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Terms and Conditions

The Business of Photography 


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John Bigglestone, Senior Tutor, writes: A student recently emailed me with the following: 

"My knowledge of how the whole commissioning process works is minimal in the extreme. I don't know what a client would accept and what not etc. I don't know how much to charge even, let alone what the industry standards are. I have tried to find some sort of guidelines on the internet but have only found bits and pieces, generally related to press photography. Most commercial photographers don't advertise their rates." 

OK. Let me tell you how The Business of Photography works:

  • Who gives you work?
  • What do they expect?
  • How good do you have to be?
  • How much can you charge?
  • How do you get your money?
  • What do you do when things go wrong? 


Photographers are commissioned to carry out work by a variety of people:

  • By individual customers, members of the public
  • By individual people, maybe tradespeople, needing promotional photographs
  • By firms, large or small, needing promotional or record photographs
  • By agencies; advertising agencies or design consultancies
  • By publishers of books or magazines, or by picture libraries
  • By the company you work for
  • Through a photographer’s agent

Individuals usually come to you for one of four reasons:

Your Prices

Members of the public often buy on price alone. What’s one of the first questions you’re asked in a telephone enquiry? ‘How much do you charge………….?’ One way to answer this is by saying ‘it depends on what you want, and when you want it’. Because, unlike many other product or service providers, we as photographers rarely use the supply/demand formula; holidays are more expensive in the holiday season, cheaper in autumn or winter, salad is cheaper in the summer when it’s plentiful, hotel rooms are more expensive on weekdays when there’s lots of salesmen looking for a bed for the night, and so on. But do you charge more for a Spring or Summer wedding than you do for an Autumn or Winter one? Probably not, but you should consider it.

Whatever you do, don’t undercut everyone; you’ll get a reputation as ‘a cheapie’, and you’ll only get jobs that people want you to do on the cheap. People with worthwhile jobs won’t trust their work to you. It’s better to be one of the most expensive because in most peoples’ minds, expensive equals good quality; you can buy own-brand goods cheaply in a supermarket, but you would invariably prefer to buy proprietary brands if you can justify the expense. And remember, you can always offer a discount or a deal, whereas it’s difficult to raise prices once you’ve set them at a low level.

You have a Reputation, a USP (Unique Selling Proposition)

You’ll get commissions because you’re individual; you have a style, and the people who commission you like that style, or consider it suitable for their current project. Your USP can be your style, or something else about you or your work. Remember that People Buy People First.

Work hard to develop your style; don’t slavishly copy the current in-vogue style. Take it as a base from which to develop your own photography, by all means, but remember, you need to be individual. Look at those who have been, from Karsh of Ottowa, with his beautifully-lit large-format portraits, to the current high-selling portraits made under the Vantage franchise; they succeeded because they were (and in Vantage’s case, are) offering an individual, unique product.

You are Geographically Close, or Have a Monopoly

You might be lucky and be the only photographer within miles, the only one in the town or village, or the only one who does the sort of work that the customer wants. If so, don’t abuse your situation, rest on your laurels or whatever phrase you prefer to use. You need to use that advantage, not passively absorb it into your marketing methods. Either the proximity or a monopoly is a great base on which to build an even more successful marketing plan. 

By Personal Recommendation

Said by some to be the best way to attract work, but maybe by those who aren’t very good with other marketing methods. However, the alternative would be unacceptable. You will have come across grumpy people in all walks of life, vacant check-out personnel, careless garage-staff, postmen and referees who respectively appear not to be able to read or see. What these people have in common is that you don’t really want to have anything more to do with them. 

Personal recommendation seems to work well with the general public (regarding wedding pictures, at least), but less so with business clients.