Unlike private portrait commissions which can be planned months in advance, commercial photography jobs generally pop up without much notice, and clients are generally operating under extremely tight deadlines. Case in point: for the Cox Communications TV spot, I got a call on Monday afternoon, shot Wednesday morning and afternoon, and delivered the images Wednesday night.
When I’m under the gun like that, if I didn’t have a solid workflow, I wouldn’t be able to deliver, which means I 1) wouldn’t get the job in the first place, or 2) would botch the job and lose a client, or 3) would damage my reputation or (worst case scenario, eek) even get sued.
To avoid such a doomsday scenario – or better yet, meet and exceed my clients expectations, I follow the process explained below, every time. Previously, I explained how I manage my portrait client workflow to ensure that I can deliver proofs within 48 hours. Much of my commercial workflow mirrors that process, with a few key differences. So, if you missed that post, go read it first, then come back here for additional thoughts specifically related to commercial photography.
- Maintain Openings in My Calendar. In general, I prefer commercial photography over family photography, and commercial jobs generally appear with little notice and require full day(s) on location. Therefore, I maintain a low-volume, high-cost portrait business model deliberately in order to make myself available for last-minute commercial jobs.
- Respond to All Inquiries ASAP. I deliver estimates the same day they are requested, with very few exceptions. This requires that I drop pretty much everything else when I get inquiries, which in turn requires that I am never behind in my workflow on other completed shoots. In many cases, commercial clients are in a hurry and therefore, will hire the first photographer that provides a quote within their budget. It’s no exaggeration that it’s somewhat of a race.
- Note Deadlines and Embargo Periods. My contract stipulates additional fees for same-day or 24 hour image delivery, so knowing the client’s deadlines and communicating with them about this during the inquiry stage is important. Additionally, certain commercial jobs require confidentiality – an embargo period – for a period of time (i.e. until publication). Since under normal circumstances, I post client images on my blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Linked In, etc., recording this detail is important in order to protect myself from inadvertently getting my facts muddled and posting something before our agreement allows.
Negotiating Payment and License Terms
- Follow-Up. Unlike portrait jobs, for which clients either take or leave my fixed rate, commercial jobs have a lot more wiggle room. I can negotiate the total cost by tweaking time on-location, image quantity, usage terms, etc. Therefore, a follow-up call after delivering an estimate is vital. If a prospective client rejects my first estimate, in most cases, I will just never hear from them again unless I reach out. By following up with a phone call the day after sending an estimate, I show that 1) I am organized, 2) that I care about their project and want to work with them, 3) that I am willing to hear out any concerns and 4) that I am diligent about understanding the details of their project and desired outcomes. And, when the client chooses another photographer, it gives me the opportunity to glean valuable feedback about why.
- Complete Necessary Paperwork. Before shooting begins, I make sure both parties have a copy of the counter-signed contract with terms, that I’ve delivered my W-9 and invoice(s) to their accounting office, and that I’ve collected releases. Doing so protects me from payment delays, prevents me from having to remember such details on location, and is one less thing to do on the back-end.
- Scout Location. I’ve learned the hard way how important this is for commercial shoots. It isn’t always possible (i.e. when the shoot requires travel), but when a location is local, scoping it out beforehand is paramount. When possible, a scouting trip should be built into the project’s total rate.
- Verify Site Conditions. Again, I’ve learned the hard way in this area. It’s the client’s responsibility to ensure that their building, product, and people are open, available, and functioning when I show up for the shoot. However, I try to make it my responsibility to discuss this with them beforehand. If the client verifies before my arrival that everything’s in working order, that helps to avoid on-location delays, re-shoots, or missed shots.
- Reject the “Fix-It In Photoshop” Mentality. I work hard to get images right in-camera, on-location. Additionally, when time allows, I start culling bad (i.e. clearly out of focus or improperly exposed) images on-location from the back of my camera, which saves time off-loading and in post-production, which means the client sees their proofs sooner.
Post-Production, Product Delivery, and Wrap-Up
- Use Zip Files, Not FTP or DVD, For Image Delivery. SmugMug’s download all feature is faster, easier, and less expensive, for both me and the client, than waiting for a DVD to burn and ship, or for an FTP file to up/download.
- For Everything Else, my process in these areas is generally the same as it is for portrait jobs, with the exception of how I manage social media and portfolio updates. I’ll save those areas for another post!
In sum, to get images in clients’ hands in 24 hours, I have to systematize, study techniques, and stay focused! Continuous improvement is the key.