Monday, December 8, 2008

How to Talk Yourself Out of a Photography Job

© Stephen Power 2008

Being an old-fashioned Lancashire Lad (it's the county of my birth, in the North West of England) I was brought up on the expression "there's nowt so queer as folk", at a time when "queer" usually meant strange and "nowt" meant (as it still does in Lancashire), nothing.

Having spent many years working and teaching in the fields of psychiatry and psychology, I should, by now, have come to fully appreciate the truth in that old adage and not be side-swiped by the queer antics of some of the folk I know. But, there are still times when the behaviour of my fellow human beings can be so surprising as to leave me totally gobsmacked - another good old Lancashire expression; which I am using, here, to convey a sense of being totally stunned and completely exasperated!

Late on Friday evening, with the complimentary hotel conference room shot (see Free Photography - Does it Pay?) almost finished after a good 8 hours work at the computer - there was a lot of "Photoshopping" (not a Lancashire word), as well as regular processing involved - I got a call from the stylist whom I had invited to work with me on the shoot. She told me that she had been talking to the General Manager at the hotel, and discussing the cost of styling the Christmas tree (an additional job that she had been offered simply for turning up to assess the room shot work.

She told him that it would take 2 full days; that she needed to bring along 2 assistants and that material costs would be at least €1000. Total cost of the job: €1950 - maybe more depending on material costs. To dress a Christmas tree. "He wouldn't go for it" she told me, to which I replied "I don't blame him, because it sounds ridiculous". Whether it is ridiculous or not, is hardly the issue. To my mind, given I'm on the West of Ireland, and there is a recession on - or at least a severe belt-tightening process is occurring in the commercial sector - to talk about assistants, excessive amounts of time, and very large sums of money for a job that should take one person with a good eye (which she undoubtedly has) a few hours on their own, will definitely appear to be ridiculous to a cost-conscious hotel manager.

At the end of that phone call - which, it has to be said, I curtailed fairly snappily - I felt angrier and more disappointed than I had, with anyone, for a long time. Not only had she quoted figures that I knew would not be acceptable, she had reneged on our agreement that I would handle all of the discussions regarding costs and fees, with the manager. I spent the entire weekend convinced that all of the ground work we had done - and the good photography and styling we had produced - would come to nothing because of one needless phone call.

Today, I turned up to show my work to the hotel manager. I had made 4 A3 prints, 4 A4 prints, and 3 pages of large-size "proofs" of all the shots taken. Plus, I had saved everything to disk both in printable and website-use formats. It had been my intention, all along, to give this material free of charge. A good friend had also reasoned that any cost could be recouped in new work. I decided that I could afford the paper and ink, and the disk. It didn't add up to much in material costs, but could be invaluable in terms of goodwill.

The manager was delighted with the large printed work ("a good big 'un will always beat a good little 'un - as they also say in Lancashire"). He was also delightfully surprised when I told him that he could keep it.

The manager told me about the call with the stylist and that she had lowered her fee when he declined the first one. What was apparent, though, was that he had decided to try and work without a stylist - or at least to see if that was possible. And, I couldn't help wondering at which point, precisely, that modus operandus had occurred to him - as it was mainly his idea to use a stylist, in the first place. I suggested a much lower day rate, for her, than she had discussed on the phone - and while he didn't say no, neither did he say yes.

He did, however, offer me the job of photographing another 10 conference rooms. He asked me what it would cost - and I gave him my day rate (twice as high as the stylist's) and said it could take 5 days. He agreed on the spot and took me on a tour of the rooms.

He then offered me another 4 jobs - photographing the gardens in the winter with frost (I even went as far as suggesting he could call me early on the next frosty morning); coffee machines; garden water feature with a bride - and the 'bridal suite' once totally refurbished - rather than "styled, which had been the original plan. He also asked if I did "video work", as he needed a short video of a wedding reception for the website.

I got the feeling that I had forged a very strong and potentially very lucrative link with that particular hotel. I hope to be able to restore equilibrium with the stylist - but if not, so be it. Sometimes it pays to give your work away and say nowt.


  1. I'm really glad for your success! You showed the kind of initiative freelancers are going to need in this new economic climate.

    Lose that stylist, though. She's either dull or crooked...

  2. Well done Stephen - as the other commenter noted, this is the kind of attituted needed to be succesfull in these turbulent times.

    Good luck with the frost shots!

  3. Hi Stephen,
    I agree that when needs must you should offer your services at a reduced rate or even free. This is not only the case in photographic circles but in other business also. I have only been reading your blog for a few months but enjoy every one.


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