How do you decide when a low fee makes a job not worth taking?
Often a brief comes in from an international brand, a huge company worth billions and yet, their bottom line for the project seems unfairly low. I get it; I’ve been there, so how do you decide when to take/not take one of these? It’s probably easier if I just talk about two times I said yes to such a situation.
Years ago, whilst in London, a brief came in to my agent for a Levi’s project. It was a small lookbook, the budget was minimal (I’m being polite here). My agent advised me to pass on this, suggesting that it was beneath me, I agreed, but before I could let it go, I enquired as to who the design company was, the stylist and the creative director involved, plus who would see the work?
The design company’s art director reached out to me, showed me the concept, I liked it and thought it had potential, so I agreed to shoot. The two days were long, the shot count was high, the budget was tight, but I really liked what we shot, in fact, I still like it today. That’s important. We’re artists. If you create something that stirs an emotion in yourself and others, you have done your job—yes it’s great to get paid to do it but stay with me here.
Six months after the project launched, the ad agency BBH in London approached me and offered me two Pan-European billboard campaigns for Levi’s on the strength of what I did with the small shoot before. Needless to say, the budget was a little better.
“Just Do It”
More recently, a good mate of mine was about to shoot a television spot for Nike. We were chatting as always about how cool it is to collaborate and so we discussed me shooting a stills campaign along side him shooting the TV spot. Once more, a global brand apologized and said they had a shockingly limited budget for my stills shoot. Once more, I was advised they were insulting me and I should walk away, but my friendship with the director and belief in our shared vision won out.
I flew myself to Los Angeles, went straight to the set and shot the two ads for AeroReact featuring Olympic medalists Ryan Bailey and English Gardner with a stripped down crew and minimal lighting rig. Again, I was just happy to have some cool, powerful images of amazing athletes. A few weeks later we hear that Nike loved the images and asked to buy the rights to use them globally in stores.
As photographers we have a right to demand respect and therefore justified payment for our work, however, a smart photographer plays the long game. Huge companies become huge through smart decisions and by not taking risks. A global brand is not going to approach a photographer they do not have a relationship with and hand them a massive assignment off the bat. They need to know they can work with you and you can deliver. Bottom line: smaller projects are how you gain trust.