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.

The #1 Key to Great Photos

Nikon D5, Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 1100, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000

There are many things that go into making of a photograph. However, only one will truly be the key to a great photograph.

Exposure Triangle

The exposure triangle is a common way of associating the three variables that determine the exposure of a photograph: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. One must balance all three of these to achieve a desired result, an adjustment of one requiring adjustments of at least one of the others.

If you do execute this just perfectly you still can have a photo that lacks any sort of connection with the audience.

Principles of Composition

In photography composition is the arrangement of parts of a scene to form a particular visual outcome. Composition can also be about picking a viewpoint to form a pleasing visual outcome. In practical terms, the photographer tends to use both “arrangement” and “choice of viewpoint”. 

In general composition aims to direct the viewer to see the point of the photograph. The “point” may simply be an aesthetically pleasing scene, or something containing a more complex story. Even a visually disturbing or discordant outcome is the result of efforts in composition. 

The finer points of a particular composition rely on a range of “photographic elements” and the “principles of photographic art” for using them.

Now when you execute the rules of composition and Exposure Triangle together your photos will look even better, but still will fall short of connection with the audience without one more thing.


The greatest proponent of previsualization was Ansel Adams and it was he who perhaps summed it up best with a single sentence, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” Great photographs require you to work out everything that goes into making that photograph before you actually take it. So how do we mere mortals go about previsualizing our shots?

The very first book Ansel Adams wrote started in chapter one explaining this concept to people.

While my work cannot stand up to Ansel’s I still believe that there is a better way to describe this process of previsualization by asking a simple question.

WHY take the photo?

I believe for example that Ansel Adams made the assumption no one could look at Half Dome and not be moved. Half Dome is a granite dome at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, California.

When you ask yourself, “Why am I taking this photo” you will get to the core of the element that will help you connect with your audience. This is the #1 Key to Great Photograph.

I love the two words “so that” in the Bible.

“So that” is used as a subordinate clause to show purpose or to give an explanation. It is used to show an action producing an intended result or a cause producing an effect. In the format Sentence 1 “so that” Sentence 2, the first sentence is the action/cause and the second is the intended result/effect. In the format “So that” Sentence 1, Sentence 2, the first subject-verb clause is the intended result/effect and the second is the action/cause.

I push my shutter on the camera, so that, to inform, imagine, influence, meet social expectations and express feelings.

Nikon D5, Sigma TC-2001 2x, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 5600, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000

Show & Tell

I believe that photos alone cannot tell a story. I believe at best they can just capture a slice or a moment. People need the words to help understand what is going on in the photograph.

We learned this concept in Kindergarten when we had “Show & Tell” day at school. The objects your classmates brought into school needed them to tell us why they brought them to school. Without their words we didn’t understand.

Now the best part to me of “Show & Tell” was that the visuals really gave us a great deal of information that the words alone couldn’t do as well and succinctly do as the visual.

Here is the formula I think works well for photos that communicate:

Ask Why
Take Photo
Add Words

Ask yourself why am I wanting to make this photograph. For example how is the situation affecting me and what do I want the audience to understand that I am experiencing.

Once you know the answer to WHY then you must use all your photographic skills to know how to best capture this moment. This “previsualization” is understanding how the best shutter-speed, aperture, ISO, composition and lighting all controlled by me can be used to capture what I am wanting to communicate.

I then execute the previsualization and make the photo.

Last we know that the photo by itself will make the audience ask a question. What is going on here? They will need more information to be sure the message is not left up to interpretation. You will then need to marry the photograph with words to complete the communication process.


I think this is a compelling photo, but I want to know more. Now compare this same photo to one using it with words:

Together with the words the picture completes the communication process.

Now I am not saying put words on photos always. Captions under photos work just as well.

Use the caption to tell the reader something new. When a reader looks at the photo they’re usually confronted with some form of emotion and some information (based on what they see in the photo). The caption, in turn, should provide the reader with a piece of information they were unaware of from simply looking at the photo. In short, the caption should teach the reader something about the photo.

Now go forth and make photos!

Shooting Gilley’s of Dallas Texas with the Nikon D5

Nikon D5, Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 14400, ƒ/8, 1/100

Last night I took in Gilley’s of Dallas with a large group. What I was really pleased with at the end of the night was my ability to shoot everything without a flash.

The reason is the Nikon D5 just has such a wide range of ISO. ISO 100–104200 and can be pushed to 3 million ISO as well.

Nikon D5, NIKKOR 14-24mm ƒ/2.8G, ISO 4500, ƒ/3.2, 1/250

Since there was a lot of line dancing I wanted to crank the shutter speed to a minimum of 1/250. The people in front were being lighted by the stage lighting and then the rest of the place was extremely dark in comparison. However the dynamic range of the Nikon D5 did a great job. I was able to pull out all the shadows in Adobe Lightroom from the RAW images.

Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art, ISO 65535, ƒ/2.8, 1/640

Now when the people jumped up on the mechanical bull I needed to capture this without everyone being blurred. No problem. I set the camera to my Sports Settings.

These are the settings that I use on my Nikon D5 for shooting most all sport action. Nikon has made it really nice to allow photographers to save these settings so they do not have to remember each and every little setting they like to use for a style of shooting.

If you go to Menu and under the camera icon pick the first item “Shooting menu bank.” I have chosen B, which is my sports menu.

If you toggle into the “Shooting menu bank” you can rename those settings. Once you choose one of these settings everything you do to change the menu will be saved in that menu bank. I recommend to go ahead and try all my settings and then tweak them to your preferences.

When shooting sports it is very common for the lighting conditions to change instantly. While the football player runs toward you they may go from shade into direct sunlight. For this reason I let the camera do some of the thinking for me.

Go to the camera icon again and look for “ISO sensitivity settings.” Select this and you will then see this menu:

I turn on the “Auto ISO sensitivity control.” Then I set the minimum shutter speed to 1/4000. You could pick something else. I used to shoot at 1/2000. The ISO setting is what you see in the smaller window below the menu. I set this to ISO 100 and then set the “Maximum sensitivity” to ISO 102400.

While I am in Aperture Mode shooting the camera will always pick 1/4000 shutter-speed. If in sunlight I am at ƒ/4 the shutter-speed may go as high at 1/8000 at ISO 100, but as the scene changes and the athlete is now in the shade the camera will automatically drop to 1/4000 @ ƒ/4 and then change also the ISO up until I can still shoot at 1/4000.

The only time the shutter speed will dip below the 1/4000 is if the ISO peaks out at 102400.  If my aperture is wide open then the camera is doing everything that I would have done manually, but faster than I could ever adjust the camera. That is how you get more shots than the guy next to you.

Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art, ISO 4500, ƒ/1.4, 1/100
Here I am letting the BOKEH create the mood for the night club. Shooting at ƒ/1.4 let that background go to a silky smooth out of focus while directing your attention to the man in the foreground.

I really love the Nikon D5 because it lets me capture anything I can see with my naked eye.

Hawaii High School State Rodeo at The Parker Ranch

Nikon D5, Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 560, ƒ/4.5, 1/4000

Today I had a lot of fun shooting the Hawaii High School Rodeo at Parker Ranch Arena in Waimea on the Big Island of Hawaii.

The reason it was fun is I brought the camera and lens that let me get the action shots I wanted. I didn’t bring my long glass, but rather what I call my go to lens for capturing just about anything. That lens is the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR. In this first photo I shot it at the focal length of 58mm. I wanted to capture the girl doing barrel racing, but also capture the Parker Ranch sign.

Nikon D5, Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 500, ƒ/4.8, 1/4000

I was introduced to Cowboy art by Don Rutledge. We went to the Cowboy museum in Oklahoma City where I saw for the first time the work of Remington and Russell. They not only painted, but did sculptures.

Nikon D5, Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 1250, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000

What Don taught me with the help of Remington and Russell’s work was that the expression makes the photo. The expression of the animals and the people in the frame of the picture.

Nikon D5, Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 1250, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000

What I love about Rodeos is that the cowgirls and cowboys must work as a team with an animal. The more they know about their animal and how it likes to get clues from the people on what to do the better the show.

Nikon D5, Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 800, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000

I setup the Nikon D5 the same way I do for all sports shoots. Here is the blog post that goes into a lot of detail for all the settings.

Nikon D5, Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 1000, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000

Now to me the crazy sport is bull riding. These bulls weigh as much as a car and can crush you just as quickly as a car. That is why the sport is just about 8 seconds long. If you can just ride for 8 seconds you are in the competition.

Nikon D5, Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 1400, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000

Most of the time I see the bull riders being kicked off the bull in less than 8 seconds.

Nikon D5, Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 2200, ƒ/8, 1/4000

The cowgirls have an event where they are to lasso the cow. Two of the cowgirls did so in less than 4 seconds. WOW! I was really impressed at these high school girls being so good.

Nikon D5, Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 1800, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000

The cowboys have a similar event where they lasso the cow and then with a teammate they wrestle the cow to the ground and tie their feet. This is a skill they use in the fields to capture the cows to give the shots, brand them and other things to take care of their herd.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/3.5, 1/1600

It was just fun to see the high school kids having so much fun and learning a skill in the process of playing games.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/8000

Asking the cowgirls if I can take a picture of them with their horse was always greeted with a big smile. They were proud of their horses and the bond they had built with them.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/1250

I cannot recommend enough finding a rodeo near you and spending the time to capture the action with your camera.

Wedding photography to me is about emotional moments

Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, Nikon SB-900, ISO 400, ƒ/3.5, 1/6

I do not promote myself as a wedding photographer. I have shot many weddings in my career, but today I have been just doing weddings for close friends and family. There was a time I turned down any requests.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, Alienbees B1600, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/60

The reason I am not as fond of shooting weddings is the amount of people posing. I can do an excellent job of getting great moments in posed shots, but my favorite thing to do in all of photography is capturing those moments that are not posed.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, Alienbees B1600, ISO 400, ƒ/5.6, 1/200

I love a moment like this where the mother of the groom is dancing with her son and the grooms friends and family are caught up in the moment as well.

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 11400, ƒ/4, 1/200

I love the moments where the Bride and Groom are in a moment where you see the love they have for each other and you can see why they are getting married.

Nikon D4, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 12800, ƒ/4.5, 1/50

Sometimes the moments are subtle or they are bold as here.

Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, Nikon SB-900, ISO 400, ƒ/3.5, 1/6

I love capturing the expressions of people where you can see on their faces their emotions. The other thing I notice is at weddings the guests are just as happy for the couple.

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 10000, ƒ/5.6, 1/8

The hard part about shooting weddings is you are doing so many styles of photography throughout the day. You are having to do studio lighting fashion shoots and then turn right around and just doing more of event photography as well as getting those moments.

Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art Lens, ISO 22800, ƒ/5.6, 1/100

Capturing the moments is what I work on the most in my photography. I believe it is the expressions that are the most powerful thing in a photograph. I spend a great deal of time trying to be sure the technical parts of photography: Lighting, Composition, Depth-of-field and more are all ready for when the moment will happen.

Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art Lens, ISO 6400, ƒ/3.2, 1/100

Sometimes those moments are posed, but you just wait for the moment when they are into it rather than stiff and just posing.

Nikon D4, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 2800, ƒ/1.8, 1/100