Ask an Agent / Should I charge for my own equipment & lighting?
Ask an Agent is a regular monthly feature answering your questions about the business of photography– the photography industry’s first Agony Aunt! If you have any questions you’d like to ask a photographers agent please send them to email@example.com. Questions can be on anything to do with the photography business, such as photoshoots, marketing, professional practice, pricing, contracts, legal stuff – anything.
This month Lisa gives her opinion on charging a client for equipment and lighting if you own it.
Dear Ask an Agent,
Firstly I’d like to say thanks for all the useful information that you include in your Ask and Agent blog, it’s really helpful – keep up the good work!
So, I have a bit of a situation with a new client of mine which I would love to get your take on. They are a smallish design agency and I don’t think they’ve commissioned many shoots. They contacted me about a lovely brief recently, and, aside from a bit of lack of decision and art direction on the day, things went fairly smoothly and everyone seems pleased with how the shots have turned out.
Anyway, I’ve just sent them my invoice for fees and expenses, which came in just under what I estimated. But now they are turning round and saying they don’t want to pay for my equipment & lighting as I own it? They are citing the fact that other photographers they work with don’t charge for this? I haven’t exactly charged a huge amount, and I do own most of it, but I thought it was the right thing to do to charge some of the cost back to the client. So anyway, I’m not sure what to do, I’d like to work with them again, but I don’t feel this is fair? What's your view on this?
© Julian Love / Commissioned by Canon
Thanks for getting in touch and for your kind words about Ask an Agent, I will indeed endeavour to keep up the good work!
I feel your pain on the new client having an issue with your invoice in this way, but hopefully I can back up what perhaps you are already thinking.
Thinking about it, there are actually two issues here. One is the question of whether a photographer should charge for their equipment and lighting if they already own it. The second is the issue of a client questioning costs that they should have already agreed to before the shoot.
Let’s tackle the first issue. Whether or not a photographer owns his equipment and lighting himself or has to hire some, it’s an expected photographic expense on a photoshoot. Even if a photographer does own his own equipment, the cost to buy and maintain this is a business overhead. It’s an indirect cost associated with running a business and providing a professional service. It should therefore be charged back to clients, this is simply good business practice.
If you look at it another way, say you have one photographer who didn’t own his equipment and had to hire everything each time he did a shoot, but the client didn’t mind paying for this as it was a specific hire fee for the job (a direct cost) , and then there was another photographer who invested heavily in buying and maintaining his own equipment in order to provide a good service (an indirect cost) but the client had an issue with contributing a small percentage to this- then yes it’s not fair at all is it?
The second issue is that of a client coming back after a shoot and questioning costs which I assume they had seen before hiring you. If they had questioned this before the shoot was confirmed, at least you would have then had the option to walk away from the job if you couldn’t come to a mutual agreement. As with any shoot, you should get written approval of your estimate to fulfill the brief before you agree to do the shoot. This could just be in an email or an actual purchase order (P.O) if they have that system. Ideally you should also have attached a set of your business terms to your original estimate, these will help protect you from situations like this and limit your liability. Our terms and conditions include a clause saying ‘’no usage can be made of images until full invoice is paid’’, for example. Hopefully you did all this!
© Julian Calverley
So what to do now? I would say you just need to diplomatically explain all of the above to the client. It’s probably just a case of a client comparing this to their past experiences, and as you say they are relatively inexperienced with shoots and have in the past not been charged for equipment/lighting. If they lack experience this would in a way explain why they might not have even spotted the cost on the original estimate or fully appreciated that this needed to be discussed before the shoot. They might be completely fine once you have explained why it is industry practice to factor in a business overhead in the shoot expenses.
I appreciate there is also the question of nurturing a relationship with a new client and only you can judge how deeply you want to dig your heels in. Sometimes it’s better to be a little flexible if you feel it’s worth building an ongoing relationship - maybe offer a small discount as a gesture as a one off, if, for example it’s a genuine oversight and they haven’t passed the cost on to their client. Hopefully they will appreciate this and give you lots more work. On the other hand they might be the kind of client that you don’t want to work with regularly as they insist on never paying for equipment and lighting hire – that wouldn’t be fair on other clients and it just wouldn’t be good business practice in my opinion.
I think you’ll be able to gauge the right thing to do when you have a chat with them. Hope that helps, let me know if you need any more advice on this one!
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