Copyright 2002 Scott Bourne - All Rights Reserved

Copyright 2002 Scott Bourne - All Rights Reserved

How much should you charge for your photographs? There’s no single right answer other than – “It depends.” It depends on lots of factors. How will the photo be used? How many people will see it? What size will it be displayed? Does the licensee plan to give you credit? Do they want one-time, exclusive, perpetual rights?

These are just some of the questions that have to be asked. To determine the price you’ll consider these factors, market conditions, competition and most importantly, how much it takes you to make a profit, fully fund your business and pay yourself benefits.

But this post will start from the point at which you know those answers and you’re actually negotiating.

The art of negotiation is as difficult to master as photography. It takes practice, tools and patience – just like photography.

Here are 10 quick tips to get you started on the right road to being a good negotiator…1. Think and aim high. There are plenty of low-ball photographers out there. They will offer to do the job for less than you. Let them. Don’t be afraid to ask for a FAIR price. If it’s too high for your client – better to let it go to a low-baller. This keeps the perception that you are worth more alive, probably helps drive the low-ball competitor out of business, and leaves you in position to charge this client more next time.

2. Remind your client that you need to charge a creative fee that pays you for your skill and craftsmanship, a production fee which covers the actual costs of making the image (gear rental, makeup, props, location rental, printing, etc.) and a license fee which covers use. It helps to build value during negotiation and makes it easier for the client to see why you charge what you charge if you delineate these three items separately.

3. Avoid letting the client think of you as an employee. Day rates are notorious for instilling in the client that they “own” you for the day, and doesn’t properly compensate you for the costs you incur in making the photographs.

4. Try to avoid using the term “buy” and instead always make sure you use the term “license.” There is a big difference. You “buy” a copy of a photograph when you purchase a print. You “license” the right to display or distribute that photograph to others.

5. Sell “value” not photographs. The value of your image will be determined by many factors. For instance when I flew to Alaska to photograph Alaskan Brown Grizzly Bears in the wild, I had very high expenses just getting to the job. Then there’s the fact that it’s much easier to photograph deer at the local park so there’s some exclusivity involved. Add the danger element and the bear photos have a higher value than some of my other wildlife shots.

6. Try to use the word “fairness” whenever possible. Everyone likes to think of themselves as fair. If you point out for instance that you won’t charge a flat rate because that’s not fair to smaller clients who use less of your services than large clients, it helps get the buyer off the notion he/she should be able to pay you a “flat” rate.

7. Don’t mention price first – ever – never ever! In any negotiation over price, the person who mentions a number first will almost always lose. Sell the value of the photo. Sell your ability to meet the clients needs. Sell your services. Sell your reputation. Sell the benefits (not features) that attach to your work. But don’t – ever – ever sell on price. Ask questions like – “What is your budget for this project?” Let them give a number first. In my experience that number is higher than the amount I need for the job at least 50% of the time.

8. Use tools to help relate to the client. Even if they simply don’t get how things work, show them empathy and listen to their concerns. I use a simple Zig Ziggler technique called “FEEL FELT FOUND” to help me with this. When someone says “Scott I was thinking we need to have this no later than tomorrow and that your price is too high,” I’ll respond with something like: “Mr. Jones – I hear you. You want it fast and you want it priced right. I sure know how you feel. I probably would have felt that way too until I found out that a job like this simply takes two days to get it right. And that extra day gives us both the quality we’re looking for and justifies the additional fee.” Regardless of the objection, try using this technique to steer your way past the objection and onto the sale.

9. Presentation matters. Dress, act and speak like a professional. Use professional stationery to present your bid. Check spelling, punctuation and accuracy of all documents you plan to present during the negotiation beforehand to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.

10. Put it in writing and YOU do the writing. Have your standard terms and conditions outlined clearly on any bid/contract you submit. Don’t allow the client to change these terms without additional compensation. Having your own pre-printed terms and conditions/contracts ready when you negotiate shows that you’re serious, a professional and someone who’s likely to be around a long time to service your client’s needs.

Obviously there’s lots more we could talk about here. I could do ten posts alone on “FEEL FELT FOUND.” My hope is to give you something to chew on so that if you are a pro, or thinking of going pro, you’ll do a better job of negotiating a fair price. That will allow you to shoot more, sell more and enjoy the business more.

Join the conversation! 12 Comments

  1. I have to disagree strongly with point #7 where you suggest never mentioning price first.

    Standard negotiating strategy suggests that the first person to speak of a number often has an advantage because the first number mentioned becomes an “anchor point” for future negotiation. This strategy is most useful when you have a reasonable idea of the market value for the services provided. Its even better if you can guess your counter-party’s budget.

    With this information I would suggest making a first offer slightly above market/budget that includes a “full package of services.” Then explaining that you are open to different arrangement and that the prices can be lower if certain services are not required (ie. less expensive if not exclusive, limited print run, etc.)

    In any case it is important to be familiar with the “anchor point” strategy because it could be employed by the other side against you.

    FULL DISCLOSURE: I have never performed or negotiated for professional photography services but I have negotiated many financial transactions.

  2. Do you know of any books on this topic?

  3. @Jef sorry my experience leaves me convinced that point 7 is the one thing you’d NEVER want to ignore. I haven’t negotiated that many financial transactions but have indeed negotiated hundreds of photo transactions. The anchor point strategy simply fails here because of precisely the one data point that doesn’t exist necessary to its success…that is there is no way to ping a reasonable market value for something as creative, ethereal and unique as photography. One wedding photographer gets paid $1000 to shoot a wedding while another gets paid $50,000. If you apply the anchor point strategy and you’re the $1000 guy you absolutely eliminate any chance of heading up to the higher levels since your base is so low. Let the other guy give a number. It may be ABOVE the minimum you wanted for the job.

  4. […] admin on Mar.11, 2009, under Uncategorized has an excellent article with ten tips for negotiating a price for your photographs and photographic […]

  5. Thanks for this post!

  6. Scott, I’ve found it tough at times *not* to be forced into a position of suggesting a price. The short version goes: “What is your price?” “Well, what is your budget?” Savy clients know exactly what I’m after and simply won’t reveal the budget.

    I’ve always tried to offer a “fully loaded with every option” price, then negotiate away some of the “features” to get the price to a manageable level.

    I’d love to hear ways that you deal with this, as it seems a common problem. We might be expert photographers, but the clients are often expert buyers and really good at what they do.

    Thanks for your insights.

  7. Hi Ken yes – occasionally I meet someone who’s as good at negotiating as I am – in those cases, if I am comfortable with the fact that they really would prefer to hire ME – then it simply becomes a battle of wills…

    Client: “What’s your price?”
    ME: “What’s your budget?”
    Client: “We’d prefer you just quote a price.”
    ME: “What did you pay your last photographer?”
    Client: “I am not sure.”
    ME: “Well what do you think is fair?”

    In other words, I simply go back with more probing questions. If that doesn’t work, I go back to demonstration mode – building more value – asking questions like – “Is my work the kind of thing you are looking for?” or “If price weren’t an issue, am I the right photographer for the job?” If the answers to the last questions aren’t yes – then you probably aren’t going to get the job anyway. If they ARE yes, then you have a right to continue to negotiate.

    I hope this helps.

  8. “Getting to yes” is a book that was used as a textbook at my local university for a class on negotiating. I have only read portions of the book, but it sets up a philosophy and I would say everything in Scott’s post here follows perfectly with what the book teaches.

    #7 is a tricky area. Although normally setting the anchor price is a good thing, I agree with Scott because an anchor point only works when you have something to reference.

  9. Great post Scott. I am fourteen and I will be doing some paid portraits for the first time. Very good information.

  10. Scott,

    Excellent article that points out good points to items that I struggle with during negotiation.
    Thanks for a valuable set of ideas.

  11. Great tips Scott! I’d love to see more of these kind of posts for the aspiring pro.

  12. […] Bourne always says in that in a negotiation the person that says a number first usually loses. (10 Quick Tips to Negotiating a Fair Price For Your Photographs | Photofocus) My suggestion is to go back to them and say sole ownership forever is very expensive and that it […]

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