Recently I had an opportunity to sit and chat (over delicious Mexican food) with two very good photographers. Dave and Steve are both well seasoned, and full on commercial photographers here in Phoenix.

As things do, we began discussing gigs and some of the war stories we all love to bring up at these sort of little social events.

What emerged were three incredible stories of how unprepared photographers have screwed up big gigs, and themselves as well.

I bring them to you with the hope that they may inspire you to not make the same mistakes.

Fiasco Number One.

A client of nearly ten years has been doing quarterly updates to their national and regional advertising. The images run in several regional publications, newspapers and in-store Point of Purchase displays. The photographer that has been shooting the work for them was charging $12,000 per shoot based on the usage.

This rate had stayed fairly steady for nearly 8 years. Mostly because the photographer was doing a lot of work for them and kept this price steady as a favor and so that they could budget without getting bids each time.

The last quarter he did not get the gig. A new photographer had pitched them and told them he was happy to shoot it for $3000.

This photographer could probably have gotten the gig at $10,000 and made $7000 more if his work was good. The interloper, having no idea at all what the gig was worth, just screwed himself out of at least $7000, maybe more.

He also set the new bar at $2500… which is unrealistic in the commercial world with that kind of usage.

Why would he do it for so little? I can imagine that he had no idea of what the value of commercial photography is set at, nor is he aware of usage and how usage is priced. Look, this is a billion + a year client, and these images are very important to their marketing.

(Solution: Know the industry. Know the market. Get involved with that part of the industry, and get help on shoots that are for national clients. There are consultants and websites that can help. Wonderful Machine has people who can help with bidding on a per bid basis, and fotoQuote has a service that will help you put together something that makes sense.)

Fiasco Number Two

The client is a national ad agency with regional offices. Their client is a celebrity.

The gig involved the celebrity and an endorsement of a beauty product. The shoot was a buyout, with everything from national advertising to electronic media. Three shots of the celebrity with and without the beauty product and one shot of the product itself.

The bid was created using standard bidding and buyout parameters. And the photographer actually wanted the gig so the bid was modified (down a little) to a rate of $40,000.

All was set and agreed to… then… nothing.

The photographer received a phone call from a photographer looking to rent a studio for a ‘celebrity’ shoot. Turned out that they had looked at another photographer and had decided to go with her.

She was shocked that the rental was $300 for the day. She had bid only $2500 for the job and felt that if she spent $300 on the rental studio, she would not make enough.

Ya think?

How about craft services? This is a celebrity, her entourage, the ad agency entourage, MUA, hair stylist, stylist, and wardrobe person. Food alone could easily be $600. And of course, the photographer had no liability insurance, which is insane with that many people on set.

In the end, the agency lost the account. Why they would have even thought that someone quoting $2500 for a gig of this magnitude would have a freaking clue about what the real world brings is beyond my understanding.

(Solution: Get educated on licensing, why rights matter, and how much a shoot of this size and usage requirements would be. The above resources are important, but there are professional sites on line as well as the peers in your town that may help you work this out. And if they are not willing to help, they are totally assholes. Find someone else to help. Dig, research, dig some more.)

Fiasco Number Three.

A photographer was called to bid on a job involving widgets… lots of little widgets. The bid was for simple “drop and pop” shots of 450 items.

When the time came to begin the planning for the shoot, the client informs him that there will actually be three shots per widget.

At the same price as negotiated… but the new shots involve different angles.

The photographer tried in vain to explain how the light was different and how having 1350 shots meant much, MUCH, more time.

But to no avail.

What should have been a 2 day gig stretched into 6 days of blinding quick shooting and upset clients (it should not have taken this long) and more.

It was a disaster for both the client and the photographer.

(Solution: Actually, I told a fib above. The photographer was me. And when I was told that there were far more images than expected, I rebid the gig. And when they said it was too much, I politely declined the gig. They found someone to do it though… and there ya go.

That photographer is happily (or whatever) shooting boring, monotonous widgets at $3 a piece. By the time he is done, he will have worked for over a week for a rate that should have been one day.

I have the experience, both in the bidding and understanding of how the process goes, to make decisions that will not harm myself or my industry.)

Not much else to say here. I understand that there are a lot of new people in this business. That is a good thing.

That there are so many who haven’t or will not take the time to actually learn about the business they are in is not a good thing.

Don’t get caught on the outs… get educated in how it all works.

BTW – our photographers at Project 52 are learning all about the industry including bidding, shooting to layout, creating promotional pieces and building a portfolio. And that is a free site for interested photographers who don’t like being clueless.

Just sayin’…

And if you use the Promo Code “Lighting Essentials”, you will save $20 off my current class at UDEMY.

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