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How to Negotiate Your First Paid Photography Gig

So you’re in the process of negotiating your first paid photography gig – congrats! Making the move from being a hobbyist to a paid photographer is easier than you might think, but it does require some know-how, especially when it comes to nailing down the details. Here’s an overview of how to get started talking with a prospective photography client.

negotiating paid photography rates

Understand the scope

In all likelihood, your prospective client reached out to you with a simple one or two sentence email that sounds something like this:

Hi!

I need a photographer on ____ to take photos of ____.  Are you available? What’s your rate?

Thanks!

The point is that most photography clients, even those who work with photographers on a regular basis, aren’t going to offer a lot of details when they first contact you. It’s up to you to ask the right questions to get all of the information you need to decide if you even want to do the shoot.

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These questions are all related to understanding the scope of the client’s needs, and they may vary according to the type of photography. Examples of questions to ask include:

Where is the photo shoot being held?

This question is important for determining if a location has already been selected by the client, or if they’re looking for ideas or input from you. Either way, you will definitely want to know how much travel or commute time will be involved on your end, and if you should charge extra for it. Typically, I add on a per-mile rate if I must travel more than 50 miles round trip to a photo shoot.

How many people will be involved in the shoot?

You might adjust this question according to the type of photo shoot you’re being asked about, but it’s still important to get a sense of scale. If it’s an event or portrait session, you need to know how many people you’ll need to photograph. Likewise, if it’s a food or product shoot, knowing how many dishes or products are involved will help you prepare and quote on the job.

Depending on the scale of the shoot, you may need to bring in a second shooter, photography assistant, or even rent extra gear.

How to Negotiate Your First Paid Photography Gig

Approximately how many photos do you want?

More often than not, the client won’t have a direct answer to this question. However, it’s essential to at least get a sense of their expectations so you can adjust your shooting style accordingly. Some people prefer seeing a wide range of options, while others just want a handful of images to choose from.

Do you have samples of photo styles you would like to emulate?

Along the lines of understanding client expectations, one of the best ways to do this to get sample photos to see the style they’re looking for. Most clients have images from previous shoots they’ve had done, or maybe even a Pinterest or Instagram account that they admire. Do whatever it takes to understand the style of photography they want (and do NOT want). This will help reduce the chances of producing photos they aren’t happy with.

What’s the intended usage of the photos?

The main reasons for asking this question are two-fold.

First, the answer helps you determine the quality and resolution of photos you should be capturing. If the client intends to make a billboard print, you definitely need to be shooting a maximum quality. Whereas photos intended for social media use can be done at a lower resolution.

Second, the client’s intended use of the photos will also affect the photography rate you charge them, which leads us to the next section.

How to Negotiate Your First Paid Photography Gig

Get a sense of their budget

Arguably the most challenging aspect to negotiating a photography job is settling on a price that everyone agrees on. To get started, ask the client upfront if they have a budget in mind. Some will and some will not. At the very least, try to get a sense of the budget range with which they are comfortable.

Research other rates

Thanks to the plethora of photography websites out there, it’s easy to do a Google search and find out what others charge for similar photo shoots. Some photographers, especially those who shoot weddings and portraits, will openly state their rates on their portfolio sites. If this tactic doesn’t work, there are also blogs and articles where photography experts openly talk about industry standard rates. Either way, it’s important to come up with a firm photography rate that works for you.

State your rate

After you come up with your photography rate, give it to your client, along with any necessary explanations. As an example, I always have a creative fee that covers the photo shoot itself, plus added fees that vary depending on the shoot. Some sample fees I might add include photo editing time, travel, equipment rental, photo usage (known as licensing fees), and extra fees if the client requires photo delivery on a physical thumb drive or disc.

If you do a discount…

Depending on the circumstances, I might be willing to offer my client a discount or negotiated photography rate. If this happens, I always firmly state my original photography rate so the client understands the full value of my services. I’ll then factor in the adjusted rate as a discount.

How to Negotiate Your First Paid Photography Gig

Final Steps

After settling on a photography rate, there are two extra steps you should take before you consider your services booked.

Get a contract signed

Take information from the negotiation and draw up a photography contract. Include a price estimate that clearly breaks down your photography rate. Send these documents to your client and ask them to sign and return a copy. This will make sure that both you and your client are clear on what you are agreeing to.

Collect a deposit

This is an optional step that will reduce the odds of your client suddenly canceling. It also helps get some funds in your pocket early since final payment following a photo shoot can take time. I require a 50% deposit, with the remaining balance due within a week after they receive the final photos.

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Summary

Without a doubt, negotiating a gig is among the most nerve-wracking parts of venturing into the world of paid photography. As long as you get a proper sense of scope and define your monetary value, negotiation is less challenging.

Do you have any tips or tricks to confidently negotiating a paid photography gig? Let me know in the comments below.

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Suzi Pratt
Suzi Pratt

is an internationally published Seattle event and food photographer. Her photos appear regularly in Eater and Getty Images. When she’s not taking photos, she’s making travel photography and camera gear videos for her YouTube channel.