Studying the Aftermath of a Lost Photography Assignment


(The following is excerpted from Best Business Practices for Photographers, Second Edition, by Black Star photographer John Harrington.)

On one occasion, six or seven years ago, I got a call from the premier association of physicians in the U.S. for press-conference coverage on Capitol Hill. They’d regularly used a photographer who was not available, and the work bounced from him to two friends and then finally to me.

I quoted my normal event rate, which for a press conference ran into my minimum rate of around $650, including expenses, with a normal two-day turnaround of the proofs. Consistent with the Associated Press’ charge of $100 to scan and transmit an image for someone who walked in off the street, I, too, would charge that rate upon request of a scan, and this was outlined in my contract. Further, my rate for same-day delivery of the proofs was a 200-percent surcharge on top of my normal $35/roll charge, meaning $105 per roll, and I’d shot three rolls at the press conference.

Following the event, the client called for two scans to be transmitted and wanted the CD the same day, incurring the 200-percent charge as well. This assignment blossomed from $650 to $1,060, adding $200 in scans and a rush charge on the three rolls that added $70 X 3, or $210. The bill was sent and paid on time.

An Unhappy Colleague

When they called the next time, they commended me for doing a great job the last time, and I made a point of asking whether they’d contacted their primary photographer. I make it a point not to steal a client referred by a colleague from the referring photographer. I just think that’s bad form.

The client said they had contacted their primary photographer (which I verified before sending the estimate), and I said it’d cost the same as last time, which they said was fine. I sent along another contract, which was signed and returned, and again, same charges.

This happened a total of four times. The client was happy, and I was too. I also made a point of conveying these figures back to the initial photographer, who’d only charged them a flat rate of $300 for everything for which I’d charged $1,060.

I then learned, through a mutual friend, that the initial photographer was upset with me. Why? Because that association’s photo budget was wiped out, and they couldn’t hire photographers for another six months, so he had to wait for their new fiscal year before they could hire him (or anyone else) again.

Reaching the Wrong Conclusion

I don’t get it! This photographer should have instead learned how little he was charging and just how much the client was prepared to pay for the same services and then considered that perhaps he could/should raise his rates.

Further, the client would have legitimate cause to go to their budget people and outline how their photo budget for the previous year was not enough, and they had several events they couldn’t cover as a result of that. This would then allow for a strong argument to raise the budget—something that would benefit everyone.

Although this example is the analysis of a colleague’s lost assignment from the standpoint of the photographer who ended up with the assignment, he failed to do what I am recommending: Think through what your experience was regarding the assignment and how you could have steered it to a different conclusion. Sometimes, the impasse is just too big; other times perhaps there isn’t a full outline of the needs, and your understanding is different than the reality.

Learning from Lost Assignments

The first thing I do when I learn a contract didn’t come through is ask, “Who’d you end up going with?” Most of the time they tell me. I then ask, “Was it a matter of price?” And when they say yes, I ask, “How much of a difference was there between the other photographer and me?”

When they say they thought the other photographer’s approach was different or more in line with their vision, I can accept that. When there is a substantial price disparity or the other photographer “gave away the farm” for the assignment, that’s when you might consider a cup of coffee with the other photographer. However, that might come across as sour grapes if not handled correctly or if you don’t know the other photographer well.

What I’ll do is wait for a client we both were in a dialogue with and who selected me as the photographer for the assignment. Learning from the client who the other photographers were that vied for the contract and that the client ultimately selected me without shopping for the lowest price gives me an opportunity.

Without taking a holier-than-thou approach, I’ll take this opportunity to share my figures with the photographer who didn’t get the assignment, who may have feared raising his or her rates.

At no time do I say, “You need to raise your rates,” or “We should agree to….” The fact that the photographer is looking at a contract that was awarded to a more expensive colleague may well give the photographer the fortitude to raise his rates the next time around, regardless of whether he is competing with me.

Whatever the circumstances surrounding a lost assignment, I encourage you to make a point of learning why each one was lost and what steps could be taken to avoid that outcome in the future.


2 Responses to “Studying the Aftermath of a Lost Photography Assignment”

  1. Nice post, thanks for sharing this information from the book.

  2. Thanks for this. Even in this recession, you can't give the farm away.

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