I write an annual article to help photographers with one of the toughest parts of their job: pricing their work. In the 2016 version, I’m going to add some new elements such as a little advice for photography buyers. Another section I’m most excited about is the question and answer portion at the end. Each year I receive many questions about photography rates in the comments. This year, I address some of the common and interesting follow-up questions I have received over the past few years.
This article is my best post on photography pricing so far and I hope you find it valuable.
State Of The Photography Industry
The photography industry is evolving. There are more types of imagery a photographer can create today than at any other time in history. The future looks like it will contain more creative opportunities for image makers. However, there are more photographers than ever who can do the everyday work. This includes your uncle with a smartphone.
The camera is not the magic black box of the past. For the average photographer, doing average work that most any photographer can do does not take much skill. Such work is a commodity. To make a living as a photographer you must bring something new to the table — bring back the magic.
I am amazed at how many opportunities are still available for photographers, despite the evolution of technology and what it as taken away. If you are creative, work hard, and find a little luck, you can become one of the top ten percent earning photographers. These photographers actually make a full time living which can support a family.
The other ninety percent, in my estimation, need to combine their talents with other abilities to create a living. There is nothing wrong with not being a pure photographer today. Combining skills helps to keep the creativity alive and allows photographers to stay in the game longer.
There is more competition than ever, and more photographers are willing to give up their rights. The respect for copyright continues to diminish. This means, you need to be flexible, but not foolish. There is a reason people and companies want your copyright and you must understand why and protect yourself.
The future of image creation holds many opportunities. The still camera is only one tool in the toolbox of the professional image creator.
If you are a photographer, this section is helpful for you too. Understanding the concerns and perspective of the people who buy photographs makes you a better business person.
As with any buying decision, the number one consideration is fear. Fear of making the wrong choice. Photographers are expensive and how do you know if a photographer is right for you? How much should you pay for photography services? The bad news is the range is all over the map. The good news for photo buyers is there is a photographer for your budget, even free.
Writing this article as a professional photographer, I don’t recommend hiring free photographers. However, with our saturated market, there are many competent part-time and amateur photographers available. Yet, you must be willing to take on the risk. There is often a reason a photographer is will to work for free or cheap.
Why are professional photographers so expensive? The simple answer is most photographers don’t work 40 hours a week photographing. Plus, there is a lot of time involved after the assignment, such as, editing and post production (Photoshop work).
A photographer must consider the use of the photograph, production involved to create the image and the expenses of being a photographer.
A professional photographer relying on her craft for income is expensive. Photography equipment is not cheap. Cameras, lighting, support equipment and software is upgraded every few years. Professionals must also invest at a high-level in their portfolios, marketing and advertising. Not to mention, the costs of running a studio, crew and business. Still, not every photographer as a full load of over-head expenses or depends on their photography for income. Honestly, there are photographers who love the craft, have talent, but don’t have good business sense.
Below is a list of types of common categories of photographers, average rates (local use), and generalizations to help guide you in your quest to find the right photographer. Note that, when you hire a professional, the rate may increase due how you plan to use the photographs. For example, a photograph created for a local newspaper advertisement (local use) does not command the same fee as using the same image for a national billboard campaign. The value of the photo is higher and photographers do charge premiums for more prominent image use.
How Much Do Photographers Charge?
Hobbyist: Free or (under $100). There are many people who love photography, they have a good eye and like to share their passion. They have a job in another industry, and, most likely, don’t follow many of the best photography business practices, but they can get the job done.
Amateur: $25 – $75 per hour. These photographers are like hobbyist, However, they have a little more experience selling their imagery. For instance, they may have a blog or an online portfolio.
Different types of photography lend themselves to different pricing models. Event photography is generally based on an hourly or day rate. When it comes to commercial photography, some photographers, like me, charge on a per-image or per-project basis.
Depending on the photographer, the per-image pricing model is lower risk for the photography buyer, and rewards for the photographer for a job well done. Some photographers charge as little as $25 per photo, while top photographers receive thousands of dollars for a single photograph. I’ve added the average, local use, per-image range moving forward in this list. It’s important to note that per-image pricing adjusts based on production levels and the volume of images produced. Rates also fluctuate depending on location. For example, New York photographers tend to charge more per image than Detroit photographers.
Professional Photography Rates
Student: $50-100 per hour / $25-100 per image. As with all types of photography, the student rate varies, depending on their photographic discipline, industry experience, and interaction with, or assisting, professionals. Some advanced students do – and should – command as much as professionals. With that said, the photography schools are cranking out a lot of newly pressed photographers and many are trying to earn some income and attempting to get their foot in the door.
Semi-Pro: $50–$150 per hour / $25-125 per image. These are photographers who have ambitions to join the ranks of the professional. They may have another job or income source to keep them afloat, but which they aim to leave behind. Sometimes their additional skills are compatible with their photography. Many compete with professional photographers for jobs, but are not quite ready to jump in with both feet.
Professional: $75-$250 per hour / $75-$250 per image. We can argue that a professional is anyone who is paid at least once for his photography. For the purposes of categorization, a professional is someone who depends on photography to make living. More precisely, professionals who have a solid portfolio to represent their speciality.
Top Professional: $200-$500+ per hour / $250-$1,500 per image. Is there really a top professional? In any industry, there always will be an élite group. In the case of photographers, some of the top image makers command over $10,000 per day, or $1,500 per image.
Should The Buyer Own The Copyright?
As soon as a photographer clicks the shutter, she owns a copyrighted image. This is true with anyone who creates a photograph. Even your iPhone selfies fall under the copyright law. The best way to transfer a copyright is in writing. This is because when you pay a photographer to create images for you, the copyright doesn’t automatically transfer with the purchase.
Should you own the copyright? This is a big issue in the photography community. In the digital age, many photographers have become lax on the issue. When a photographer gives up his copyright, he loses the opportunity to make future income from the photograph, and, in some cases, forfeits the right to show the images in his portfolio. However, for the photo buyer, the general rule is if you don’t plan to resell the image, there is no need to pay extra to own the photograph copyright. If you do require copyright ownership, photographers often charge another 50%-100% for their work, provided they are willing to sell.
For your safety, make sure you have, in writing, what you can use the photographs for, and for how long. Make sure that the photography estimate or contract fits your short- and long-term needs. If you don’t know, you can request unlimited use of the images. Most photographers are willing to negotiate, so assume that she is, and approach the photographer accordingly. If you don’t want your photographs used for stock photography, you may request the images not be reused or sold. Photographers create additional income from their photographs, so there may be a fee for such requests.
Different areas of photograph have different average price ranges. Below are a few helpful ranges.
Wedding Photography: $1,700–$3,500. Wedding photography has a wide range. Beginners might only charge $500, while top destination pros command well more than $10,000 to get started.
Senior Portrait Photography $125-$300. This rate depends on many factors, such as the number of locations, changes of clothes, and reprint package that you chose.
Local Website Photography: $25-$150 per image. A small local business can find a photographer in this price range rather easily. The rate depends on many factors listed in this article. The type of photography and production required does play a role in pricing. It’s also more common today for photographers to consider your website traffic in their estimate.
I recommend before you hire a photographer on price, take a look at his portfolio, to see if the work that he creates is right for your needs. This rule is true at all levels of photography. It’s also worth noting that a great landscape photographer may not be the best choice for your wedding, or that a food photographer may not produce exactly what you want for your portrait. That is, knowing how to work a camera doesn’t mean that the photographer understands how to create what you desire. Once you narrow down the portfolios of the photographers you like, then make price a consideration.
Pricing Your Photography
By The Numbers: How Much Should A Photographer Charge?
One of the hardest parts of being a photographer is determining how much to charge for your work. If you work from a reasonable starting point, it will not be as difficult as you think. The key is to have a written schedule of prices from which to work, for each and every proposal. This way, you don’t have to re-invent the wheel each time you are called on provide a proposal. It’s not always easy, especially when you face new types of photographic opportunities, but over time, repetition will make this process much smoother, quicker, and easier.
How To Figure Out Photography Pricing
The photography industry regularly faces disruption and the business landscape continuously changes, so it’s good to check which of your prices you need to increase, and which products or services call for a lower rate. Hopefully, decreasing your pricing is a rare occurrence. However, sometimes it’s the right thing to do.
It is important to make sure you are covering your expenses, and meeting your income goals. To figure out how much to charge for your photography, try working backwards, giving yourself a starting point to understand your cost of doing business (CODB). Begin by asking yourself the following questions.
– How much do I wish to earn in a year?
– How much are my annual business expenses?
– What’s my marketing budget?
– How many days will I likely work next year?
If you are not established in your field, it’s time for a reality check. The fact is that the average photographer does not make a lot of money. Most photographers make about $30,000 a year. Of course, top photographers can make hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. There are some photographers who top one-million dollars. Like many of the arts, those in the top ten-percent make an excellent living, while the remaining ninety-percent struggle to make a full-time career in their craft.
You can get a job as a photographer. The average salary is much higher if you do. Unfortunately, good jobs are rare. It’s important to know that the salary statistics come from HR reporting, and don’t necessarily represent the industry, as a whole. The average photographer who works for someone else earns about $27 per hour.
Freelance Photography Rates
So why can’t freelancers charge the same rate? The answer is simple. Freelancers don’t work 40 paid hours per week. Their business is such that they are required to buy their own equipment and pay their own expenses. This simply is not a burden placed upon salaried photographers.
Many independent photographers come into the business thinking they have low overhead. To stave off getting into an expense-related hole, I recommend you double your estimate of what you expect to be your incurred expenses. Inexperienced photographers often only count the camera they already own, ignoring, or not recognizing the fact that success, by definition, brings expenses. The truth is that your expenses are higher than you think.
Take a look at this calculator from NPPA to help gauge your cost of doing business.
Don’t forget to add marketing to your estimate. It doesn’t matter if you personally network at events or use Google AdWords: marketing costs money. A good rule is to spend ten percent of the amount you wish to earn. So, if you plan to make $55,000 next year as a photographer, I recommend you spend at least $5,500 on marketing. I further recommend that you be smart with your marketing budget. For instance, spending your whole $5,500 budget on one industry portfolio book will most likely not produce the results you expect. You need to learn how to create a marketing sales funnel.
Remember, most freelance and independent photographers do not work 50 weeks per year. Some photographers, such as wedding photographers, only shoot on the weekends. An established commercial photographer will shoot, on average, only a few days per week. As they have not yet built their businesses, students coming out of college are lucky to have two or three photography jobs per month.
Lets say you wish to make $60,000 next year as a professional photographer. You’ve added up your expenses and it costs you $1,800 a month or $21,600 per year to run your business. Wait! Don’t forget $6,000 for marketing. This increases your total to $27,600 for business expenses annually. Now, add your $60,000 salary to the total and this makes your target photography sales goal $87,600 for the next year.
Note: This estimate doesn’t include production expenses, rentals, assistants, crew or location fees. It’s amazing how expensive this business can get!
Chances are you will work many partial days. The goal is to make as much money as possible, while you have the opportunity to make money. This is why I like use the per-image model. Hourly and day rates are best used for internal and estimation numbers. Clients have no need or right to see all your line-item expenses. They want to know how much is the photography project is going to cost.
Per-image-pricing is a good way to give clients a feeling of control over the project. Just as important, per-image pricing rewards you for a job well done. Let’s assume you plan to earn 50 days worth of assignments over the next year. If you have a more accurate number based on experience, use it instead. Divide the previously discussed $87,600 by 50 (or your own estimated figure) and you will see that, to meet your goal, you need to generate at least $1,752 each on those 50 days. Divide that number by ten to estimate your hourly rate. In this example, it’s about $175 per hour. That is a big difference from the salary wage of $27.
Using the same hours (500) at $27 per hour a photographer will make $13,500 a year. Your work – and you – are worth much more than that.
In 2016, per-image pricing makes more sense than day rates. This is because pre-production work, and the time it takes to create a good photograph require much less time than, say 20 years ago. Interestingly, although pre-production time is less, many photographers find post-production work much more time-consuming.
Unfortunately, many photographers do not consider post-production time to be part of their pricing system, and, as such, fail to factor in that time. This error can cost the photographer dearly. I’ve created a simple tool to help you calculate quickly how much you may charge per image based on a few criteria. The criteria I used are: production level (How much does it cost to complete assignments?); the number of photographs to be purchased; and the planned use of those photos. I designed the calculator more for corporate, commercial and advertising photography. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t find a good combination with this calculator for use with family or retail photography. The calculator also has options to add post or line-item expenses into your per-image price.
The calculator does offer different use options, such as amateur and personal use. Some may fairly argue that all pricing should be under the banner of professional. However, the fact is that not everyone is comfortable with that option. My goal is to encourage people to use per-image-pricing because it does help the industry at all levels.
Per Image Pricing Example
Here is my best example of why per-image pricing is better: You receive a call from a company that needs new photographs for its website. They want you to create 10 photographs, to be taken at their location. Let’s say you quote a photography fee of $2,000 per day and $500 for expenses. The total estimate is $2,500. First, you know they will choke at a photographer asking for $2,000 for one day of work. They don’t make that much money, so why should you? Unfortunately, most clients don’t realize that photographers generally don’t work every day, have considerable expenses, and spend a lot of time on editing, managing and performing post-production on the images.
Nonetheless, they agree with your rate and you go on site. You do a great job and complete the assignment by 1:00p.m. The client loves the photographs. Yet, there is a problem. They don’t feel they should pay you for a full day considering you finished so early. You can explain that you reserved the day for them and it’s in the contract. This doesn’t matter: No matter what you say, the client feels ripped off.
Maybe you did work a full day, efficiently completing 15 images, which is five more photographs than the client requested. Your client is happy, which is wonderful. Sadly, you receive no financial reward for your good work and productivity, if you stick to a day rate.
This brings us to the advantages of per-image pricing. Rather than quoting $2,000 for your fee and $500 for expenses, you simply tell the client you will charge $250 per each client-selected photograph. You now place the value on the photograph and not your time. The fact that you finish at 1:00 p.m. is of no consequence to the client and, more importantly, she loves the photos. Everyone is happy and the client sees no reason to adjust your rate. In addition, if you create more wonderful images than expected, the client may buy the extra photographs.
This system is one of they ways I stay in business in such a competitive industry. I let prospects know that I’m the low-risk photographer. Prospects are risk-averse, and they often make price the vehicle for lowering the risk of hiring a photographer. I place the risk on myself, and this does not diminish the value of my photography. I let them know if they don’t like any of my images they don’t have to pay for them. However, I suggest that that might be the case with my competition. I have confidence in my photography and I know that in most cases, clients will by more images, not fewer.
Yes, sometimes it does happen. I have to expect that if I put the risk on myself, I will sometimes lose. Sometimes an assignment goes wrong; a clients boss doesn’t like the direction, weather issues or a flaky model ruins the assignment. Fortunately, I have the self-confidence to ask if I can reshoot some of the images. If the client is not open to this idea, I move on. The fact is that the time I lost on the assignment was made up a long time ago, by other clients who did purchase additional images. Clients will come back months or even years later asking to purchase photographs from earlier assignments. It always feels like free money.
Pricing Question and Answers
Most questions have to do per image pricing. Some photographers want to know how much to charge for a specific project and other need help figuring out their cost of doing business. Below are a series common and modified questions I receive in the pricing article comments. Both the questions and answers might help you in your business.
Is per-image pricing right for me?
If you are a photographer who creates multiple images of different subject, products or environments; I believe this pricing model is for you. It places the value on the image, and not your time. This offers the photographer the chance to earn more income for a job well done.
I’d like to know how do calculate the licensing fee for commercial imagery
I develop my own standard for the use of my photography. You will have to work out your own rates. I generally have a standard rate for local, regional, national, and international use. A national premium starting point might be $2000. You can also use total distribution numbers to calculate your licensing rates. This is good for web only use. The key is to write your formulas down in one place so you are not guessing and questioning yourself each time.
Do you recommend charging for, and running, a post process before the client goes through the image selection process?
I know many photographers feel that it’s dangerous not to run your images through post-processing. However, unless your client is willing to pay for the time to work on the images, they may not use, I don’t recommend this practice.
I let clients know they will receive raw images for preview. If I feel it’s important to do “post” as an example, I’ll select a few images to use for comparison. I do this on my time, and not expect the client to pay for it. However, it can help me sell more images, and save some grief down the road. It all depends on the level of post-production needed.
A real estate agency is printing 2 flats I shot for them on their glossy magazine. No credit will be given, so they need to own them out-right. What’s a fair ballpark per image?
I realize it’s a tough fight. However, you might ask why they need to own the images. The only time someone really needs to purchase the copyright from you is when they plan to resell your image. Ask how long they plan to use the images. Chances are, it is only for a year or two. Offer unlimited usage for a year longer than they plan to use the photographs.
If they still insist on ownership, request portfolio use from them. For copyright purchase, a typical rate is usually 100% of what you normally charge. So, double your rate and I recommend you place a line item for the copyright transfer.
What is the standard rate for Web licensing? Also do you charge per image when licensing Web images or by bundle?
My best recommendation is to develop a rate that you are comfortable with per 10,000, 50,000, or 100,000 page views. The more traffic to the website or page, the more you charge. When shooting for the web, I prefer to charge per image.
My licensing is included in the price, and I specify the use in the estimate or contract. Depending on the location, web traffic and space used I’ll charge $200 – $1,500 per image. It is my experience that the average assignment is $300-$500 for a one-time print and web use.
What’s your thoughts on travel costs? Recently I did a commercial shoot that saw me travel over 250 kms but only shoot for half an hour. My thoughts are to charge a kilometer rate for travel and my minimum 2 hrs shoot rate. Should I be including a per hour travel cost on top of the kilometer rate with the per hour travel cost a percentage of my photography rate?
I usually charge clients via line item if they are outside of my metro area (50km). Travel and prep time is often charged at 50% your normal rate. However, there is nothing wrong with charging 100% of your rate.
How much do you charge for pictures from 9-2am as a DJ show photographer for the nightclub?
This is a case where per-image-pricing doesn’t work as well, unless the client is asking for ten images to use for marketing or advertising. Since you have to be there during the listed hours, I recommend you charge hourly. A good range to consider is $125-$225 per hour.
What your thoughts are regarding sharing your rates on your website? Some people say that you should not post them but others say that it could earn your potential client’s trust and not waste any time from the beginning.
I’m a fan of placing my rates on the website. I think it helps your photographic community and serves to pre-qualify prospects. It gives everyone needed guidance. Personally, I’d rather compete with local photographers charging 10% less than half my rate because they didn’t know where to start. Although, I’ve heard friends say that it places a ceiling on how much you can charge. Personally, if clients are happy with the prices I post, I’m happy.
My question is how would I charge someone asking for a fitness shoot. I am possibly traveling. She asked me how much to charge I’m thinking about the per image pricing but afraid I lose the deal. I’m fairly new to the area so this is pretty big for me at the moment. What do you think?
When I’m unsure as to how to price, I will get onto solid ground by asking a client if he has a budget, or, at least, a range. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been able to double what I thought I would charge, because I asked for, and got, that important information. Keep in mind that, when a client has a budget, he will not be upset that you use most of it. He will however, be steamed if you exceed what he has set aside.
If you know the client has a $500 budget and wants three images, charge $165 per image. If it turns out they want more photographs because you did a great job, they know it will cost them a little more.
Is it wrong to charge so much money using per image pricing?
If you are only photographing once a week is it really so much money? Independent photographers generally don’t work or photograph 40 hours per week.
My question relates to the multiple revenue streams that you mention near the end (writing, consulting, etc). Do you roll the costs of those activities into the photography CODB, or do you treat them as separate business units with their own revenue/expenses?
It depends on the situation. If it is all wrapped up into a single assignment, I might charge per project, and include all of the elements. In some cases, it makes more sense to line item out design, video, writing etc.
What if you must lower prices to compete?
Then you are not offering something which merits being priced higher than your competitors. I know that this may seem harsh, since I have to face the same questions regularly. I lose bids to people who charge more and less than my rates. When I lose a bid, I think it is important to ask why. Obviously, if lowering your rate gets you the job, but costs you money, it’s not worth it.
With a system [per-image-pricing] that doesn’t require a client to pay anything upfront, how do you keep the client from canceling on you if there is no deposit?
There is nothing wrong with requiring a deposit or a minimum number of purchased images. This is especially true if you have high production costs. Models, stylists, assistants and equipment rental companies don’t care the client didn’t by any images. They must be paid. You can request a minimum payment to cover these expense, when needed.
Although I love this per-image pricing strategy, I’m just not sure how well-received it would be within the architectural photography industry where the standard is to pay the photographer a day rate, which generally includes lighting, assistants, and post-production. Clients are used to paying one fee for the “whole package”, plus any additional advertising usages. In this particular case, do you think it would it be considered weird/non-professional to be the only one in my area charging per image?
Actually, architectural photography is one of the first areas where I used the per-image pricing system. It’s also where it works best for me. There are some many opportunities to create more images than the client requests. If architect wants ten images for $1,500, then charge $150 per image to get the job. I bet they buy more.
As far as being weird, that’s great. Stand out from your competition. It is certainly not unprofessional and a common enough practice.
I have an architectural client, who has provided me with a shot list of 16 photos they would like me to capture. But they want to pay for just the ones they use–so there’s the possibility of spending an entire day shooting, they only want to use 1 or 2… and I haven’t met my CODB. How do you deal with that scenario? In the past, I have charged a half or full-day rate, with usage extra. But they are balking at the day rate and want to pay per photo used.
I recommend approaching it by saying that, to cover your costs, you require the purchase of a guaranteed number of images. A reasonable person affiliated with a reputable company would understand. The risk is still low for them, and if you do a really good job, they might pay for 20. It happens to me all the time, especially when I do a good job for architects and interior designers.
The issue is overcoming HIS unenlightened thinking about the value and structure of pricing my skills and service as an image creationist. He’s said more than once he wants to create “value” by offering superior imaging, more files, and at lower prices.
There are some people you can’t work with fairly. The reason why is that they have no regard for your well-being, or your business. Doing business must be a win-win. Let other photographers go out of business working with unreasonable people.
About the author: Rosh Sillars is a commercial, advertising, magazine and corporate photographer based in Detroit, Michigan. He’s also a blogger, author of 4 books, podcaster, speaker, university instructor, and dad. You can find more of his work and writing on his website and blog. This article was also published here.