How You Should Answer When Asked "What Are Your Rates?"

the business Feb 20, 2022

Photographers, designers, creative freelancers of all flavors– we all kind of hate this question.

But we can't blame clients for asking– how else are they going to find out what we cost? The frustration lies in the fact that it's never an easy, one-size-fits-all answer in most cases.

Really the answer is: "it depends" and no one likes saying or hearing that. It sounds withholding or non-committable– so it's not a great answer, even if it is technically the right one.

Strangely enough I used to work for a car insurance agency back in the day (it nearly crushed my soul, but that's another story). People would come in all the time to get a quote for car insurance and they would ask what we charge. Makes sense: people want to know what car insurance is going to cost them before they commit to buying it. I would sit them down and explain that car insurance rates depend on a number of factors. Young or inexperienced drivers pay more for insurance because they are considered high risk. Some people have tickets or accidents on their driving record and that affects their rate. Other people have clean records and good payment history, so they pay less. There is a system for quoting people on their car insurance and it didn't take long for potential customers to understand this– they just needed me to take the time to explain it to them.

It's a strange comparison to draw a line between the soul-sucking world of car insurance to creative freelancing, but I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. Every photography project is different, and every client has different needs and objectives, so you need to obtain more information from them in order to give an accurate estimate.

You also need to be able to clearly and confidently explain the quoting process.

When a client wants to know what you cost, either schedule a call or send them an email about these 5 things, and inform them that this info is essential in order for you to provide an accurate estimate.


1) General info about the client and/or project

It always helps to know who you are working with. I work very differently with an international liquor brand than I do a small, local distillery– and the way the images will be used will be different as well, so I charge differently. If I have the extra bandwidth and want to help out a local business, I'll typically charge a smaller company less than I would a major brand.

If you don't know anything about the potential client reaching out, ask for an overview of the brand and what they are about. Then do your own research on them by checking out their website and social media. Try and get a sense of who they are and if they would be a good fit for you to work with.

Similarly, get some high level details about the project that they are looking to hire you for. Sometimes clients have project details really well fleshed out already and might even have a creative brief for you to review, while others may expect you to do all the creative and logistical work of producing the shoot yourself (which you should charge extra for– that's why we need to find out this info before quoting!)


2) Timeline

All of these questions are important, but finding out what timeline a client is working with is very important.

Are they in a rush, or can this project be scheduled out a ways?

Even at this early stage you should also inform the potential client about your standard turnaround time for editing and delivery, and ask if that timeframe is sufficient or if a faster delivery time is required. You might be surprised, but I'm willing to bet that the majority of clients have no idea how much time goes into producing good imagery. If deliverables are needed sooner than you'd typically deliver, you'll want to add a rush fee to your estimate.

You also want to take into consideration any logistical or prep work, as this will all add to the timeline and how soon you'll be able to plan and coordinate a shoot. You may need to rent additional gear or lighting to complete the project, so you will need to see if you the needed gear is available and accessible to you. Will the shoot require additional contractors, like models, stylist, chef/bartender, etc.? Will that be your responsibility to find and hire these people, or will the client do that?

All of these things factor into the timelines and are important aspects to consider on their own.


3) Desired deliverables and how many

I used to never ask about this starting out and it ALWAYS came back to bite me later.

Always ask how many deliverables the potential client would ideally like to receive at the end of the project OR tell the client exactly how many they can expect from you.

When it comes to photography, this will vary depending on the type of work. For bar and restaurant shoots where I'm capturing specific food dishes and cocktails, I'll usually tell the client that I'll shoot 4-5 dishes or cocktails per hour. This gives me around 15 minutes with each item– but depending on the set, lighting conditions, styling, etc. you may need considerably more time.

If it's a high-send commercial shoot where I'm working with a stylist and art-director, we could spend 1-2 hours just on one shot. This alone just goes to show you that there is no one-size-fits all with photography projects, so the the more details you can get the better.


4) Budget Range

Budget is always uncomfortable to ask about, but it shouldn't be. This is business– a company is approaching you because of your specialized expertise and you deserve to be compensated appropriately. No need to do anyone a favor here– don't go giving discounts because you're "new to this" or because you don't have very many social media followers– if you're good enough to be getting client inquiries out of the blue, then you deserve to be compensated as a professional. So go get f***ing paid!

I get it though– there's sometimes a bit of a standoff between client and contractor on who throws out a number first. Before putting together an estimate, I tell the client that I can put together a few pricing options for them, and it would save us all time if they could provide me with a budget range or "ideal ballpark" of what they'd like to stay within. Only rarely will a client refuse to offer a budget range.


5) Usage Rights

I'll admit that this one is a headache. A lot of aspiring and even pro photographers I talk with get pretty stressed about usage rights, so they often times don't even bother talking about them with the client. Honestly, this might be one of the worst mistakes you can make as a photographer, as maintaining ownership and determining the usage of your work is key to your longevity in this industry.

I’ll typically 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 almost always 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 as the photographer to explain this to them.


To makes things a little easier...

I do not even quote a client unless they fill out my new project intake form. Here are the two I use linked below– you have my full permission to copy them and make your own version. It takes a lot of the awkwardness and "back-and-forth" out because the potential client has to answer all the questions on the form if they want to move forward in anyway.

I use a subscription based platform called Bonsai (affiliate link) to create the intake forms. Bonsai is also the platform I use for creating proposals and estimates (after they complete the intake form), creating contracts, sending invoices and receiving payments. Basically my whole client funnel is all integrated within one platform so it's all very seamless for both me and my clients.

There are similar platforms out there, but Bonsai is by far my favorite. I've been using it since my first month of freelancing back in 2017 and the platform just continues to get better and better.

Click here to try Bonsai for free


Was this post helpful to you? Do you have any suggestions of things I should add?

Feel free to drop me a line anytime. I'd love to hear from you.

Email me directly at [email protected]



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