Magic words - "What's your rate?"

The beginning - where we all start This installment is about the ladder we all climb in this business of fashion, photography, makeup, and modeling.  There are ways to skip some rungs and move quicker but for the most part this is how it works.


In anything we do when we first start, we are clumsy, we haven’t found our style yet.  We are hard handed on things that we will eventually have a light experienced touch.  And we haven’t worked with many people yet to learn those ropes that only come from doing it.  Photographers struggle with lighting, post production, and communicating with the models.  Models are unsure how to pose or take direction.

In every way the first year of our work is the hardest yet monetarily worthless.  But it has to happen to gain the seemingly endless skills we need to actually be worth compensation.

For everyone, to start with, it’s all about building a good portfolio.  Yes, your first pictures are going to be far less than perfect.  No matter what end of the camera you’ll be on, the first year will not look good.  Those that get into it and in a couple months get all depressed that they aren’t a world class model or photographer are amazing only in their confidence.  It takes an enormous amount of work and continued growth to get to a professional level.

An intern once asked the long time photographer how to have a beautiful portfolio.  His response was, “Take pictures of beautiful people.”  This is true.

What you’ll find starting out is that the beautiful people who are experienced know their worth and will give you their rates if you ask to shoot with them.  If your a model the same holds true with pro photographers.  They will give you rates.

So, how do you know when you are getting there?  Getting to pro level?  Ready to quote your rate?

Well, I shot for 2 years learning, practicing, shooting everyone and anyone who would shoot with me.  I was never satisfied with my results and kept trying new things and improving and developing my style.  Then one day the magic words came to me.  Someone wanted to shoot and they said....

”What are your rates?”

There you go.  Of course this isn’t a signal to stop growing, learning, tweaking your style, and improving.  But, it’s an indicator that your work now has monitory value to others and you should start charging.

You never will get to the top of the ladder though.  There will always be people who are more successful who will quote you rates to work with you.  So it gets a little more confusing but you just have to weigh the advantages.

Skipping some rungs...

If you are a model and want to jump at least to the middle here’s a quicker way to the ‘pro’ point.  You simply have to have a better portfolio than the new ‘trade’ photographers can give you.  You need a pro to take your pictures.  And yes, that means you need to invest in yourself by paying a few great photographers for their images in your portfolio.  That, in turn, will get you to a time much faster where you will also hear those magic words...”What are your rates.”

If you are a photographer the same is true.  If you want a beautiful portfolio you need to shoot those beautiful people.  Those models that know what they are doing, know how to strike a pose that rocks your shot.  You’ll need to pay those people because they are there, they are real, they are pros.  Your portfolio will shine and in a much shorter time you’ll hear the magic words asking your rate.

I’d still suggest you train with at least a few trade shoots before hitting up the pros to help your portfolio.  You still need to know how to drive before jumping behind the wheel of that race car.

Of course, if you are going on location tomorrow with a crew of 50 support people to do a million dollar shoot please disregard the above advice.  You’re there.