Photographers: It's Just for Social, Can You Drop Your Rates?

For years, we've heard clients ask photographers for a few images. The client would pay for all types of usage rights and then they'd ask for a few images as freebies, for social media. And that trend continued for several years. We'd throw in a few for social media and make the client happy. As social media grew, the budgets stayed small.

Social media was often treated as a small side order, nothing substantial. Then it grew to overshadow everything from TV to massive billboards, but the budgets stayed small. I want to remind you that social media isn't a side order anymore; it's the whole meal, the only meal that matters. We know our value, now let's chat!

Photographers (and our counterparts, the entire glam team) often hear "it's just for social" as a method to drop our rates. That would make sense if the clock stopped 8-10 years ago, but social media is the biggest part of any campaign. We have to pause and recognize that. Then we have to take that knowledge and bringing to the negotiating table. It needs to be a part of the conversation and it's our job to raise the topic. 

It's Not the Client's Fault

The vast majority of clients do care about the artist/freelancer. They love our work, our creativity, and what we can inject into their businesses. They aren’t the bad guy here, but because of circumstances they often bring the bad news. It’s not about them seeing us in a negative light, it’s more about the speed of change in our industry and sometimes the old rules that worked a few years ago are now borderline insulting. It’s not intentional.

Things have changed in a major way. Today one post by a social media superstar could overshadow the impact of yesterday's methods. When the world changed, the rules should have changed and they didn’t and the artists pay the price. 

Walid Azami photographing for a record cover in NYC
Walid Azami photographing for a record cover in NYC

Is it the Photographer's Job to Fix This?

In my opinion and respectfully, it's our job to raise the topic and draw a line. It doesn’t matter how things progressed, it’s up to us to manage our future and growth in the industry. And that’s why you’re here. That’s why I am here. Let’s work!

It's a tough-love moment. If you want the problem solved, you have to roll up your sleeves and fix it. Complaining won’t do anything. Bad-mouthing clients definitely won’t fix the issue.

I’ve noticed that 98% of the time when I explain to the client, they understand and are willing to negotiate. They do this because they don’t want to steamroll you. They want you to win and they want to win. They want to do this without conflict and with so much on their plate, this is something we should remind them of. The video talks about the solution and the method of speaking to them. 

How do we speak to them? What should we tell the client when they say, "it's just for social" at the next meeting? Watch the video, it will guide you through the process. 

Put Your Business Hats On

I want to remind you that your clients are entrepreneurs and negotiating contracts is something they do in their sleep. This should not be a tip-toe situation where you might offend them, and often times photographers feel awkward when it comes to negotiating. 

Here’s how I would like you to think about negotiating with your clients: They aren’t new. They’ve done this for businesses far bigger than yours, budgets far scarier than what’s in front of you. At the end of the day, they need a stellar product at a budget-friendly rate. They want to do it quickly, without much friction and if at all possible, they want it to be pleasant.

Here’s where we as artists can do better: Normalize talking about money and terms. You’re not offending anyone. You’re actually being more honest. Speak to them about your needs and what it takes to afford your services. They’ll decide if that’s something to move forward on. Explain to them your usage rates, and what certain rights/licensing may cost. They’ll decide if it matches their budget. Explain to them all of your terms. Explain to them your hesitations and offer some solutions. This is a two-way street. Artists, we must stop this passive tactic. Talk to them!

These people are human beings who can empathize with you and me. So, when they say “it’s just for social” - that’s your job to tell them your thoughts. The video goes into the approach I'd like you to consider when a client says "it's just for social" — and if practiced enough, you will win far more than you lose. 

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Ed C's picture

If they are claiming it is just social then why is it worthwhile for the party asking? So ... nope.

J.d. Davis's picture

Either you sell your wares at a certain price or you don't! I would much rather sit at home and watch baseball and drink a beer than argue about what I charge for shooting - it is not only an insult to me, it also lessens the entire concept of being in business; which is to make money!

This is the reason I have shot commercially - getting estimates and contracts signed before a camera is picked up. Want to haggle? Go to Filene's Basement - !

Jeff McCollough's picture

What is the point of this article? I really had to stumble through it just to understand, well, nothing.

Our rates are our rates end of story. Maybe this article is just about a photographer who doesn't understand how licensing works and wants a long drawn out conversation about pricing with their clients?

Can someone sum this article up for me in a nutshell, if anyone understood it?

jim hughes's picture

I'd say the point might be this: in the near future, people won't care about prints. Or image quality. They'll be looking for a producer/director, not a photographer.

J.d. Davis's picture


Indy Thomas's picture

It seems the point is somewhat garbled.
On the one hand it seems to say clients are ignorant about saying "it's just for Social" as a way to drop your price.
On the other hand it says "They aren’t new. They’ve done this for businesses far bigger than yours, budgets far scarier than what’s in front of you"

The fact is that the Social images ARE the key driver of revenue these days. The fact that a tiny image on a phone is how it will be used is irrelevant.
They are still trying to screw you because they set a tiny budget for Social.

It is the old "Help us out on this project and we will send a lot of work your way" ploy. There is no better project. You are the go-to wanker for cheap social photos that they despise/scorn and will never be seen as the skilled pro you may actually be.

Mark Smith's picture

Sure some photographers will say "Nope, you pay my rates.". I am one of them. In 30 professional years of photography, I've had to explain my rates and why I charge them to new clients, or should I say clients who are new to hiring professional photographers. Most other professional buyers reviewed the quote and either accepted, rejected, or resubmitted it...The issue that has hurt Photographers and Photography is photographers willing to accept less money or no money in order to get the job. That practice has become much more prevalent since the barrier of entry lowered with the advent of digital photography...Now some business owners aren't old enough to even remember life before digital photography and getting a photographer off the internet who will work for free or "exposure" is easy and normal practice. And yes, this practice has crept into some of the biggest buyers of photography too. Businesses need to keep their costs low, so if they can get low-cost images they will.

Dan Howell's picture

fees have always depended on usage.

Indy Thomas's picture

Usage is a concept that almost no client from the "civilian" market understands. Usage is jargon that is understood by those in the industry. Those outside the industry think you are speaking gibberish.

Indy Thomas's picture

Being a nice person is always a good idea. However, in my 40+ years of being a full time pro I can confidently say that negotiating with someone who is ignorant of the market they are in is a waste of time. They are amateurs trying to get professional services for amateur prices.

What happens is that even the kindest discussion results in a dawning realization in the client that they are ignorant. The resulting embarrassment means they will not book you and will look for a cheaper photographer or pay better to the next actual pro they meet.

Negotiating is a losing affair. The only "win" one can achieve is by setting artificially high rates and "negotiating" to what you want. Negotiating is always a defensive position. One does not advance in defense. Thus if a client wants a lower price I say no. Always.