4 Questions EVERY Photographer Needs to Ask Every Client

the business Jan 29, 2022

So you just got booked for a photo shoot.

Congrats! Whether it’s your 1st paid shoot or your 1,000th, it always feels good having someone value your time and talent enough to pay for it.

You know what never feels good though? Having your time and talent undervalued… or even taken advantage of. This happened to me a lot when starting out and it’s sadly all too familiar with photographers.

Here's the scenario:

A potential client reaches out to you and asks for your rate for a “quick and easy” shoot– in my case, they only need a few cocktail photos after all. It’s a great opportunity to get in with this client, so you send them a super agreeable rate and assume it will in fact be a “quick and easy” shoot. Next thing you know, you’re saddled with a shot list as long as your arm and a super tight deadline. So much for quick and easy, and that agreeable rate you threw out there feels like peanuts.

It's not like clients are always trying to take advantage of you, most of the time they just don't understand how much actual time and work goes into a photo shoot to begin with. So before you jump into any paid project, here are 4 important questions to ask your client before every shoot, and then make sure you put their answers into a written agreement. 


1) Define the Deliverables – ask “What exactly am I being hired to do?”

“Taking photos” is never all you’re being hired for. The devil is in the details after all.

You need to find out exactly how many final photos the client is expecting to be delivered after the shoot, and state that number in a written contract. Remember that you can always overdeliver (and you should try to in most cases) but never overcommit yourself to too many photos. Make sure it’s an easily attainable number depending on what you’re shooting. For commercial shoots, I’ll often have a 4-6 hour shoot day and have like 8 final images when I deliver. For event photography where I’m capturing people in a natural setting, I’ll deliver closer to 50 images for 2 hours of shooting. Not all photo shoots are the same, so it’s important to know what you’re getting into and set those deliverables and expectations with your clients accordingly.

Another super important aspect of defining deliverables is determining who is providing the “vision” or creative direction for the shoot. When a brand hires you as a photographer, you should be provided with a brief that outlines the project and what the client is looking for visually. If the client doesn’t have one or doesn’t know, then they are relying on you to provide that creative direction yourself– so you should not only be prepared to do this, but you should also charge extra for this additional service. For most commercial work I am working alongside an art director or brand manager, and sometimes a stylist as well. This way I can focus solely on capturing good photos with proper lighting, and good composition... You know– all the things a photographer is supposed to do. If I’m also having to produce the entire shoot, come up with all the creative ideas and how to execute them (plus needing to buy props, and style everything) that is a TON more work than just taking pictures.

Yes, as the photographer you should collaborate with your client to plan a shot list and determine if their ideas are attainable, but being asked to provide all the creative direction is an additional ask that you deserve to be properly compensated for, if you decide to take on that responsibility.


2) Set a Timeline – ask “How long do I have to finish all the work?”

This one may not seem as big of a deal when you’re starting out and may not be as busy. But setting a clear project timeline is crucial to setting expectations and avoiding potential awkwardness with your client.

Similar to the deliverables section– you can always overdeliver, so make sure what you have set in the contract is easily attainable. Can you comfortably edit and deliver all the final images within two weeks of the shoot? Cool, tell the client they’ll have them in three weeks. You set the expectation, then the client will be thrilled when you deliver early. This way you just easily gained some points and the client will likely want to rehire you for future shoots because you’re so fast.

It does get harder once you get busier and/or hired for more complex shoots. Many of my shoots now require sending an online gallery of “proofs” via Pixieset to the client for them to make their “selects.” Once they pick their favorites, I take just those files the client has selected and make sure they are edited flawlessly before delivering the final images.

Once again, you never want to overcommit yourself or assume the client understands the process. Always set clear and attainable timelines in a written agreement.


3) Ownership and Usage Rights – ask “Who owns the work, and what do they get to do with it?”

This is the one where most photographers shoot themselves in the foot. Like it's genuinely really sad and SO many photographers do it.

I am constantly shocked with how often I talk with photographers who have been shooting professionally for years who have never thought about ownership or usage rights. If you want to have longevity as a photographer you HAVE to put in the time to learn about usage rights and how to protect them. Legally by default, as soon as you click that shutter button on your camera that photo is yours– unless you sign a contract that says otherwise. So with EVERY contract I always make sure I own my work and no one else. Even though a client is paying me to shoot for them, the images are still mine and I get to determine how and when they are used. That may sound strange if you aren’t used to dealing in these terms, but that’s how this industry works. It’s like licensing music– you can’t take an artist’s song and use it for anything you want– you have to compensate the artist for different usages.

Typically I’ll give a client certain usage rights for a certain amount of time. Let’s say the client has the rights to display the work digitally on social media and their websites for 2 years. I’ll set a reminder on my calendar, and when that date rolls around in 2 years, I reach out and ask the client if (1) they would like to license the images for an additional 2 years or (2) they would like to hire me to shoot new images for them. Brands need imagery, so it’s very seldom a “neither.” I either get hired again to create new work, or I get paid again for work I already did two years ago.

If a client wants the right to do whatever they want to do with your photos whenever they want to use them forever and ever- they aren't evil for asking that but they need to understand that’s an absolutely HUGE value and they should pay a huge premium for it. And it is on you the the photographer to explain this to them.

Your work is valuable– it doesn't matter if you're new to photography or just learning, don't give up the rights to your work for cheap.

I get it though, this stuff is intimidating, especially knowing how to value your work and price for specific usage rights. We’ll get more into the nitty gritty of pricing in the near future.


4) Set Clear Payment Terms – ask “How and when will I get paid?”

Talking money can be hard– but as fun as photography is, you aren’t doing this just for kicks. You gotta get paid!

Like we just talked about, clients will expect you to stick to certain expectations and timelines, so you have to make sure they are clearly defined in a written agreement. The same goes for your expectations and timeline for them when it comes to receiving payment. When I bring on a new client that I haven’t worked with before, I typically require a deposit before doing any work– Usually 50% of the total fee up front. Then I will invoice for the remainder once the project is over. For clients I already have an established working relationship with (so there is already mutual trust) I invoice them for the total once the project is completed.

To use a service called Bonsai, and their invoicing system allows for different payment options: Credit Card, Bank Transfer, PayPal, Check by Mail, etc. and the client selects their preferred method. It also easily allows you to determine who has to pay the processing fees: you or the client (because well someone always has to).

Some clients are able to pay relatively quickly, but it seems that often times the larger the company the slower they are to pay simply because they have to follow certain corporate protocols. My average client pays NET 30 (i.e. they pay 30 days after they receive the invoice), but NET 60 or even NET 90 is fairly common as well, so it’s important to agree upon this and list it in the contract. 


There are plenty of other details we could dive into when it comes to photography contracts, but really if you focus on answering these 4 questions you'll be in a good spot. Questions or comments? Hit me up: [email protected]

Try out my favorite contract and invoicing platform: Bonsai (affiliate link). You can test it out for several weeks for free before deciding if it's right for you.


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