Thursday, January 10, 2013

Q/A Pricing Clients Using High-End Cameras

Straight off the back off the Hasselblad

Q: I hope you're having a great New Year! I wanted to ask you about how you price your services when you're using high end equipment.

I recently purchased a Red Epic (I have a lot of friends in production who work on projects with shooters operating Epics, I had the cash to invest, Epics came down in cost, and I thought it'd be a good investment moving forward). I've been running tests with models and trying to come up with a workflow that's robust, reliable, and consistent so I can bring my services to market responsibly and with confidence.

I recall a previous post of yours where you talked about working with the Hasselblad. I couldn't find the exact post, but if I remember correctly, you said that you don't give the client a choice as to what equipment you use because you didn't want to create different price points based on that. I get offers to shoot fashion films and various other kinds of video for clients, and while I'm not currently ready to shoot paid work on the Epic just yet, when I am, I'm not sure if I should still make shooting video on the 5D MKII/7D an option or not. I feel like if I shoot on the Epic, it's much easier to justify higher price points, and I'd like to shoot more work on the Epic, but at the same time, I don't want to miss out on job opportunities with the 5DMKII with clients who don't have the budget to support a Red (and I feel like I'd be undercutting myself if I went to the trouble of shooting and handling Red footage under market value--assuming it's a client that isn't really offering any alternative value like experience, exposure, etc.) I'm sure in some shape or form I'll continue to use both cameras for different projects, but I'm just trying to figure out what kind of balance I should reach between my regular equipment and the really high end stuff.

What has your experience been between shooting on the Hasselblad and your DSLR? Do you try and determine budgets ahead of time and then plan the camera accordingly? Do you try and upsell to a Hasselblad workflow? Or do you price the same regardless of camera and equipment, keeping that side invisible to the client?

Any thoughts you can send my way at your convenience would be really helpful! Thanks again for all your help and insight! I really appreciate it!

A: This is a great question and a very advanced question at that. Surely most photographers haven't achieved the same success that you have realized so your question is unique and a good problem to have.

The issue is always education and getting the client to see the value in our services.

The key word is value.

Clients don't know what a RED Epic is. Nor do they care. All they care is "What does the Epic do (for me) that a 5DII doesn't"?

Historically speaking this is where I do better than others. As an educator I am good at explaining "stuff". So I explain to clients the value of shooting the Hasselblad versus shooting a typical Nikon/Canon (before the D800 came out). For one client I explained to them that due to their print needs, the Hasselblad could express a much better detail than a Nikon/Canon. Because when you are paying $100k for magazine ad space, the extra cost of shooting the Hasselblad is well worth the extra cost.

That's of course assuming that I've done my job of explaining to them the added value of shooting with the Hasselblad.

(I don't remember exactly what I said about the Hasselblad and the client. I couldn't find that post on my own blog either. But let me clarify.) But I always leave the client with a choice. Because under normal circumstances the client behaves logically and rationally. And based upon the perceived value, the client will choose to upgrade. Because it makes no sense for them to choose an inferior product/service based upon their needs. Of course I wouldn't suggest the Hasselblad to a client that couldn't afford it (or to a client that couldn't appreciate or use the added value). Likewise, I wouldn't price the Hasselblad outside the client's ability to pay... especially if their budget was close to my asking price. That's just mean. That's like showing the bride a wedding dress she can't afford. WTF.

But not leaving the client with a choice makes you seem intractable and you're absolutely correct in fearing that you could price yourself out of potential lower end gigs.

So I budget according to what the client can handle. I always ask the client what the budget is. Of course this question often yields ambiguous and useless answers but occasionally you'll get a straight answer. When I get a numerical figure, I budget to that exact figure. And as budgeting is never without negotiations, the key is making sure they understand the value of what they're getting for what they're paying. Whenever they gripe at the dollar figure and try to negotiate a better price, I counter by giving them less value. Maybe they can do with 6 hours of shooting instead of 8 hours of shooting? Maybe they can do with 10 retouched images instead of 20? Maybe they don't need to shoot at my studio (which is already heavily discounted)?

As far as pricing goes, I typically price based upon my historical rates. Then I adjust them by some factor or percentage increase for the new job. That being said however, at the end of the day everything is negotiable. Everything. I've been called to a last minute job hours before the shoot and quoted the client 10x my regular rate. Because that is what it costs to get me to drop everything that I'm doing at that moment in time and drive 35 miles to the shoot. Conversely, there are jobs I'm willing to accept for little to no pay. Jobs that can further my brand, exposure, experience, etc. Hell, I might even be willing to shell out money for that kind of opportunity. That's why pricing should never be listed nor blindly based upon historical figures. After all, we sell services. Services that different clients value differently. The price of our services should be equivalent to the clients' perceived value of those services. Does this raise a moral issue? Not at all. Clients should expect to receive custom-tailored packages to fit their exact needs and therefore no two clients' needs should be priced or valued the same.

There's tons more that I could talk about with my previous negotiations and pricing but I think I'll save it for a future online business workshop! :)


  1. Hello Charles,

    I really appreciate what You say but I believe it's applicable only on high-end clients and high-end needs.

    Would You also use the same method for pricing the fresh model's portfolio? Let's say You ask her about the budget and You know she's new in all that stuff, she's 19 and she responds with $200. Would You tell her to find someone else or still try to make the shoot happen?


    1. Paul, the answer above is geared towards client differentiation. If you're working with models that have a $200 budget, there's very little to negotiate. It may not be worth your time. Everyone is different and everyone must draw the line in the sand at some point where he/she says I have a minimum fee. Cheers!