The case for per-image pricing

(Last Updated On: May 7, 2009)

Cheap photography and lower barriers to entry are two realities of the Internet age. Per-image pricing is the key to survival for the new media photographer.

Allow me to offer my favorite illustration: A client requests photography for a Web site. The company needs 10 images shot on location. No models or special props needed. They figure it will take a day to shoot; you agree. As a photographer, you have three common options for estimating the project: you can offer a day rate, a per-image rate,  or a per-project rate. Let’s say without consideration for usage of the images, we estimate the job at $2,000 ($1,500 for the day and $500 for expenses).

If you offer a day rate,  the first thing a client will wonder, especially if they have not worked with many photographers, is if the photographer or anyone is really worth $1,500 a day.

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

If a photographer is hired for a day shoot and completes the assignment at 2:00 p.m.,  what might a client request? Often it’s a discount, because the value of the assignment is on the photographer’s time. The photographer is penalized for his productivity. If the photographer reminds the client that the $2,000 rate is still in effect because the entire day is reserved for the job, the client may then feel cheated.

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

You can argue that a happy client is worth the effort. True. But, if you feel like you are being taken advantage of on a regular basis, attitudes tend to change. This erodes good relationships over time.

If the photographer offers a per-image price of $200 for each of the 10 photographs, it is much easier for the client to see the value of each photo.

If the photographer is efficient and completes the project at 2:00 p.m., does the client look for a discount? No, the photographer is a hero because everyone can go home early.

If the photographer spends the entire day on location and creates 15 wonderful images, what might the result be? Often the client will purchase the additional images if  it’s in the budget. The photographer is rewarded for doing a good job. The client is often happy to purchase the additional images. They are not mad about the purchase because they understand the value of each image and have no obligation to purchase.

Depending on the production requirements of the assignment, it is generally better not to require a minimum purchase. Although a minimum purchase requirement may be necessary if production expenses are high. But, if a client is expected to purchase additional images they like, should they have to pay for images they don’t like?

I present myself as the high-value, low-risk photographer. I’m not cheap. I’m a good photographer. But, I don’t want clients feeling bad because they have to purchase images they don’t like. I understand having a client pay for unwanted images is a greater cost than the rate charged for the images. When clients know they have choices, they will be more flexible. Often they will grant another opportunity, when available, to create another image.

When shoots involve more production, they may require a project rate. Projects that take multiple days or require a specific amount of time may also require such rates.

Pricing options are endless. Sometimes, when presenting a per-image system, the first image is at a higher rate than the additional images. For example, the first image’s rate could be $500. Each additional image could be purchased for $375. Models, props and location fees can be separate, line-item charges. Usage and licensing fees also may be added on a separate line. Whether the usage is listed separately or not, the license always should be listed in the quote and contract.

The need for custom photography is greater than ever. As high-end Web sites are becoming standard for businesses, 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 additional photography is limited. However, a client may benefit from every image they want for the company’s Web site.

As digital photography has evolved, photographers have attempted to charge for the additional costs and production time associated with digital imagery. Using a per-image pricing model allows the photographer to incorporate such expenses into the cost.

Sometimes photographers (myself included) do not price their projects correctly. Under-priced projects lend themselves to additional poorly priced opportunities. If a photographer offers to take three individual portraits in one hour for $75, in most cases she has underbid the job. Let’s say she completes the project in 45 minutes and two additional people show up. Of course, the project would take longer, in this case 70 minutes total, and the photographer may not charge for the extra ten minutes. The client receives five images for $75.

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

The advantages 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 valuable images. Being respectful of the client’s time is not to the benefit of a day-rate photographer.

The day rate is the old way of doing business. Per-image pricing fits well with the new media photographer model. The value of many types of photography is a commodity. Placing the value on each image rather than on the photographer’s time helps stabilize pricing and allows the new media photographer to make a living in the new media world.


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