A digital photographer, someone who works on assignments, his greatest friend is the agreement that he signs with his client. Nothing, is going to work and no one is going to come to his / her aid if something were to go wrong. It should be the starting point for every photography assignment that you undertake for money. Thus, it is imperative that you know what would be a good format for an agreement of this type. You should also know what additional points to incorporate into such an agreement.
You need to consider the following aspects as well –
Is this a free gig or a paid one?
As strange as it may seem, sometime this is the most obvious question, and yet it is asked at the very end. Budding photographers face this a bit more often than others who have been in the business for a longer period of time. Budding professionals are sometimes taken for granted. “Hey, you are young and you already have a camera. Why don’t you shoot pictures on my son’s birthday for free? That would be a nice learning experience for you.” Does this sound all too familiar to you? Sure, if this is your first gig then may be. But not if you are already charging money for your work.
In another incident a professional photographer was asked to shoot images for a large publicity company. They were obviously not looking to pay and wanted someone who would be gullible enough to fall for the ‘opportunity’ to land a large company on his / her client list.
Big brands have their own marketing budget. They have photographers shooting for them the year round. Sometimes their pool of photographers may be too preoccupied or the assignment itself is not that important and for that look to get it done for free. The thing is whatever the reason might be, they want someone new and someone gullible.
You have to be careful though, as sometimes these requests are genuine. They are in guise a test to get someone on the panel for a long term basis. So, you have to find out whether this photography assignment is really important and if it is then how come someone from their existing panel isn’t working on this. Either way, if they are not willing to pay I would be very weary.
It is very important that you make the right quote for a photography assignment. You don’t want to underquote on your first assignment. Neither do you want to do that on your second assignment or on the one thereafter. On the other hand, that is exactly what your clients would push you to do. Underquoting yourself, just for the sake of that first job, sets a precedence. Once you quote a price you can’t change it in some time to come. Especially if this is a long time gig and you are expected to provide work on a continuous basis.
Long term steady prices or short term and ‘better’ prices?
I know most beginner photographers would be happy to get a client who will provide work the year round but then underquoting means you get an opportunity to raise prices until after one year. So, be weary of what you quote to your client or put up on your website.
It might be easier if you are doing custom works like photographing for a fashionwear line or shooting products for an online business and those sort of things. But, if you are a wedding photographer or a corporate headshot photographer clients will ask for your price sheet and you have to get your pricing mathematic done before you walk into a meeting.
Common arguments by a client
“Look, this is what I charge for 3 hours of corporate headshot session and you get X number of photos”. Or look this is what I charge for an 8 hour wedding session plus the costs if it is a destination wedding and you get X number of photos for those 8 hours. And then you put a price tag for those sort of a la carta items on the list.
When you have a price list people will know what you are worth and what they are going to get in return for the money they are going to spend.
At the negotiation table
But believe me when I say this, when you sit down at the table you are going to get the living daylights knocked out of you as the negotiations start. Life isn’t fair and when it comes to getting a fair price for your work you will find it extremely difficult to get something that is more to your liking.
It is often the more desperate photographers who end up agreeing to a heavy discount. I am not saying that you put your foot down and stay fixed on your price. Quote a price that leaves you some room to negotiate with your client.
Some photographers I know routinely quote a very high price just so that they can qualify their potential clients. I even have a photographer friend tell me that he doesn’t want all the clients in the world. He just wants the ones he can work with. The idea is not to overcharge as competition is tough. But knowing what your work is worth and how much you need to make a decent living are two good ways to set a price tag.
One argument I can make against the poor logic of underquoting yourself is you can either choose between working for long hours and getting a small amount of money or choose your clients intelligently, work for lesser hours, get a decent money and enjoy the rest of your time with your loved ones.
Refuse to work
The worst case scenario. But this is the last recourse. You should always have the courage to say no. If the budget or price offered by the client is far too low to make a decent income from the effort, or if the expectations are too high to be called unreasonable, take your stand and say no. I know some photographers will not have the courage to say no on the face. Some will even argue that refusing a client is bad business technique. I have seen photographers accept a job, and then push for additional money later on. Believe it or not, this approach will get you even worse publicity then saying no upfront.
The scope of the work
Let’s say that you are a wedding photographer. I picked wedding photography as it is one of the areas which has seen a lot of disputes recently. The best way to establish your role as a wedding photographer is to have everything documented on paper and signed by both you and your client.
Some photographers would have an elaborate format. It would include the number of hours you are expected to put in, the number of images you are expected to deliver, the type of images you are expected to shoot, the people who are expected to be on those images and so on. They even have a clause for extra hours or extra images if the need arises.
At the end of the day a clear outlining of the scope of the work helps you to establish the demands of the client upfront. That means there remains no ambiguity so far as the deliverables of the photography assignment is concerned. In case of any disputes or any additional work demanded you can always fall back on the signed contract.
We have been reading disturbing news lately about clients threatening to sue their wedding photographers after the wedding. Taking hapless startups for a ride and threatening them of maligning and damaging in public. All because there was no agreement between the two and that kind of gave them the opportunity to rip him off. And when the claim for damages is $300,000 you have to understand and appreciate the virtues of having a contract in place.
Hours that you have to put in
Some clients are very professional and particular about the time you walk in and the time by which you have to complete your work and pack things up and leave. Others are, well to say the least, not so particular. You will meet both these extremes of the spectrum and the various different versions in between over the course of your career.
My suggestion is to hope for the best but always plan for the worst. In other words you put everything in a formal agreement and have it signed by both parties to avoid ambiguities later on. Let’s say that you are photographing a wedding. You have promised a ten hour shoot (Indian weddings can go on for more than 10 hours with the after wedding party, the baraat, the jai-mala and the rest of the ceremonies). If at the end of the ten hour time-frame you find out that you are being pressed to stay on for more hours gently remind that your commitment was for ten hours only.
Though I wouldn’t recommend enforcing this on a very strict manner. You can always stay on for an hour more but you have to draw the line somewhere. The reason for this is, if you stay on for extra hours, you will need to shoot additional images an additional hours editing those images. If you haven’t already shot the images you need then it is problem. But if you have then staying any longer means additional work and for no additional payment.
This is important in every situation. In some assignments you would have a clear idea as to how many images you need to deliver. Let’s say you are shooting for a fashion line. You would be given clear instructions as to how many images the company needs per dress, e.g. So, there is no ambiguity. You know you need two side views, one close-up one vertical shot and one back view vertical.
In a wedding, however, things are not exactly defined. So, after the wedding if you don’t deliver an image of the buffet or missed taking an image of Uncle Bob with the couple you could find yourself having to explain yourself. This is why you have to establish the requirements and the deliverables. Special instructions or absolutely must have images have to be separately listed and then made sure those are captured. Needless to say you have to keep that list in hand when shooting.
Never deliver all your images
No matter what you do never attempt at delivery all the images you shoot at a wedding or any other photography assignment, unless you have given it in writing you would. This is because it is impossible to have all your images to be perfect. Some of them are going to be blurry, out of focus, mistimed or downright poor in every sense. If you hand these over you are likely going to tarnish your reputation as a professional photographer. Always deliver only those images which you think are your best. There should be no compromise in this regard.
Think twice if you want to deliver RAW files
Rarely client needs to see these images as these are basically raw materials. RAW images are far from the sharp, saturated JPEGs that we get to see. RAW images are like digital negatives. They have not been processed and retouched. Therefore the colors are off in these images. The colors are flatter compared to JPEGs. Also contrast and sharpness are nowhere near what we normally see with JPEGs. Anyone who is not too proficient about photography would be misled.
When you assign a sculptor or a baker or a carpenter, do you no back to check on what he is doing? Do you check the raw materials? What nails or glue or ingredients he is using? You just check the final product. The same way no one has any business checking the RAW images.
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