One of my first jobs as a photographer, back when I was seeing if I was good enough to be a professional, was to photograph some tourist destinations in London. Commissioned by an Australian firm, the majority of the brief were restaurants and the firm claimed it shouldn’t take me more than half a day; of course I agreed, it was a paid gig! When I started planning the half day quickly turned into a day and a half. While the locations agreed to the photography, they all stipulated certain days and times. It was free publicity and naturally they wanted their businesses to look the best (if you’re not aware photographing restaurants is like trying to capture a perfect landscape in the middle of a hurricane. There are a plethora of moving parts with an ever changing priority list). Would it have been easier to have taken images of the outside of the establishments; yes. However by taking interior shots, I took far superior and atmospheric images and I actually earned regular work from one of the restaurants for a number of years.
Hindsight being wonderful, I should have gone back and requested a larger fee for the extra time, but I didn’t. The Australian firm promised future work and of course non was forthcoming. However this was the first in what has become a firm fact; clients regularly underestimate time. While everyone want first rate images, they think the work can be taken in a fraction of what it actually takes. There are now two main ways I deal with situations like these;
1. Offer a project rate; the downside of which if the project then over runs in regards to time, you’re not in a position to ask for a larger fee.
2. Offer a rate for your time; the downside of which is if the project is scheduled to take a lot of time, the final rate may be rather large and more than a client’s budget. In which case you may have to negotiate.
Which brings me to a recent client. I was approached by a London based creative studio specialising in luxury event design and production (their words, not mine) who create luxury stories and whose clients include Harry Winston, Krug, Ruinart, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent… you get the drift. The brief was to take images of a space and ‘shouldn’t take more than one hour’. Accordingly I offered my rate for the time which I then confirmed with a quote and my T&Cs (always remember to do this; it gives you evidence to fall back on in case of dispute).
Arriving on time I was met by someone other than who I’d be liaising with; a surprise, but it happens. Minutes after arriving at the space my client’s client showed up; half a dozen PR girls ensuring their event would be ready to kick off on time. This was another surprise and incredibly unhelpful; my client immediately felt increased pressure from the presence of the PR scrutinising the work and I now had unexpected bodies getting in the way of my brief. While it was important to my client that images were taken, I was a hindrance to the PR. To top it all off, the main space I was asked to photograph wasn’t ready, so I was asked to stay an extra 30minutes to which I agreed. Having been given a rather generic brief to take images of the space, as time ticked on my client then drip fed me extra images including additional wide angles and close ups; which meant re- clearing areas of the PR. My client also started walking around the space with her iPhone taking images and asking me to duplicate the angles. While I welcome reference images I was on the other side of the room when she started snapping and then unhelpfully didn’t show me what she was taking. When I did finally convince her to show me her shots, she had mixed bright daylight with shadow which the iPhone had captured in perfect exposure, something unachievable with a dSLR. As kick off time approached tensions were rising to ensure the space was ready and my taking images became more and more unwelcome. However I achieved the brief; all in all of my final images, 1/5 were taken in the first hour with the majority in the extra 30minutes.
Upon leaving I emailed my contact requesting additional fee due to the additional time. It then became clear I was emailing the assistant and the person at the space had been the studio boss, who requested the images before agreeing final price. Needless to say I did not do this as I would have gained no benefit from doing so. Had I explained on location that extra time would mean extra cost? I wasn’t asked, and had I been here’s my answer; I find discussing rate, while on a job, extremely pressuring. You’re already on location, doing the best you can when suddenly there’s increased pressure to do more, often at no extra fee. Very few people want to appear or come across as negative, which on a shoot can be fatal, so there’s pressure to agree on the spot. However making a snap financial decision is rarely a wise move and often leads to poorly informed results. In this instance my client was also clearly under pressure from her client being on location and I did not wish to talk, and potentially, argue rates in front of a third party. I explained this in an email to studio boss. Here is the reply thread sent by text during a Bank Holiday weekend, (as received English is not the first language of the studio head);
Look It doesn't really matter, my budget was 150£ and you can't suddenly ask for more after the event that's not fair not how I work
Imagine every supplier would do this I would have to close my business
I'm about to resend my email. I look forward to receiving your reply via email.
To respond to your email, again that's not how I work. Imagine I have to do this to my clients each time I am organising an event. I do not agree the way you threaten not to give us the pictures meaning leaving us with no choice. Pure chantage and says a lot about the way you work.. Send over your invoice and we will pay the 200£ you want.
Rather unsurprisingly I did not appreciate both these texts and the tone of the messages. Reading between the lines, what did surprise me was the fact that the studio regularly worked extra time themselves. And not only did they never raise this issue with their clients and just accepted this behaviour as normal, they thought nothing of passing this behaviour on to others expecting people like myself to agree and believe working for free was fair. However responding to clearly emotional texts, when upset myself, would do no favours to anyone.
My reply, when the working week started, was this;
“I am following up as promised. Please note I do not use text message as a form of business communication and I do not work on Bank Holiday weekends.
My invoice is attached to reflect the remuneration for the 50% extra time spent according to the agreed hourly rate of £150 as the quote was time, not project, based.
Your rates, conduct and terms and conditions with your clients are neither my concern nor area of expertise so please stop using them as a frame of reference.
Needless to say I do not appreciate being called threatening nor a blackmailer (chantage). I am merely keeping to our agreement of a time based rate. I suggest in future you are either more accurate in your time estimates or ask for a project rate to avoid further disappointment.”
Disappointingly I have received neither payment nor a reply; despite the promise of payment. At time of writing I have chased for payment and informed the studio unless I receive communication from them, I will be deleting the images.
Hindsight is always 20/20. Should I have requested more details about the job and the brief; yes, the devil is in the detail. However you’ll never cover every eventuality and there will always be something that occurs during a shoot which will make you have to think outside the box. Despite the impressive client list it is clear this agency, in regards to photography and photographers, is lacking. The lack of detailed brief, the evolution of the brief, the misunderstanding of what a dSLR can achieve is disappointing. However what has irked and angered me the most was the bombardment of rude and insulting text messages on a Bank Holidays weekend and failure to honour our agreement of a time based rate.
Taking a deep breath and moving on…
*the photographs accompanying this article are not images taken in conjunction with the event I describe