Clients who low-ball you…

So, it’s a no-go on shooting an event that I had tentatively been hired to shoot.  I got the terms back from the person in charge of approving me as official photographer, and was quite honestly aghast at how condescending they are.  Unfortunately, these sort of things are more common than you’d think when it comes to dealing with clients.

Note:  My original quote for them was $500, which is half what I typically charge for full-weekend event coverage.  The discount was due to the smaller size of the event, and the fact that it was a period I had never shot before and was interested in shooting.

Here’s what I got back (this was the email to a mutual friend, for me):

I agree that most of us are too busy reenacting to take good pictures… and having a photographer and hopefully some short video clips as well would be of value to the [organization] for future advertising. When I did this in 2008, I did it for free, but I understand that gas is more expensive these days, so here is what we can offer…

* I’ll pay her $25 on Friday when she arrives. (I will be reimbursed by the [organization])
* If she is seen to be actively photographing and video taping us all day saturday, saturday evening, and sunday till we finish.. we’ll pay another $50
* We are to receive the edited images in jpg format on disks with full rights to use them in any way the [organization] wants. If I am pleased with the quantity and more importantly the quality of the images, we would then be willing to pay an additional sum between $50 and $125. If I am really blown away; I’ll personally add a tip from my own pocket over and above what the [organization] can afford.


You’re kidding, right?

“If she is seen to be actively photographing” um, as opposed to what?  Sitting around on my butt?  Sir, if you’re hiring me to shoot, I’m there shooting.  And what is with that piecemeal payment system?  Do you pay your plumber for each pipe he clears and then only give him the rest of the money if you really love his work?  No.  This was not an event I was already attending as a reenactor – it’s not even a period I do; this was an event I was going to be hired to shoot, so I would have been there as a civilian, sleeping in my car.  The fact that he says that “he used to do this for free” tells me that he doesn’t really understand what it is I’m going to be doing.  I’m sure he’s a good guy, but I don’t think he understands that at those prices, I’d be working for well below minimum wage on that job.  Considering that my hourly rate is generally closer to $25-$30 an hour, this offer is just insulting.

If he had come back with a well-reasoned, professional response and said that they could only afford X amount, I would have worked with him.  I would have maybe only shot one day instead of two, or I would have worked out a payment plan, or something.  But the attitude behind those terms shows me that he really doesn’t understand anything about hiring photographers.

Especially this early in the game, it is very important for me not to low-ball myself, or when I do, to do it on my own terms.  Accepting terms like these would have sent the message that I’m not really a professional and that it’s okay to pay me like an amateur.  My good tailor friend Neal Hurst charges $700 and up for a coat, and what you’re getting for that price is an exceptional product made with Neal’s years of experience creating high quality garments.  If he charged only $200, I’d be suspicious.  Price reflects quality, and you have to price your services according to your own abilities and skill level, otherwise people will forever see you as unprofessional.

What are your thoughts?  How would you react if someone tried to pull this with you?

Posted in Dealing with Clients, My Journey and tagged with , . RSS 2.0 feed.

6 Responses to Clients who low-ball you…

  1. Kate C says:

    I’m generally a push-over when it comes to pricing and tone on client emails, but even I would have found that email extremely condescending. “If you are seen to be shooting”… wtf. That’s like if my boss based my salary on “whether or not I was seen designing”, when I’m specifically at work to design.

    And “if I’m blown away” is another condescending remark. I’m all for being accountable for the quality of your work, but if you hire a photographer or any artist based on a portfolio, then you should give the benefit of the doubt that their work will be on the same level or better than the portfolio. And if it isn’t, then you may discuss. But that’s like assuming a plumber will ruin your sink before he even begins, when you know this guy already is a plumber who’s worked on X number of houses.

    Aggghrrr.. you made the right call. I hope your next opportunity comes with a better client attitude.

  2. Laura Myers says:

    I represent the perspective of the “site” in this situation and I am aghast at how you were treated. Honestly, people like this in charge of historic sites or involved with historic sites make me cringe with their unprofessional behavior and sadly this is the rule rather than the exception. There are so many wonderful historic sites that are run not by professionals but by well-meaning but mis-guided volunteers and school teacher flunkies (not to disparage school teachers).

    Obviously this person/people involved came to the decision to have the event photographed as an after-thought. They have likewise never hired a professional photographer before either. Your quoted rate of $500.00 for a full weekend is extremely reasonable and if it wasn’t affordable by the site then they just should have said so or countered with a lower offer instead of all the stupid if’s. Clearly they have also ever budgeted for publicity, a reenactment event, or perhaps even a general operating budget for their site. If their intention to use the photos for future publicity was true then the $500.00 would be money well spent as they could have gotten several years of use (and more) from the photos.

    Also don’t get me started on owning copy and reproductive rights. This is a clear case where these rights should have been negotiated in advance. You would be creating content based on your eye, your talent, your expertise unlike a situation where you were taking a photo of an object in a museum that is not owned by you.

    Hang in there and rest assured that should I ever be in a position to be able to hire a photographer to document a reenactment event, Kelsey, you are the one.

  3. Flarnie says:

    Wow; the guy’s tone is totally inappropriate and I’m glad you turned down this “offer” of a gig. Yet another case where artists and folks with real skills are undervalued. Personally, I find it hard to turn down any job because of the lack of jobs and general fear around employment that our generation faces. This reminds me to value my own time and skills as a freelancer and as a person.

    • Kelsey Freeman says:

      Well, see, that’s where I have the advantage – I have other work that I do that can pay the bills when necessary, so I am not forced to take just any job that comes my way. Even this summer, when I am not doing any non-photography work, I saved up enough money to pay all my bills for four months, so that I have the flexibility to choose only work that will advance me professionally, rather than having to take anything and everything.

  4. Rose says:

    Simply ridiculous! I agree with what’s been said — glad you turned it down! I especially love the “I did it for free, but I understand that gas is more expensive these days …” As in, if gas were cheaper, you would also be expected to do it for free? Wow.

  5. Pingback: Lessons learned from my recent client snafu: | Behind the Glass

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