What I learned from Photographer Fadil Berisha

Back in the day, about 10 years ago, I was a hard a$$ working newbie. Correction, I was a hard a$$ working in-demand newbie. There were months I’d work everyday (including weekends, yes every day). I turned down nothing. I was exhausted, but exhilarated all at the same time. I thought I had arrived — BAM! I was working on ad campaigns celebrities, editorials, private clients everything. It’s was an amazing time. I was finally able to pay my rent and bills every month–WHAT?, that was huge. One day I was having a conversation with the amazing photographer Fadil Berisha, who I totally respected/trusted/adored.

He asked how are you? Oh, I am so busy blah blah blah. He asked me the magic question.

What are you making for all of theses great gigs?

I proudly say $50-$150 a day. He just looked at me and said “DeShawn your work is worth more than that, you’re just giving away your talent. He went on to explain how I would be crazy to continue what I was doing. He said “You don’t want to be known as the $50 makeup artist. Here I thought I was doing everything right when in fact I was setting myself up for failure. He went on to tell me to stop accepting such low ball prices, and set a proper day rate.

He continued “of course you’re in demand look at what they’re getting, and they don’t have to pay top dollar for it.”

I was so scared, he wanted me to turn down jobs. What? I was finally able to pay my bills–on time, and now I’m just suppose to stop making money? I went home and was just shocked. What am I going to do? I decided to take his advice. The very next day I got a referral call for an ad. It was an advertisement with 10+ models (male and female). Oh btw, the budget is low only $150 for the day. I said, thank you so much for the offer but my rate had gone up. I can’t afford to work for such a low budget, but I really do appreciate you calling. He said, Oh, no problem Rickie just raves about you. I’ll call you when I have bigger budgets.  I said, that would be fabulous, have a wonderful shoot, than hung up.

I just sat there totally stunned, I had just turned down work. I felt sick, but I stepped out on faith that what Fadil had told me was true. I did this for the next 2 months turning down anyone who didn’t want to pay my rate increase. I was beginning to panic cause bills are due, over due. Then all of a sudden I got a call, and it was from one of those people I had previously turned down. The conversation went: Hey DeShawn, I’ve got a gig for you, I promise its paying your day rate this time. I was shocked. I didn’t even ask. I had thought that if you turn down work it wouldn’t come again. AND you know, most of my calls went that way. I got my day rate and my terms for payment by asking for it. Now ain’t that something? 🙂

A few months later I had spoken to Fadil,  told him what I had done, and what the response was. Now I have a really great rate, and I get paid on time.
He said, of course people are willing to pay for something that is good.
If you weren’t as good as you are I wouldn’t have said a word, but you were short changing yourself. I know how seriously you take this business and you know where you want to be. He also told me, I had proven myself on all those other jobs (low budget as they may have been) and though I wasn’t getting what I should they could see how good I was. I had built up a solid reputation.

If you don’t ask you will not get

If you don’t ask you will not get. This is a business, they will not hand you a thing.
I set my day rate by finding out what other artists who were a few steps above me made. I decided to cut their pay in half, and take another 25% off lol. I knew for me there was still so much more to learn and grow. I would have to be a little more patient, the money will come. I could see by their sites my professional side should be upgraded as well (website/portfolio/cards/resume/bio/skills)

Clearly, I didn’t know when it was time to raise the rate for one huge reason. I wasn’t projecting professionalism, I was projecting desperation. I was so damn scared of yet another eviction notice on the door I was willing to take anything. Fear had controlled my destiny to become a professional artist on the level I’ve dreamt.

So how do you know when its time?–hhhhmmmm
Can I be honest, that is such an individual answer.

Some people say calculate your monthly bills, add in gas, cost of your kit, and then divide it by some number— Viola, you’ve magically got your day rate. What is never discussed in this formula is can your skill/expertise get you that rate? Most likely not–especially when you’re new. Lastly, can your market even handle that rate?


  • Do you have a book/website, do they need to be updated, is the work current?
  • How many hours do you devote to your business?
  • How good are you at your craft (truthfully)? You cannot go by what your friends/family tells you, you need a professional point of view
  • How long have you’ve been a professional artists?
  • How well versed are you in makeup?
  • How’s your attitude are you diva/divo?
  • Raise your rate to what from what? $100 to $2000 can you back that up?
  • Do you work on individual clients like brides, salons, special effects etc?–What’s your experience? Would they give you a glowing recommendation?
    With every rate there are levels of expectations. Hhmm, let me see how I can phrase this.


If your makeup is sh$t,  and you set your rate on par with makeup artists that can do makeup perfect blindfolded for the last 10-20 years, (THAN, you my dear) have just ruined what little reputation you have. Sorry to tell you, you’re not worth the money. You’ve got to be so careful not to let desperation, ego, and over-eagerness propel your thinking to the wrong decisions. This is a business after all.



  • Your rate should match your ability and portfolio
  • You need to know the going rates of artists that are right above your level in your chosen field of expertise. If you’re bridal, special effects, beauty, print you get me–Don’t compare yourself to an artist 20 steps ahead of you
    In other words don’t compare yourself to artists with full portfolios, crazy name dropping resumes, and amazing reputations All of that comes in time. Everyone started from somewhere, and from what I know, no has ever started from the top– especially not these days
  • Be realistic, be honest with your ability, and be patient
  • If you don’t know what your level is ask someone photographers, agents, other artists
  • Setting new rates shouldn’t jump so high that you’ve priced yourself out of your next level
  • My day rate went from $50-$150 to $300+++ The more I accomplished the higher the rate.
  • Lastly and most importantly–you should always know what the budget is before you even say yes. If you know in advance that the rate is crazy low you have the right to either negotiate a higher one for yourself or decline. You are in business, and you are a freelancer-don’t forget that.

On a personal note: I have many makeup angels in my career, Fadil Berisha is most definitely one of my biggest and earliest. I feel like he discovered me, and helped me grow my skills. With his love and patience (with my crazy hard-headed self) I grew into the artist I am today. Without his guidance early in my career I wouldn’t be writing this blog to you all today. THANK YOU FADIL I will always love and appreciate everything!


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The Singapore industry needs to read this.

Not just makeup artists, but those who hire them too. I can’t tell you the calls I get… I rephrase: The insulting calls offering lowball budgets. When I share my rate I am told way too many times: “X artist charges $80.” Sphincter says what?! I occasionally respond with: do it! Hire the $80 artist because I will never be that low (and haven’t been in 22 years) Some of those charging $80 are considerably underpaid. Don’t be afraid to charge what you’re worth! Clients will respect you and your work when you do and also in turn, you will give respect to your peers and industry because we then create a friendly competition that actually makes sense. As freelancers we all negotiate and I do understand rates in different countries and markets will shift but if you want to play with the grownups, pay and charge grownups rates.  (This does not include editorial rates which are dictated by the publication – which can also be ridiculously low here)