Tuesday, June 19, 2012

It Helps to Know Your Competition

I love bidding simple jobs against other photographers who I know may likely overbid those jobs. Often enough, those jobs end up mine. Now don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean I grossly underbid those jobs and am willing to work for stupid low rates.  It simply means I might be a bit more in touch with reality than some of my competitors might be and that I know some stuff about those competitors.

Here's a recent example: The gig is for shooting an actress for her portfolio/agency pics. Besides some head shots, she wants at least four looks, mostly on the glamour side, and wants the price to include the cost of a makeup/hair person experienced with painting faces and coiffing hair for glam shots. She also wants the price to reflect a half-day shoot. She will provide the shooting location.

The actress asked a regular, ongoing, client of mine to recommend an experienced photographer. My sometimes client, a producer/production manager type, sent an email out to a few photographers, myself included. Since I know who the handful of photographers are my client regularly hires, I figured I knew who those other photographers likely would be. It didn't matter that the email's recipients were all BCC'd. I knew by the wording of the email that a few shooters were being asked, "How much?" I also knew this because the email's "To" was to the "From" guy writing the email with no one else listed on the "To" line or on a "CC" line. That meant, of course, the photographers it was being sent to were being blind-copied.

One of those other photographers (who is guaranteed to be on my client's "BCC" list) is someone who always insists on having an assistant regardless of the job. This photographer generally wants between $200-$300 for their assistant. Also, the photographer insists on using the same MUA he/she always uses. The photographer's MUA is good, I'll readily admit that, but there's more than a few good MUAs out there. This photographer's MUA is also on the pricey side and the photographer insists his/her MUA be paid their full asking rate. No problem beating out that shooter on price. I don't need an assistant to shoot an actress for port/agency work. I also know plenty of terrific MUAs who will work for more standard rates, certainly rates that are at least $100 less than this photographer's MUA. Finally, this photographer always asks for a fairly hefty rate for themselves, i.e., heftier than mine. (Not that I'd describe my day rate as "hefty," but neither is it on the too-low side.)

The other photographer (whom I figured was on the BCC list) is someone whose rates always seem contingent on how much work he/she currently has booked. If you want to know how I know this, well, we often work for the same clients and those clients talk. On more than one occasion, I've heard or overheard clients mention that this particular photographer is always asking for different rates depending on how busy he/she is, even though the jobs may be quite similar.  Since I recently ran into this photographer and because he/she told me about all the work he/she currently has booked, I knew the price he/she would submit would be on the high side.

So, I submitted what I would call a reality-based price. I knew the actress wasn't a "money is no object" type person. I wouldn't be needing an assistant. I'd be hiring an excellent, albeit standard rate MUA. My rates are generally consistent, that is, they're pretty much the same (for the same sort of work) whether I'm experiencing lean times or fat times. While my rates are often about the same as the 2nd photographer's rates I mentioned -- provided that photographer isn't currently experiencing fat times --  they're always less than the first shooter I wrote about.  I would say that all of our work, craft-wise, is on a par with each others.

As you might have already guessed, the job is mine. It's mine because A) When it comes to price, I'm a reality-based photographer whose reality-rates are consistent; B) I know what the market will bear for certain kinds of work and/or certain types of clients; C) I know my competition in terms of their approximate rates as well as their personal quirks.

The pretty girl in the diptych at the top is Penthouse Pet Celeste Star. (Click to enlarge.)

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