be used for the purpose of our Annual Report, website, meeting books, etc. We would therefore need to get outright usage on the shots from the photog from the get-go so that they can be used randomly thereafter without renegotiation with them.”

We are trying to arrange a separate room by the meeting area where we can have the photographer set up for the head shots. 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! Good to hear that you are busy.

Kind regards

, Dennis

Now that Phil has committed to a price, it’s safe for Dennis to tell him more about the shoot. It turns out that it’s not just fly-on-the wall, but 30 head shots too. It’s a director-level meeting and the pictures are for the annual report (plus other uses). That’s all significant because the stakes are higher for the design firm and the communications people at the corporation. That makes the pictures more valuable than a routine sales meeting which Phil is more accustomed to. These pictures aren’t just to document the event, they’re for the most important publication that corporation will produce that year. We now see that Dennis has a budget of 1700 British Pounds, which is about 2700 dollars. That’s more than the 2000.00 Phil was asking for.

Ahhh, that’s what I suspected, Dennis.

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. So then what’s then the US dollar value of the fee?

I would need a dedicated space 20×30′ foot is a good size to set up a location studio. I need to know what kind of background they want. Do we need to match up an existing look? No problem with the unlimited usage.


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. If Phil is as busy as he says he is, why is he ignoring usage when he has the leverage to charge for it? And why is he offering such a deep discount for a second shoot day? 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. 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. That may be what everyone does for event photography. But when I hear annual report, I think of a higher level of production. 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.

Sorry Phil, I meant dollars!

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. Good news re usage. And I am assuming you can now confirm you are available all day on the 24th?


Hard to say whether Dennis’s budget really was in dollars or pounds. But it doesn’t really matter. No experienced photographer should let a client arbitrarily dictate their fee (especially a busy photographer).

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. 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. Second, the pictures aren’t going to be as useful in the photographer’s portfolio since they’re in someone else’s style.


Yes, the 24th is fine, give me times when you can, and yes I will do it for $2000.00 if I don’t need to rent/buy a special background to match what you have. Send reference to me when you can.


I think Phil is selling himself a little short here. Backgrounds cost money (and time to get them and a place to store them). Even if he already has one that he could bring, if it’s providing additional value to the client, he should charge for it. Same with studio strobes. Strobes cost money to purchase, insure, repair. Why not charge for them?

Good morning Phil – me again!

<Client> is now confirmed BUT they have asked if you could shoot on Wed 23 and Thurs 24 January at the same venue. I hope you can! Can you let me know when you get a moment please?

Thank you, Dennis

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. Can they get me a room at the venue for the overnight? I am 90 minutes away. I would love to see a schedule so I know the hours, and if they provided you with a shot list.

Thank you. Phil

Hi there Phil.

$3600 for 2 days is good. Yes to room at venue – I have asked for this already. Now that we have agreed dates and cost together I am going to put you in direct contact with <client> re schedule, shoot room, accommodation and shot list – I think that will be easier for you.

Two important bits to get right:

1) I will need you to bill me direct and I will then re-invoice the client as part of their complete Annual Report project – please can I ask you to have all cost conversations with me and not <client> as I will take a modest margin for organising this on their behalf.

2) Jane my colleague here at <design firm> will make contact with you re photo style that she is looking for from a design perspective. <Client> will provide all other direction for your venue etc.

All good – looking forward to working with you on this. 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.

Kind regards, Dennis

It’s not unusual for a designer to have the photographer bill him rather than the client. 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). 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. 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.

Morning Phil,

Please find the notes from <design firm>  that describe how we envisage the different shot types to look.

If you have any queries on this, please do not hesitate to get in touch by return.

Kind regards, Dennis



This additional direction tells me that the designer has thought a lot about the project and they’re looking for a very specific result. Call me cynical, but I can’t help thinking that Dennis intentionally pulled a bait-and-switch on our hapless photographer. 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. But Phil’s very casual estimate has enabled this to happen. Even if Dennis is merely disorganized and not malevolent, the mission creep has left Phil shooting an annual report at event coverage prices. If Phil had spelled out what he was actually delivering for his 2000.00 fee in the first place, he would be able to rework the estimate as the project “evolved.”

Good morning Dennis, thank you for the additional information….

Reviewing this document shows me that the client wants a little more then what was original described. So the photos of the executives are not typical business head-shots, which usually take 5-10 minutes each. What the team is asking for is definitely more creative, staged and time consuming.

The photography assignment was originally described as “fly on the wall” documentary type photography, nothing posed, just natural. The document describes otherwise, setting up scenarios to create group interactions. All the above is fine, and I am perfectly comfortable doing this, but not what I originally envisioned. The creativity level is definitely higher, which I am all for by the way.

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. 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. 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.

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.

Thank you, Phil

This is an awkward way to negotiate. It’s bad form to ask a client if you can charge them more. The answer will generally be “no.” The photographer should simply say, “Thank you for letting me know about the changes. I’ll send over a revised estimate right away.”


I think we are nearly there. I understood that I was buying your time over two days based on what I can see from your online creds. 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. That is certainly not how I buy photography in the UK.

A few clarifications on your feedback:

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. I am confident that the event itself will provide those scenarios as a matter of course.

The b&w example headshots shared were taken in 30 minutes – there were 10 execs. 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.

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. 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. 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.

Kind regards, Dennis

Dennis is now contradicting himself. 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. Which is it? From the beginning, Phil positioned himself as a hired-hand, working by the day. So that makes it difficult for him to change the price when the project changes but the time doesn’t. He has also let the client dictate all the terms from the start, which makes him appear inexperience and/or desperate. In the end, the photographer agreed to a 4000.00 flat fee without any conditions on the usage or payment schedule.

Here’s what I would have proposed:


If you have any questions, or if you need help estimating or producing a project, please give us a call at (610) 260-0200. We’re available to help with any and all pricing and negotiating needs—from small stock sales to big ad campaigns


There Are 39 Comments On This Article.

  1. “These rates are deplorable!”
    Even for “Low budget” what kind of moron charges so little and gives away the farm! These rates are from the 90’s not even close to what things cost in 2013.
    People like this need to be removed from the industry permanently.

    • Not to be rude, but it’s responses like this that are destroying the industry. The photography world is a very guarded and secretive business. Where are standard rates posted online? Where are basic extra fees posted online? Even in school, it’s hard to find a professor who’s handing out rate cards for students to study and use.

      Maybe this photographer is a simple portrait photographer that works out of his home. Maybe he charges so little because the locale he lives in only warrants those prices.

      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. maybe it’s time for that to happen in our world.

      • Chris Nuzzaco

        I work in both the still and film industries – trust me, the last thing you want is what the film world has. Commercial photographers earn more and work less. I attribute it to the fact that there are *no standard rates*.

        • You missed my point Chris. As an actor that is moving into filmmaking, I always know that there is an industry standard base pay regulated by unions. That’s comforting. 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. As my name recognition increases or my level as a filmmaker (above or below the line), so does my pay. But as I enter the work force, I don’t need to worry about getting low balled or having a company pit me against another actor unless it’s non-union work. And in negotiations, I have a pay pay to start from.

          As a photographer, I’ve always been lost. not until recently have photographers been more pen about posting rates online. A decade ago it was impossible to find rates as a rookie photographer. It’s hard now though because the people hiring us don’t always know these rates, especially if they’re’ new. This leads to wasted time haggling about prices and teaching people the worth of a good photographer.

        • And Chris, I’m not saying it needs to be the union way, I’m more saying, don’t ridicule someone for not having information. A lot of us are winging it or finding info on the web from sites like these.

  2. Ug, at least he knows what he’s getting into. I had a client that wanted a fly on the wall type shoot…BUT during the day would come over and say, “we need a group portrait/exec portrait” in 5 minutes. Then they wonder why the exec portrait doesn’t look it’s best. Are you supposed to say, “Sorry, I won’t do that” in the middle of the job? You just do the best you can with your camera and on-camera flash.

    • I think you are totally justified in saying, “I did not bring the necessary equipment to shoot a group portrait, sorry. I wish I had known that you needed this and I would have been prepared.”

  3. It’s unfortunate that the client wasn’t honest from the start. It’s obvious they want to low ball the photographer so they can mark it up exponentially to their client. Thanks for this insight. What I take away from this whole scenario is to ask as many questions as possible. 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.

  4. Looks familiar. Glad to know other folks are dealing with similar situations. It took me far too long to learn this, but negotiations are now all about transparency, deliberation, and getting everything in writing.

  5. Great post for up-and-coming photographer(s), with illuminating commentary along the way!
    It’s hard to want to do your very best work for a client who’s raked you over the coals in this way, but that was an important lesson to learn (for Phil), and doing so regardless will always be the mark of a true professional.

  6. I’ve been starting out as a professional and I’ve found that trying to do things the “right” way (billing properly for usage and equipment and expenses, etc. ) with small/mid-size commercial clients sometimes caused confusion. 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. I would love to hear tips for this type of situation.

  7. 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. Unfortunately, he jumped at the chance to book a day or two and looked like an ass when he came back for more money. 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. 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.

  8. At the end of the day you make your best play and live with what you did. Right or wrong.

    It’s true, rates are not where they should be in 2013, but with one phone call it’s likely the designer could find another photographer willing to do the job for the same rate or, sadly, less. At least he wasn’t pitting one shooter against another to see who would low-ball the job into the basement.

  9. Shane Kislack

    I don’t see why he’s a fool for asking 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. Why is this different?

    • You might want to read through Bill’s comments again. His comment wasn’t about asking for more money, it was about the photographer effectively asking if he could ask for more money.

      What Bill’s advocating for is “bigger job, higher cost, here’s the updated estimate.”

      What the exchange contains is “it’s kind of a bigger job I guess, I think it should carry a higher cost, please ask the client for more money if that’s okay, if it’s not then I’m not necessarily saying no.”

  10. This is contract management 101 for project managers. In short…

    1. Never provide an estimate without a detailed shoot list in writing. Ever.

    2. 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. Always.

    Ignore these fundamentals of contract management and you get what happens in the situation described by Bill Cramer in this post.

  11. Thanks for the great post! It’s nice for those of us who haven’t been through many negotiations. I would love to see more like this in the future.

  12. This kind of thing takes a good mentor or years of business to understand. I found that asking the important 10 questions up front saves time. Once I have the information, then I give a cost estimate, never a firm quote. I’ve been on too many assignments that grew once I was on site, it’s just what happens, if it’s a cost estimate it can expand with the work.

      • 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. I also needed to know what rights they want to purchase and what I was expected to bring to the shoot; just my technical skill or something more, like artistic skill or conceptual brainstorming. I also need to know about models, props, purchase orders, kill fees and other expenses. And the final question was “how did you find me?”

  13. 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. 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. 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. The delicacy is in asking the right questions at the right time. Too early, and you’re considered “difficult”, or “unprofessional”. Too late, and you’ll lose money. 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.

    • As with any dance, someone has to lead, and for the most part it is the Photographer. 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. It’s their time, effort and talent & that is being valued. Sorry to poop on your metaphor.

      • It’s an effective metaphor, whether you use it, or whether I do.

        You’re right, someone has to lead, and it SHOULD be the photographer. I think that’s what you meant to say. I think the point of this article is to show that the photographers don’t often lead this dance, but should. All I’m saying is that timing plays a great part in getting the client to come clean about the extent of the job. Say something like : “What you’re describing sounds pretty simple, and should cost $$$. Can you show me some similar images so I know we’re talking about the same level of production?” When scouting images, similar images from competitors’ ads, or comps are presented, then it becomes inescapably apparent what kind of expertise will actually be needed for the job. 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. Hopefully, the photographer will not have boxed themselves in by then.

        • I get what you are saying. I guess I just don’t understand how throwing an arbitrary number out there is a benefit to either the photographer or the client.

          • Respectfully, it’s not an arbitrary number. It’s a floor. It’s a base number that you will move up from. It’s what the job could cost if it truly were as simple as the client had originally said. The mistake would be to stop the conversation without investigating to see if the job is truly as simple as originally described. Sometimes the clients themselves don’t know what goes into making the images that look so easy and clear.

  14. Great read, thanks so much for sharing this. 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.

  15. Thanks Bill, this was great. Even though I have enough experience to have not made the mistakes that this photographer made it’s nice to be reminded of what could happen if from the get-go you (the photographer) doesn’t completely ferret out what are the specific needs of the client…. Ah wouldn’t it be nice if there was a photographers union. But then I try to imagine how it would come to be, and I just shake my head.

  16. Another great example by Bill – very comprehensive step by step of how (and how not) to deal with these kind of requests. 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. While I’m sure that there are plenty of “bait and switch” tactics going on, I also regularly find it’s due to clients not knowing that these things matter. They’re under this misapprehension because they’ve worked with photographers who don’t bother with such ‘complexities’ – they just charge a day rate and hand over the files. I often hear people talking about educating clients, but what’s more important is educating photographers. Thank you for doing this, Bill!

  17. Excellent read. Thank you for posting this! Would love to see this turn into a series. Just incredibly useful stuff.

  18. That was a fascinating read. 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. thanks!

  19. Andy Brandl

    Thanks for this wonderful and educational piece of information. Invaluable for photogs lacking any business background!

  20. Agreed, thank you for an enlightening and educational read! This stuff is invaluable.

  21. Having worked as an assistant for several years I think $250 is too low. $350 would have been more appropriate. The editorial jobs I’ve assisted are $250. Commercial and advertising are higher.

  22. I agree with the others in saying this information is invaluable and very useful. Please do more of these Pricing & Negotiating posts!