Ask the VR Photography Experts

Q: The following responses are typical of how a genuine client might respond to your client validation questions. Where do you go from here?

Dear Mr. Highton,
1) Who is the client and what are the images I'll be creating being used for?
The client is a furniture manufacturer. The images will be used on their web site.
2) What are the environments/locations of the shots desired?
The shots need to be done in several showrooms around 150 miles from your office. They are all in the same building. There is no restricted access, but the shooting has to be done during office hours. Meetings with customers in the showroom can not be avoided or cancelled, but they will be planned so that they will not interfere with the photography.
3) What are you, or the client, needing to show about these large spaces? What is the message about them that you want to get across to your audience(s)?
The client would like to show visitors the various styles of furniture available.
4) What usage do you or the client need of the images... i.e. term or duration of use, media (web site, CD-ROM, etc.), distribution or audience size, etc.
We will use these nodes on the clients website. They will be published for as long as the site will be online - at least 2 years but perhaps longer. We do not know sizes yet, since the site is still being designed.
5) Are there budget or other limitations I should be aware of?
I assume your fees are based on the number of shots we ultimately need. We are needing your rates in order to determine what our budget needs will be and what we can afford to do.
6) What sort of time frame are you looking at to complete the shoot and have finished VR scenes delivered?
The site needs to be live by the end of September. We need the panoramas shot sometime in August and delivered fully assembled by the end of the month.
7) Do you have a pressing need for the images to be delivered in iPIX format, or do you want to consider other panoramic formats, as well? (Much of your decision here will depend upon your desired uses for the completed images beyond interactive VR scenes on the web, such as for print reproduction, etc.)
The client has no plans to publish the panoramas except on their web site.
8) Finally, what other photographers or agencies are estimating this project for you? How were you referred to my VR photography work?
We have asked two other photographers for an estimate. We came across your name via a search engine.
You can ask the same sorts of questions in a phone conversation. If the person on the other end of the line "hems and haws" over the answers, or doesn't really seem to know what they are wanting, you simply tell them to get back to you with answers when they are ready. If they're serious about working with you, they will. If they're not, you won't waste your time any further.
They requested a general estimate. Multi media production companies often have to make rough estimates which involve work that has to be done by third party suppliers while the exact amount of work to be done is not known in detail yet. So they are looking for a ballpark figure, not a quote. They may simply want to know if they should be talking to their client about $200 per node or about $1200 per node. They may have already gotten quotes from the two other photographers and are pretty sure that they can get the work done for $xxx per node.

A: You've presented a very accurate set of responses from a typical serious client -- one who may not fully yet know what they're looking for (most don't when they first contact you), but who are serious about doing the project with a professional. They may not have the budget, nor even the job commitment themselves yet, but they are a serious potential client. Their responses qualified them as worthy of further time on your (or my) part.

I was very tempted to continue the dialog on your responses, but it is a rather time consuming process from here out. Instead of a verbatim sample dialog, I'll simply highlight my approaches.

I'd press for further details on the showroom, and suggest that we arrange a scouting visit (especially since we still have two months before the shoot). If that was not possible, I'd ask for previous photos that they might have from the showroom, and get contact information from the facilities manager in order to determine lighting types and whether we might be able to set up or adjust supplemental lighting the night(s) before the shoot.

I would further discuss the advantages of shooting during non-business hours, so that we have a bit more control over where and when we are shooting. A big concern would be that if client meetings are going on throughout the showroom as he describes, and we have to shoot during these times, we may wind up with perfectly good, but useless images to the client, since we may not be able to get permissions or model releases from the other parties involved in the in these meetings. Here in the U.S., such releases are required for all commercial uses.

Furthermore, I would suggest that some of the furniture might best be shown in object movies (shot under studio lighting conditions), which could be linked from the panoramas we create in their showroom. Do they want to consider this level and quality of user experience before they spend what might be a lot of money on a less-adequate effort?

I would tell them that I don't usually charge by the hour or day, as some photographers do, but rather by the job and the client's usage of the work. I explain that my estimates for such shoots are based on three elements:

  1. my creative or shooting fees
  2. the actual costs of doing the shoot (expenses) and
  3. the value that the images provide to the client based on the client's usage (term of use, distribution, reproduction size, etc.)

Since the client doesn't yet know what their usage will be (but knows it will be web use only for at least two years), I'd tell them that I can give them a ballpark figure of $X,XXX or $XX,XXX for the simplest version of the project with a three-year web only license. However, this is only a preliminary figure based on the limited information they have so far, and that as we work out further specifics and finalize the approach they prefer, I will be able to give them an accurate itemized written estimate.

By this time, we've usually talked with one another via phone calls, or perhaps have met in person to discuss the project. The relationship is now personalized, even though we have not officially worked together yet. By this time, they have probably decided whether they want to work with me or will prefer another photographer. They will be comfortable telling me whether my price will work within their budget, or approaching me for other options... and I will be willing to inquire about other possibilities that they might prefer. We have subtly moved from the inquiry or exploration stage into actual negotiation over the details and price of the job.

Many times, even after all this work, the project goes away for one reason or another. That's just part of business. However, I have planted a seed for a future business relationship with this art director or client. He or she will very likely think of me when another such project comes up, or their company finally decides to move forward with this one.

It's actually a rather fun process once you've done it a few times, but you have to remember that you'll ultimately lose a lot more jobs than you'll succeed in getting. It's usually not your fault, nor the client's fault... it's just that things don't always come together as one hopes. Be prepared for these and move on.

Be in your business for the long term. I'm constantly amazed at how often I am called by a client I almost got to work with years ago, who remembers me and calls me again. A few have said, "you know, I was really disappointed that we couldn't use you on that project three years ago, but we've got a great one going now which I want to get you involved in on the planning. You'd be great for this one and I want to find a way to hire you."

Even your efforts on the jobs that go away can pay off down the road. That's why we build business relationships for the long term.

After enough experiences with choosing the lowest cost and lower quality service providers, clients tend to look forward to working with individuals or vendors they know they can count on, and will often plan their future budgets to allow them to do so. It's much more satisfying to be the one they come back to, rather than one they leave.

- Scott Highton