When you first start getting photography commissions, it can be very tempting to take them all on.
You’re finally reaching that goal you’ve worked so hard towards, so it’s too tempting to say yes to everything, especially as you’re keen to build a list of clients and gain professional experience.
I’ve been commissioned by top brands including Adidas, Jose Cuervo, Amazon, Sony, AEG, Land Securities, Heineken and many more.
But what I’ve also come to understand is that sometimes it’s best to just politely walk away.
I chose photography first as a hobby.
It later became clear it could help me change career and do a job I loved instead of a 9-5 in an office working for someone else.
As a photographer you still work for others freelance but for short assignments. That’s what I love, the fact it’s so diverse and less committed in the long term. I like variety.
Some clients or jobs will wear you down to the point you’ll question if you still love what you do. Avoid this at all costs if you care more about your passion than filling your pockets.
“Qualifying a job properly will avoid disaster down the line and will protect your love for what you do.”
But how do you avoid those jobs that just end in frustration? How do you avoid clients who don’t really know what they want or think they can squeeze the last drop out of you just because they’re paying you?
It’s all about preparation—and one of the key steps is to discuss the job in depth and with enough time ahead.
Take the time to understand every single aspect of it.
From getting to know the client, to being certain their deadline isn’t just crazily short (sadly a common problem), it’s all important information.
Sure we all have occasions when we need last-minute things and I can work that way, but a new website or any major launch of a product for example deserves more preparation.
One method I’ve found works well is to have a short questionnaire ready to be sent to the client, to cover all bases. As well as helping you to plan a job, it can also serve as a useful reminder later of what was agreed.
So here are my four main things to think about when talking to a client about a job…
What’s the budget?
This is such an obvious and important one, but you need to establish it straight away—what’s the point discussing it any further if they just want you to work for ‘free exposure’ on their Twitter? (Believe me it happens lots.)
“My general answer to anyone offering me work for ‘exposure’ is: ‘Not sure my landlord will accept exposure for rent this month but I’ll check and get back to you’!”
The type of photos the client requires will affect the fee, as will knowing what the client plans to do with the images.
You can use this as another benchmark when deciding on the fee—photos to be used on a website for a small company are very different than if they will be seen in all the international press, or on billboards around the world etc.
I recently shot myself in the foot assuming that I would be producing assets for a drinks company. As it turned out, they sent the work to pretty much every single pub in the UK for them to share on their social media!
I could (and should) have charged A LOT more. Lesson learnt. Never assume!
What’s the location?
Qualify the location and consider how practical it is for what you’re being asked to do.
Ideally you need to be sure you don’t end up (as I once did) crammed into a poorly lit 20sqm flat owned by one of the creative agency staff to shoot a drinks campaign for a big brand… you live and learn!
You also need to know what personnel from the client will be on site. What are the responsibilities of those people?
How long do they want usage rights?
Never give away copyright to the photographs you produce—it’s bad practice and you’re not helping the industry. Instead ‘rent’ the photos you shot to the client in the form of a license for a set period, which they can renew later at a further fee if they wish.
When a client objects to this, I generally explain that an indefinite usage licence will cost a lot more. So, doing it this way is actually saving them money as the shelf life of photos won’t usually be longer than a couple of years.
No company wants to share the same photos 10 years in a row, they want to keep it fresh.
Also, will the photographs be used in one geographical territory only or throughout the world? That should also affect what you charge.
What are the payment terms?
Are they happy paying within 30 days of the sent invoice date? Are they happy to pay a deposit?
I always ask for 30% of the total fee in advance, non-refundable, in order to confirm the job. This is the best way to get rid of time wasters and I’ve had enough last-minute cancellations to now be very comfortable asking for this.
Why should I allocate a day, and potentially miss on another job, for it to be simply cancelled at the last minute without consideration from the client?
Another lesson I recently learnt: a client (after signing, but not reading, my 30 days payment terms) said to me: “Oh, we only pay upon completion”.
Thankfully I was able to insist they stick to what we had agreed, as for an entire further month the production agency were unable to get feedback to me from the client on possible changes, meaning formal completion of the job took way longer than planned.
So while I’m waiting for their feedback (which they can’t be bothered to put together), I’m not getting paid. Err… no way!
Asking the right questions can certainly help make sure you don’t go into a job blindfolded.
There are times when the best decision is to say ‘no’ to the job.
In recent years I’ve turned down many jobs for seriously huge brands including Ford, Shell, Puma and smaller ones too. Why? Sometimes it was a gut feeling, a lack of chemistry with the client. This is a hugely important aspect.
Some people are rude from the onset and that for me, is an immediate no. Others just want to be looking over your shoulder telling you when to press the shutter. I don’t need a babysitter—if you hire me, trust me.
Others decide a month before launching a new website that they need a photographer to shoot every single aspect of it.
I’ve designed enough websites to know that this is leaving it too late, and when it goes wrong the client will then hold you responsible for their inability to plan properly in advance and missing the deadline.
I recently had a potential client call me asking to time-lapse for six months a construction project—starting the day after. Seriously, dude?!
I know these questions may seem to some of you excessive and very specific, and when you’re starting out, too, you don’t want to appear too difficult, but you can adapt them to your genre, your type of requests and clients.
A good client should respect you for asking for the information.
Nico Goodden is a London-based professional urban and street photographer specialising in creating exciting visual content for global brands including several FTSE100 companies. Also a successful blogger, he was this year ranked #4 in the Top 100 UK Photography Blogs.
For more great pro tips from Nico visit nicholasgooddenphotography.co.uk.