Since the beginning of my photography career, I’ve had a list of projects that I dreamed of shooting. While most of the projects were out of my reach at the time, as my career has grown, buildings on my “dream assignment” list have become more accessible — while my goal list has grown! If you are in love with photography and architecture, I think you can agree that your list of dream projects and clients will always be growing and evolving. These projects are healthy to have on your mind and give you something to work towards (you can check out a great example of shooting a goal worthy project in Mike’s blog post on shooting Carla House).
A few days ago in an architectural photography forum I’m part of, (Where Art Meets Architecture) one of my fellow photographer friends asked for advice on bidding a job that would be his “big break.” An architecture firm asked for a quote to shoot four buildings, delivering ten images of each. This would be his first time shooting a project of this scale, and he was eager to submit a bid that would win him the gig while making sure he wasn’t getting hosed. So, how should he price a proposal to shoot this “dream job?”
Note: I want to highlight at the beginning that it is much more easy to negotiate and bid for jobs if you established your ‘F-You fund’. If you are not familiar with what this is, you may read this article.
First Step: Look Internally
The first step to bidding on your dream gig is a very meta one. You need to look internally. Why do you want this job so badly? Why do you NEED to be the photographer for this project? This will help you establish your goal and determine what the project is worth to you. Your answer will probably sound like one of these:
1. ‘I need the money‘: there are situations in your career – especially in early stages – when earning money comes first. You need to determine a rate that ensures you are hired enough to cover your needs and try to fill up your calendar. If you need advice on pricing yourself, I recommend this article on the blog. If an opportunity like our example comes your way at this stage of your career, do some research about the project, the client, and who were they working with earlier. This will help you set a ballpark price for your bid. You’ll want to cover your business expenses AND turn a profit obviously. You can check out this article by our own Brandon Vogts on fine-tuning your sales process here.
2. ‘I need this client‘: You may be thinking “if I can just get hired for this job by this client and make amazing pictures, then I can enter into paradise, and more jobs like this will come regularly.” Yeah, for sure…sorry to tell you, but there is a huge chance that the “world” won’t know about the blood, sweat, and tears, that you put into those killer images. Don’t expect instant stardom. These jobs will help you in the long run though; you will be more confident, you will have a lovely piece in your portfolio, and when the next opportunity comes, you have something to show clients how you handle a similar situation. You’ll still want to research your potential project here, but because you are motivated by gaining the client as opposed to making money, you’ll want to be a bit more flexible in your pricing.
3. ‘I need to photograph this project’: let’s say the request for photography came from the contractor, and the architect or the developer of the project has been on your radar for quite some time. You have a chance here to get their attention with a killer set of images. Most of my current clients came from approaches like: “Dear XYZ Architect, I’ve been following your work for some time now and love it. I recently photographed one of your projects for ABC Contractor. Here are some sample images. I’m curious what you think about them, If you like this style… etc…”
Make a “Charming” Estimate
First of all, you have to have a clear, precise, well-organized template. What should it contain?
– Your company information
– The client’s information
– Job description
– Terms of usage & licensing
– Fees in detail (try to detail what they will be paying for)
– Send it as a PDF! (I can not believe that even last year I was still sending out my estimates as Word documents…)
If you are in the NEED stage, quote accordingly. If among your answers, you have some NOs, than quote accordingly. What I’m saying is, you’ll need to make some sacrifices, you just need to determine which are suitable for you and your situation. Now, let’s work on making a palatable and charming estimate.
If you’re making sacrifices, make them apparent in your estimate. Maybe you’ve decided to do offer a price discount. By offering a discount on the 4th building price, our previously-mentioned friend would still be making a significant chunk of money, and the architect would feel like they were getting something “free.” If there are more projects to photograph, or there is a chance for high volume repeat business, than you can try to give a better price overall. Yes, that means you will work more, but in totality, you will make more money and be able to leave behind the NEED stage.
If you’re looking for more “value added” services to kick in on your charming estimate, you could also consider delivering more images than usual, add something extra like drone images, or offer a free scouting session.
Be available and be helpful. Sometimes the fact that you are available alone could be the main reason they choose you. If you really want to win, you should consider prioritizing. If there is a chance for bad weather, try to find a solution and do not bill for postponed days.
My First Time to Bid for an International Job
Back in 2018, I dreamed of landing my first international client. I would be pleased with a small, local architectural firm, or even with a furniture manufacturer, or a lighting company, literally with anybody who has some connection to architecture. I contacted more than 200 architectural firms in different countries, without any success. The first opportunity came to me as a surprise, when I was photographing a cool new office in Budapest for one of my regular clients, a company dealing with safety glass systems. Every time I worked for them, I tried to send out some sample images to the interior designer of the space. When I found out that this space was designed by a foreign firm, I was thrilled. After two minutes of googling them, I realized that they are a very well-known architectural firm in the U.S., and they have offices all over the world. By this time, I had become obsessed with showing them the pictures. After the contractor had seen the images he was kind enough to write the following e-mail to them with me in CC:
Hi Sabrine and Paul,
Deko’s photographer, Gyorgy Palko, has made a pretty good set from the 5th floor just before go-live. Would you be interested in seeing them?
Thanks,I changed the names, but it was a good sign that they are on a first name basis, which implied a good relationship between them.
They quickly replied that they were in fact interested: ‘Yes, we would love to see them‘. After this positive answer I wrote my first short e-mail to them:
Dear Sabrine and Paul!
My name is George Palko, and I’m an architectural and interiors photograher and I had the opportunity to photograph the office for Deko.
Here you can find the series with watermarks: Dropbox link
I’m happy that you want to see the images.
Looking forward to your reply.
Have a nice day!
Good morning George,
We very much liked your photographs, some great shots!
Please could you let us know the costs to obtain the following giving us right to use them in Architectural Firm Name documents,
9, 10, 11, 12, 25, 27, 33, 36, 38, 39, 42, 48, 54, 62
Detail shots 1 and 2
Yes, indeed it was a very good morning for me as you can imagine. The time has come for me to do some more research. I found out that they were working with a “big-time” photographer in the U.S. who was charging about $5,000 per day. I was in contact with their office in London – where the prices are much different than the U.S. – and the job was located in Hungary, where the day rate for a well-established architectural photographer is between $500 and $1,000 USD. These were the things I put into consideration when I wrote this as an answer:
Dear Paul!I was also sure to attach a PDF estimate/invoice if they were ready to pay.
I’m very happy that you liked the images! This was a fun office to photograph, and I like the whole set and will use some of them in my portfolio, here:
About the price of the photographs: – for regular web and printed usage I usually charge $200Usd/image up to 10 images, above that 100Usd/image, and half price for detail shots. It would be a total of $2500Usd.
I’m fully booked this week, so I can deliver the images on next week around 21st August, if that is okay for you.
Please also let me know what you think about the future cooperation, I would be honored to shoot for you here in the EU.
Kind regards, George
I haven’t heard from them for two weeks. I questioned myself every day, and after 14 days I wrote a follow-up e-mail. Still no answer for one more week, so I wrote to them again a little desperately. It was the middle of August, the end of Summer and – I suppose now that – they were on vacation at the time, so I should have just been patient. They answered finally and it shocked me:
Good morning George,
Loren will be in touch shortly to arrange payment for the selected images.
We may be requiring some further images taken when the planting scheme is complete, we will contact you soon.
I doubted myself for weeks, and the case is that the price of the images was fine, and even more, they later explained that they wanted to do a full day of photography after the office was finished and occupied. I remember dancing and jumping around for quite some time at this news.
Another two weeks have flown by before they asked me to meet on-site to walk through the two floors and do some scouting together. This was the actual conversation:
We will be in Budapest tomorrow for a site visit and maybe it would be a good idea to meet as we will require some additional photos once the planting goes in. Would you be free to meet around 14:00? Eszter will that be ok with you?
I’m booked for tomorrow, but maybe a bit later around 16:00 I can be there. Is it too late? (Maybe I can arrive at 15:00 but I’m not sure!)
I would love to meet you there and it would be easier to do the additional shots as well.
S: ‘Unfortunately we will need to leave around 4. The purpose of our meeting would more be around what we would like to do in our next photoshoot rather than take pictures at the day. Would any time earlier work for you? Maybe 12?’
Me: ‘For me earlier isn’t an option because I will be 150km away from Budapest. But it’s important for me to meet with you, so I will be there around 14:00 or maybe a bit later!
May I ask for your phone number? So I can ring you if anything happens on the road!
Thank you very much!’
The scouting was great, it was inspiring to work with someone who really knew what she wants to see. I was more than happy that I had a feeling that I’m absolutely able to do this! So I quoted them $4,000 ($2,000 for shooting plus an additional $2,000 for post-production and licensing) and it went through without any further negotiations. Here is the last e-mail with my offer:
‘Dear Sabrine and Paul!
It was really good that we could walk through the 4th floor and took the sample images. I think with these added to the 5th floor spaces will be a beautiful set, and I’m looking forward to photographing it.
As I ran through the images I’m not sure that one whole day will be enough, it depends on how many images you want to take, but I think it would be good to have one full day, and the next morning just in case. I will schedule my other photoshoots on the afternoon or a day after, and if we couldn’t finish on the first day we have the option to continue on the next day. It will take off the pressure of going too fast with the shots. What do you think about this Sabrine?
Here can you download the sample images. Some of them will be blurry, just because I shot them handheld, these are just for composition and to make your choosing process easier: Dropbox link
I’ve attached to this letter my estimate for one day photography, post production which will include image licensing also.
Sabrine, you asked my availability next week: I’m free from Monday (Oct. 1.) to Thursday (Oct. 4.)
I’m looking forward to your answer.
If you have any question please feel free to ask.
Best regards,George Palkó’
By doing a little digging and research, I was able to determine a price that seemed competitive to the client, but profitable for me. I could be more gutsy “asking” for money because I had a client base at the time which covered my expenses. I figured, if they rejected my bid, I would “just” be losing the opportunity to work for an international architectural client for the first time. I’d still be able to put food on the table, though.
The biggest take away I want you to remember when bidding on a dream project is to determine if you NEED to shoot it, or if you WANT to shoot it. This will help you decide how flexible you can be in your pricing and negotiations.
If you don’t need the money, and strictly want to shoot the building to check it off your goal list, relax. You won’t go destitute if the bidding fails, and you can set your sights on a new opportunity. Remember, there is always a chance that you won’t be chosen to photograph a job, no matter how qualified or gorgeous your images are. On the other hand, if you find you are winning every single bid you submit, it’s time to raise your prices.
After many years in business and shooting many great and former dream projects, there will be a point when you do not need to photograph something, you just simply want to shoot it. This is the goal, and when you arrive here, you will have gathered all the skills and tricks you will need to bid for your next dream job! Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!