It’s standard practice for commercial photography clients to ask photographers for their ‘day rate’. Most estimates that photographers provide start with a day rate before going on to production costs and expenses.
Now I used to think I could simply take it for granted that anyone involved in the industry would be able to appreciate this isn’t exactly what a photographer — or any independent creative professional, for that matter — working on a short-term project earns for every single day of the year.
I’ve realized that the world of photography is in so much flux that this isn’t a safe assumption and now I much prefer to provide a rate for each job. My reasons can be best illustrated with an example.
Here’s a fictitious estimate I’ve made up with arbitrary numbers, though its structure is one I actually might use for a similar brand photography shoot of medium complexity.
Yes there are numbers involved, but do stay with me and hopefully our eyes won’t glaze over:
Based on the above, what’s my day rate?
Is it £10,000 / 3 days = £3,333 (~$4,400)? Does that mean in a year with 250 working days I could be making £3,333 x 250 = £833,250 (~$1.1 million)?
Or is it a third of the Creative Fees component i.e. £3,500 / 3 days = £1,167? Meaning I could pull in £291,750 a year?
Or is it somewhere in between?
The real answer is that my effective day rate here comes to just under £400 per day, and that still doesn’t equate to £400 x 250 = £100,000 (~$133,000) a year.
Please allow me to explain.
From the end client’s perspective, this estimate represents a total price of £286 ($380) per image (admittedly before some other costs such as models’ fees in this example) for 35 commercial images specially produced for their brand, which I’d say is excellent value, especially given the generous usage license on offer.
For the sake of comparison, this is a small fraction of the licensing fees quoted by Getty Images for similar usage of images that haven’t been storyboarded and produced specifically for the end client’s brand.
From the photographer’s perspective, the fees (i.e. excluding all expenses owed to third parties) in this example has three components:
Creative and Licensing fees: £3,500
Recce fees: £1,200
That’s £5,925 for 15 days’ work. Wait a second, how did we get to 15 days from a three day shoot? Let’s see how many days the photographer might spend working on this:
Pre-production: 2 days
Recce: 3 days
Travel: 1 day (not counting locations within 2-3 hours’ driving distance)
Shoot: 3 days
Post-production + review: 3 days (wider selection of images prepared for review)
Retouching: 2 days (assuming approx 30 min per final selected image)
Communicating about project: 1 day (cumulative)
Only some of these days will be directly billed. Do note that 15 working days means three calendar weeks.
£5,925 for 15 days’ work equates to £5,925 / 15 = £395 ($525) per day, which should be pretty good, correct?
Except that this isn’t the photographer’s net income; this is still the gross profit i.e. what’s left after deducting direct production costs from the invoiced total but not operating costs.
Let’s say the costs of running a photography business as a fairly tight ship amount to about £2,000 a month or £24,000 a year. This includes a number of components including marketing costs, office space, photography and IT equipment depreciation and replacement costs, vehicles and transport, training, insurance, etc.
£24,000 a year / 250 working days amounts to £96 ($128) per working day.
If we deduct this from the £395 per day figure we had above, we end up with £395 – £96 = £299 ($397) which is the photographer’s ‘salary’ for every working day of this assignment.
Now £299 per working day should result in an annual income of £299 x 250 days = £74,750 ($99,250), which isn’t too bad for an experienced professional living the dream even in one of the most expensive cities in the world, is it?
Maybe, though this assumes the photographer can consistently fill their diary with similar back-to-back assignments for 49 working weeks a year and find extra time during evenings and weekends to undertake the hundreds of other tasks required to run their own business, including wearing multiple hats ranging from web designer to financial director.
The reality of the availability of photography work (and client budgets) is far, far lumpier than that. It’s all less rock-n-roll, more almost-on-the-dole.
As I said, the figures in the example above are quite arbitrary and involve some rounding off. Some of you reading this might consider them either wildly optimistic or naively modest, but they aren’t a million miles away at all from real commissioned commercial photography jobs.
On the other hand, the same hypothetical client could also likely obtain estimates from other photographers quoting a flat day rate of £300 ($400) for the project with no other line items.
What would their ‘take home’ pay look like? And can a commercial client afford to trust their brand in their hands?
This isn’t a question that I can answer for anyone, though hopefully with this post I’ve managed to shed some light on why I don’t really use the term ‘day rate’ much myself.
About the author: Shariq Siddiqui is a London-based portrait & lifestyle photographer for advertising, commercial, corporate and editorial clients. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. To see more of his work, head over to his website or follow him on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. This post was also published here.
Image credits: Header illustration based on photo by rawpixel