Clients' Reactions to My Prices

Clients' Reactions to My Prices

Sending a photography quote out is always a stressful moment, especially if it is for a job you really want. Here are a few memorable reactions from potential clients.

Like most purchases in life, photography has a price range that goes from incredibly cheap to eye-wateringly expensive. I always liken it to food. You can get the cheapest of cheap food from a major supermarket or pay thousands for an extravagant meal from a famous chef. Both are great, but for very different reasons. However, in photography, it would seem like a lot of people do not entirely grasp this concept, so I thought I'd share a few of my experiences.

How Much?

The blank look of shock and panic over the coffee table as you explain what the client thought would cost $200 is going to cost them $2,000. Even after breaking down the hours required to do the job and explaining that without owning any equipment that it would be less than minimum wage, they still seem shocked at the price.

I now have a document from a rental store in the UK that lists all of my kit and the rental price for what I use daily, which usually far surpasses the quote that I give people. Sometimes, they realize that their expectations were miles out and either align them with my fee, or I often help them find someone who I think could do a good job for less money. However, I have found these people three years later after they got a less than minimum wage photographer and then realized that they have had no return on that small investment, by which point they are happy to spend money on something that will actually help.

That Is (Insert Expletive) Ridiculous

The cost of an item can make some people angry, and this is often directed toward the vendor. To my shock, I have on several occasions had potential clients be aggressive toward me because of the quote I have given them. We have all been there at the bar when it's our round and the bill is three times what you expected, but the difference here is that the drinks haven't metaphorically already been poured. A simple “that isn’t in my price range” would suffice. Going nuts about how expensive they think it is doesn’t really do anything for anyone.

I Can See A Doctor For Less Than That

A few years ago, I gave a very reasonable quote of $500 for a band to have a two-hour sitting in my studio. It was a price that I was quoting for all sittings like it at the time. This particular band was very angry. The spouted that a doctor charged less, which where I live is true. Seeing a doctor for a 20-minute consultation would cost a little less, having them do two hours of work plus an hour's prep and two hours of post-production work however would cost considerably more, and rightly so. Needless to say, they found someone who would happily shoot thousands of images for eight hours solid for the grand sum of $150, which is absolutely fine, as I assume they were happy with them. But why ask someone who clearly charges more and then give a passive aggressive response to them?

The Last Photographer Did It For

The last photographer we used only charged X amount. We weren't overly happy with the work, so we are looking for someone new, but you are four times more expensive. Could you match their price?

This is bizarre, because in no other field would you find a product four times better for the same price as the original item. Photography is a tough one, as we charge a perceived value that is far less tangible than a buying a stack of wood. For some, they do not see the difference or understand that some photographers simply can not produce work of the same quality as others. If someone booked me because I was cheaper than Annie Leibowitz and for no other reason, they would be extremely disappointed when they received my work. But then booking Annie Leibowitz and expecting her to work for the same fee that I would just isn't realistic.

Photograph by Richard Bradbury

Can We Have a Discount If You Don’t Use Assistants and Stylists

I actually get this a lot. There seems to be an assumption that assistants and stylists are a prop to have in my studio rather than them adding any actual benefit to the shoot. I usually say yes, but then explain how the one-day shoot will now take 2.5 days due to the lack of hands, and that at the reduced rate, it will cost about double and the images won't look as good. These potential clients rarely book.

Why Don't I Own the Images

Usage is a tricky one to explain to anyone who started out in marketing in the last 10 years. Trying to explain that your day rate covers the labor and that they then have to license the image for usage does not go down well. Over the years, I have tried to educate clients, but they usually find someone cheap to do the job instead, which is fine. More recently, I have offered them a day rate with the specific license or a complete buy-out of the image/images if they would prefer. This seems to be far better received and something that I should have started doing years ago.

We Have Lots More Work Coming

This sentence is used in a lot of different ways, but often as a counteroffer to your fee. When they don’t think you are worth what you are charging, the promise of extra work comes up. Now, if someone wants to book more than 10 days in the space of a month, I do offer a small discount, but I also take money upfront, as it is a big chunk of work to be pulled in one go. But if we are talking about one day every other week, I just don't have the room in my pricing to budge on my fee. When I was a bit more innocent, I would often be bowled over by such offers, although I don't ever remember an instance where the additional work materialized.

Can We Pay a Bit More

Businesses, government,  and tax years. Every February, I get a heap of requests to offload parts of budget onto photography projects. If it doesn't get spent, they won't get it the following year in the UK, so they need to empty the coffers. This might sound great, but it usually means an ill-thought-out proposal followed by re-shoots and general chaos. Whenever a shoot hasn't been fully thought out, it won't go well. 

What reactions have you had to your quotes?

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81 Comments

Mike Kelley's picture

You forgot the best part: Seeing the same client sitting on a private yacht in the Caribbean a week after giving any of those reactions

Usman Dawood's picture

Being cheap got them on the yacht lol.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Yeah, but that yacht is probably leaky.

Laughing Cow's picture

Stingy people rarely become poor…

Mike Kelley's picture

No...investment, inheritance, or appetite for risk got them there. Nobody gets filthy rich because they made their own coffee instead of going to starbucks every day.

Josh G's picture

10/10 Good Sir

Doc M's picture

This is a Universal problem in all service related fields. I am a doctor and am bombarded daily with people trying to negotiate my fees. Even after we explain that their insurance company sets most the fees we still get grief. It is just the new standard of doing business so everyone best figure out a way to manage those customers that create challenges. And yes my biggest complainers are the ones that pay with black amex cards.

Usman Dawood's picture

One of the things I used to do previously was I'd give my prices to clients in a manner which seemed polite. Tell them something like

This will cost about X

My quote for this is X

This kind of language almost always invites a back and forth because it's uncertain. ~

What I do now is simply state my price in a very clear and defined way. I'll explain the work required and then simply say The price for this is X.

Due to this in the last couple of years, I haven't had a single client get back to me about the price or try and negotiate and I'm very happy with the amount I charge.

Certainty in what you do and offer makes such a huge difference or acting like you're certain.

Scott Choucino's picture

Yeah that sounds like a good approach. I would be interested to see how mu agent goes about it, but I also know I would find it too stressful to be involved. I know my limitations haha

Dan Grayum's picture

Great article, it's funny and i think it applies to all sorts of fields of work. People often don't value work that they don't understand. I use to do leatherwork as a hobby, people rarely want to pay $100+ for a hand stitched leather wallet when they can buy 10 pleather wallets from Amazon for the same price.

Scott Choucino's picture

yeah I think you could re write this for a load of different applications

EL PIC's picture

Based on Cost of Living in US .. Photographers in the 1960’s made more than in 2010.
The decline is proportional to the increase in Photographers.
There is also more DIY in photography and that means less work and clients.
Therefore you need to change the dynamics if you expect to be financially sound.
Charging excess to make a living is not in line with the current market.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Good photographers with strong portfolio who know how to market their work do not depend on the level of saturation of "photographers." Today there are lots of directors and filmmakers. Does Spielberg or Scorsese suffer from that? Absolutely not. Why? Because they are Spielberg and Scorsese.

It's the same for photographers who got their name because of their work.

Lee Christiansen's picture

And that is all great for the elite end of the field. But for the rest of the 99% of the market, being better, delivering better... can often mean nothing if competition is charging 50% rates.

I've lost out with regular clients on a job where I quoted a very reasonable fee to find they were going with a "guy with a speed light" at 1/5 of my rate. They even admitted the other guy would be rubbish and I would be great - "but he is cheaper" they said.

And that job was an important shoot with a one-off opportunity to capture CEO's from all over the world for a prestigious group photo where the location hire was costing more than my fee.

A strong portfolio doesn't always cut it if our clients are numpties. And alas, there are a disproportionate amount of numpties out there. :(

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

That is true for a period of time, because being at a lower than the normal rate can't sustain a business in the long run. This is why patience is important and creativity to "try to tie the ends" during such periods. In the long run the cheaper than normal rates photographers will naturally vanish from the market.

Scott Choucino's picture

This is very much the case.

The cheaper people may leave but will be replaced with other cheaper people....

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Remember that as time passes by those who are priced reasonably will become better and better with greater portfolio and their business will have more value. At this stage they will be as Spielberg and Scorsese who don't get bothered by a cheap director.

Not true, Everyone finds their level, and it is not always at the top. It's a very fluid rating system. If your theory was true there would be a lot more Scorsese and Spielbergs.

Unfortunately, the cheaper than normal rates photographers will be rplaced by other cheaper than normal rates photographers.

EL PIC's picture

This guy is out of touch with reality and is a contributor to the scam of modern day photo illusion.

Ian Eisenberg's picture

I don’t see how charging a rate commensurate with the current economy is excess or a scam.

Pricing is often tricky.
There will always be someone more and someone less expensive than I am. If the client and photographer are on the same page things should work out ok. Just like photogs there are low medium and high end clients. When a low end client tries to book a medium level photog there could be questions. If a high end client books a medium level photographer there may be more expectations than the photog is used to... Good to get all that figured out first.
I don't recall ever using my equipment cost as a reason for my fees. I bill the client a kit fee and a light and grip fee though, and I charge for the use of specialized not everyday equipment. If I need to rent things I will pass that along plus a 15% markup.
If they want a price match, I ask why they are not using the previous photographer and get the conversation around to price is not everything.
Ad agencies understand usage and will have the usage fee as a line item. Other clients I will include the usage they need in the total, less chance for them to be picky about it. Everyone now needs Social Media use which used to be free...not anymore :)
WIth the discount for upcoming work, I have either billed them for jobs yet to be produced or offer the discount of 1/2 off the 3rd or 4th job which has yet to happen LoL

As long as a photographer is not afraid to charge what they are worth and what the job is worth it'll all work out.

PS if you get every job you bid on it's time to raise your prices!

Scott Choucino's picture

I think the "if you get every job you bid on it's time to raise your prices!: is a very good piece of advice.

Isn't it your job to show a potential client why your work is better for the price ? Isn't that the "sales" part of running a business ?

Anders Madsen's picture

The “better” part of that question is where things get tricky, though - often this is more about client expectations than about real life. What is “better” to this particular client? Image quality? Delivery time? Post processing skills?

The problem is that quite often the client really doesn’t know and hence have no real idea about the value of the different parts that makes up an image.

Lee Christiansen's picture

The problem with demonstrating "better" is that lots of clients are either dumb or think all photographers are the same.

We all tell our clients that we are great and the pictures will be amazing. Most will promise speedy turnarounds and working with the best gear. Portfolios have only the best images in and although you and I may be able to see flaws in delivery, many clients just see pretty pictures. Having backups...? Why would we need them - thinks the client.

And it is rare we get to shoot the same subject against some other 'tog and have the client compare images and delivery. So using any sort of sale pitch in this field usually requires a client who can understand the process - and most don't, even if we try to educate.

We're constantly battling a view of "I found two photographers, but one was expensive - so didn't I do well finding a cheap one..."

On business networking groups I'm constantly seeing requests for all sorts of services with a requirement of "reasonable prices" being flagged up. Heck, they're most likely all "reasonable" but most certainly all offering different levels of service.

In my immediate area there are maybe 10 headshot photographers. Some are charging 1/5 of my fees. Their work shows and at least one just does stuff in her kitchen. But people genuinely believe the end results are the same from all of us. (They're really not... :) )

We wouldn't expect to walk into a Rolls Royce dealer and expect the price of a Mini. But in our industry, people do.

Scott Choucino's picture

I don't see it as my job to educate the client. If a client needs my service they know they need it, trying to educate someone who doesn't think they need a certain service when you think they do is a very bad idea. I can't imaging convincing someone with a £200 budget that they should pay me £10,000.

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