Open Letter To Client re: “Job Killer” Quoted Rate

Nov 18, 2014

Tom Meyer

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

Open Letter To Client re: “Job Killer” Quoted Rate

Nov 18, 2014

Tom Meyer

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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Hello Potential Client,

Regarding your last email in which you said:

“… if they (your client) saw the $700/ $1400 a day fee for the photographer they would dismiss the project immediately … (most of my client’s people make between $25 and $45 an hour)… Showing $100/hr was also a job-killer as you can imagine”.

Well sure thing. I see where you’re coming from… Let’s rewrite the quote to show the actual number of hours I will work on this job, instead of only those spent with my face in a camera. Maybe that will help.

It should show 10 hours in both locations (6 hours actually making images, 4 to setup and break down), plus 2 more hours packing and unpacking at my studio each day (I can’t leave $20,000 worth of equipment in the car every night)… that’s 12 hours.

Then there’s the drive time to both locations (1 hour, if traffic is good. Doubtful.). Now we’re up to 13 hours.

Add 3 hours of post-production for both of the three hour locations (downloading, image selection, tagging, applying tonal and color adjustments, archiving, uploading to web galleries, and pre-print production, plus the certain conversations and meetings that will be required, and the replacing of materials used…). That’s 6 more hours.

This brings the total to 19 hours of actual time dedicated exclusively to this 6 hours of actually making photographs on each day. And that doesn’t reflect most of the time and expenses required for me to stay in business just so I am available and able to be hired… so we’re still being conservative.

You said a $100 per hour fee was a “Job Killer”, because people in your client’s business can only make $45 per hour. But unlike those who have jobs working for corporations (such as your client), I must personally pay for everything I use in my job… everything in my office and studio, from the carpet (and floor) under my feet to the computer and printer on my desk to the ceiling fan (and ceiling) over my head. Most hourly employees have those things provided for them in their place of employment. Their employer pays for those assets by billing their clients in a realistic manner.

Quotes are not detailed to the extent that you requested because there are hundreds of “hidden” expenses, commonly known as the cost of doing business, that are just not appropriate to show in a quote. Can you imagine the response to a line item for groceries, electricity or an oil change? Yet these are necessary items that must be paid for if I am to remain in business.

My business also requires a great many hours performing tasks that are not directly billable to anyone; preparing quotes, upgrading and implementing new technology (by necessity, not to be au courant at cocktail parties), finding new clients, maintaining existing accounts, preparing and disseminating marketing materials. Those websites, blogs and social media posts do not write and build themselves.

Then there are repairs to equipment and vehicles, shopping and laundry, cleaning the studio… and the sidewalk to the studio. Resupplying materials like seamless paper, gaffer tape, staples, batteries, ink.

I am my own IT department, my accounts payable and receiving, purchaser, sales staff and secretary. These are assets your client has available to them, that are not funded from their $45 per hour wages. What you call my “Job Killer” fee must pay for all those expenses and all those man hours.

Accounts Receivable and Payable, Purchasing, Marketing, Sales, R&D, Web Master, Maintenance and Creative staff at T.W. Meyer Photography,, Vp1618 LLC and Temp Wizard Enterprises
Accounts Receivable and Payable, Purchasing, Marketing, Sales, R&D, Web Master, Maintenance and Creative staff at T.W. Meyer Photography,, Vp1618 LLC and Temp Wizard Enterprises

And there are not forty $100 hours in my work week. Ever.

The kind of 21st Century photography involved in this particular assignment isn’t cheap. It requires professional dSLR cameras and lenses, battery powered strobe lights with radio transmitters, wifi routers and networks, laptop computers, printers, servers, custom social media pages and web galleries and all the little but absolutely imperative, techno-invisible wonders of modern imaging. The failure of but one of these can melt the whole illusion into a grinding flop. So I have to have two. Of everything. And they must be insured.

These hours and dollars have to be invested. I can’t stay in business without them and I can’t do them for free, either. While sitting in my house office writing this letter, money drains from accounts and expenses incur.

That $100 per hour “Job Killer” fee is a rock bottom barrier beneath which I cannot even break even. There is no retirement, 401k or IRA contribution down there. There is no car payment there. There is no health insurance payment there. No mortgage, no utilities, no night out on the town. Below those rates I’m not only losing any profit… I’m just going into debt a little slower than if I were not working at all.

I wish I could count on a consistent 40 hours per week at the wage your client makes ($45 per hour, you said?) and know that $93k was going to come in every year.

I wish I had two weeks of paid holiday, sick days and health insurance…

There are hundreds of students graduating every day as “photographers” who can under bid me for a year… maybe two. But eventually these realities also become unavoidable to them, at which time they become real estate agents or go back to being baristas… or they start billing at that “job killer” rate of $100 per hour.

It should really be $200.

In fact, I’ll be re-writing that quote now. Thanks for the inspiration.

Tom Meyer

About The Author

Tom Meyer is a photographer from Decatur, Georgia, USA. He also has a small studio in Little Five Points just east of Atlanta.  Tom  specializes in location portraiture and work in studio constructing still life imagery and  photographing people and products for a wide range of clients. You can visit Tom on his site, and follow him on his blog, Facebook and Twitter. This article was originally published here.

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23 responses to “Open Letter To Client re: “Job Killer” Quoted Rate”

  1. Devin Avatar

    Oh snap!

  2. Joe Avatar

    And what did this imaginary client respond?

    1. sam Avatar

      why does it matter if this is an imaginary client or a real one? It is a well written argument that answers an issue that photographers deal with.

    2. Ordnas_selac Avatar

      The imaginary client chose another photographer off craigslist for free.

  3. Luke Kliman Avatar
    Luke Kliman

    I love this!

  4. Stefano Avatar

    Then the client answers: “Ok, can you just give me the raw shooting for 45/hr then?” ;)
    Nice article. I think everyone into photography have to deal with this clients on a regular basis.

  5. Frank Ball Avatar
    Frank Ball

    We must always evaluate market rates, and make sure we’re not under-valuing our worth or becoming prima-donnas. Clients in many fields rarely understand the time and effort required to create which is understandable given how many products are “free” these days, and the general cultural trend toward the entitlement mentality. I guess my point is to not take this client’s words to personally….try to educate him and move on…he’ll like wise-up when he sees what “$40/hr” gets him.

  6. Sid Avatar

    Although there is always more to it than the hours put behind the lens. This sort of email just has you coming off as a dick and not a professional.

  7. Jeff Ladrillono Avatar
    Jeff Ladrillono

    Bravo Tom. Bravo.

  8. Jan Leah Avatar
    Jan Leah

    Quotes for freelancers in graphic design fall under this post as well. Many quote ‘per job’ knowing roughly how long it will take and what is involved. I have a ‘mix’ where I quote per job, but if there are additional requests and features, (and if the client is crazy with modifications), then an hourly rate comes into play. So far, clients are happy with this scenerio

  9. fast eddie Avatar
    fast eddie

    I charge more per hour than some of the law firms I do photo work for. Depending on the marketing director of individual firms, I have almost lost work because of their reasoning that I shouldn’t be making more than the lawyers I’m photographing.

    Then I explain some of the points made in this article, and then they understand that my rates break down to a more reasonable rate when they know what happens when I get to work on the images themselves.

  10. Paganator Avatar

    Last time I called a plumber, he charged over $85 per hour. Is the result your client is looking for worth more more than the unclogging of a toilet? If yes, then he shouldn’t be surprised to pay more. If no, then why is he hiring a professional in the first place?

  11. gs_790 Avatar

    Count me among the unwashed masses that think it is no small blunder to submit an estimate that looks like 6 hours of services rendered if you know that the job will entail 15 to 20 total hours of work.

  12. Ryan Avatar

    I do what Jan does. I’ve gotten away from exposing an “hourly rate” for just this reason. I use it in my head to help come up with my fee for a given job, and then much like here put in the “includes”. Also lets me bend it up or down based on my perceived difficulty, for example: more equipment bent up! It’s tamped down on a lot of this kind of backlash as well as turning off a lot of the “while we’ve got you for the hour can you…”. It’s worked well for the graphic design side of what I do as well. Then also absolutely revisit that quote if the job starts to wander too far away from the original specifications and estimates for the job. Even there it is pretty easy to justify, mostly need to make sure you make clear those specifications that price is dependent on.

  13. David Lewis Avatar
    David Lewis

    I would never try to explain the expense in great detail to a client…. If your worth what you charge they will either choose a cheaper photographer (lower quality) or go ahead an choose you.
    When it comes to your expenses, that is your problem, not the clients. I would explain it as your product is worth the rate you charge. If your product isn’t worth the rate you charge, you are charging too much.
    It is important to evaluate what you have to offer and what makes your photography business what it is. If you can offer quality, but your client values price more, maybe its time to recommend the client find a cheaper photographer (or better yet, buddy up with a less skilled photographer and share clients). When it comes to your business being successful isn’t staying in business, it is growing and becoming the best at what you do (name a business that is considered successful universally that doesn’t follow this theme).
    One last thought here- now that we are in the digital age, social media can either be your friend or your enemy. If you control what is on it, it is your friend. If you don’t, your clients will find your rant when they do a search for you and you will loose customers you never knew you had.

    1. Herb Lapp Avatar
      Herb Lapp

      This rely is right on the money. Go back a re-read it a couple of times.

      1. David Lewis Avatar
        David Lewis

        Maybe that is what you do, but what would Adobe tell you if you asked why they charge so much for Photoshop, Apple for Iphone, or Microsoft for Windows. What about video games or music? Ask Opec that.
        My point is that from a business perspective, you should be able charge at the rate to keep your business going (what he discussed), but when setting your price, if your product isn’t valuable enough to stay in business to the consumers, you will eventually go out of business. The customer didn’t ask about his expenses, he asked why he got so much vs the people in the company. I would explain it in the terms of the value of the service provided.
        I have never heard of a highly successful company explaining its expenses (or why it pays its employees at a certain rate) when it comes to making a sale. Could you imagine seeing that on Adobe’s website.
        As for the question posed by the client, not only is it irrelevant to the price tag, but it is also unfair in that it assumes that everybody’s services are equally valuable. When you look at the question from that angle, answering the question is as easy as saying, “pay me what I’m worth.”

        Also, It is BAD for anybody to post negative things about clients on the internet when it can be associated with them or their company. You will never be right on the money with any client if you do that.

        1. Seriously Avatar

          Apple, Adobe and any other major tax dodging multi billion dollar corporation could care less what you think, unless every single one of you make a stand against them.

          But now for us who only have 20-30 clients a year! It makes a huge difference.

          Stop being a sheep.

  14. JohnGMedia Avatar

    I am an amateur photographer who does some paid jobs on the side of a job where I am frequently asked to hire photographers. Last year I paid one photog $800 for three hours of shooting. My bosses wanted to balk until I sat them down and walked them through all the pre and post-event hours the photographer would have to spend on the job. I mentioned no corporate provided health insurance, insurance for equipment, travel, etc. They got it. I think this kind of explanation can work to bring understanding to people who don’t get it.

  15. George Brandon Avatar
    George Brandon

    .40 print…… $20 for an 8×10 is NOTHING. What went into making that photo? It wasn’t just that .40 in print cost. 1-2hrs on post processing, and who know how long it took to take that photograph. an hours? 2? Depends on how long the photog has to wait for the right lighting. Then if it’s a model? Yeah, got to pay them too if you expect that model to sign your model release.. That is DEFINITELY more then .40 per print.

    Lastly, you are also paying for that photographer’s actual skill. How many other photographers can make that same print?

    1. George Brandon Avatar
      George Brandon

      If the customer is willing to pay the added cost, is it really ripping the customer off?

      “It’s not worth $20 to edit a simple studio portrait from the raw file and print it on 8×10”

      A 40 cent 8×10? Yeah at Walmart on crappy paper? LOL…..

      Dude my 8×10 prints alone cost me close to $2 a piece. And you know what? I have no problems selling 8×10’s for $15-20. Not just my portrait stuff, but my other artwork as well. You must be doing something wrong. When you are offering quality work to a customer, they have no problem paying those prices.

      You know why I choose to pay $2 a piece on an 8×10 print? Because I know it’s the right place to have print my photos. Good sharp printing on quality paper of which my images look best on. I challenge ANYONE to put those same images onto a Walmart 40 cent print. $20 says most will say my print is worth much more.

      Also, knowing it looks better on that specific paper from that specific printer is knowledge that’s worth something each and every time you request it.

      1. George Brandon Avatar
        George Brandon

        Depends on how much editing is done to that studio shot to reflect the “artist’s” style. Portrait photographers don’t like to hear that as they would rather sell their no time to edit photos over the creative style photos that can be popular to alot of clients that can take over an hour or more to edit.

        You can’t tell me a Dave Hill piece, nor a Thomas Dodd piece as well as countless others comes “print ready” from the raw file. Exposure is only part of the battle. Creativity is something not all professional photographers offer their clients and it’s one thing that sets us apart.

        So again, I say my skill is worth something each and every time it’s printed.

        And you aren’t giving much credit to the customer’s eyes about noticing the paper quality in print. The type of paper I use most don’t even know existed till I started selling them prints with photographs on it.

        Here’s a little marketing/production mumbo jumbo you might not be familiar with.

        A customer will almost always pay extra money on value added work vs non-value added work. This can be from the quality and type of paper to the editing process itself (the skill part, not the time part) to the extra materials sold along with that session or product package.

        Case and point, just tonight, I sold an image of mine where the guy paid $25 for the high-resolution digital file that’s “print ready”… He could take that anywhere where he chooses and have it printed out for less then a buck. Instead he paid an additional $25 on one 5×7 and one 8×10 print of mine. Why? Because I already have a reputation on my prints which actually look better in print then they do on a digital file.

        Reason why I sold that image? One, It’s edited in a way which most don’t know how to edit. Two, it’s an image only a handful of photographers could have captured. Three, my competition wouldn’t even edit it like I did because “too much time editing” and/or not allowed to sell their prints to them. 3 strikes and competition is out and I’m in. You can have fun selling your $5-8 regular photographs. I’ll continue to sell my $15 8×10’s.

        Where I might have an issue is a photog selling standard everyday images in print that someone can capture with their cell phone for $20. It might work for them as they have a large fan base and a reputation, but before too long those customers will go somewhere else for something cheaper and a little more value added work to the images. (See above comment on providing something to customers that very little offer.)

        Now when I sell my digital files, here’s the thing
        I won’t tell them is that in order to print that file to the best that
        image can be, it has to be color corrected to the paper it’s going on,
        (something Walmart doesn’t do BTW), it’s got to be brightened up for
        print (another thing that Walmart won’t do) and additional sharpening
        has to be added for print (Walmart might actually do this)… All of
        which they have no clue about.

        Ever wonder why most portrait photographers offer print packages and lower resolution files? Because no self respecting photographer wants their images printed on crappy paper with crappy printers like found in Walmart.

        Don’t like it? I say go somewhere else for cheaper then. But you get what you pay for. Eventually they will come back to me after their first few batches of photos are printed by either a dirt cheap photographer or print place.

  16. Stacey Avatar

    great article to read as i am sending a quote now and have been going back & forth on the rate… thank you for reassuring me.. PERFECT timing!