Bidding on Food Photography Jobs

Bidding on a photography job can be one of the most challenging aspects for any photographer. Every job is different. Bid too high and you price yourself out of the game that’s obvious. What most newcomers don’t understand is that if you bid too low you can also knock yourself out.

There is a sweet spot for any bid. Unless you are so unique and your vision is what the client is looking for at any price, there is a fine art to bidding. I do not get every job I bid on but I try to understand the reasons behind not having it awarded. Over the years I have found that it comes down to this. If you bid an honest price that is somewhere in the wheelhouse then chances are you will walk away with the job.

A client wants to know that they are in good hands. They see your portfolio and know you can do the work but unless they are repeat customers, you have to prove you can do the job none the less. The old joke about the art director who is trying to get a job drawing animals. The client is looking through their portfolio and sees every animal under the sun except a zebra. He turns to the art director and says these are great but can you draw a zebra. The first rule to bidding a job successfully is instilling confidence in the client. Let them know they will be well cared for and you will do the job well, on budget and delivered without any issues.

The second rule to bidding is to cover all your bases. An experienced creative team will know what is involved in a big shoot and you better know as well. You have to put together an estimate. It has to not only include photography but usage agreements, props, stylists, food expenses, craft service, crew meals, expendables, transportation, messengers, post production and tax where applicable. If you don’t know how to put together a professional bid you will not get the job. There are software packages like blinkbid that really make it easy. It has pre-programmed  and saves a lot of time. Unless you are bidding on lots of jobs however, making an estimate sheet from MS word or some other program is just as acceptable.

The third rule is know the budget. If a client wants a 3 day shoot but only has enough money  for 1 day then you should know that. As I stated in a previous post there are fixed costs to every job. If the budget is less that fixed costs there is no profit. Unless you want to work for free or loose money they you have to build in a profit for every job. You can manage expectations for clients through your experience. Some clients know the ropes and some do not. Ad agencies and PR Firms work with photographers all the time and know what to expect. People who have never hired a photographer before need a little more guidance. It’s all good you just have to know who you are dealing with.

The fourth rule is listen to your gut. I have a good feeling for bids. I can assess a client and know pretty much what I think I should charge. Ask a lot of questions in your discovery with the prospect. How many shots are there, what type of food, are there sets involved. From those answers, you can formulate a price. If the client wants 30 shots on complicated sets it’s most likely a five day shoot. If they want 30 dishes on white seamless it could only take 3 days. You have to know what you are dealing with before you can make an intelligent bid.

The last rule is be flexible. If a client really wants to work with you but your price is out of their budget to see what you can work out. By remaining flexible it shows the client that you are easy to work with. If you want the job, can make a profit and see potential for a long term relationship decide what you can live with and compromise. Some thing to look out for when bidding.

You will bid on jobs you never had a chance for because someone needs 3 bids, but that’s OK. Always bid. The other photographer could have a falling out and an art buyer will remember you if they like the work. Recently I was used by a person with very low integrity to get the photographer she really wanted to drop his price. She hired me to do a few little shoots to make the other photographer nervous. While I did a great job, she really loved this other guy and wanted to work with him. What she did not like was his price. He was charging a lot more than the package I put together. She allowed me to shoot a few really small jobs. I actually did a reshoot for free because they changed the packaging after the shoot just to seal the deal. I really thought I nailed it. What happened next was she played me. We were just about to start this huge project when she pulled the switch. She got the other photographer to drop his pants and I was out. 20 years of dealing with clients professionally and I still have a lot to learn.  My gut told me something was not kosher but I wanted the project. The reality have I had no chance of getting the job but I was professional about it. The owner had no integrity, she did not even have the courtesy of calling me directly.

If you don’t get a job always ask why. You need to find out why you don’t get jobs in order to refine your approach.

Good luck. If you figure out a sure fire approach to bidding share it, I am always out to learn new things.

Photographer Bill Brady