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Chase Jarvis Gets Real About Money in Photography


A lot of us have been there, especially when we're first trying to build our businesses in the beginning. A job lands that you feel like you can pull off really well, and you quote accordingly. The client then comes back and lets you know that their budget is significantly smaller than what you quoted, but they really want to work with you. On the one hand, you need the money, but on the other hand, you realize you're being forced into an uncomfortable corner. How do you answer this?

Commercial Photographer Chase Jarvis has some great advice. He talks about the positives and negatives of taking the job anyway and what it will mean for you down the road. The key takeaway for me was that you'll never convert a $500 client into a $50,000 client. It simply won't happen. What was your takeaway from this short?

Transitioning your clients to a significantly higher rate rarely works. Keep growing your client base. http://cr8.lv/2enw95s CreativeLive

Posted by Chase Jarvis on Thursday, October 20, 2016

If you're unfamiliar with Chase Jarvis, and I hope this isn't the case, go check out his YouTube channel and blog for plenty more inspiration, and when you're done there, head on over to Creative Live to learn from artists all over the world he has helped to bring together.

Dylan Goldby's picture

Dylan Goldby is an Aussie photographer living and working in South Korea. He shoots a mix of families, especially the adoptive community, and pre-weddings. His passions include travel, good food and drink, and time away from all things electronic.

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He speaks truths!!!

That made way to much sense

No truer words were ever spoken.

This article paints a simplistic scenario. Just because a potential client says their budget is too small for your quote does not make it so. Firms and ad agencies try to lowball all the time. It's up to the photographer to vet the job and actual budget before accepting that the firm can't afford the quote. And then it's up to the photographer to decide whether he or she is willing to reduce the price in order to get the job. I personally don't take lowball assignments. They almost always turn into far too much work for the price and result in a waste of time.

Jarvis is correct in that you will not turn a $500 client into a 50k one. And accommodating cheap clients is not a gateway to higher paying ones.


Ken, I agree that the article presents a simplified scenario. However, I read Chase' point differently. Once you accept the $500 price, the client puts your work in a $500 bucket. It is very tough for that client to now pay you $10,000 for work that cost them $500. You're forever a $500 photographer in their book.

I think it's important to consider who the client is as well. If you are dealing with a small company then Chase's assessment is spot on for sure. Things get a little trickier when the company is much larger with multiple departments and rotating personnel. Let me explain.

Imagine you get a lead for a corporate job for say headshots or event photography. The company could be Ford, Mars Chocolate, or Google. You decide to bid on the job for a rate that is consistent for that particular niche of photography and throw out a price of $2000 for 10 headshots or $1200 for 4 hours of event photography. These rates might be way lower than your normal bread and butter commercial shoots but since you got a lead for a job you price them out at a rate you wouldn't be offended by if you landed the job.

These two specific genres of photography are never going to warrant $10,000+ in photographer's fees. These aren't what I would call "artistic" fields of photography where the company is hiring you to shoot your vision or to input your creative decision (you may argue against this with headshots but in many cases you might be asked to photograph against an Olan Mill's backdrop and reproduce images similar to the last photographer's shots). You agree and simply do the job because it's good pay for pretty little work and it fills in the gaps between your dream clients and the days spent not shooting at all.

Now what you need to remember about huge corporations is that each department is completely separated. You might get hired by a small branch in San Francisco for headshots while at the same time you are trying to get a large product campaign from the same company in Fresno or Los Angeles. The managers in one location dealing with planning annual events have no communication or relationship with those who are planning national advertising campaigns with national advertising agencies and art directors. In many cases it is the advertising agency who might be hiring you any way and not the company itself (both for large and small jobs). It is very reasonable to think that you can land jobs throughout different departments of these companies for very different rates without them passing you off as being too cheap or having worked for way less money than what they are budgeting for now. The only time all of these jobs converge is usually in Pay Role where the company already has you listed as a paid vendor with an EIN number and bank wiring info. Pay role employees hardly care if you were paid $1200 on month and $10,000 the next.

So all that being said, I do think Chase is correct in that if you are shooting $500 jobs for a real estate agent low on the totem pole within a huge company, you are going to have a heck of a time persuading him to spend $10,000 a job when he finally breaks off on his own and runs a massively successful reality company with his name on it. He will always view you as the cheap guy in town who helped him back when he was shooting $200k and less homes. Even if this realtor's career grows quickly, he will usually want to hire the next hotshot who has always demanded the higher rate for photography and his completion has been using for years....usually.

But I know lots of photographers who shoot corporate events (event photography) who also shoot much more budget demanding projects too and price accordingly. I think it all depends on the size of the company and type of photography they are budgeting for.

Patrick, I think we essentially said the same thing, although you elaborated on it. What I feel is the important takeaway for lessor experienced photographers is to know the difference in order to insure that they do not undercut themselves for lack of understanding. Know the client, what their actual budget is, as well as what the going rate for the specific job is. The more we all know about correctly pricing our work, hopefully the less inclined potential clients will be at trying to push our rates down. Undercutting ourselves and our professional peers is bad for our industry as a whole.

Thanks Patrick that was helpful! I would love to hear more on the non-commercial portrait side of things. I think you still or used to shoot weddings, how would you apply Chase's words to that world?

Weddings are very different because you never have clients coming back for a second gig....at least not for wedding photography! Maybe families or children or something.

So with weddings I think you just have to stick to your guns on your worth or potentially piss previous clients off if they find out you shot a friend of a friend's wedding for 20% less.

"These two specific genres of photography are never going to warrant $10,000+ in photographer's fees. These aren't what I would call "artistic" fields of photography where the company is hiring you to shoot your vision or to input your creative decision (you may argue against this with headshots but in many cases you might be asked to photograph against an Olan Mill's backdrop and reproduce images similar to the last photographer's shots)."

Even though you did try elaborate on that in the parenthesis does that then mean you feel that the Peter Hurley Video - The Art Behind the Headshot should then not be called the art behind it :?

Because I do think that you would still need to be able to get something out the client unless it is just some look of whatever expression is on their face.

Just a thought.

Peter now charges more than $2500 a headshot session so I'm very well aware that there is an art to it. I simply meant that most corporations hiring someone to update their database of 10 new employees in Montgomery, Alabama aren't usually going to require a super specialized headshot photographer.

Case in point, I recently was contacted a year ago to shoot 8 "headshots" for a pretty big investment firm. They asked that I reproduce the same lighting as the previous examples on the website and even use their stone washed jeans 80s background that they had to have flown in from corporate. I think I quoted them $1800 for the job and told them that was the price for 1 hour which was all that was needed. Of course I tried to make the most of the situation for the sake of the 8 workers but in the end it was just a show up, shoot, dump memory card off right then and there and get paid.

Trust me there is def a thriving field for headshot photographers making $800+ an hour session...I recently had a massively successful wedding photographer tell me at PPA that he was completely retiring from weddings to shoot headshots alone because the money is that good. But typically unless you have a business built like Peter's where you are the best of the best and specialize only in high end headshots, most of the gigs I think Chase is referring to are not going to be in the $800+ per person category.

Hope that clarifies

Ok cool, that is a much better explanation thank you Patrick. I am still contemplating Peter Hurleys videos (but 3rd world country and dollar price with exchange rate makes one think long and hard first)

And I am still new to photography (only started with courses and learning 4 years ago, only started taking away the concept of hobby a few months ago.) So I really am looking at all avenues

Sadly reaching the $500 is much more affordable marketing/advertising methods than the $5000-$50,000 clients. I personally try very hard to find the $5,000+ clients but with my access to that network and demographics with my marketing/advertising budget its near impossible, at least for my area where they're very hidden in the market and not as vast as the clientele only willing to spend $250 in my area. So my only options are to degrade the quality of the service/products to appeal to that demo or slightly higher for broader range... OR move out into an area that has better metrics for my service I offer.

I realize he is trying to make a point but in the regular non-Chase Jarvis world the price difference is more incremental and there are usually less zeros.
•Say I think a job is worth $5500 but the client can only pay $4750 because that's the budget. Not so easy to say "Thank you have nice day, call me when you can afford me, all due respect" when the numbers are closer. Someone will do the job at $4750, should I...is that lowball or is that reality? Can I trim off some extras to feel better about negotiating and do the job at $4750-$5000.
•I did cheap jobs with a guy who was doing websites for local diners. $500-$600 for a bunch of pix done in a few hours. If I had the time I'd do it. Quick n Easy, paid in cash. He left that agency and got a job at BBDO on the Jeep account. Suddenly his $500 jobs were $7-15,000 jobs. He liked loyalty and I was shooting 6-7 medium sized agency jobs a year for him, if I said get lost when he needed diner photos I would not have gotten on the Jeep gravy train.
•An art buyer friend says there are always people willing to lowball expecting that she will use them on the big jobs. Here she agrees with Chase. the first price you tell 'em is your price. Or as she said "they ain't gonna dig themselves out of that hole".
But as Casey Kasem said "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars." There's reality and there's inspirational youtube videos

I think the astute photographer would say you accept that job at the slightly lower price while negotiating something out of the job to maintain your worth. You could deliver a few final photos less, shoot for a few hours less, offer less retouched images, decrease the license usage or place a more limiting license onto the final images that are delivered.

Everything is a negotiation. Accepting a job for less pay than you feel you are worth is the worst thing you can do for your brand.

true that !