Negotiating great rates for photographers

How to sell your work and find convincing arguments
by Silke Güldner, Coach & Consultant for Photographers and Creatives

Are you one of those photographers who don't like to fight for their rates? Setting your own rate is difficult for many photographers, but standing up for your fee to clients and selling yourself successfully is an almost impossible challenge for many. Afraid the client will lose interest and the job will be gone, they don't dare. So what happens is that photographers quickly settle for a compromise and work for a rate below their "market rate". Yet with a little negotiating skill and the courage to engage in dialogue, they could get better deals.

Talk about content - not money

Over and over again it happens that photographers agree to a deal that is of little use to them and, for example, spontaneously agree to rates or deadlines over the phone. Accepting terms of engagement that are unfavourable or unusual will do neither you nor the client any good. You will get annoyed and deliver a job that did not run in the best possible way. And the client does not get your best performance as a result. 

Things are different if you can have a professional discussion with your client about the goals and background of the planned photo production. This will help you to work out a better foundation for the assignment in terms of content. Focus on the added value of your work in relation to the client's interest. Make your client aware of the positive effects of your work on their goals instead of just talking about money and saying "yes" too quickly.

Create a "win-win" situation

The aim of a negotiation is to balance interests. If you accept a job on bad terms, the result is neither a satisfying rate nor a useful reference for you. You are in a win-lose situation. And the client's "win" is a questionable one. Your fee is not the only variable that can be at stake in a negotiation. By discussing the client's goals and interests in detail, skilled negotiators are able to work out an attractive foundation for the assignment. In this way you create a "win-win" situation in which everyone gets something that benefits them. Your negotiating skills are an essential tool for your success.

During the discussion, work out the arguments that interest the client most. What is worth a lot to him that costs you little effort? If you can satisfy his interests, you don't have to expose yourself to the price battle. Stick to your price and don't signal too early that the price might be negotiable.

Position yourself through content

Price is only one variable of many. If you can explain your price and how you work, you will have more options and negotiating power than you think. Variables are, for example, the deadline, the scope of delivery, the duration of production. Check the time factor, the number of photos, the usage requirements and licensing. Also consider whether you can add other items for fees, such as organising, photo editing, casting, etc.. The type and timing of payment also play an important role in the negotiation.

In the context of photographer and client, there are many interests besides the budget. And these interests are what a negotiation is about. It's about finding out what the other party actually needs and what helps them to make a good "deal". Be prepared before the meeting that the person you are talking to wants to make savings. Therefore, include a buffer in your price calculation. Otherwise you will quickly end up below your market rate in the negotiation.

Consider your best alternative

Good negotiations mean working on relationships and need professional communication methods. This includes three important communication techniques:

  • Asking open questions
  • Active listening
  • Paraphrasing

Before any negotiation, it is helpful to think of a "best alternative". You can work towards this during the discussion if the negotiation does not go as planned. The "best alternative" is your personal limit for this job and it saves you from bad compromises.

Say no!

And finally: saying no is important! But think carefully about the requirements for a "yes" beforehand and communicate them to your client. Give him a chance to understand your position and don't give up too soon!

Stay cool

Successful negotiations require composure and aplomb. You will not succeed in a coup from a supplicant attitude. The idea of possibly failing is a real option and even helps you to find coolness and concentration for the conversation and to communicate at eye level.


  • Stay on the professional level when talking to clients instead of just talking about prices.
  • Describe the added value of your work for your client's goals.
  • Explain your working methods, the components of the job and the scope of services.
  • Check the possible variables such as scope and deadline, rights of use, number of images, etc. for pricing and a good conclusion.
  • Consider your best alternative: under what conditions are you prepared to do the job?
  • Be good at communication techniques and stay at eye level with the customer.