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Don’t Waste Time Doing Estimates With Information We Don’t Have

We can’t be spending our time doing estimates on information we don’t have. 

I’m hearing a ton of complaints from photographers wasting useless time on estimates that don’t turn out to be the real deal. I hear you! With no bid spec sheets, I get many of these requests that won’t reveal the budget upfront, so I focus on the points that help me see if this client is even ready for an estimate. Our goal is to quickly open up the communication doors, giving us a clearer sense of what we are dealing with.

My quick first step estimating questionnaire:

  • What is the Usage?
  • What is the specific Shotlist?
  • Do you have a creative deck with the layouts + mood-boards?
  • What are the talent rates?
  • Do you have stylists you like to use?
  • When is the creative call?

Creative Concepting Fee


I feel like I’ve hit a wall with my business. I’m bidding on some jobs, but I’m not getting them. Clients want to get a crazy amount of images per day, and the budgets have shrunk. I’m struggling to stay on top of my game. Advice


I base the creative concepting fee on the amount of time it will take you. It is ultimately the same equation as the shoot rate or creative fee minus the usage amount. Of course, this is adjustable to fit into your budget as there is no absolute structured fee for this, but my approach is time + stand-alone talent = money.

Is This Estimate Request Worth Your Time?

Is this estimate request worth your time?

If only we could find out the budget, that would make it all so simple, but clients tend to keep that to themselves. 

3 ways I open up the conversation by presenting the question differently:

  1. Name a high amount to question what they have in mind.
  2. Under or over a certain amount can help to get a yes or no. 
  3. A range amount $ between $ offers a safe and manageable option.

Negotiation Can Be Tricky

Negotiation can be tricky, especially in unknown scenarios with no previous relationship with a client. My goal is to figure out what the client has for a budget, even though they usually won’t offer that info. I like to begin with a higher $ than I’m assuming the budget will be. That higher starting point approach depends on creating an honest two-way discussion from the start to achieve truthful negotiation.

Disparity Between Total Budget and Photography Fees


So, I was recently asked to pitch for a shoot with ***** for *****. The topline brief included a total budget (presented to client) of $80,000. They had set the photographer fee at $1,000 with an inclusive social usage for 3 months (I assume paid post) they also wanted post production included within this fee!

My question is, how common is the huge disparity between total budget and photography fees?


This huge disparity between total budget and photography fees sounds fishy to me. These days, many projects come from smaller social media agencies or directly from production companies, who often have more control over the production budget. We need to keep a watchful eye over who is hiring the photographer and setting the fees. Companies that control your fees may also be the same companies that have you sign away your copyright ownership. Know who you are dealing with, what you agree to, and who you are trusting.

License and Perpetuity Estimate


I recently lost out on a job because my perpetuity number scared off the agency. They needed a 5 year license estimate and a perpetuity estimate. My 5 year license was $16,000 and perpetuity was 4 times that. Seemed fair to me because I’m not comfortable with a lifetime license of my images anyway. What are your thoughts on this? I’m gutted because I lost out on the job but I’m ok with not giving a lifetime license away for next to nothing. 


When bidding on a job requesting usage duration fee options, those are often an excellent place to start high, expecting to negotiate and not risk losing the job. 

The usual fundamental reasons you could lose a job you are bidding on:

-They have a #1 favorite choice in mind based on their style. 

-Your overall estimate price is much higher than someone else, so high they don’t even want to try to negotiate, 

-Your overall estimate price is very low, showing that you do not have the experience needed to fulfill the goals of this project. 

-Another bidder impressed them more with their treatment or ideas on the creative call.

Estimating a Job Without All the Information


How do I estimate a job when I am given the budget, but the layouts and the producer do not answer all the information I need?


Estimating a job is not an accurate term because we are liable for our “estimate” price. Since an estimate is a “bid” for a project, we have to protect ourselves as our reputation and the financial responsibility is on our shoulders.
How I read the situation:
– They may be expecting you to be the creative director creating their concepts which is an additional role to be added to your fees.
– Without all the details, you’ll need to expect fewer shots finished per day due to the exploration time required.
– Call it a rough ballpark estimate, making it clear you’ll need them to allow for revisions once you learn more information.

Networking With Your Clients


Flying to NYC next week from LA for a job with a producer that has booked me on many well paying jobs this year. Have yet to have dinner or a drink with them, if we do get dinner, is that a time where I slap my credit card down and try to pay for the meal? Or they may just cover it and so it goes?


Yes! When you get a job, it is your turn to spoil your clients. Hopefully, your budget is slightly padded to help you take them to a baseball game, buy them the special dinner, whip up some unexpected craft service during the shoot day and then splurge for a nice wrap party dinner for all the crew. It’s part of the job for you (and your rep) to say thank you in all the possible ways without it being too over the top.

Creative Concepting Fee

Bidding on a project without a shot list means you cannot know the exact costs for expenses, and you will be concepting the creative shot list. When you are wearing more hats, you need to charge for your time and call it a CREATIVE CONCEPTING FEE.

The Decision is Yours

When bidding on a job,  you are in the position to make an educated decision to be the “bank” running all the costs through your own company vs having it go through the producer.  Any markup  or differences in actual prices will be a profit to whoever gets paid for the job. This can be you if you want to handle your billing. The decision is yours.