I’ve been working as a professional photographer and blogging about photography in Montreal for over a decade and in that time I’ve received countless requests for quotes by potential clients looking to hire a photographer for an upcoming event. These requests have ranged from the excessively formal RFP process (asking for client references, examples of similar work and a detailed response to a series of questions), to the excessively informal, i.e., “i need a shooter how much does it cost” usually without the use of capitalization or any semblance of punctuation. As a provider of a professional freelance service, almost always as an adjunct to a small communications or PR team, I can provide some insight into the best way to request a quote to help busy people looking to hire a photographer get what they need to make a decision.
1. Please be polite: while that should go without saying, in the world of internet-driven price shopping and generations of ungrammatically inclined minds raised up on SMS, IMs, communication-via-status update or even the replacement of all language with emoticons, I’ve found politeness and etiquette are often discarded or are viewed as somehow unnecessary in email. For example, I recently received this email:
I need a photographer for an event I am planning how much would it cost
That’s it! (Really, would a “?” be too much to ask for?). Aside from the obvious lack of context and detail to be able to accurately estimate what is needed, it almost feels like a fake email. I responded with this:
Hi X -thanks for your email. For a proper quote I need to know when the event is, where the event is, how many hours you’d need me there for and if you need anything more than straight coverage. As a guideline, $300 is my minimum which covers 2 hrs service. I can and do sometimes work with fixed budgets depending on the event. I also give non-profits a discount.
To which I received this response:
Do also take videos or only pictures.
(At least we got a form of punctuation, sort of a topless question mark).
I replied that no, I did not do video and never heard back from the inquirer again, which did not surprise me. This kind of email is really aggravating because it shows not just a basic lack of respect for what photographers do, but is also just a waste of time. But I don’t like to leave any inquiry unanswered and I make a point of replying quickly to people. Happily, most of my clients are much more professional than this and send in requests that are both polite and structured intelligently to accurately assess my response against the other quotes they are soliciting for the job.
2. Provide enough basic detail on your planned event to allow your photographer to fairly assess what is needed: basic details means: the date of the event, the start and end times, the number of hours you’ll need your shooter for, and location of the venue. You can also provide an estimate on the number of people likely to attend and any other specifics about your event (is it an awards ceremony with a series of speakers or an afternoon bbq for employees?)
3. Say what you need the photos for: This kind of information may not seem relevant but it can be very helpful to a photographer in understanding what you intend to use the photos for. As an event photographer, I have thousands of hours of experience covering all kinds of events. I know what to look for and how to set up shots and can help create images that will be most useful to my clients if I know what they want the images for. Immediate publication online? A Twitter feed? A new website? Promotional images to sell attendance to future events? Understanding the use of images is key to creating the right ones during your event.
4. Be honest and open about your budget: While many clients are reluctant to reveal what they have budgeted for an event, the reality of the photography business is that there is a fairly tight band of acceptable rates. You won’t get ripped off by telling a photographer what your real budget is. Of course you may not want to give a specific figure, but nickle-and-diming doesn’t really save you that much in the end. In general, if you are expecting professional service you should have professional rates budgeted for. These vary from city to city, but not really by that much. It’s not like real-estate. Event photography is based on an hourly rate. If you have a fixed budget, your photographer can work with you to help you choose the most advantageous blend of hours in the schedule to cover off your event without necessarily hiring and paying for complete coverage if that is not necessary. Think of your photographer as a member of your team and you will get the best service. In the end, your goals should be aligned as a good shooter likes to work with regular clients and vice-versa. I’ve often adjusted my fee to fit a client’s budget based on establishing a good relationship and this invariably leads to more contracts down the road. Be honest, be realistic and be fair and you’ll get the same in return.
5. Have a conversation with your photographer: talking to your potential photographer as you are in the evaluation phase is probably the single best thing you can do to adequately assess him or her as a candidate for the contract you are hiring for. You may not wish to begin the process with a call, but a brief email offering a bit of detail on the event and including an invitation for a further discussion is, in my opinion, the best way to ask for a quote.
Here’s an example of a good request for a quote (I’ve changed the dates to keep it anonymous):
We’re holding a full-day corporate event at the Hyatt Regency Montreal on Tuesday, July 29, 2014. (The actual event is July 28-30, but we’ll likely only engage a photographer for the full day of July 29)
Can you let me know your availability, and standard dayrate? I would be happy to answer additional questions on the phone.
Jane Doe, Marketing Director, AnyEvents Company X
What I like about this approach is that it gets to the point, provides just enough detail for me to assess the value of the contract and what is required, but also opens up a conversation. Because the truth of the event photography business is that it is about relationships, just like any other business, even if the contract is only for a few hours or a few days. Opening up the conversation allows me to actually call and speak with my client to understand more precisely what is being sought and to offer up my advice based on years of experience covering all manner of events. But most importantly, this type of request creates an opportunity for me to introduce myself, as a person, not just a service, and engage my client directly. In most cases where the quote process begins this way, we end up working together on the event being quoted for and often future events as well.
If you are the one in your organization tasked with finding a photographer, you will likely run a google search and/or ask your friends and contacts for recommendations. Once you’ve narrowed down the list to the contenders, following the advice given in this blog can help save you time and more importantly, get you the best photographer for your job. I hope it helps and of course, I’m always available to answer questions or provide further advice – feel free to contact me any time.