I received a call a few weeks ago from a photographer friend who was my assistant 20 years ago. He is an outdoor adventure photographer and has a successful business these days.
He needed advice and my opinion.
He had just wrapped up an assignment for a major beer company, one you all know and if you drink beer, you probably have drunk theirs.
They had contacted him at the last minute to shoot some outdoor imagery with people at a location in the mountains where the beer company was involved in an ‘outdoor promotional program’ at an event.
The client was originally planning to use another photographer who was not available on the day they decided to shoot, so my friends name came up.
They called and mentioned the project and images needed and then asked if he was available and wanted to know his day rate. He said he was available, could shoot the images the job required, and quickly mentioned a day rate. The event was in two days and the shoot went off without a hitch and the client was happy.
During the shoot the client had mentioned a few things including a cover use and various other uses planned for these images. There were a lot of uses casually mentioned and planned for the images from this shoot.
It was then that the photographer realized he had made a mistake, possibly a large mistake for not addressing the issue of usage before the shoot and now wondered what to do. He called and asked if I had suggestions on how to address this.
I reminded him of the mistake he had made and the challenges he would have in addressing this after the shoot.
Getting all wrapped up in the pre-shoot logistics, he had forgotten to ask about usage of the images in advance where he could have addressed pricing based on specified usage of the images. He now knew if he let it go for the rate he quickly rattled off before the shoot he was potentially losing a lot of money.
The first point here is that negotiating after the fact is the worst approach to take. When quoting a day rate and then the client gives you the job, you have quoted the job.
To then go back and ask for usage fees is certainly something that you can try, but this is a way to piss off and lose a new client.
Nobody likes the price to go up after getting what was believed to be a quote for the job.
When I get a quote for painting my house and the painter wants more when the job is done, I don’t go for it unless there are extenuating circumstances or I asked for something additional.
I encouraged my friend to see how the conversations with the client would go after the shoot and then if they are going well bring the subject up. Admit your mistake for not mentioning usage up front and ask how they feel about that.
After the shoot is to late
There are many photographers in this business climate who won’t charge usage for fear of losing the job and there are clients who know this and won’t use a photographer who charges for usage.
So how should you quote a shoot? Some photographers take whatever the client says they have for a budget no matter what it might be. Others will quote the shoot at a slightly higher rate and forget usage to earn the assignment. And some ask about usage in advance and then quote additionally for those uses. The latter price includes all time and costs to do the shoot, and the usage as understood at the time of giving the quote.
While every photographer needs to find the best way to be compensated for their work, it’s important to remember that negotiating after the project is completed, (absent any changes by the photographer or client), is the worst position to put your self in.
I checked back with my friend this last week to see how it went and he told me he did ask the client how she handled usage and she said she won’t pay usage above the assignment fee, but she did ask him to do another assignment.
Did he lose money? It depends on your perspective. He lost money for not charging usage from a client who would not pay it anyway. But he does have a new client and a new assignment to do for them.
While I am a strong advocate of usage fees, I recognize that they are tough to get especially when a client has so many options guaranteed to be cheaper. It really boils down to negotiation and salesmanship and whether you are any good at it.