How Much Should You Charge?
Each year, I write and update this article for photographers. In my opinion, this post is more important than the latest lighting technique, Lightroom plugin, or posing technique for professional photographers. Why? Because understanding the concepts within this article allows you to continue to do what you love over the long term: photograph. This information gives you the tools to help you run a profitable photography business.
Pricing photography is one of the most difficult duties involved in being a professional photographer. If your price is too high, you might lose the opportunity. If it’s too low, you leave money on the table, and if you regularly accept and complete jobs below your cost of doing business, you will go out of business.
More on the cost of doing business is found in the following video:
[Link to subscribe to the pricing channel]
There are many ways to approach photography pricing, and we explore the various angles and related topics, to help you determine the best pricing solution for your photography.
If you are interested in past year versions of this article, here is a handy list.
- How much should photographers charge in 2017?
- How much should photographers charge in 2016?
- How much should photographers charge in 2015?
- What should photographers charge in 2014?
- How much should photographers charge in 2013?
State Of The Photography Industry
The End Of Competition
Good news: You don’t need to worry about other photographers when it comes to your photographic business, because the new reality is that everyone is a photographer at some level, or in some capacity. There is so much competition in photography it makes the concept of competition irrelevant. Certainly, understand what other photographers are doing. Be inspired by great ideas, concepts, and work. Then, apply them to your craft. However, there is only one competitor for you to concern yourself and compete against. You.
This means that you can charge your rate, and not worry about what other photographers are charging for their work. If you play the low-price game, and chase photographers and clients playing in this arena, you will not be a professional photographer for very long.
The biggest difference between a $500 photographer and a $5000 dollar photographer is not their location, experience or the equipment they use. It’s the brand they build. Your brand is your reputation. How do people view your work and you?
Your goal is to attract the people who want you as a photographer, because you bring something new to the table, and this makes them willing to pay your price. As a rule, I turn down most bidding situations. If I bid against other photographers, in most cases, I lose. This is because the potential client is not looking for my high-quality product; they want the lowest price that they can get. This is the world of commodity photography. In most cases, it’s not worth my time, and maybe, not yours.
I don’t want client looking for a photographer. I want clients looking for me.
This doesn’t mean you can’t be a commodity photographer. There are successful photography companies that play the volume game. However, their studios are run like factories, and the joy of photography is limited. The work is all about production.
In my opinion, the industry is stable, yet ever-evolving, as evidenced by the digital disruptions of the last twenty years. Digital cameras, amazing new software and social sharing change the way photographers approach the craft, deliver images and make money. Yet, it has given photographers more opportunities than ever before. We are in the heyday of photography.
One of the biggest struggles a photographer faces is to understand the value of their work and copyright. Here are two basic facts to consider: 1. No one has your eye and, 2. If your copyright isn’t valuable, then why are others who would take your work trying so hard to get it?
If someone does not have time or skill to create a needed photograph, your ability to create such an image is valuable to that person. If a company wants your copyright, this means ownership of your image has great value to them. Your time is valuable, your expertise has value, and your experience as a person and photographer add to the equation. If you want to make a living as a photographer, you must charge enough to keep yourself in business.
The future of photography holds many opportunities. The still camera is only one tool in the toolbox of the professional photographer. The industry continues to change. Today, a photographer does not need to be a pure photographer to earn respect as a photographer. Many excellent photographers combine other skills to their craft, such as, video, writing, design, and education. In many cases, it is mandatory that a photographer bring something new to the table which adds value to what they do. In 2018, it’s okay to be a photographer and something else. What is your and?
I believe that it’s helpful for photographers and photography buyers to understand both the process of buying imagery and the expectations of those with whom they do business. If a photographer understands the perspective and concerns of the people who buy photographs, it makes her a better business person in the long run. When photography buyers are more informed about the industry in which they work, the buyer can make more savvy decisions.
The act of hiring a new photographer is a risk. This is one of the most important things a photographer can understand when dealing with a potential client. As such, the photographer’s job is to minimize this risk.
Often a photography buyer hires a photographer to create photographs for a one-time event. If the photographer does a poor job, the opportunity for future business is lost.
The fear of loss, the fear of making a poor photographer selection, and the fear of paying too much are all considerations for the photography buyer. Photographers are expensive. How do you really know if you’re hiring the right one?
The good news for the photography buyer is there is an abundance of photographers to select from in the market. The bad news is that there is a large selection of options, and this fact can be overwhelming. Fortunately, if you make an effort you will find a photographer with the style, value and price for your budget.
When you search for a photographer, you must consider your priorities. What style are you looking for in a photographer? Is experience important to you? An experienced photographer can pull off a miracle if things go wrong. Maybe a hot young photographer with a fresh vision is what you desire. No matter the order of your priorities, you should develop a vision of how you want to end-product to look.
I acknowledge that I make the next statement from the perspective of someone who makes a living as a photographer, but my position is this: Do not retain the services of a free – or even a cheap – photographer for important events and projects. This, despite the fact that, with such a saturated market, there are many competent part-time and amateur photographers available. Again, though, I remind you that there is often a very good reason why someone who takes photos is willing to work for cheap, or free.
Why Are Professional Photographers So Expensive?
The reality is that photographers don’t work a tradition 40-hour work week. A full-time Independent photographer is a contractor who needs to pay his off-camera time and expenses. Photography equipment is not cheap. Cameras, lighting, support equipment and software must be upgraded every few years. Professionals also invest at a high level in their portfolios, marketing, and advertising to find you. Most people don’t see all the work that goes into the post-production process. This is the time after the creation of your images. Editing and post production can take hours. The cost for this time must be covered, and is often included in the price of your session.
Imagine if you only worked for only an average of ten hours per week. You would not be able to survive on $25 an hour. Photographers need to consider the cost of doing business, their salary and the investment needed to acquire new clients (i.e., marketing). You may believe this is not your problem, and it’s not. However, if a photographer is to continue to stay in business and serve you another day, she must consider the calculations that comprise the cost of doing business.
This doesn’t mean you can’t find a photographer for less. Many photographers work part-time, and are not dependent on the income generated by photography. Many full-time photographers complain that this circumstance is unfair. Unfortunately, like in most business, sometimes the customer is willing to take the risk for such a discount.
However, if you have a specific vision, you may want to consider paying the price for the photographer who has a portfolio which closely represents the type and quality of work that you desire. If the photographer can not demonstrate that he knows how to manifest your vision, I would look elsewhere. Don’t hire a wedding photographer to shoot food, or a food photographer to create senior portraits. At least, don’t do it without portfolio proof.
Pricing Photography: How Much Do Photographers Charge?
Some professional photographers – usually veterans – claim that the value of the image has little to do with the status of the photographer. In other words, a student, semi-pro and professional should charge the same. This is because the value of the image to the client is the same, regardless of who took the photo.
However, every person or business values photography differently, and has a different risk tolerance. There is a great supply of photographers, and many individual styles to chose from in the photography market. Unfortunately, not all photographers understand their value, and not all clients value photography.
Below is a list of the types of common photographer categories, 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 to 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 greater, and a professional photographer does charge a premium for images used more prominently.
Hobbyist – Free, or under $100: There are many people who love the craft of photography. They have a good eye and like to share their passion with their community. Many of these people have a job in another or related industry, and, most likely, don’t follow many of the best photography business practices. Check out their work and see if it matches your vision.
Amateur – $25 – $100 per hour: These photographers are often hobbyist. However, they have a bit more experience selling their photographs. For example, they may have a blog or an online portfolio.
Professional Photography Rates
Different types of photography lend themselves to different pricing models. Event photography is generally based on an hourly rate. When it comes to commercial photography, some photographers, like me, charge on a per-image or per-project basis. Below is a video created with Pascal Depuhl, who uses a hybrid model of both day rates and per image pricing.
Depending on the photographer, the per-image pricing model is a lower risk for the photography buyer. On the other side, per-image pricing rewards for the photographer for a job well done. In other words, the photographer has an incentive to do a great job. Some photographers charge as little as $25 per image, while top photographers receive thousands of dollars for a single photograph. Below is the average range for local hourly and per-image rates. It’s important to note that per-image pricing is adjusted, based on production levels, and the number of photos produced. Rates also fluctuate based on region. For example, photographers in New York City may charge more per image (in some cases, considerably more) their counterparts in Fargo, North Dakota.
Student – $35-90 per hour / $25-115 per image: As with all types of photography, the student rate varies, depending on their photographic discipline, industry experience, and interaction with, or assisting of, professionals. Those who have experience studying under professionals tend to have a better understanding of the photography industry. Some advanced students do – and should – command as much as full-time professionals. With that said, the photography schools graduate a lot of new photographers. Many are trying to get their foot in the door and make their mark.
Semi-Pro – $50 – $160 per hour / $50-150 per image: These are photographers who have ambitions to join the ranks of the full-time professional photographer. They may have a job or income source to keep them afloat, however their aim is to combine their current talent, or leave the old job behind. Sometimes their skills are compatible with photography. These include talents found in such positions as designer, web developer or videographer. Many compete with professional photographers for jobs, but are not quite ready to jump in with both feet. Some are happy to create photographs part-time, and will integrate the photography into their full-service package price.
Professional – $75-$300 per hour / $75-$375 per image: We can argue that a professional is anyone who is paid at least once for her photography. For the purpose of categorization, a professional is someone who depends on photography to make a full-time living. More precisely, professionals who have compiled a solid portfolio, experience, and a commitment to represent their photographic speciality.
Top Professional – $250-$500+ per hour / $300-$2,000 per image : In any industry, there is always an élite group. In the case of photographers, I consider the top 5% to be in this group. The fact is that some of the top image-makers command more than $10,000 per day, or more than $5,000 per image.
Different Specialities of photography have different average price ranges.
Below are a few helpful pricing ranges.
Wedding Photography – $1,500 – $3,500: The rates in the wedding industry vary greatly. Beginners might only charge $300, while a top destination professional wedding photographer can command more than $10,000 to get started. Wedding photographers who develop a brand around their work command higher fees. As such, it is important to understand your needs and desired photography style before you search for a wedding photographer.
Senior Portrait Photography $125-$350: This rate depends on many factors, such as the number of locations, changes of clothes, and reprint package that you chose. Senior (high school) portrait photographers depend on referrals more than most photo niches. Make sure you interview your photographer before you hire her. Remember: planning ahead makes for a better senior session.
Local Website Photography: $35-$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. So, check out your website analytics for the month to be prepared.
Portfolios help you make the best decision, so look at a photographer’s work before you consider price. Make a judgement as to whether the work that he creates is right for your needs and fits with your vision. This rule is true at all levels of photography. It’s also important to note that an excellent wildlife photographer may not be the best choice for your wedding, or that a product photographer may not produce the style you want for your portrait. Knowing how to work a camera doesn’t mean that the photographer understands how to create the photographic vision that you desire. Once you narrow down the portfolios of the photographers you like, then make price a consideration.
Who Should Own The Copyright?
When the photographer clicks the shutter button, she owns a new copyrighted photograph. This is the case for anyone who creates a photograph. It is federal law. Even your smart-phone selfies fall under the copyright law. It’s the same law which protects painters, authors, and software coders.
A copyright is valuable. When it comes to who should own the copyright in a commercial exchange, the default answer is the photographer. In most cases, there is no reason for you to need to purchase a copyright from a photographer. The biggest reason you may wish to purchase a copyright is because you plan to resell the photograph. Copyright ownership is not necessary unless you need full control of the images to a generate income. However, if you need exclusive rights for a period of time, “first-right” of publication or request the images not be resold due to proprietary reasons. In these cases, you can negotiate with the photographer for temporary, exclusive, or long-term rights. This is why photographers ask how you plan to use the photographs. Typically, if you request a copyright purchase, or, as some people call it, a buy-out, then there is an additional charge. It’s common for a photographer to charge 50-100% of the original photography fee.
For your safety, be sure to include, on both proposals and contracts, permission to use photography. State the scope of use for the photographs, and for how long they may be used. Make sure that the photography estimate or contract fits your short- and long-term needs. If your the answer is not known, then unlimited use of the images is an option. Note, however, that photographers earn additional income from their photographs, so there may be a fee for requests, which limits future income opportunities.
Pricing Your Photography
You’re not alone, setting a price for your photography is not easy. Honestly, I write articles about pricing, and regularly price my photography, and still find situations where I have trouble determining a reasonable number; sometimes, I even get it wrong. There is no perfect price, and there are about as many opinions about pricing as there are photographers. Placing a price on your photograph and related services is often frustrating.
Don’t worry about how other photographers price their photography. Yes, make note of standards for your type of photography, within your region. However, it is more important that you live by the no competition motto. Focus on what you need to charge to stay in business and build a community of fans who which to hire you because of your personalty, style and reputation — Your brand.
We all do it. I recall receiving a referral early in my career to create a semi-pro sports team group portrait. It was my job, if I wanted it. All I had to do is give them a quote. When I talked to the team public relations professional, I was, and seemed unsure of what I should charge. After about five minutes, I offered a fee of $50! The person on the other end of the phone was gracious. Yet, she immediately knew I wasn’t the professional they were looking for to create the team photo. She thanked me for my time and suggested they may use me down the road for other opportunities. I never received a phone call.
Yes, $50 was a great price. Too good. As a professional, she understood that it is a bigger risk to call the team together, use team resources and have me create a photograph which would represent their brand. She was right.
Pricing is hard. However, if you work from a predetermined starting point, it is not as difficult as you may expect. The key is to have a written schedule of prices from which to work. Keep the list on your desktop or in an app like evernote.com. This way, you don’t have to re-invent the wheel each time you are called on provide a new proposal. Photographers often run in to trouble when they face new types of photography or situations they are not familiar.
Never give a quote immediately. Always provide the quote in a follow-up, after you’ve had time to consider the full scope of the project. I immediately respond to any new inquiry, but I commit nothing in the initial conversation. However, I let the client or prospect know that April (my representative) will follow up with more questions. Almost every time I give a quote without thinking about it or asking enough questions, I regret it.
If you are a beginner or experienced pro, it’s important to review your pricing process, and make adjustments annually. I, and others, have found this to be a good practice.
How To Figure Out Your Photography Pricing
The first step is to understand your cost of doing business (CODB). If you haven’t reviewed the video at the beginning of this article, I highly recommend it here is a direct link. It doesn’t mater what other people charge. If you lose money every time you take an assignment, you will not be a professional photographer for long.
I regularly hear photographers say the photography industry is not what it used to be, they are correct. The photography industry regularly faces disruption and the business landscape continuously changes. even photographers twenty years ago where complaining. Photographer twenty years from now will still complain. We are in an ever evolving industry.
Due to the none stop changes, it’s good to annually check which of your prices need adjustment. Some need an increase, while others call for a lower rate. Hopefully, decreasing your pricing is a rare occurrence. However, sometimes it’s necessary.
It is important to make sure you cover your expenses, and meet your income goals. To figure out how much to charge for your photography, try to work 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 want to earn this year?
- What are my personal expenses?
- How much is my auto, health and life insurance?
- How much should I save toward retirement?
- 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 the photography field, it’s time for a reality check. The fact is that the average photographer does not make a lot of money. The average U.S. photographer makes about $34,000 per year. Of course, top photographers can make hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. However, you are in the top 10% if you make over $76,000 per year. There are some photographers who do top one-million dollars, however, these are the rock stars in our field.
If a company hires you as an in-house photographer, the average salary is much higher (statistics). Unfortunately, good in-house photography 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 median wage for a photographer who works for someone else is about $29 per hour.
Freelance Photography Rates
So why can’t freelancers charge $29.00 per hour? The answer is simple. Independent photographers generally don’t work 40 paid hours per week and have more expenses. A small business professional is required to buy their own equipment, pay expenses, insurance and retirement. This is not a burden placed upon company photographers.
It’s common for new freelance photographers come into the business thinking they have low overhead. Don’t fall into this trap. I recommend you double your inital expense estimate for a more accurate picture of your annual expense budget. New photographers often only count the camera they already own, ignoring the fact that success, by definition, adds new expenses. The truth is that your expenses are higher than you think.
Review this calculator from NPPA to help gauge your cost of doing business.
You want to grow your business, so don’t forget to add marketing to your estimate. It doesn’t matter if you depend on referrals, or use Google Ads: marketing costs money. A good rule is to spend ten percent of the amount you wish to earn. So, if you plan to make $65,000 next year as a photographer, I recommend you spend at least $6,500 on marketing. I further recommend that you be smart with your marketing budget. For instance, spending your whole $5,000 budget on a single industry portfolio book will most likely not create the results you desire. You need to learn how to create a marketing sales funnel.
It’s important to reinforce the fact that most independent photographers do not work 52 weeks per year. Some photographers, such as wedding photographers, only work 50 photography days per year. An established commercial photographer may photograph, on average, only a few days per week. As they are not established, students coming out of college are lucky to have two or three photography jobs per month.
Let’s say that you wish to make $65,000 next year as a professional photographer. You’ve added up your expenses and it costs you $1,900 a month, or $22,800 per year to run your business. Wait! Don’t forget $6,500 for marketing. This increases your total cost of doing business to $29,300. Now, add your $65,000 salary to the total, and this makes your target photography sales goal $94,300 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!
The reality is you will work many partial days. Still, the goal is to make as much money as possible, whileyou have the opportunities in front of you. 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 $94,300 by 50 (or your own estimated figure) and you will see that, to meet your goal, you need to generate at least $1,886, on average for each of those 50 days. Divide that number by ten to estimate your hourly rate. In this example, it’s about $188 per hour. That is a big difference from the salary wage of $29.
If you use the same hours (500) at $29 per hour a photographer will make $14,500 a year. Your work – and you – are worth much more than $14,500 a year.
Why Some Photographers Can Charge So Much
The fact is some photographers charge $25 a photo and others charge $10,000. What is the difference? The simple answer is brand development. You may have heard of the personal brand and thought it is ridiculous concept. You are not Nike!
However, if you think of your personal brand as your reputation, it may make more sense. The reason why some photographers can charge high rates in a commodity driven, over saturated market is because of the reputation they earned. Another important factor is they asked.
There are many factors when it come to brand and pricing. Some photographers have a large crew to support, a studio, deep experience or high-end equipment. Often these things make it easier to justify a higher fee. Yet, most of the time, its the brand which justifies and allows for a high photography rate. Fortunately, the development of your brand is in your hands.
In 2018, 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, 25 years ago. Interestingly, although pre-production and creation time is less, many photographers find post-production work much more time-consuming
Many photographers fail to include post-production time as part of their pricing system, and, as such, lose money. This error can cost the photographer dearly. I’ve created a simple tool to help you calculate how much you may charge per image based on a few criteria. The criteria I used are: production level; 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, wedding or retail photography. The calculator also has options to add post or line-item expenses into your per-image price.
I like to 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. In some cases, transparency is the best practice, depending on the project and client. However, it should be your choice as to how you do business. Not the demands of a client. In most cases, they only want to know the bottom-line photography project cost.
Per-image pricing is a good way to lessen the fear some clients feel when they hire a photographer. With per-image pricing, they have of control over the project budget without need to see all the details, or worry about overages. Just as important, per-image pricing rewards the photographer for a job well done.
Per Image Pricing Example
This is my favorite common real world example of why per-image pricing is better: You receive a call from a business which needs new website photographs. They want you to create 10 photographs, to be taken at their location. Let’s say you quote a photography fee of $3,000 per day and $1000 for expenses. The total estimate is $4000. First, you know an inexperienced photography buyer will choke at a photographer asking for $3,000 fee for a single day of work. The prospect doesn’t make near that much money, so why should a photographer pushing a button? Unfortunately, clients don’t realize that most photographers don’t photograph every day, have considerable expenses, and spend a lot of time on editing, managing and performing post-production on the photographs.
Nonetheless, they agree with your rate and you photograph on site. You do a great job and complete the assignment by 1:30p.m. The client loves the photographs. Yet, there is a problem. The client doesn’t feel they should pay you for a full day considering you finished the assignment so early. You can explain that you reserved the entire 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. Plus, you have 50% more images to manage in post-production — for free.
This brings us to the advantage of per-image pricing. Rather than quoting 3,000 for your fee and $1000 for expenses, you simply tell the client you will charge $400 per each client-selected photograph. You now place the value on thephotograph and not on 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 request a rate adjustment. In addition, if you create more wonderful images than expected, the client may buy the extra photographs.
I recently photographed a planned a day assignment in 1/2 of a day. If I quoted a day rate, I would have lost a lot of money. If I tried to invoice for the second half of the day, I’m sure such a move would have upset an otherwise happy client. It is also important to remember that I still had all post-production work to do for the same number of images, despite how long it took to create them on-set.
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. As a rule, business owners are risk-averse, and they often make price the justification for lowering the risk of hiring a photographer. When I place the risk on myself, and this does not diminish the value of my photography. I let the client know if they don’t like any of my images they don’t have to pay for them. However, I suggest that might be the case with my competition offering day-rates. I have confidence in my photography and I know that in most cases, clients will buy more images, not fewer.
Yes, sometimes it doesn’t work out. I photographed for a medical company two years ago. We quoted a reasonable per-image price and they accepted the rate. The assignment took a 1/2 day to create images of their office about three miles from my studio. We delivered web-proofs of the images and our client was happy. However, it seems over time, someone higher up in the company didn’t like the cost of the photographs. They were looking at about $3600 for all the images they selected. The client came back to us with a request to accept $150 for 3 portrait images and the opportunity for future work.
I declined the offer. Fortunately, they did pay my request for the assistant I hired. However, I know there isn’t future work coming, even if I had accepted the offer. Unfortunately, their value of my photography is $50 per photo, I can’t afford to sell my work at such a rate.
I have to expect that if I put the risk on myself, I will sometimes lose. Once in a while an assignment goes wrong; flaky client changes their mind, the weather changes or a company is bought out and everything is on hold (forever). Fortunately, if it’s within my control, 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 didpurchase additional images. Clients will come back months or even years later asking to purchase photographs from earlier assignments. It always feels like free money.
Best Uses Of The Per-Image Model
What type of photography is best-served by per-image pricing? I use it for corporate portraits, products, food, architecture, and interior photography.
Typically, I ask a higher fee for the first image and, then, a lower rate if the client buys more images. This is especially true if they buy more than they initially requested. For example, I may ask $300 for the first image, and $225 for each additional image (local use). Often when I calculate my averages, I’m making a $2,250 to $3,500 per day for my work. That is not bad for a Detroit photographer. I’ve charged more than $2,000 per image, and made as much as $5,400 for a couple of hours of portrait work (not including post-production). This brings no complaints from the client, because she is in control of the entire process, and is not required to buy any more than their budget allows.
Day and hourly rates do work for events, because speed of on site production is not a factor. You are obligated to be at an event for a pre-determined length of time and can’t get out early for being more efficient. However, I have tested the per image price system for family portraits and weddings with success. If you do use it, be sure that you are going to generate enough of high-quality images which the families will want to buy.
The key to selling per-image pricing is placing the value on the image, not on your time. People want lower prices, because in their minds, it represents lower risk. More importantly, if you show that the client is in control of the budget and to use you is the least-risky proposition, you will win new opportunities.
Select Good Clients
As you build a portfolio of new business, you must be selective. You want to earn quality repeat clients. People who look for the lowest price are not loyal custmers. Often, the next time they have a photography need, they will ask you for a price adjustment. If your answer is no, they will drop you for another photographer whom they can beat up on price. Unfortunately, once you establish yourself as the cheap photographer, clients are likely to refer you to others who also will demand low rates. Consider this, as well: when a client really needs a photographer who delivers high-quality images, do you really think they are going to call on the low-rate photographer? Don’t kid yourself: her job is on the line, and will pay top-dollar to a photographer who charges so much you wonder how the get any work.
More than 90% of my business is from per-image pricing contracts. It’s not hard to sell the concept to prospects if you frame it properly. We share the benefits with them: the low risk; the fact that we ignore time (expect for in my internal estimates), and keep working until the job is done to their satisfaction; the fact that the client is in control of the budget; that I get paid only if I do an awesome job; and that they will only go over budget if they feel the value of the additional images is worth their dollars.
It is a fact that some people just want cheap photography. I hear it all the time; photographers tell me their prospects are disrespectful, beat them up on price, insist on day rates and want all the rights. Seriously, why do you want a client like that?
Per Image Is Not The Only Way
Once you understand your CODB business, there is no wrong pricing model answer. You can create a pricing model which works best for you. The best pricing model is comfortable for you to sell and earns a profit. You have many choices when you develop a pricing plan. Although there is no wrong answer, there are some better answers for different types of photography.
The following are different models (outside of per-image-pricing) you can consider for your photography business.
Hourly: Hourly is good for event photography. The reason is that the client expects you to stay at the event for an allotted about of time, and to take a lot of photos. I don’t recommend hourly for other types of photography because, in most cases, it’s better to focus on the value of the photograph and not the amount of time it takes to create an image.
When pricing your events hourly, you must consider your post-production time after the event. How much time do you spend edited, adjusting and touching up your images. Include that time in your hourly rate.
Hourly + Expenses: Some events require travel, props or location expenses. It is helpful to charge for these expense separately. Depending on the client, you may wish to consider invoicing your expenses upfront or before delivery of the images.
Hourly + Editing: If you have a good relationship with your client, you can invoice for editing fees. Unfortunately, many clients only wish to pay for your time on site. Still, at every point in the process of creating the image, your time is valuable. If you can educate clients about the time involved, the increased quality and benefits of you spending more time on their images; they may be agreeable to pay your for editing time. Often photographers charge an editing rate of about 50% of their photography rate.
Day Rate: This is a common method to quote photography. Photography buyers are often comfortable with the traditional day-rate model. When you quote a day rate, like hourly, you need to consider your time spent working both before and after the actual assignment. Giving post-production time away for free can place a large dent in a photographer’s profitability.
Art buyers like day rates because, for decades in the advertising industry, this has been the predominant structure of photography contracts. They know what they are getting, It also allows photography buyers to use the photographer’s time to their advantage; and this is understandable. Day rates also make it easier to compare apples to apples in a bidding situation. However, day rates in the digital age don’t make as much sense as they once did.
Photographers work more quickly in 2018, yet the value of the image is the same. If you do offer a day rate, make sure that you consider all the time needed to complete the job, the value of the image to the client, and how they plan to use the photographs. Also, when offering day rates, make sure to line-item all possible expense in your proposal.
Per Project: A good way to charge for your photography is per project. This method of pricing is helpful when you have to apply multiple skills. For example, a client may regularly request that you to create ten photographs, re-size the images, and create clipping paths around the subject. In this case, you can offer a single rate for the entire project.
A good thing about such an arrangement is that it encourages you to become more efficient. If you do it well, less time doesn’t mean the loss of quality, value and service for your client.
First Image + Additional: It is common for me to charge per-image. Usually, I charge a larger amount for the first image of a list of client-requested photographs. It helps to establish the value of my photography, and helps to cover some of the initial expenses. This method also allows me stay competitive in the market. I find it useful when I’m in a bidding situation, because it does not diminish the value of my photography.
Depending on production expenses, I may charge the higher rate for the first few photos. After a certain point – such as five or ten images – I will lower the rate. The larger the volume, the lower the rate. For example, I might charge $375 for the first photograph (local use), and $285 for each additional image selected.
However, be careful how low you go. I’ve seen photographers charge $600 for the first image, and $50 for each additional. This makes no sense to me. As a client, I would think, “If the photographer can charge me $50 per additional photographs, how can she justify $600 for the first photograph?” I recommend not lowering your rate by more than 25% for additional images. If you do high-volume work, such as 50 -100+ images per day, then up to 50% less is acceptable.
Day Rate + Per Image: The best of both worlds. A day rate is used as a foundation rate to cover your base time and expenses. It’s lower than a traditional day rate. The second part of the fee is a per-image price. Again, the per-image is a little lower than a traditional per-image rate. You can include use of image fees on in the per-image rate.
Package Pricing: This is similar to commercial project pricing. Yet, it’s geared more toward retail or family photography. You may offer a discount on a package of products or prints. For example, two (8×10), three (5×7), and 20 wallet-size photographs for a lower price than if the client bought them individually.
Work to develop packages which most people actually like, and which offer you the most profit. No matter how many packages you offer, there is always a favorite and logical choice among most of your clients. I recommend having a few focused packages, rather than overwhelming your customer with too many choices. If they want something not in your packages, you can offer an à la carte option.
A la carte: Some photographers offer such flexible alternatives options as a way to combat those photographers who offer only set packages. It gives clients more freedom to customize the order to exactly what they want. The down-side is, that, like having too many packages, it can overwhelm your customer.
Some photographers offer discount rates after the customer reaches a specific level, such as 10% off of orders of more than $50.
Incentive Pricing: This is a structure used by family, senior, and wedding photographers. Offer a bonus incentive for when a client meets a specific price point. For example, if your client purchases $700 worth of images, they receive a bonus photograph, an album, a thumb-drive, or a tablet. These combinations and incentives are just suggestions. By all means, for plans that are appropriate to your business, use your own imagination. After all, you are creative.
Setting Fee: Many portrait and senior photographers require a sitting fee. This fee helps to cover expenses, and takes the risk out of waiting for reprint orders.
Setting Fee + Credit: One setting fee option is to give part or full credit to your client. Allow your customer to use all or part of the fee toward future reprint purchases. For example, if a photographer charges a $150 sitting fee, they might offer a $50 dollar credit toward the reprint purchases.
Licensing Images (use): A traditional pricing option is to license an image for a specific period of time. If you are a wedding photographer, you might offer unlimited personal use. In other words, you provide a digital file from which the customer is free to make as many personal copies as she wishes. However, if she runs for President, she may not use your portrait in the campaign without permission or payment.
In the case of a commercial photographer, the value of an image depends on how the client intends to use it. A commercial photographer must consider the breadth of the distribution of the image, the expected number of views, the geographical area in which the image will be seen, and the value of the image to the company they serve.
Traditional license fees are based on a one-year of use in North America (or within your country). Charging a license fee for each photograph is similar to per-image pricing.
Expenses + License: Some high-end commercial photographers charge the client to cover their expenses, plus the license fee, depending the use of the image and the number of images the client buys.
This is a more exact and fair use of licensing. For example, a client may hire a photographer to create ten images. Most of the images might be used for a local ad, yet, one or two could be published in a national magazine. It doesn’t make sense for all the images to cost the same. So, the photographer charges a rate for the local use images and higher rate for the national use images.
Fee + Expenses + License: It is common for professional photographers to first charge a fee and expenses to create images. Once the photographs are available and selected by the client, the photographer charges the customer a licensing fee. This fee is based on how each image is independently used.
Art Prints: Photographers at all levels like to sell their artistic, landscape and wildlife photographs online, and in galleries. Where do you start? One rule is to charge 3x (or 4x, 5x etc.) the cost of the framed print. If the image cost you $50 to process and frame, then charge $150. A common mid-range rate is around $250 for a good 11 x 14 or 16 x 20 print.
Another pricing option for art prints is to take a cue from the world of painting. Charge based on the square inch. For example, an 8 x 10 photo is 80 square inches. If you charge $1 per square inch, you sell such prints for $80.
Obviously, this recommendation is a starting point. As you and your work become more well-known and in-demand, you can add a premium. One way to help increase the value of your images is to limit the number of prints you produce. Sign and number each print. Charge higher prices for the first five or ten.
Stock: Stock images sell for anywhere from $1 to $50,000+. The fee depends on the photographer, rarity, use of image, and value to the photography buyer. Currently, I find stock sites charge 25%-60% commission on the sale of a digital file. In other words, if you sell a photograph on a stock site for a dollar, your reward is 50 cents.
This means that you need to sell your photography in high volume. Generally, high volume means average photography that is not too risky, and that a lot of people can use. You can sell unique, rare, and high-quality stock at a higher rate on your own website. The volume is much lower, and you will depend on good SEO (Search Engine Optimization) or advertising for best results. So, name and tag your images well.
Trade: This is a common option in the fashion industry. A photographer needs high-quality models in their portfolios, and models need images to show agencies and producers. Trade doesn’t pay the bills; however, with a limit on its use, there is a nice reward and benefit. You can save money on products and services with a little time investment.
Cheap: This is one pricing model I don’t recommend. The reason why is that you can’t make it up in volume. You are an independent professional, with limited time. It’s really hard to make a living as the cheap anything, unless you have a realistic plan to earn based on high volume. Again, though, be careful.
Charity/Free: We are all called on by our favorite charities to do pro bonowork. First, before you say “Yes,” make sure that it is a cause you believe in (see exposure below). If you agree, then set boundaries. In some cases, a charity or non-profit will offer to cover your expenses or provide a small stipend.
If you offer your service to the charity auction, this can be a good form of advertising in your local market. It’s important that you share in your display the value of your package. When people see your name and bid on your service, it can improve your brand value, and earn you recognition and opportunities that you might not otherwise have gotten.
Exposure: You’ve heard it before: “If you photograph for us for free, we will provide you great exposure.” No they won’t. Don’t believe it. Yes, it does happen. However, it’s rare, and you can’t build your business based on what turns out to be a one-time gig.
How to Increase rates
Considering the roaring economy, I’ve seen photography rates tick up a little, and this is reflected in my estimations above. However, some photographers have trouble raising rates. The question is, often, by how much they should raise them. Let the math do the talking. One of the best methods is to increase your rate by a percentage. For example, automatically increase your rates by 5% or 10% on January 1st of each year. You can always move them up or down.
Percentage increases are also helpful in situations in which you are unsure how to price. For example, the client may ask to purchase the copyright to your photography, or use the images in an unexpected way. Rather than increase the rate by a specific amount, state that you charge a 25% premium for such a use. You can automatically increase the rate by your pre- determined percentage.
When you invoice, it is important to consider how quickly you will be paid, and the perception of your role as a professional photographer. The video below shows you a couple of ways to help improve the speed of payment.
Also, when you offer a discount, make sure that you place your full rate in the invoice. This is especially true for trade and charity work. You don’t want to be known as a free, or cheap, photographer. To underscore the point that your product is valuable, I recommend that. even if you offer free work, send an invoice with the full value of your photography and give a 100% discount.
Your Pricing Questions!
Do you also charge a licensing/usage fee in addition to the per image fee? or just the per image fee?
Rosh: Generally, I include the license fee in my per image price. However, I state the license in the estimate, agreement and/or contract. Either way is fine. You can include it as a group, or list it in line-item fashion. The latter is to emphasize the terms of image use.
If the company wants me to create a video how do you charge that?
Rosh: Usually per minute is how your charge for video. How much per minute depends on the production and your creative fees. For example, a simple basic-production three-minute interview-style video might be $300 per minute, or a full-crew industrial video can be $,3000 per minute. B-roll footage can be charged per second, minute, or hour.
Any suggestions on high-volume jewelry photography for e-commerce? I have a bit of a dilemma, and would love some seasoned advice.
Rosh: I stay away from offering how much a photographer should charge. However, I recommend that you do a test to see how long it takes for you to create a final image, i.e, from capture to delivery. Then divide, using your standard rates and fees to determine how much you should charge for each photograph.
I was recently contacted by a bank that is interested in using some of my fine art photos in their holiday cards. I’ve never licensed a client for this kind of use. Any suggestions?
Rosh: I would consider my standard rate for a fine art image sale, plus a premium for printing use, based on the number of cards created.
Should I have a different rate for different seasons?
Rosh: There is nothing wrong with having higher and lower rates depending on the season. It’s about supply and demand.
Can I charge different rates to different clients?
Yes, you can. Usually, this isn’t a big problem when it comes to commercial photography, because difference clients have varied needs as to how their photography is used. It’s a little tougher with family and retail photography, so, in most of those cases, I would stick with your standard rate.
Is there ever a good time to sell your copyright?
Rosh: Generally the only time a client needs your copyright is if they plan to resell your image or make money directly from the sale of your photography. Sometimes, proprietary issues come in to play in manufacturing. You will also find it common for the entertainment industry to want full control of all their assets before publishing. If you sell your copyright, I recommend that you add a fee.
I like your per image pricing system. Everyone asks for hourly or day rates.
Many organizations are used to hourly and day rates. However, businesses don’t have the right to tell you how to do business. Yet, businesses can request anything they want too. You need to pick your battles. I try to show how per-image is a lower risk to the client, and hope that they get it. Most of the time it works. However, some don’t want to bend, and only accept quotes only in day rate form.
How much should I charge for my Fine Art?
Generally for fine art, I would decide on a per-inch rate. Cover your costs, plus creative fee. For example, $2 per square inch. In this example: an 8×10 is $160. Set your rate and you always know the price based on size. If you wish, you can certainly give a discount with volume.
If it’s just digital images, you can set the value based on the largest size the image creates at 300DPI. Yes, it can be blown up to any size, however, this gives you a framework to work from.
If you have a pricing question, place it in the comments below or ask on Twitter.
Last Bit of Photography Pricing Advice
You will not win every photography opportunity. There are always photographers who charge more, and many others who charge less. Don’t compete against them. The most successful photographers build their brand, and understand the photography business. When a client calls, ask good questions; ask about their experience working with professional photographers; find out what will be the use of the images; get full details about the assignment and, maybe most importantly, ask if they have a budget.
About the Author
Rosh Sillars is the owner of The Rosh Group, Inc. He is a professional photographer, author, educator and digital marketing professional. You can check out more of his great advice on his blog and podcast. You can also follow his work on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. Get Rosh Sillar’s Free Pricing Check List here. This article was also published here and shared with permission.