Blue Earth
Glazer's Camera

Doing Business: Pictures—Worth More Than a Thousand Words

Doing Business: Pictures Doing Business: Pictures

Determining the value of your work is one of the most important,and overlooked, aspects of professional photography.

Most photographers live to see their work being used to sell, tell or intrigue — on walls, posters and web sites; in ads, books and magazines. Few of us were attracted to photo-graphy with the thought that it was a way to make money.

It's no surprise, then, that photographers tend to shy away from discussions of compensation for their work. For many, there's the ever-present anxiety that the very destiny of the image, along with their future as artists, is at stake. Discussions of money seem to conflict with appreciation of the image in question. If we displease the prospective buyer, our work may be dismissed and we may slip into obscurity.

Others simply don't like to talk about money, being more confident as artists than as negotiators. As photographer Rosanne Olson of Seattle says, "Pricing is very hard for me. I hate talking about money."

Too few shooters even know what our work is worth to us or what its value may be to others. That leaves us in a precarious and insecure position during negotiations over a fair price. Ultimately, though, we do need to know what an image is worth so that we don't shortchange ourselves — or the profession — and so we don't overcharge and alienate the buyer.

Don't be afraid to say no

So, how does one go about determining the value?

First, you need to consider your overhead, your experience and the uniqueness of your work.

A moment that made a lasting impression on me occurred one morning outside a friend's studio. As he turned the key in the lock, he told me exactly what it cost him just to open the door for the day. How many of us have even a rough idea of that amount?

What shopkeeper would ever open the door to start selling his wares without knowing his costs and the value of his goods? Why should photography be any different?

It's a matter of selling yourself. Business people want it done, and done right. If they don't, they have to get the job re-done.

Denver photographer Jason Hallmark says that by knowing his daily costs, he knows which jobs he has to walk away from. The most powerful negotiating tool, he says, is the power to say no. "It's a matter of perception if you're busy enough to turn down a bad deal," he adds.

Often the very fact that you're willing to turn down a bad deal is enough to convince the client that you're worth more. Many photographers who have turned down losing propositions have had clients counter with more reasonable amounts. Other times the clients go elsewhere, only to return later to get the job done right.

If you get locked into clients' minds as the low-cost alternative, you'll find it difficult to move up in their perceptions. Convince them that you're the better photographer, though, and they'll remember that.

Hallmark sees the negotiation over fees as the start of building a relationship. He tries to make sure that he's helping his clients by letting them know that he's on their side. His knowledge and expertise, he says, can help save them money. "It's a matter of selling yourself," he says. "Businesspeople want it done, and done right. If they don't, they have to get the job re-done."

Set your parameters

Client relationships have a lot to do with getting the right fees. David Straub of Portland, Ore., says that his clients are agreeable to his rates because "they are part of a long-term relationship, and that's what I'm in business for."

In preparing a quote, Straub looks at past jobs that were similar.

He consults software pricing guides and asks the client, "What's your budget?" Although this approach to determining the right price often is overlooked, it's not an unreasonable question to ask. It's where salespeople start with buyers. It's where ad agencies start with clients, too.

"My clients are paying for my vision, my kind of work," Olson says, "and for that, they're willing to pay more." While the creative fees for a seasoned pro and an absolute beginner would be expected to vary, there's no reason that the fees for usage should follow suit. When someone has an intended usage for an image, the value of that us-age is the same regardless of the source of the image.

Talk to the competition

In determining the rate for a specified usage, most turn to profession-al pricing guides. Olson says that she also talks to other photographers. "We can often help each other, even if we're competing," she says.

vTalking with others doesn't mean conspiring on final dollar amounts, but rather comparing notes about breaking down job costs and/or evaluating usage. Hallmark uses 5 to 10 percent of the ad-buy budget as a rule of thumb.

In my own experience, more than once, I've sat down over lunch to talk with a competitor about a job on which we were both bidding. We discussed our understandings of what the job involved and how the images would be used. Often, we found that we had both overlooked certain questions or issues, and we came away with a better idea of what the job entailed. Then we'd each give it our best shot.

Pricing guides are an immense help but should never be taken as gospel. Many pros use more than one. The point of guides is just that — they're guides, not laws. They help you get an idea of the going rates for certain types of uses. After seeing what the guides say, it's up to you to judge the uniqueness of your own work. Look at the market to which your images will be shown. Find out what the client has in mind for spending and then reach your own conclusion, but do it without fear of losing the sale.

Take your time

Seasoned pros know better than to quote fees too hastily. Try not to give a price quote during the first phone call or discussion with a potential client. Force yourself, if you must, to think it through, to research the numbers and to prepare yourself for the job of selling the client on the fee that you've calculated.

Don't paint yourself in a corner when you do provide the quote, either. Always leave a door open for maneuvering by using phrases such as, "According to my calculations, the price should be…" That way, you have a moment to see how the clients react.

{jb_quote}After seeing what the pricing guidessay, it's up to you to judge the uniqueness of your own work.{/jb_quoteleft}If they don't blink, you're home free. If they balk, you have the opportunity to lower the price a bit, or trade away some of the potential uses or other values. When approached by a client that had too small a budget, I once negotiated a reduced fee for a series of ads by getting a prominent photo credit included in every ad. Failure to include the credit in any insertion had an agreed-upon penalty fee. I also obtained the client's agreement that I could re-license the lifestyle images through stock sales, as long as they were not in competition with the original client's use.

Both of us walked away happy: The client got a rate that was within budget, and I got a lot of advertising for myself, plus extra income. It led to a long and fruit-ful business relationship. Business and money are tough issues for artists across the board. Our photography is our passion, as it should be. But as Hallmark reflected, "I'm concerned about eating. You can't eat passion."

James Cook
Story Author: James Cook

James Cook, of Saugatuck, Mich., is a photographer and software developer. He's the founder of HindSight Ltd., which publishes software titles for professional photographers.

E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it