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Pricing photography is one of the hardest jobs of the 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 do that enough, you will go out of business.
What is the solution? This annual article explores the many angles and approaches to pricing photography. However, let me get to the punch line; I’m a big fan of per-image pricing. This pricing model saved my photography career from the pain of the Depression Detroit experienced while everyone else experienced the Great Recession.
Still, there are many ways to approach 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 years versions, here is a handy list.
- 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
First, lets review the health of photography industry. In my opinion the industry is stable, yet forever evolving, after 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.The #photography industry is stable, yet forever evolving, after the digital disruptions of the last twenty… Click To Tweet
Today everyone can be a photographer; we certainly continue to live in the heyday of photography and visual imagery. A camera is a part of the average person’s life, located in their pocket, equipped with a good lens and amazing enhancement software. Even better, the images are backed up instantly or shared around the world in seconds. As an added bonus, if you wish to call your mom after, you can do that, too.
With so many photographers working, there is enormous pricing pressure in the profession. However, there are so many new opportunities in the visual world, you don’t need to limit yourself by participating in commodity photography. These are the basic photography activities. Images which require basic composition, lighting and post-production to satisfy photographic standards. Event photography, portraits, nature and documentary are good examples. However, this does not mean you can’t bring something new to the table.
One of the biggest problems in the photography industry is the photographer who does not understanding the value of their work and copyright. If someone does not have time or skill to create a needed photograph, your skill is valuable to them and payment is required. If someone wants your copyright, that means ownership of your image has great value to them. If your copyright has no value, then why are clients working so hard to get it? 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 image creator. The industry is changing. Today a photographer does not need to be a pure photographer to earn respect as a photographer. Many excellent photographers combine other skills, such as video, writing, design, and education to their craft. In 2017, it’s okay to be a photographer and something else.
Photography Pricing Webinar
A couple months ago I created a photography pricing webinar on my marketing and business YouTube channel. It covers a lot of what I talk about in this article related to pricing for photographers. Link to video: https://youtu.be/-uZyWPqsRow
Get On Board, My New Photography Pricing YouTube Channel – Subscribe Here—>https://goo.gl/diFn8A
I added this section to my pricing article last year. I believe it is helpful for both photographers and photography buyers to think about and understand the process of buying imagery and the expectations. If a photographer understands the concerns and perspective of the people who buy photographs, it makes her a better business person. When photography buyers understand the industry and product better, they can make more savvy and informed decisions.
Hiring a photographer is a risk. This is one of the most important things a photographer must understand when dealing with a potential client.Hiring a photographer is a risk. This is one of the most important things a photographer must understand when… Click To Tweet
Often a photographer is hired too create images for a on time event or opportunity. If the photographer does a poor job, the opportunity is lost.
The fear of loss, the fear of making a poor selection, the fear of paying too much are all considerations of the photography buyer. Photographers are expensive. How do you know if you’re hiring the right photographer?
The good news for the photography buyer is there is a large selection of options. The bad news is, there is a large selection of options and this can be overwhelming. Fortunately, if you make an effort you will find a photographer with the style, value and price for your budget.
You must consider your priorities. What style are you looking for in a photographer? Is experience important to you? An experienced photographer can pull of a miracle if things go wrong. Maybe a hot young photographer with a fresh vision is what you need. No mater the priority, you should develop a vision of what you want to end product to look like.
From the prospective of a professional photographer, I don’t recommend you retain the services of a free photographer. Yet, with our saturated photography market, there are many competent part-time and amateur photographers available. However, you must be willing to take on the risk. There is often a reason why a photographer will work for free or cheap.
Why are professional photographers so expensive?
The answer is that most photographers don’t work a 40-hour week. A full-time Independent photographer is a contractor who needs to pay his 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. Most people don’t see all the work that goes into the production process after the creation of their images. Editing and post production can take hours. The cost for this time must be covered.
Imagine if you only worked an average of ten hours per week in front of your clients. 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 (marketing). You may believe this is not your problem. However, if a photographer is to continue to stay in business and serve you another day, he must consider the cost of doing business calculations.
This doesn’t mean you can’t find a photographer for less. Many photographers work part-time and don’t depend on the income. Many full-time photographers complain that it’s unfair. Unfortunately, like in most business, sometimes the customer is willing to take the risk for such a discount.
Pricing Photography: How Much Do Photographers Charge?
Some, usually professional photographers, claim that the value of the image and 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.
However, every person or business has a different need, values photography differently and has a different risk tolerance. Their is a great supply of photographer and many styles to chose from in the photography market place. Unfortunately, not all photographers understand their value and not all clients value photography.Unfortunately, not all photographers understand their value and not all clients value photography. Click To Tweet
Below is a list of 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 magazine advertisement (local use) does not command the same fee as using the same image for a national marketing campaign. The value of the photo is greater and a professional photographer does charge a premium for more prominent image use.
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 family and friends. Many have a job in another or related industry, and, most likely, don’t follow many of the best photography business practices, but they can get the job done.
Amateur – $25 – $100 per hour: These photographers are often hobbyist. However, they have a little 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.
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 good job. Some photographers charge as little as $25 per photo, while top photographers receive thousands of dollars for a single image. Below is the average range for local hourly and per-image rates. It’s important to note that per-image pricing should be adjusted, based on production levels and the number of photos produced. Rates also fluctuate based on region. For example, and owing to numerous variables, photographers in San Francisco may charge more (in some cases considerably more) per image than their counterparts in Billings, Montana.
Student – $35-85 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. Those who have experience studying under professionals tend to have a little better understanding of the industry. Some advanced students do – and should – command as much as professionals. With that said, the photography schools are graduating a lot of new photographers. Many are trying to get their foot in the door and earn a living in their field.
Semi-Pro $50 – $150 per hour / $50-125 per image: These are photographers who have ambitions to join the ranks of the full-time professional. They may have job or income source to keep them afloat, however their aim to the leave the old job behind. Sometimes their additional skills are compatible with photography. They may be video professionals, designers, or graphic artists. 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-$250 per hour / $75-$250 per image: We can argue that a professional is anyone who is paid at least once for her photography. For the purposes of categorization, a professional is someone who depends on photography to make a full-time living. More precisely, professionals have a solid portfolio, experience and commitment to represent their photographic 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 $2,000+ 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 $500, while top destination professionals command more than $10,000 to get started. Wedding photographers who develop a brand around their work command hirer fees. It is important to understand your needs and desired photography style before you search for a wedding photographer.
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. Senior 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 session.
Local Website Photography: $50-$125 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 you take a look at a photographer’s portfolio before you consider price. Make a judgement as to whether the work that he creates is right for your needs. 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 what you want for your portrait. That is, knowing how to work a camera doesn’t mean the photographer understands how to create the photographic vision you desire. Once you narrow down the portfolios of the photographers you like, then make price a consideration.
Who Should Own The Copyright?
As soon as the photographer clicks the shutter button, he owns a new copyrighted photograph. This is the case for anyone who creates a photograph. It’s the law. Even your smart phone selfies fall under the copyright law. When it comes to who should own the copyright in a commercial exchange, the default answer is the photographer.
A copyright is valuable. However, in most cases, there is no reason for you to purchase a copyright from a photographer. Only unless 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 it is true you may 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 the photographs will be used. Typically, if you request a copyright purchase, or, as some people call it, a buy-out then there is an additional charge, usually 50-100% of the original photography fee.
For your safety, be sure to have photography use in writing for both proposals and contracts. State the scope of use for the photographs and for how long. Make sure that the photography estimate or contract fits your short- and long-term needs. If your the answer is not known, unlimited use of the images is an option. Photographers create additional income from their photographs, so there may be a fee for such requests which limit future income opportunities.
Pricing Your Photography
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 doing the pricing. You are not alone when it comes to the frustration of placing a price on your photograph and related services.
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 line was gracious. Yet, she immediately knew I wasn’t the professional they were looking for to take 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.
Pricing is hard. However, if you work from a custom 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, for each and every proposal. 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 all matters. I immediately respond to any new inquiry, but I commit nothing in that 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 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). 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.
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 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 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 want to earn per year?
- What are my personal expenses?
- How much is my 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 $31,000 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 $72,000 per year. There are some photographers who top one-million dollars. Like in many artistic fields, those in the top percentiles make a good living, while the remaining ninety-percent can struggle to make a full-time income.
If a company hires you as an in-house photographer, the average salary is much higher (statistics). Unfortunately, good 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 $29 per hour.
Freelance Photography Rates
So why can’t freelancers charge $29.00 per hour? The answer is simple. Independent photographers don’t work 40 paid hours per week and have more expenses. Their business is such that they are required to buy their own equipment, set expenses, insurance and retirement. This is not a burden placed upon company photographers.
Many freelance photographers come into the business thinking they have low overhead. Don’t fall into this trap. I recommend you double your expense estimate for a more accurate picture of your annual expenses. 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.
Don’t forget to add marketing to your estimate. It doesn’t matter if you depend on referrals, or use Facebook 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 $50,000 next year as a photographer, I recommend you spend at least $5,000 on marketing. I further recommend that you be smart with your marketing budget. For instance, spending your whole $5,000 budget on one industry portfolio book will most likely not produce the results you desire. 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 work 50 days per year. An established commercial photographer may shoot, 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 for business expenses annually. 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!
Chances are you will work many partial days. The goal is to make as much money as possible, while you have the opportunity. 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 the photography project will 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. Just as important, per-image pricing rewards the photographer 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 $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.
Using 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.
In 2017, 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 time is less, many photographers find post-production work much more time-consuming.
Unfortunately, many photographers do not 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 (currently disabled while moving to new location) 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
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 $2,500 per day and $500 for expenses. The total estimate is $3000. First, you know an inexperienced photography buyer will choke at a photographer asking for $2,500 fee for a single day of work. They don’t make that much money, so why should a photographer? Unfortunately, clients don’t realize that most photographers don’t work 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 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 advantages of per-image pricing. Rather than quoting $2,500 for your fee and $500 for expenses, you simply tell the client you will charge $300 per each client-selected photograph. You now place the value on the photograph 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 two day assignment in 2/3 of a day. If I quoted a day rate, I would have lost a lot of money. If I tried to invoice for the unused 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 last fall. 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 and team. We delivered web-proofs of the images and our client was very happy. However, it seems over time, someone higher up didn’t like the cost of the photographs. They were looking at about $3600 for all the images they wanted. 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. They did pay for the line item assistant, as requested. I knew there was no new work coming, and devaluing my work for a fraction of the expected invoice is not an option.
I have to expect that if I put the risk on myself, I will sometimes lose. Sometimes an assignment goes wrong; a client’s 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.
Best Uses Of The Per-Image Model
Typically, I ask a higher rate 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 $250 for the first image, and $175 for each additional image (local use). Often when I calculate my averages, I’m making a $2,500 to $3,500 per day for my work. That is not bad for Detroit, which is my area of the world. 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 he is in control of the whole process, and is not required to buy any more than the 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 this 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 rarely loyal. Often, the next time they have a new photography project, 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: his job is on the line, and he will pay top-dollar to a photographer who charges so much you wonder how they stay in business.
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, 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, you can create a pricing model which works best for you. You have many choices when you develop a pricing plan. Fortunately, there is no wrong answer, however, 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 buyer are often comfortable with the day-rate pricing model. When you quote a day rate, like hourly, you need to consider your time before and after the assignment. Giving post production time a way for free can place a large dent in a photographers income.
Art Buyers like day rates because they are familiar; 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 did in the past.
Photographers work faster, yet the value of the image is the same. If you do offer a day rate, make sure 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 you to create ten photographs, resize the images and create clipping paths around the subject. In this case, you can offer a single rate for the entire project.
The nice thing about such an arrangement is it encourages you to become more efficient. If you do it right, 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 place. 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. Honestly, this doesn’t make 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.
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, 2 – 8×10, 3 – 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 that 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 present this option as a flexible alternative to package only photographers. It gives clients more freedom customize the order to exactly what they want. The down side is, 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 orders over $50.
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, the customer can make as many personal copies as he wishes from a digital file for personal and family use. 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 uses the photograph. A commercial photographer must consider the image distribution, number of views, geography and the value of the image to the company they serve.
Traditional license fees are based on one year of use in North America (our 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.
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, image use 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 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 portfolio 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 is 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 volume plan.
Charity/Free: We are all called on by our favorite charities to do pro bono work. First, before you say Yes, make sure 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.
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 one-time exposure.
When you invoice, it is important to consider how quickly that you will be paid, and the perception of your role as 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 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. YouTube link: https://youtu.be/Q6Rbfv24w5k
Your Pricing Questions!
@ [what are the] standards in selling rights, price differences for duration differences:
It’s best to set standards that you find comfortable. The traditional default standard is one time use for North America (or your region). I often start with a rate for local use, then increase the price when the client requires regional and national use. I will increase my rate by a percentage. For example national work maybe 200% of my local fee. It is important to establish your local fee first, because this is most likely what you will use most. So, when you create an estimate, start with the comfortable local rate, and then add your multiplier for use. You can do this for number of years use and licensing. For example; I may charge $375 for an image locally. However, if a photography buyer wants national use and a copyright purchase, I increase the rate 3x for national use and charge another 100% fee for the copyright purchase. So the cost to the client is $2250.
@ Package pricing v individual pricing – should there be correlation?
The best thing to do is start with your individual prices. Once they are established, you can create packages. When you pull a package together, the ideas is some will purchase more images because there is a discount. So, total the individual elements of the package from the individual price guide and create a discount on the total package. 10 – 30% is a good range.
@ how is per image pricing over day rate working?
For me, per image pricing is far better than a day rate. Not every photographer is good at selling a per image rate, but those who gain confidence in the system and can present the benefits find it very helpful to their bottom line.
@ What’s a metric point to know when to incrementally raise prices? And how do you know how much to raise?
One of the best ways to tell its time to raise prices is when people say yes too quickly. If it seems like you win every bid; chances are your prices are too low. Expenses are a good metric to work with too. You need to know your cost of doing business. Once you figure out how much it costs per day, week or minute, you can make better pricing judgements.
From The Web
Wes: Can you write off your photography discounts to charity?
In short, No. The reason you send clients or charities an invoice with a discount, including 100% discounts, is to show the value of your work to the client. It gives them the feeling that they got great value working with you. It also lessens the chance they will refer you as the cheep, or free, photographer.
E.: Can’t we charge less because digital is less expensive than the film days?
Yes and no. It is true todays professional does not have film expenses. However, when I photographed using film, I dropped the film off at the lab. It cost me about $25.00 per roll to process. If I spend 1 hour of my time, which I value at $125 – $200per hour, it cost me four times more to process, especially small jobs, than the film days. Also, I have more equipment expenses such as updating my cameras, new computers and software.
Andy: Do you offer proof prints to review first?
For most of my clients, I create a watermark low resolution proofing website. They select the image numbers and then I do my final work for download – usually on photoshelter.
Do you show raw photos for final images for per image pricing selection?
I edit the photos. I remove the poor images and then create the preview website. In some cases, where a lot of post-production is necessary, I will show a couple examples of how the final images will look.
The per image pricing models seems to be for high volume photography.
This is really not the case. If you consider the production of your project, in some cases, you may only create one image per day. Your rate may be $2,000-$5,000 per image. It’s not about volume, its more about limiting the element of time from the value of your photographs.
Chris: Why use a sitting fee?
I believe it’s a good way for portrait photographers to cover their time and expenses. I also suggest per-image with a minimum purchase requirement.
Ed: Median photographer wage in the U.S. is $28,000 a year, or $13/hour. For an industry with extremely low barriers to entry and no formal educational requirements, these yearly blog posts are really wishful thinking.
My statistics are from government sources. The reality is I know a lot of photographers who make more and many who make less. The ones who make more tend to understand business.
How do you price for video?
More photographers are asked to shoot video every year. I considered adding video in this year’s article. I think I’ll write a video article a little bit down the road. And, with the growth of demand for this information, I can incorporate this topic into the 2018 version. Short answer: per minute pricing.
Last Bit of Photography Pricing Advice
You will not win every bid. There are always photographers who charge more and many who charge less. Don’t follow them. The most successful photographers photograph a lot and understand the business. When a client calls, ask good questions; ask their experience working with professional photographers; what the use of the images will be; get full details about the assignment and, maybe most importantly, ask if they have a budget.
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