When a new or prospective client asks for your photography rate, do you freeze? Here are tips for how to respond to questions about your rate and licensing that can help you and new clients arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement.
If your photography rate depend on licensing details, this article is especially for you or anyone else who doesn't have set packages.
Often, the most difficult questions to answer with inquiries like this actually relate to the rights a client needs. For you to answer, we’ll look at a few approaches for how to tackle it.
The Dreaded “What's Your Rate?” Question
It's simple enough, but one that can strike fear into the hearts of photographers. “What's your rate?” In this article, we'll look at ways to approach this simple question. It's a complex issue, but by the end, I hope you'll be more confident to enter into this conversation.
Here are 5 simple tips and perspectives to aid you in answering this question with confidence.
1. Every Rate Inquiry is a Conversation
When a client asks for your rate, don't think of it as a test with only a single right answer. Think of it as the start of a conversation, an opportunity to educate, and a chance to advocate for the value you offer.
2. Always Ask the Budget
When in doubt, ask the budget. Even if you know exactly how much you want to charge, asking the budget will set expectations on both sides.
Whether they have a budget set in stone or not, the client should be working toward a number or a range for your work. It is possible they have no idea what they want to pay, but this situation is rare.
3. Give Yourself Options
When you respond to client inquiries, you can use language such as:
- “My standard rate for something like this starts at $ X,000.”
- “My rate for this kind of work ranges between $X-Y, depending on the details.”
- “I’m happy to discuss more if you have any questions or concerns I should be aware of.”
Responding to inquiries with this kind of language both parties room to set expectations with enough wiggle room that no one is offended.
Asking questions also indicates the final fee depends on understanding more information. In addition, asking questions not only buys you time to evaluate the project to the best of your abilities, but asking questions shows that you're simply a professional.
4. Ask Questions!
Going off the last tip and specifically asking about the budget: ask questions! Principally:
- “Is there a specific budget you’re working towards for this need?”
- “What's the licensing terms required for this?”
- “How many looks do you need for this?”
- “Is this for promotional use or album art?”
Unless the client gives extremely specific information on their project up front, it's often impossible to give a clear answer without getting some answers. All of the above give you room and time. Room to get more information to make a more informed response, and time to research or get advice if needed.
Here's a list of other questions for estimating photography I always to try get the answers to in one way or another.
5. Don't Give an Hourly Rate
Unless your type of photography deals exclusively with operating as a technician, I would strongly avoid giving an hourly rate only. Instead, give an estimate for the total project and the value you're creating with your photography.
You may still quote a rate based on time, such as a day rate or a half day. But the use of the images should play a large part in their pricing. In this case, the question “what's your rate?” needs to include the licensing and rights you're conveying.
In addition, budget oriented clients will often try to minimize your time when you charge by time, rather than the value of the images.
Even if you end up working your time into the equation of the price (and it should), make sure that the inherent value of your work and creativity is being factored in as well. For more on this, read my article on time vs value based photography fees.
6 Don't Be Afraid to Be Expensive
When your rate is out of budget, the client will be quick to tell you that. You can always lower your rate and come down. However, it's extremely difficult if not impossible to increase your price once it is established.
When you give ranges or starting figures as suggested above, there's the invitation for negotiation on both sides if your rate is too high (and yes, it should be high).
Remember: this is just the start of a conversation.
7. Know When to Raise Your Rates
Finally, if all you hear is “yes” to every single estimate you send out, it's a good sign your price is too low. At the very least, you're leaving money on the table.
You will never know the heights of your worth if you never test the limit. For more on this, see my article on knowing when to raise your photography rates.
My personal view is that I want my estimates to make everyone involved slightly nervous. Me, nervous that they'll accept. The client, nervous about whether they can afford me. It's an anxious dance, but one that's beautiful when you do it just right.
Hopefully these seven tips have helped give you some approaches and context you can use. When someone asks you for your photography rate, 99% of the time, you're going to need more information. What's the budget? How are the images going to be used? Are you producing the shoot or are they (including studio rental, hair and make up, etc).
For further reading, check out PPA's advice for pricing 101. You can also see this article on different pricing ranges for various types of photography work.