How to handle client negotiations

during the second half of play of NCAA college basketball game at Alexander Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009 in Atlanta. Georgia Tech won 65-53. (AP Photo/Stanley Leary) [Nikon D3, Nikon 24-120mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 400, ƒ/7.1, 1/200 – 4 Alienbees B1600 with 40º Parabolic reflectors]
The Slam Dunk

A Slam Dunk in business is when you exceed the expectations of the client. I have made the mistake many times throughout my career of not doing a great job of managing those expectations.

We have all had the client call and also had the bills stacking up and due to our need of getting the job we rush to do whatever is necessary to just get the job. This is like going to the grocery store when you are hungry. You will make unnecessary purchases.

Houston Astros Chick-fil-A night [Nikon D3, Sigma 120-300 mm f/2.8 DG EX APO IF HSM, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/1000]
Know the client’s expectations

When you have a brand new client managing expectations is so important. You need to not just listen and hear what they are saying, but I often ask for examples of what they are used to working with or if they have not worked with a photographer examples of what they would like that they have seen some where before.

Just this week I had two new clients, which I have never done work with before. In both cases I asked if they could send me some examples of what they are looking for so that we are on the same page.

I had one client send me work that would take little effort on my part to meet and exceed the quality of work they showed to me. However, the other client was talking to me about a photojournalistic coverage of where I was just shadowing someone, but then the photos they sent to me were well crafted lifestyle photos that would be used in a major advertising campaign.

The funny thing is that one client’s budget was more like champaign budget the and other was a beer budget.

In the case where the budget was cheap the taste was luxury for sure. This is where your attitude and negotiation skills come in to help educate the client or at least price the job properly so as to be sure you can deliver the product to meet those expectations.

Father Flor Maria Rigoni is a missionary with the San Carlos Scalabrini and works in the town of Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico. [Nikon D3S, Nikon 24-120mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 800, ƒ/5.6, 1/250]
It is a conversation

Be careful to not jump to the very end of the process and write a contract that is a take it or leave it situation. Pace yourself.

I talked with my contact and let them know that the price range would be three to four times more than we had first been discussing if the images they showed was exactly what they were wanting. I also asked if they were showing a situation or more the quality that they are looking for in the photo.

Basically I don’t need to spend a lot of time producing an estimate for a advertising shoot when they really just need a ground breaking photo.

I always do my best to start with how I am able and more than willing to meet their expectations and can make it happen for them. I let them know my concern is to always get them the most for their budget.

Nikon D4, Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 100, ƒ/5.3, 1/500
Don’t be shortsighted, Have Foresight

Your creativity should not be limited to your work with the camera. You need to make the entire experience for your client so special that they love your work and tell others about you.

Your goal should be to surprise your client. One of the ways I started to surprise my clients was to use off camera flash. Just like here with this family photo.


Nikon D4, Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 1000, ƒ/5.6, 1/60

In this photo of the hunter it was raining. My flash is covered in zip lock bags. Had I not used the flash the skin color would not be as accurate and the dynamic range would have made the photo look extremely flat.

One way I continue to surprise my customers is quick turn around. I shot a client’s son’s wedding where before the Bride and Groom had left for the honeymoon the next day they had all the photos in an online gallery. As compared to most wedding photographers who take a month or two to get those photos to the bride and groom I had surprised them.

I have a good number of clients that are always changing things at the last moment. My response is always that is OK. I am here to make it happen for you. [Side Note: I do price to cover my need to be flexible]. Many times my clients make changes and I will do my best to move things to still work to get their project done. However, if I cannot make it happen for me to be there I line up a photographer/video person to give them the same quality as me or better.

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center
[Nikon D4, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 10000, ƒ/10, 1/2000]
Take care of your photographer colleagues

This just reminds me to be sure you are developing great friends in the industry. You want to give them work when you can and they should be doing the same for you over time.

If a job is not suited well for you take care of the client and find them the photographer who will be a good fit for the job. They often will come back to you for other jobs when you show to them you are looking out for their best interests over just yourself.

On The Same Page

When you and the client are working from the same page of notes, your ability to meet and exceed their expectations is something you can manage. However, if at any point you make assumptions and don’t verify what their expectations are for a job you can often find yourself reshooting for the same underestimated budget and therefore losing money or just lose the customer over all.

Here is a little secret I discovered over time. When you ask these questions to the client to clarify the scope of a job it makes you look more like an expert and their trust goes up in you.

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