Am I being paid too much?
September 23, 2011 10:41 AM   Subscribe

Photographers: reducing your rate – do you or don’t you?

I am a photography student (a year and a half into the program). I was recently contacted on very short notice to shoot a gala event for the regional branch of a national organization. The organizers know I am a student. The agreed-upon rate I am being paid is $500: $250 paid at the event, $250 upon delivery of a photo CD for which I have a month to deliver. The event was held last night. During the cocktail hour portion of the even they had a slide show running of previous years’ gala events, and one of the organizers pointed out to me that they’d hired two previous photographers shoot their gala events. The professional photographer who’d done the work 5 out of the past 6 years did really lovely work. Another photographer had been used for that 6th year and the otherwise pleasant organizer whispered critical comments about the crap job that photographer had done. But really, no pressure.

Browsing through the images today … ugh. I tend to be fairly hard on myself about what I believe constitutes a “good job”, but even with personally relaxed standards I gotta say I’m fairly unimpressed with my images. I had several terrific photographs a la 5-of-6-years guy, but I had a more significant pile that were more along the lines of 1-of-6-years guy.

I will be doing some digital image editing in the coming days but I feel a little bit sick to my stomach asking them to pay me that second half of the rate we’d agreed upon. I’m not sure I’ll be delivering images for which I’d pay $500 were I the client. I don’t need to be noble but I do want to be fair to them.

How should I proceed?
posted by mcbeth to Media & Arts (24 answers total)
Don't offer unsolicited discounts. Let them ask you for it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:42 AM on September 23, 2011 [11 favorites]

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Do not proactively reduce your fee telling them these suck a little bit. Also, remember, they hired a STUDENT. The risk is theirs.

If this is a charity organization, you could always refuse the 2nd check as a donation.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:54 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Getting paid less isn't going to make the photos any better. Better you concentrate on getting the quality up to what you charge than dragging your payment down to where you think you are.
posted by griphus at 10:54 AM on September 23, 2011

As a semi-pro photographer who works weddings and events, I classify my images as "portfolio quality", "solidly good but not great", "acceptable if there's something interesting about the subject", and "not acceptable". Most of my images do not fall in the first category; I'd estimate the percentages at about 5/55/10/30 on the first pass. I don't deliver those 30% at all.

Are you seeing complete sets from each photographer or is this from a "highlights" slideshow? You might be comparing your "run of the mill" images to the 5-of-6 guy's highlights.

I wouldn't offer anything back right now either. Your rate is already low for the work involved and you'll: a) be emphasizing the flaws, making it less likely you'll get other events from them, and b) setting a pricing precedent if you do get other events.
posted by jdwhite at 11:00 AM on September 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

I had several terrific photographs a la 5-of-6-years guy, but I had a more significant pile that were more along the lines of 1-of-6-years guy.

What gives you the idea that 5-of-6-years guy delivered all of the images he shot? I would guess that it's totally normal to scrap a large fraction of them.

Also, $500 may seem like a lot to you but it's practically nothing to the organizers of a 'gala event.' You could give them the pics for free and it wouldn't make a noticeable difference to them.
posted by jon1270 at 11:00 AM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

absolutely not. they knew your work before they hired you, and you both agreed upon a rate you were comfortable with.

I think basically what you are thinking every single time I shoot an event, except add in a few more "oh god i'm never going to get work again"s. Take a break from your photos today and re-visit them in a day or two, your opinion will likely change a little.

They hired you because they preferred your work to the photographers they hired in the past. They might also have just not liked working with the previous photographers, even if their photos were good, they might have been late with the DVD, or got drunk at the event, or only delivered 50 images when they were expecting 200 or something like that.

If you want to do something extra for them, deliver the CD well before the due date and send them a couple prints as a thank you.
posted by inertia at 11:01 AM on September 23, 2011

You are looking at the photos as a professional photographer. I'm assuming the client is not a professional photographer. You are seeing flaws that they wouldn't see even if you pointed them out to them. Relax.
posted by COD at 11:04 AM on September 23, 2011

Don't offer unsolicited discounts. Let them ask you for it.

Truth! I had a similar gig earlier this year--I didn't love what I got, but I edited them hard and they came out acceptable enough. Not my best work. I don't know that they'll hire me again, but they paid me the full agreed-upon rate.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:04 AM on September 23, 2011

Your first problem is that you looked at the results too soon. If you know you're critical of your own work, always give yourself at least three days to a week after the event before you even look at what you got.

Personally, as someone (also) just starting out, I wouldn't feel comfortable charging for my services if I didn't feel confident that I could pull off successful results. $500 is quite a bit for a student to charge, but if it's significantly less than they've paid others in the past (some with whom they were happy, others with whom they weren't), then they may be satisfied with whatever results you give them. Also remember that if you did this last-minute, it was either have a photographer or not--in which case you're getting paid as much for your presence as for your work.
posted by litnerd at 11:08 AM on September 23, 2011

This may be hard to appreciate where you are in your career but: don't worry about it. Deliver what you agreed to with a cheerful smile. Never, ever, ever deprecate your work to the client. NEVER. If they have a problem with it, make them broach the subject.

Always look at your own work critically, of course. For yourself, analyze what you did right and wrong vs the previous photographer, and do more of the former the next time you shoot an event.

Along the way, the organisers decided to pay less for a less experienced photographer and they're okay with that.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:09 AM on September 23, 2011

You don't know that they paid the professional photographer a comparable rate.
posted by grouse at 11:09 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Building upon what inertia said: if you don't feel like you can kill 'em with the quality, kill 'em with the experience of working with you. Turn the images around magically fast, include a nice note, and spend $50 of the money you're feeling shy about on thank you flowers. And consider using that formula moving forward... yes, you certainly want your work to improve, but providing a good experience is something you can offer right now that sets you apart. Make it painless and even pleasant to work with you, and you'll find more success than if you focus solely on making heroic work.
posted by Hankins at 12:10 PM on September 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you lower your rates now, and they like your work, they won't want to pay you what you are worth in the future. They will want to hire you for your reduced rate, and when you ask for more, they will think you are trying to take advantage of them. Don't do anything about the rates unless they express concern, at which point you can decide if you should charge them less.
posted by markblasco at 12:51 PM on September 23, 2011

As an event organizer, I say don't offer a discount unasked. You're a student, worst that an happen is they don't hire or recommend you.

Crop photos to get the cream, but also give them some or all of the oiginals in case they have specific needs later (for photos of that specific someone).
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 2:02 PM on September 23, 2011

I did event photography when I was student-aged (and a student, though that went on longer than the event photography and the being student-aged part :) and let me assure you, you deserve every bit of that $500.

Hell, in 1991 I'da been charging that much or more for an event. I had film & processing costs that you do not in this digital age but the point remains that they got a service from you in 2011 dollars that would have cost them the same in 1991 dollars. And in some ways they're getting more labor out of you - you're doing way more post-processing than I ever would have with film.

As others have said, $500 for the organizers of a gala event is chicken scratch. More importantly, it represents a fairly low hourly wage for a contractor with specialized skills who is providing their own equipment.

You may or may not have done a bad job but $250 isn't going to change that. I'd follow a sort of variation on Hearts' suggestion. Do the minimal post-processing on everything, crop & correct the best, separate the real cruft out into a folder called "discards." They might be bad shots but (1) other people's criteria may be diff than yours and (2) they may at some point simply be desperate for a shot - ANY SHOT - of a valued donor.

The closing the barn door after the cow is out part : something I learned doing bar mitzvahs and weddings - there was simply NO substitute for a pre-event meeting with the decision maker/money handler to discuss the must-have shots. For weddings it's the various family group shot permutations but every event has the folks the organizers think are must-haves - the grandma who won't be with us long, the big donor, the cousin home from an overseas posting. Whatever. You establish that you tried to determine this stuff ahead of time with them and you set expectations (tell me now, I am not going to be running around at your whistle rather than shooting the event properly).
posted by phearlez at 2:15 PM on September 23, 2011

For professional photographers, 500 wouldn't even cover their equipment. It wouldn't cover the usage for the photographs. It might cover their base day rate for an event like that. Added all together...

The photographers from previous years would probably be upset with you for lowballing the fee. If anything you should ask for more money.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 2:32 PM on September 23, 2011

I'm a photographer, and I've been there. That said, NO! Don't, under any circumstances, lower your rate, ESPECIALLY if they don't ask for a discount. If (when) they hire you again, they'll expect the discounted price. If you don't honor the discounted price, you'll drive yourself batshit insane trying to make work that is 400% better than the first time around. And let's be honest, we're never 100% happy with our work. Do your best with what you have.

Deliver the photos early and with a smile. As the manager of a studio I used to work for wisely said (and I still live by this), "They're paying for photos, but anyone can take photos. They're also paying to work with YOU. Be awesome, and make it worth their while."
posted by AlisonM at 3:06 PM on September 23, 2011

Photographers: reducing your rate – do you or don’t you?

"Photographers: Devaluing your work in the eyes of your clients - do you or don't you?"
posted by mhoye at 4:35 PM on September 23, 2011

Never ever ever ever shoot yourself in the foot with a client. EVER. They're going to look at the pictures and love them. There is no possible way lowering your rate at this point is going to do you or the client any good. Do not do this.

Photography is a service industry. If you think your images suck (everyone thinks about everything they shoot no matter how good or bad it is) make up for it with your customer service. Deliver it early with a bow on top and no one will care what the images look like.
posted by bradbane at 8:06 PM on September 23, 2011

I've made that kind of money as a photographer's assistant.

The people who hired you are getting what they paid for. You're inexperienced; of course your shots won't be perfect. If they were expecting professional results, they should have hired a professional. They're either cheap or stupid or both; in any case, that's not your problem.

Take the money. All of it.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:32 PM on September 23, 2011

About 30% of my work as a long time full time photographer is shooting corporate or institutional events. I’d love for that to be zero percent, but I have this hang up about wanting to make a living.

As others have said, you, the photographer, never ever initiate discussion about lowering a fee.

Event photography, especially of the “gala event” genre, is at least as much about who you shoot, how you conduct yourself on the shoot, and your general level of professionalism as it is about getting portfolio quality images. When push comes to shove, if you provide technically adequate pictures of the right people and groups of people, don’t bump into anyone causing their drink to spill, and deliver your finished work in a timely manner, you get an “A” for the day.

I’ve received more accolades for being a “great photographer” by living the advice above than I ever have for award winning commercial photo shoots or producing what I consider genuinely outstanding and/or technically challenging photographs.

Also, at $500.00, if you produced anything but a total, unmitigated disaster, they got their money’s worth.

Lastly, I deliver finished work as soon as possible; generally I get it out of here the next business day, so I can move on to the next big thing. My clients love this.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:30 AM on September 24, 2011

litnerd> $500 is quite a bit for a student to charge
I was ready to ask for less. When I was told they had a $500 max budget for the job I figured if that was their budget I'd take that entire amount, not less. I'm unfamiliar with prices/jobs and, given my newbieness, it seemed reasonable at the time. When I personally say I have a budget for something I mean exactly that: I seriously have a specific budget which I cannot exceed because there is seriously no more cash after that high mark. With the brief experiences I've had thus far I'm disappointed to find this is not true for others, including future clients. Ultimately, I don't want to be that photographer that makes low-ball offers because doing so cheapens the entire profession, but I see now that I will need to do my research so I can feel confident about what I charge as a hired shooter, and then stick to it.

inertia> They hired you because they preferred your work to the photographers they hired in the past.
Not that it matters much at this point, but this is not true. They hired me because a person on their board dropped the ball and didn't get the 5-of-6-years guy soon enough. He was already booked up.

phearlez> there was simply NO substitute for a pre-event meeting
I was given incorrect information about the name of the room in which the event was taking place, so despite researching the Big Event Place the day before to get some idea of what I'd be walking into, I couldn't find the specific room listed anywhere on the website. So yeah, I can dig it. From here out I will ask to meet beforehand. If you're asked to take a last minute job do you try to squeeze the meeting in before the event, or not take the job, or...?

inertia> If you want to do something extra for them, deliver the CD well before the due date and send them a couple prints as a thank you.
Your 'couple of prints' idea is terrific, thanks. I will do this (after taking one more day to not look at the images). I also will edit to the best of my ability then deliver the CD to them well ahead of their deadline, with a thank you card, a smile, and a shiny, hypnotic *ignore the bad shots* bow on top. Goodwill gesture, etc.

AlisonM> Be awesome, and make it worth their while.
At the event I overheard several people discussing in surprised tones how friendly the photographer was. It's reassuring to know a cheerful personality can go a long way because I got me one'a them. Whew.

Props to you all who do this on a regular basis and whose medicine cabinets are v. likely stocked full with antacids. I'm grateful for your collective experiences and wisdom.
posted by mcbeth at 10:17 AM on September 24, 2011

And don't let your "newbieness" be an excuse for clients to get cut-rate photography. You can't look at an advertisement and tell if a student or a 20-year-veteran photographer took the picture in the ad, so you shouldn't charge less for the pictures.
posted by msbrauer at 2:14 PM on September 24, 2011

From here out I will ask to meet beforehand. If you're asked to take a last minute job do you try to squeeze the meeting in before the event, or not take the job, or...?

I'm "retired" but my system was always to ask for a meeting even if it was 5 minutes before the start of the gig. My feeling was that if I asked for it - with the stated express purpose of making sure I've got the information I need to make sure I get the photos they want - that I'd covered my ass with pushing them to tell me what they needed. If they refused to meet or devote any real time, *shrug* I tried.

I'm sure it reflects poorly on my devotion to The Art, but my opinion was that if someone was bound and determined to make sure I couldn't do the job well but were willing to pay the same price then okiedokie.
posted by phearlez at 8:27 PM on September 25, 2011

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