The short answer is yes, for a variety of reasons elaborated on below.
One of the top sought after search terms on my blog and likely elsewhere on the internet is this: event photographer rates. While I like to think that what I do is a combination of skill, experience and art, the reality of a working photographer is that your rate is often one of the key factors in whether you get chosen for a job or not. Too high, and you price yourself out of the market, too low and you don’t get taken seriously. So what is a good rate for an event photographer and what, if any, flexibility is there room for on rates?
In my experience, the hourly rate is both the main tool for developing a quote and can vary quite a bit regionally. In Montreal, the range for professional photographers is likely between $75 on the low end up to $200 on the higher end. There is a range because not all photographers are created equally (some are brand new to the industry and just trying to get their foot in the door). Events are also seasonal, with “high season” and a “low season” when even a higher priced shooter may be willing to reduce his or her rate. Montrealers, and the many companies and organizations who host events here, like to do things in the fall (Sept – Nov) and spring (April, May). Summer weekends are very busy for wedding photographers, but mid-week, mid-summer (aside from big events like Grand Prix and the surrounding week in June), things can get a bit slower. Similarly, January through to March, in addition to being very cold in Montreal, is also a slower time of year for events. If budget constraints are a reality in your organization (and where aren’t they), consider booking your event in these slower times and you will have better leverage negotiating a good price, not just with your photographer, but likely venues, caterers, musicians and other event support staff too.
In terms of flexibility on rates, it is worth asking…but delicately. Without belabouring the details of how expensive it is to maintain top quality equipment in the photography business (not a client’s problem or concern, unless it’s not there), there is thought and justification for rates on the upper end of the range given above. Offering a ridiculously low budget that is far from the quoted range is insulting, and amateurish. I’ve dealt with firms who represent major global brands and put on events costing tens of thousands of dollars who try to get professional photography for less than they spend on the cocktail napkins and canapés. Squeezing your suppliers may work some of the time, but in the long run this type of cost-saving doesn’t save you money. You’ll end up having to constantly find new suppliers (wasting time and effort on search) and wind up with variable results, foregoing any kind of consistency in the product you offer. Which includes, make no mistake about it, the photos produced at your event.
On the other hand, if you are on a reasonable budget, it is okay to just say so. More often than not you can find agreement on price without haggling if your budget is realistic.
I have personally provided flexibility on my rates when it is clear that the client truly has a small budget but also values professional photography and is trying to meet me in the middle. I’ve accepted barters from companies and individual who have products, gift certificates, etc that can be offered in lieu of cash, usually costing the provider less than the face value to the recipient. I’ve also gladly reduced or even eliminated my fee altogether for charitable organizations and causes I believe in (I support child-related causes like the Montreal Children’s Hospital, Save the Children, UNICEF and others; as well as cultural and artistic organizations; and health-related organizations doing cancer research, or saving lives in conflict areas like Medecins Sans Frontières). In these cases sometimes a tax receipt can be provided, which is helpful, but even without, there is a good chance you can get a reduced rate. Just ask.
Can your event afford to not have great shots? While beginning photographers and pseudo-photographers may come cheaply, can they deliver on the quality of shots you need for your event to be judged a success? It’s too late to find out afterwards scanning through hundreds of photos of the backs of heads that maybe you should have sprung the extra $250 and hired a pro.
For small family gatherings, or events of personal importance, you may want to give an opportunity to a family member with a budding interest in photography, or hire someone whose rates are low or even free. And you may well end up with great shots. Everyone’s a winner. But if there are some missed moments, and an excess of poorly focused, dimly lit images, well, you can always gather the family again another time or consider hiring in a pro for the next milestone event.
But for professional event planners, whether in the B2C space or in-house corporate communications/event people running one of several projects all with tight deadlines, all incredibly important and with no margin for error there really is no excuse for not hiring professionals who will charge more. A professional will deliver, take a load of your back and make you look good. Guaranteed. That kind of peace of mind comes at a price which in the context of the overall budget for an event, is really quite reasonable.