Open Letter to Client Regarding the ‘Job Killer’ Quoted Rate


Hello Potential Client,

Regarding your last email in which you said:

“… if they (your client) saw the $700/ $1400 a day fee for the photographer they would dismiss the project immediately… (most of my client’s people make between $25 and $45 an hour)… Showing $100/hr was also a job-killer as you can imagine”.

Well sure thing. I see where you’re coming from… Let’s rewrite the quote to show the actual number of hours I will work on this job, instead of only those spent with my face in a camera. Maybe that will help.

It should show 10 hours in both locations (6 hours actually making images, 4 to set up and break down), plus 2 more hours packing and unpacking at my studio each day (I can’t leave $20,000 worth of equipment in the car every night)… that’s 12 hours.

Then there’s the drive time to both locations (1 hour, if traffic is good. Doubtful.). Now we’re up to 13 hours.

Add 3 hours of post-production for both of the three-hour locations (downloading, image selection, tagging, applying tonal and color adjustments, archiving, uploading to web galleries, and pre-print production, plus the certain conversations and meetings that will be required, and the replacing of materials used…). That’s 6 more hours.

This brings the total to 19 hours of actual time dedicated exclusively to this 6 hours of actually making photographs on each day. And that doesn’t reflect most of the time and expenses required for me to stay in business just so I am available and able to be hired… so we’re still being conservative.

You said a $100 per hour fee was a “Job Killer”, because people in your client’s business can only make $45 per hour. But unlike those who have jobs working for corporations (such as your client), I must personally pay for everything I use in my job… everything in my office and studio, from the carpet (and floor) under my feet to the computer and printer on my desk to the ceiling fan (and ceiling) over my head. Most hourly employees have those things provided for them in their place of employment. Their employer pays for those assets by billing their clients in a realistic manner.

Quotes are not detailed to the extent that you requested because there are hundreds of “hidden” expenses, commonly known as the cost of doing business, that are just not appropriate to show in a quote. Can you imagine the response to a line item for groceries, electricity or an oil change? Yet these are necessary items that must be paid for if I am to remain in business.

My business also requires a great many hours performing tasks that are not directly billable to anyone; preparing quotes, upgrading and implementing new technology (by necessity, not to be au courant at cocktail parties), finding new clients, maintaining existing accounts, preparing and disseminating marketing materials. Those websites, blogs and social media posts do not write and build themselves.

Then there are repairs to equipment and vehicles, shopping and laundry, cleaning the studio… and the sidewalk to the studio. Resupplying materials like seamless paper, gaffer tape, staples, batteries, ink.

I am my own IT department, my accounts payable and receiving, purchaser, sales staff and secretary. These are assets your client has available to them, that are not funded from their $45 per hour wages. What you call my “Job Killer” fee must pay for all those expenses and all those man hours.

Accounts Receivable and Payable, Purchasing, Marketing, Sales, R&D, Web Master, Maintenance and Creative staff at T.W. Meyer Photography,, Vp1618 LLC and Temp Wizard Enterprises
Accounts Receivable and Payable, Purchasing, Marketing, Sales, R&D, Web Master, Maintenance and Creative staff at T.W. Meyer Photography,, Vp1618 LLC and Temp Wizard Enterprises

And there are not forty $100 hours in my work week. Ever.

The kind of 21st Century photography involved in this particular assignment isn’t cheap. It requires professional dSLR cameras and lenses, battery-powered strobe lights with radio transmitters, WiFi routers and networks, laptop computers, printers, servers, custom social media pages and web galleries and all the little but absolutely imperative, techno-invisible wonders of modern imaging. The failure of but one of these can melt the whole illusion into a grinding flop. So I have to have two. Of everything. And they must be insured.

These hours and dollars have to be invested. I can’t stay in business without them and I can’t do them for free, either. While sitting in my house office writing this letter, money drains from accounts and expenses incur.

That $100 per hour “Job Killer” fee is a rock bottom barrier beneath which I cannot even break even. There is no retirement, 401k or IRA contribution down there. There is no car payment there. There is no health insurance payment there. No mortgage, no utilities, no night out on the town. Below those rates I’m not only losing any profit… I’m just going into debt a little slower than if I were not working at all.

I wish I could count on a consistent 40 hours per week at the wage your client makes ($45 per hour, you said?) and know that $93k was going to come in every year.

I wish I had two weeks of paid holiday, sick days and health insurance…

There are hundreds of students graduating every day as “photographers” who can under bid me for a year… maybe two. But eventually these realities also become unavoidable to them, at which time they become real estate agents or go back to being baristas… or they start billing at that “job killer” rate of $100 per hour.

It should really be $200.

In fact, I’ll be re-writing that quote now. Thanks for the inspiration.

Tom Meyer

About the author: Tom’s been using a camera seriously since about 1976 when he lived in Upper New York State. There he made his first picture with Kodachrome 25 and a 30-year-old Argus C-3 camera given to him by his father, a compulsive amateur photographer whose father was a compulsive amateur photographer. He was 23 years old.

Now he’s a geezer… A geezer hipster (in the 1950’s sense): charming, capricious in word and harmless in deed, prone to solitary activity but witty and gregarious at a party (lala!).

To see more of Meyer’s work and words, visit his website and blog, or give him a follow on Facebook and Twitter. This article originally appeared here.