My Case For Per Image Pricing

(Last Updated On: May 27, 2016)
Per image pricing
Photo by Markus Spiske

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The Internet, Google, social media — specifically YouTube — led to a  lower barrier of entry in to the field of photography. This creates more photographers trying to make a living. In turn, more competition. Digital also plays a role in the increase accessibility of photography. It makes it easier to create better images faster. Due to these changes, the way we priced our photography last century, such as day rates, doesn’t work any more. Photographers must embrace per-image-pricing to survive.

Here is an illustration: A client requests photography for a website. The company needs 10 images created at their location. There are no models or special props needed for this assignment. The client assumes it will take about a day to photograph; you agree. As a professional photographer, you have three common options to estimate your project.  You can offer a time rate, a per-image rate, or a per-project rate. Let’s say without consideration for usage of the photographs, you estimate the job at $2,750 ($2000 fee for the day and $750 for expenses).

If you offer a day rate of $2000, there is a good chance the client will balk at such an amount of money for photographs. This is especially true if the client is not experienced working with professional photographers. Is your time really worth $2000 for a day?

We may know the realities of being a professional photographer, yet, the client doesn’t care.

Due to digital, photographers work faster and are much more efficient than in the film days. In the era of film photography, day rates may have made more sense.

Continuing with our example, if a photographer is hired for a day assignment and completes the photography at 2:00 p.m.,  what might a client request? Well, since you didn’t work a full day, isn’t a discount in order? The value of the assignment is based on the photographer’s time. So, the photographer is penalized for her productivity. If the photographer reminds the client that the full day rate is in effect because the entire day is reserved for the job, the client feels cheated. You may get your money, however, a future client is lost!

What if the photographer spends the entire day on location, works hard and creates 15 beautiful images? Is the client happy? Absolutely; the client receives a bonus. What benefit did the photographer receive for her great work and efficiency? Nothing.

You can argue that a happy client is worth the effort. True. However, if you feel like you are taken advantage of on a regular basis, your attitude tends to change. This erodes good relationships over time. You develop a bad attitude when you regularly do not receive full value for your work. This is why many photographers leave the business.

There is a better way. Rather than a large day rate, the photographer can offer a per-image price of $275 for each of the ten images ($2750 total). $275 for a valuable image is much easier for a client to rap their head around. It’s easier to see the value of the photograph.

If the photographer is efficient and completes the project at 2:00 p.m., the client doesn’t look for a discount. Now, the photographer is a hero because everyone can go home early.

If the photographer spends the entire day and creates 15 wonderful images, what might the result be?  It is common, in my experience, for the client to buy more images — if it’s in their budget. The client is often happy to buy more images and the photographer is rewarded for doing a good job. The client is not mad about the purchase because they understand the value of each image and have no obligation to buy what they did not originally request.

Depending on the production requirements of the assignment, it is generally better not to require a minimum purchase. Although a minimum purchase is necessary if production expenses are high. There is nothing wrong with having line-items for some expenses such as travel, models and custom set fees.

I approach prospects as the high-value, low-risk photographer. I’m not cheap. I’m a good photographer. The worst thing that can happen after an assignment, in my opinion, is a client feeling bad because they have to buy photographs they don’t like or want. My experience shows forcing clients to pay for unwanted images costs the photographer more in the long-run. When clients know they have a choice, they are more flexible. Often they will give the photographer another opportunity to make things right, if needed.

Pricing options are endless. Often, when I present the per-image system, the first image is at a higher rate than the additional images. This helps to cover initial expenses. For example, the first photograph may be $500 and each additional image is $375., If you wish, you can set up multiple tiers for volume. Usage and licensing fees can also be added on a separate line. However, I usually include them in the rate. I do list the image use and guidelines on the invoice for clarification.

Despite the greater competition, the need for custom imagery is greater than ever. Now that websites are standard for business, the quality of a company’s Internet presence is more important then ever before. Poor photography delivers poor results. Average photography offers average results. Generic stock images do not reflect a company’s unique professional image.

The print world is finite. The world of the Web is practically infinite. When a client needs images for a brochure, the amount of room available for photography is limited. However, a client can always use more images on their website, blog or other digital marketing.

In the past, much of the time and effort to create an image was in the pre-production and time photographing. Today, this is not the case. Much of the creative effort is in post production. Hourly and day rates don’t account for this issue. However, the per-image pricing model allows the photographer to incorporate such expenses into the image rate.

Sometimes photographers (myself included) do not price their projects correctly. Under-priced projects lend themselves to more poorly priced opportunities. If a photographer offers to take three individual portraits in one hour for $75, in most cases he has underbid the job. Let’s say he completes the project in 45 minutes and two other people show up. Of course, the project would take longer, in this case 70 minutes total. However, the photographer may not charge for the extra ten minutes. So, now, the client receives five images for $75. This may seem fine to keep a happy client, until you add up all the hours photographers spend processing additional images — for free.

Alternatively, if the photographer charges $25 per image, although a very low rate, the photographer still makes $125 for the five images. Most likely, the client won’t blink.

The advantages of per-image-pricing to both the photographer and client are great. The client’s time and budget are respected. Often the client is eager to use the entire budget when given the opportunity to purchase more valuable images. Being respectful of the client’s time is not to the benefit of a day-rate photographer. Per-image rates lead to more income for the photographer. Although rare, I’ve found that once in a while the system will backfire. However, I make so much more in the long-run, it’s worth it.

The day rate is the old way of doing business. Hourly is acceptable for events, still, todays photographers take more photographs in less time. Per-image pricing fits well with the modern photographer. Placing the value on each image rather than on the photographer’s time helps stabilize pricing and allows the photographer to make a living in the digital world.


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