Negotiating with Clients: 10 Questions you Need to Ask–Part 1
We're gonna talk about negotiations, which is something that is clearly one of the harder parts of our jobs, as in any business, is talking about money. My homeboys from the 10304... (audience laughs) and that is where I am from. They said it absolutely correctly, Because it is not personal when you're talking about business and money and if you make it personal, you are at a disadvantage because the people you are negotiating with, it is not. And it becomes very personal because we are attached to our work in a very personal way and we're trying to sell ourselves and our work and we are also fearful, a lot of times, that we are overvaluing ourselves and putting out a number that is uncomfortable for the client, who will immediately say, "no, go home. "I do not want to work with you if you give me that number." and it usually doesn't work that way. It usually is a push and a pull and a give and a take and you start to find a balance between the things that is obvious and the things tha...
t are not so obvious in a negotiation. But the first thing you have to remember is that if you take it personally, you will lose. It has to be cold. You have to be cold and icy when you're talking about money. If you feel anxious when you're talking about money, you need to train yourself not to feel that way because it's so hard because it is so personal, but the reality is if you show that part, you're at the poker table and you just started bouncing up and down in your seat when you got double aces. This is old content that will be new content for you because I've been using these 10 questions that we ask people when we're negotiating with them for a long time. Since the business changes, the nature of the way the questions get answered changes, so there are evergreen, as we say on the internet. What is the color of your underwear? Oh, wait, what's your budget? It's the same question 'cause nobody really wants to answer it. It's a very, very touchy question, but it is in direct relationship to the question that somebody wants to ask you, which we'll touch on later on is what's your rate? Well, what's your budget? Well, what's your rate? Well, what's your budget? Well, what's your rate? I know you are but what am I? Right? This is the back and forth. So when you start here, they already know that there should be more questions coming. Because when somebody just comes to you and says I want you to work for me and I want to pay you. What does it cost? Well, then, once you've gotten through all these questions, you should have a better understanding, both as the client and as the purveyor of service as to what we're talking about. This is all about what are we talking about? What exactly do you want from me? How do you want to use all this? What does it mean? And it's never as simple as hi, I like your work. What do you cost? It just doesn't work that way. Ask the question even though you most likely won't get an answer. If you do get an answer, don't believe it. Because the first thing when you ask this question is everybody cries poverty. Everybody cries poverty. I got no budget. I got no money. We're really working on a tight whatever. It's always that because that's the first step in the negotiation is to scare you into giving them a number. Don't. Don't give them a number 'til you get to number 10. So, when we're on a food shoot, whether it's a small one or a big one, we want to know who's preparing the food because this is an essential aspect of how the food's gonna come and be presented on your table to be photographed. And if you don't like the answer as to who is cooking, then offer them one to where you like the outcome because if somebody who is preparing food on a food shoot has never done it before, and they're cooking as if they're in a restaurant or they're cooking as if they're at home, there are gonna be mistakes that are gonna be made and that food is not gonna look like you want it to look on set. So this is a hugely important question and it's in conjunction with the next one, which is who's styling the food, 'cause it's not always the same person. Now a food stylist will most certainly be in the kitchen, directing what's happening and that person may very well have their own cooks that work with the food, but there are oftentimes when I'm on a job where the person cooking the food is not experienced enough to be handling food that I'm going to be shooting and I bring my stylist with me to direct that situation. It's not always comfortable because people get very personal about it. The reality is, it's my reputation on the line, I want to know who's cooking that food that I'm gonna have to take a picture of. And as you saw with the pizza earlier, sometimes those results aren't exactly what you want. So ask the question. I want to know, who's cooking, who's styling? Is that answer me? Okay, fine, that's more money. Let's talk about that. Always, always, always ask those questions.
Can you talk to us a little bit about your approaches for choosing people who cook your food and who style your food. Let's start with each.
Yes, so food stylists usually have websites, and you start too look at the kind of food that they've worked with before. So, I'll give a perfect example. I'm working on a shoot for a company that does frozen food. We have to basically present food that normally comes frozen in a box in an appetizing way. So I need somebody, specifically, who has worked with frozen food before on the commercial level, to even just make the client feel comfortable that we are in the right realm. So you can't just bring any old stylist to a job with that kind of specific needs. And another one I did in the last couple years, was canned food. That's even harder than frozen food. You need somebody who specifically understands how to work with that food. So it's important to ask the question because a lot of times when you're working with high-end clients, they already have a stylist in mind. And then you're really not... And that's on this level, you probably have nothing to worry about 'cause as long as your client is happy, that's great. But if you are putting together a cookbook shoot or you're out in a restaurant or all those things, and you don't have an answer to that question, it's important to make suggestions as to who you think might be good or offer the opportunity for your stylist to get in and work with the chef or work with the person who's gonna work with the food. It could be an author, which very often that can happen too when you're working on a cookbook shoot. So, those things are important. So when we've had a couple of cookbooks in particular, they answered to who was cooking and who was styling was two different people, and the stylist came from my end and the cook came from the client end, because it was a cookbook where the person wasn't a stylist, but clearly had lots of food experience, but they needed to be coaxed into that.
And maybe you were already getting to this, but then what makes you happy versus unhappy in terms of the answer for who's cooking?
I think clearly, somebody who has a lot of experience, or somebody who's willing to work with my stylist because if it's neither of those things, that's probably gonna end up in food that isn't photographable. It's delicate, right? You have to be sensitive to the idea, especially when you're working with an author who's really worked hard on a book and doesn't really have the budget or wants to prepare the food to let them know that preparing food for camera is very different. I've worked with stylists who have cut their teeth in television on food T.V. and then they move into print, and that's a really different animal because on food T.V, a lot of that food is quick. Get it, done. Out, get it out on the- They don't have a whole lot of time to linger on it. And getting something ready for print, particularly food styling for print, is exhausting because you have detail. The detail has to be minute. Every little thing. Every cut. Every splash of sauce. Every drip. All of that has to be precise and that's not necessarily the case with a lot of television work because you don't see the food that long. It's in and out of the set in seconds. You don't get to sit there and stare at it for 10 minutes like you do a really nice food picture. The experience level, the kind of things they've worked on before, how you work with that person. Listen, there are diva photographers, and there are diva stylists and there are times when you put those two people on set together and it is ugly. I've avoided those situations because I do my research and I know who I can work with. I also come at those situations and then put my ego in my pocket because I know I'm dealing with another artist who happens to have a resume and a background of their own. Working with stylists can be a delicate situation and you have to be sensitive and it goes back to communication like we talked about earlier, is that you need to be in charge, but you need to be respectful of the fact that there are other artists working on your set who are contributing to your work. But at the end of the day, you need to remember it's my work. It's got my name on it. We need to come to an agreement to understand that if I'm not happy, we're gonna do it again. Once everyone understands themselves, and it's not ego-driven, then it becomes a much easier working environment and then you end up working with the same people over and over again because you've already established and done the hard work of building the relationship and then it becomes a much easier situation.
What's the priority of bringing in a stylist for people that are just starting out in their career?
You need... I think, clearly, as the jobs get bigger and you start to understand that, okay now that I'm doing both the cooking and the styling, I feel overwhelmed because I have a client on set now and I don't want them to see me doing both jobs because if I'm working alone, that's fine. But if I'm working with other people on set, like clients or... I just don't want them to see me working that way because it doesn't project a whole lot of professionalism when I'm doing it all by myself. It also doesn't offer them a whole lot of confidence that your focus is on what they need. So, as my career grew and I had to start to work with other people because my jobs were getting bigger. I was having people on set. I was in other studios. I couldn't do my own styling, but back to the multitasking aspect of things, I knew how to do the job, so when I get in the kitchen on a shoot and I see something being plated or I... It works both ways. I will walk in and say I don't like that. Can you please change it this way? And I also make sure I always go in and say, that looked awesome, thank you. That looked amazing. Because everybody wants to be recognized for what they do and sometimes the ancillary players on photo shoots, like stylists, get forgotten in the moment. They get a credit or whatever, but in the moment, hearing from the photographer that was amazing, that looked great, thank you so much. It goes a long way in building those relationships on set. Did that answer the question?
And can you talk a little bit, I know we're not getting, I don't think we're getting into the weeds here. Michelle Fidman would like to know is there a different cooking process when you're cooking for the camera?
Absolutely, no question about it. Because certain things lose color and shape as they cook longer. I'll give you a turkey for example. Turkey's really hard. When a turkey skin looks ready, take it out of the oven. Shoot it and put it back in later and then eat it. (audience laughs) because the more you cook a turkey, the fact is the skin, the flesh underneath it starts to shrink down, which means the skin gets wrinkly and it no longer looks plump. So if you take it out a little early to photograph it, so it looks beautiful on the outside and you get the shot, then, clearly, we're not gonna waste the food. We'll put it back in the oven. We'll cook it off and then we'll serve it and cut it up or give it away or whatever. Vegetables, a little undercooked. Pasta, a little undercooked. Everything is a tiny bit undercooked so it doesn't get washed out. So it doesn't lose shape. So the pasta doesn't break. All of those little pieces matter because when you're plating a pasta and then all of a sudden, half of it's broken because you over cooked it, you can't make that shot anymore and your stylist needs to understand that. And they're trained to do it that way. And it doesn't necessarily mean that the food goes out in the garbage because it's undercooked or it's not used. Clearly, we can rescue that. And I know a lot of people are sensitive about the idea that we waste a lot of food in food photography and we try really hard not to do that. Where to shoot, where's the shoot? You know? Is it in the studio? Is it in my house? Is it in the backyard? Is it at the restaurant? Where is it? We, actually, we were sitting around at lunch and we were discussing this very part of this is that depending on where the shoot is, it really affects the pricing. Not just the fact as if you're renting a studio, but also the type of gear you're gonna need. It also speaks to the idea of creative when we're talking about do we have daylight? Do we not have daylight? Can I put lights in the space? What kind of depth do I have in the room? Am I stuck in the corner? Do I have a window to look through? What can I use in my composition? Where we're shooting is an enormously important piece and sometimes it's completely overlooked in the conversation because it's sort of like, oh, well we're just gonna shoot at the restaurant. Okay. That solves one problem. You don't need a studio. But it certainly opens up the door to all kinds of other problems, if you don't have what you need to make the pictures that are necessary. The other thing is if they want you to shoot in a kitchen, or a restaurant, when can you do that? Is the restaurant open? Are you working around staff? Is the chef ready to throw knives at you because you're getting underfoot? All of those things matter, so if you're not prepared to ask that question and get an answer that you know you can work through, or at least have a plan for, you enter into a minefield, especially when you enter into somebody else's space and especially when you enter into a working space, because it's not always just the fact that it is inconvenient to shoot there. Sometimes, it's dangerous to shoot there. There are people walking around. There's food being prepared. There's fryers, there's greasy floors. There's a lot of weird stuff that happens in kitchens that, really, photographers have no business being in there, so if that's part of the job, that has to be discussed ahead of time. And then at the highest levels, the studios you're shooting in and renting. Okay, what kind of a studio do you need as a food photographer? What's the primary thing you need on a food shoot? A kitchen. You know how many studios have kitchens? Not that many. Especially ones that you wanna shoot in. So when you're talking to a client about these things and they're used to doing other kinds of shoots or they've never done a shoot before, letting them know that I need at least six weeks' notice just to book a studio with a kitchen that I would like to shoot in is really important in the negotiation. It's really hard to get a good food studio. In New York City, there are not that many left. The lot of them have gone out of business, so they've consolidated. A lot of the prop shops have kind of gone the same way. They've become consolidated into studios or they have closed entirely. So the where of this question is complicated and it requires you to understand that landscape and what it means to do food photography in a space and if it's at your house, you need to charge money for it. That is not free. It's not part of your rate. It's none of those things. It is wear and tear on your house. You're assuming liability. You're doing all sorts of different things to create food photography in your house for a client, or even their house. All of it is all about that conversation, and if you're shooting it in a space- Look, I've done all of those things. Every one of them. Shot in all kinds of weird places. If you're shooting outdoors, what kind of equipment do I need to do that? And there are lots of times when that happens. Do I have that equipment? Do I need to rent that equipment? All of that goes into the negotiation and if you miss it, and all of a sudden you're on set and you need a 12 by 12 scrim on a frame put up overhead of a picnic table and you don't have it? You're not gonna get it on the set and if you do, it's gonna cost you money and you just missed something really big in your shoot.
Do you have an anecdote about a particular shoot that you had negotiated the location and you got to that location and it either wasn't what you had expected or that you really had to scramble to really get the job done?
Yeah, I mean it's happened on a couple of occasions, but most recently, I was asked to go and shoot in a restaurant, which I usually say no. But I said, oh you want to pay me that? Okay. (audience laughs) and I went and I did it and it was... The communication broke down along the way and we were not welcome in that space. The chef was not happy about us being there because PR didn't technically clear our scouting, where we wanted to be in the restaurant. And about halfway through the shoot, I got gear all over the place. I got customers coming in. I got a angry chef and it was just... This would have been so much better served in another space and because the communication broke down as to the answer to that question, we didn't get what we wanted, so it became uncomfortable and that's not what you want to be. You don't want to be in a situation where your client or yourself or both are really uncomfortable on shoot.
How much in the weeds do you go when you're writing up that contract where it comes to accessibility?
It depends, because sometimes you recognize right off the bat that this is gonna be challenging 'cause you know that the personalities you're dealing with fit into a category of... You know that when you go into a chef's kitchen, he's not gonna be happy about it, unless he's the one who invited you. So you know already that you're gonna have to smooth that relationship over beforehand and hopefully you can get access to that person so you can put them at ease. I'm here to make you look good. I'm here to make your food look good. And if you don't get that kind of access to that person, there's constantly a buffer between you and that person, that can sometimes lead to complicated relationships on set. Remember what I said earlier. No surprises. I don't like surprises on my sets and that, unfortunately, sometimes is an unavoidable surprise where you get there and that person wasn't properly prepped as to what you were doing. I mean this happened to me when I was a field photographer for the Times, where I had to go out and do the restaurant review, and sometimes you come in and they couldn't be happier that you're there, and sometimes you go in and everyone is throwing rocks at you. I've had customers angry at me. I've had people threaten me. I've had all kinds of crazy stuff happen in restaurants because people don't want to be bothered when they're eating. People don't want to be photographed, especially if they're not with somebody they're supposed to be with... (audience laughs) and I had that experience twice. I lined up for a shot and somebody was in my periphery, over here and I saw that guy getting anxious. And then all of a sudden, he got up and he approached me, and he was like, "I don't want you taking my picture." I was like, "I'm not taking your picture. "You're over here. "I'm not taking your picture." So I got back right in the same position and he got up right in my face. He said, "I told you I don't want my picture taken." and then of course, nice guy from Staten Island became New Yorker and that situation resolved itself in a much nicer way, but one to my advantage. So, all of that plays to this idea, is that no surprises. Get involved. Understand what you're talking about. Know the players in the game because you're gonna end up in a situation where you're uncomfortable, if you don't ask the question. The propping aspect of this is important as well, and I say this because sometimes it obviously falls to the photographer to hire the propper, but if you don't communicate that to the client, they don't understand that that is a line item. That not only the person is a line item, but the things that person brings with them is a line item, and those things are very expensive. Renting props is not cheap, particularly tabletop surfaces, which is the stock and trade of food photography. So if you are a photographer and you have space and you have your own collection, it is something of a side business that you can make money on. So if that answer is we don't have a propper, do you? And your answer is, oh, I got a propper, and that propper is me. A lot of times you have your own props, and especially on smaller jobs and cookbooks and things like that, you have the opportunity to make money on that. And you can have a helper, an assistant who's propping with you and it doesn't necessarily have to be somebody who's a full fledged prop stylist. Now as the jobs get bigger, clearly, you can use your collection as a rental house and hire a stylist and those are different increments of getting bigger in the business, but having your own props also serves another purpose. It's that your style is represented in your props as well as in your photography. So you want to make sure that you can ask that question and have an answer for it at the same time. Oh, I know exactly what we should do with this. I have some really great props in mind. I'm doing that right now as I'm negotiating a job. I work with this brilliant potter who makes hand-thrown plates for some very famous restaurants and he and I are working on a project together, and his stuff is perfect for my next ad job. So I'm selling him hard to the client. And they appreciate that because they know that you're thinking about it. They know that you're really invested in it. So then when I hire my prop stylist, not only am I gonna use some of my own props, I'm gonna direct that person to deal with this potter to get the things for the client and we're off and running. But this is an expensive line item and you cannot underestimate what it is and if you're providing those props, you need to be renting them to your client. You don't just provide them as part of the package unless you're considering the actual price. And look if you have a good, regular client, you build it into your price for them, but it has to be built in. It can't just be part of your rate. It has to be part of the package, and when you write out an invoice for them, you write it out as a separate line item. Prop rental, x. Prop stylist, x. And you move on from there. But it's important because you can get buried in cost with props, particularly if you really care about it and you put a lot of energy and time into it and then all of a sudden you're not getting paid for it, it's just not fair. So you have to be aware of it.
How often do you actually create a prop from an artist for a particular shoot? Is that something that you do?
Hire an artist to either make a special something,
whether it be a potter or...
I don't know that I--
I'm not finding the right word.
I don't know if I've actually hired people to do it, but I have definitely, I'm aware of certain people who have certain things, so I will rent things from different places. I don't necessarily buy everything unless I'm something I know I can use over and over again and that's a good piece of advice about propping, is you should have props in your collection that are universal and usable a lot, and if you get things that are very specific looking, you can't use them that often and they take up space.
Let's maybe talk about the one-man bands out there. Maybe starting off doing their own propping, can you help drive them to places where you like to acquire props, procure?
Yes, and prop acquisition has become part of my lifestyle. It's not just what I do for my job. I collect things that I love, that I want to use in my work, but I might collect them anyway, even if it wasn't gonna be used in my work. So flea markets, yard sales, garage sales, estate sales. I very rarely buy props in stores. A lot of the stuff you see is all repurposed from other places, like that thing right there is an antique. I got lots of antique stuff in my collection and moving through my prop collection, you'll see this thread of neutrals, not shiny. Lots of antiques. Nothing looks like it was bought yesterday. Sometimes the linen, that's probably the newest thing that I have in the whole package of collections. So an old piece of wood and a really nice plate with no shine on it and a beautiful napkin that was probably really expensive. And that's the most expensive thing on the table. That's the thing that pulls it all together. This is a passion too. As a photographer, for me, the propping is a passion. I love the food, but I love the stuff you put 'em into, because it really makes a difference. When one of the bigger prop houses in New York City closed recently and decided to liquidate their entire collection, I filled up a cube truck and brought it to my studio. (audience laughs) It was auction too, so I won seven lots and I had so much stuff that I had to rent a cube truck and then figure out where I was gonna put it in my studio. (audience laughs) and I still got some for sale, guys. If you want any surfaces, come to Scrivani Surface Warehouse. (audience laughs) (laughing) it's so much stuff. But I got some really beautiful stuff, and I was able to push that off onto other photographers who obviously knew the stuff. It was a very famous prop house, so they were saying, "hey did you get that surface?" and I was like, "yeah, I got that. "You want to rent it?" Yeah.
Cool and another question. Do you have any guidelines for what you, and we're not talking a lot about what you charge for particular things, but this sort of interested me. When you're gonna rent a prop, what are your guidelines for how much is a cutting board gonna rent for?
Yeah, that's important because when you are renting from prop houses, there's a fairly tight structure as to what people rent stuff for and honestly, it's really about what that prop actually cost to replace. So it's like a percentage of what the prop costs to replace. So my more expensive plates that maybe run between 80 and $100 a plate to buy them new, I'll rent that for maybe 30 bucks for a three or four day rental or a week rental. I think it's usually about a week. Or if I have something that's just not replaceable. It's a very expensive piece, and if it breaks, it's done. It's one of a kind. I'll rent that at a much higher rate. So, it's all about the relative value of it and how much it would cost to replace if it broke because invariably, props break.
Yeah, so I had a question about, so if you are doing the propping yourself, not that you're doing that now, but if you were, then you build that into the price as well as a separate line item or you would just do that propping too?
Well if the job is a one-off, I would do it by line item, saying you rented three surfaces, 10 plates, blah blah blah and go down the line and do it that way. If it's a repeat client that you are working with regularly, I would create a flat rate and just use all the props at your disposal and give it to them that way because if you're working with clients regularly, you don't want to nickel and dime them to death, but if you are working with people in a one-off manner, you want to get what the value is, so it's important to make that distinction between long-term clients and short-term clients.