Since my first photography job, I’ve been commissioned by top brands including Adidas, Jose Cuervo, Amazon, Sony, AEG, Land Securities, Heineken and many more. I hope to be able to help others take their first steps into professional photography.
Beginning with your first photography job, when you first start getting photography commissions as a photographer it can be very tempting to just take them all on.
I recently wrote about heading to your first photography job, but what happens prior to that?
You’re finally reaching that goal you’ve worked so hard towards so it’s too tempting to say yes to all as you’re keen to build a list of clients and also in a way gain professional experience.
What I have understood in recent years since my first photography commission is that sometimes it’s best to just politely walk away.
I chose photography first as a hobby, it then became clear it could help me change career, it would allow me to do a job I loved instead of a 9-5 in an office working for someone else.
As a photographer, you still work for others freelance but for short assignments, that’s what I love, the fact it’s so diverse and less committed in the long term. I like variety.
Some clients or jobs will wear you down to the point you’ll question if you still love what you do. Avoid this at all cost if you care more about your passion than filling your pockets.
Qualifying a job properly will avoid disaster down the line and will protect your love for what you do.
So how do you avoid those jobs that just end in frustration? How do you avoid clients who don’t really know what they want or think they can squeeze the last drop out of you just because they pay you?
It’s all about preparation and one of the key steps is to discuss the job in depth and with enough time ahead. Take the time to understand every single aspect of it, from understanding the company it is for to being certain their deadline isn’t just a little crazy short, sadly a common problem.
In recent years I have turned down many jobs for seriously huge brands including Ford, Shell, Puma and smaller ones too.
Sometimes it was a gut feeling, a lack of chemistry with the client. This is a hugely important aspect.
Some people are rude from the onset and that, for me, is an immediate no. Others just want to be behind your shoulder telling you when to press the shutter. I don’t need a babysitter. If you hire me… trust me.
Others decide a month before launching a new website revamp that they need a photographer to shoot every single aspect of it. I have designed enough websites to know that this is leaving it too late, the client will then hold you responsible for their inability to plan properly in advance and missing the deadline.
I recently had a guy call me asking for timelapse for 6 months a construction starting the day after. Seriously dude?
Sure we all have occasions when we need last minute things and I can work that way, but a new website or any major launch of a product, for example, deserves more preparation.
“Fail to prepare, prepare to fail”.
OK, so I’ve covered the importance to be wary of very last minute work.
One way I have found works well is having a little questionnaire ready to be sent to the client to cover all bases, as we’re only human and remembering all of these during a conversation is not always possible.
So that’s my best tip on the subject, put together a set of questions relevant to you which you keep handy.
1. What is your budget?
This is such an important one you need to establish ASAP as what’s the point discussing if they want you to work for free exposure on their Twitter? Believe me, it happens lots and my general answer to anyone offering me “exposure” is: “Not sure my landlord will accept exposure for rent this month but I’ll check and get back to you!”.
2. What are you after? Photos, timelapse, etc.?
This needs to be precise as it’ll dictate if you can or not do it, the time required and therefore the fee to charge.
3. Have you defined the style / finished look you are after?
Ask them to provide examples if available. (Black and white, vintage, faded, warm, cold….)
4. If video files, what crop ratio? what resolution (1080P, 4K)?
5. Where (what medium) will these assets be used?
I use this a lot to decide on the fee. If photos are used on a website for a small company is very different than if they will be seen in all international press, on every billboard around etc…
6. Who will they be used by? (mention if multiple people/accounts)
I recently shot myself in the foot assuming (never assume) that I would be producing assets for a drinks company. Turned out they shared the work with every single pub in the UK to share on their social media. I could and should have charged A LOT more. Lesson learnt.
7. How long do you wish to have usage rights for?
Never give away copyright to what you produce, it’s bad practice and you’re not helping the industry. Instead “rent” the photos you shot for the client in the form of a licence for a set time, maybe 2 years which they can renew at a fee. When a client objects I generally explain that an indefinite licence to use will cost a lot more and actually this is saving them money as the shelf life of photos won’t usually be longer than that. No company wants to share the same photos 10 years in a row. Keep it fresh.
8. What territory will the assets be used?
Will these be used in the UK only or throughout the world? That also should affect what you charge.
9. What is the size of their social media audience?
I tend to adapt my fee (a lot of what I shoot is for social media use) depending on whether they have 1000 followers or 1 million. After all it’ll reach very different audiences and result in a very different level of sales and revenue.
10. Payment terms
Are they happy paying with a 30 day invoice from the sent invoice date? Are they happy to pay a booking deposit? Etc…
Booking deposits: I always ask for 30% in advance and non-refundable in order to book the shoot day. That is the best way to get rid of time wasters. I’ve had enough last minute cancellations to now be very comfortable asking for this. Why should I allocate a day, potentially miss on another job for it to be simply cancelled without consideration from the client?
Another lesson I recently learnt. The client (after signing, but not reading, my terms of 30 days payment) said to me “Oh, we only pay upon completion!”. Thankfully I insisted they stick to what we had agreed, 30 days, as for an entire month they, the production agency, were unable to get feedback to me from the client on possible changes for an entire month meaning the job took way longer than needed! So while I’m waiting for their feedback, which they can’t be bothered to put together, I’m also not getting paid. Erm… no way!
11. Terms & Conditions
Do they have their own sets of terms for you to sign? Are they happy signing your own T&C?
It’s all good until it’s not… That’s why terms are important, when the shit hits the fan… you’re covered.
12. What location has been chosen, if any?
Qualify the location, be sure you don’t end up as I once did in a crammed and poorly lit 20sqm flat owned by one of the creative agency staff to shoot a drinks campaign for a big brand… You live and learn!
13. What size team will be on-site? Who does that team consist of?
I know these questions may seem to some of you excessive and very specific, of course, don’t go ask exactly these, adapt to your genre, your type of requests and clients.
These are just some of the questions you may wish to ask your client to cover all grounds, they should and usually won’t look at you as a pain in the arse. Instead, they’ll respect you as a prepared professional.
Preparation is key.
The ones who can’t be bothered answering these you should probably walk away from, it’s generally a good sign of them not giving a fuck so why should you?
Hope that was helpful to you budding professionals, drop me a line if you have a question, I always make time for people!
About the Author
Nicholas Goodden is a professional London photographer specialized in creating exciting visual content for global brands. If you’d like to see more of his work, visit his website, follow him on Instagram and Twitter, and like his Facebook page. This article was also published here and shared with permission.