Most photographers work for themselves, meaning they are in charge of setting their fees for the work they do. It can be difficult to come to a rate that is both competitive to book clients and does not undervalue their skills and experience. Pricing commercial photography is even more detailed as these are images will be used for their clients to make money off of.
How do you price commercial photography? Unlike other forms of private photography, commercial photography is dependent on a number of factors to determine the price that should be charged for services:
- Photographer experience and reputation
- Duration of shoot
- Scope and location of the shoot
- Pre and post-production time and effort
- Intended use (licensing)
This work needs to be of the highest quality, making prices reflective of the time, effort, and professionalism the photographer provides. Prices for commercial photography sessions can vary greatly based on the factors mentioned above and should be calculated accordingly. Join me below for the guide on calculating the price for commercial photography projects.
Pricing Commercial Photography
There are many factors that influence the pricing of commercial photography. Before setting a price, you need to evaluate all the areas that influence the time and effort that are putting into a commercial photography project. Differences in these categories will change the fee from photographer to photographer. We will then break down how to calculate a photography fee.
Factors that Influence Price
The price you can charge for commercial photography will depend on the individual photographer and the individual project. This is helpful for both photographers and clients who should expect to be quoted based on the project’s details.
The price of a commercial photography project will be dependent on the amount of time it takes to photograph the desired subjects. This could be a day project or run for multiple days. This will impact the price as the photographer’s “time is money.” Photographers typically have a set “photography fee” that denotes their hourly or daily fee for the time spent in the studio or on location.
A “full day” on location or in the studio is generally 10 hours. The photographer will designate this in the contract. A “half day” is usually half of this time, but much more time is put into the planning and editing beyond time spent shooting.
This is also known as studio time, or it could be on a location if the shoot requires a specific scenery or travel to get there.
Pre and Post-Production
Clients often underestimate the amount of time and energy that goes into preparing for a commercial photography project. Photographers do not simply show up and take the photos. There is planning beforehand related to strategy and how the scene will look and feel as well as getting to know the vision and goals of your client.
- Consultations and meetings: These are held to understand a client’s needs and run through the plan of the shoot. Typically, there is a pre-production meeting to make the day of shooting the most efficient and run smoothly.
- Shoot planning: Scenery, wardrobe, and vision are just a few of the things that are discussed regarding the shoot and how it should be executed.
- Test shots for outdoor locations: Taking test shots will save time in editing in post-production as the photographer can determine the best lighting and feasibility of selected locations.
- Vendor contacts and requests: Larger shoots may require models, hair and makeup, and wardrobe. The photographer and team must make sure all necessary people and props are taken care of.
- Equipment rental: Additional equipment may be required based on the job. Not all photographers have every piece of equipment they will need and will have to arrange for rentals.
After the photographs are taken, they must be sorted through and edited. This is a long process to get the best shots and lighting, especially as the number of photographs needed rises. Files need to be created, and additional work may be required depending on the specificities of the client.
- Retouching: Varies depending on the scope of the shoot and conditions from the day of the shoot, often taking a lot of time to look professional. Retouching is adding or taking away something that didn’t exist in the photo before, such as blemishes or skin redness.
- Editing: Altering images for sharpness, coloring, and other filters for best results.
While there are fewer tasks related to post-production, they often take the most time. Editing and retouching photos will give the extra pop to photos by making sure the subjects in the photos look perfect. More photos required from a project means more post-production work.
Reputation and Experience
The level of experience is a huge factor in determining a commercial price. Great commercial photographers come with years of experience and knowledge that will only enhance the ideas and images that result. They may have ideas for shots and angles that the client doesn’t think of themselves. They have established themselves in the industry, making their time valuable.
As photographers grow in experience, they can raise their rates. For high quality work, photographers want to make money that reflects this professionalism and years of experience and work they put into developing their craft.
Technology and Equipment
Photographers who bring state of the art equipment will calculate this into their fee, considering it increases the quality of the final product and is a hefty business expense they are trying to cover. They must cover expenses such as these to make sure they are running a profit in their business.
Cameras, lenses, and lights all cost thousands of dollars each, making the expenses associated with being a commercial photographer steep. Photographers make greater investments in equipment to produce higher level bodies of work and therefore book more profitable and high caliber jobs.
Size and Type of Job
The amount a photographer can charge will depend on the individual project’s specifications and needs as well as the market rate for different types of projects.
The number of photos that a client wants will vary the prices greatly. The amount of work required to get all the necessary shots and then edit them in post-production can be significant. Bigger locations and sets also require much more planning on the photographer’s end.
There are many different types of commercial photography, some of which are deemed more valuable and priced higher than others. These projects could be:
- Print/online advertising: Advertising has a higher price tag than most other types of commercial photography because companies expect to see the highest return from it. Advertising photos are valuable to clients as a means of generating income.
- Editorial: While still valuable, editorial photography does not cost as much as advertising. Editorial photos run alongside text to enhance a story or article. This can be used by a variety of companies, such as magazines, newspapers, and documentaries.
- Websites: Companies need photographs to make their content appealing online. Professional photographers are hired for enhancing website content.
- Displays: Clients who attend tradeshows or want physical displays for marketing purposes hire photographers for physical props and content.
- Internal business use: Companies will often hire professional photographers for spicing up their annual reports, presentations, and other projects that will not be displayed outside of the company.
The type of projects a photographer works on will impact the price they can charge. The market has dictated what is deemed more valuable, and clients will not want to pay more than they have to against the going market rate.
Where a shoot takes place, both in relation to the photographer’s home base and the geographical location will have an impact on the pricing that a photographer can charge.
Location impacts the photography fee in two ways:
- Geographical location in the country
- Location as it relates to travel time
Like any service or profession within the United States, the location is tied to the price one can typically charge based on the market. You can expect to pay more in California than Wyoming for similar services. This is also true of a city versus a rural environment. Photographers who are located in big cities charge more as they are located in an area with higher expenses.
The location of the photoshoot is also a factor that influences commercial photography prices. If the location of the shoot is far from the photographer’s studio, they will have to spend money on gas and increase travel time.
The intended use of a commercial photoshoot means what will be done with the photos the photographer takes and where will they be used. As we will discuss further in this article, your photography rate should not change from client to client as your time is valued at a set amount. What can fluctuate is your licensing fee, which is dependent on the photos’ usage.
All commercial photographs are owned by the photographer, even if someone pays for the photoshoot and time. The photographer sets a usage or licensing fee to “rent” the photos to the client for a certain amount of time. This fee can fluctuate based on the size of the client as they may use the photos on a greater scale.
We will dive deeper into this when setting the fee.
Setting The Fee
Now that we’ve discussed the different factors that influence setting the price for commercial photography, let’s break down the calculations and how you should word items on the invoice for clarity. This fee is dependent on a photographer valuing themselves, making this number variable from photographer to photographer.
Breakdown of Invoice
There are three main sections that are made up of one entire commercial photography fee. Separating these categories is important for the photographer’s adjusting as well as transparency for the client.
The photography fee, also known as the creative fee, is the amount of money that is charged for the work and time required to create and take the photographs. You may often hear this referred to as a “day rate,” which can be misleading to clients as it takes more than a day’s work on set to take the photos from a shoot and transform them into the finished product.
By using the terms “photography fee” or “creative fee” you are able to set a rate that reflects both the value of the photographer’s time at the physical shoot as well as the required work for pre and post-production. You can itemize this fee in the invoice, so clients know exactly how their dollars are being spent.
Be mindful of breaking it down too far as some clients may see this as being nickeled and dimed if it is overly itemized. A photography fee can be broken down as you see fit, but it should include the time spent on set as well as the additional time spent retouching and making edits to form the finished product.
Half vs. Full Day
This fee should be set from client to client. Clients may request a photographer for a full day or a half day if they only want them for a certain amount of time or are trying to cut down on costs. A half day of work is not truly a half day as photographers cannot often book another job on the same day with travel and time spent in total beyond the hours on set.
Photographers should charge more than 50% of their photography fee for these half day jobs. Professional photographers suggest charging at least 65% of their full day rate or photography fee to make up for the opportunity cost. Pre and post production costs are still using their standard rate.
Licensing fees are those associated with the intended use. The photographer “rents” their photos to the client for a certain period of time (typically between 1-5 years) and they use them for their desired needs. A photographer should have a clear picture of where these photographs will be placed and how they will be used.
This is where you can change the fee based on the size of the project and the client. An advertisement that runs for a local business will have far less reach than one that is used for a national campaign.
These expenses are those associated with executing the photoshoot and completing the project. These are typically determined once the photoshoot has been planned out. There may be additional costs, but these should be made clear as soon as they appear for transparency with the client. A photographer should have these costs well-detailed in their initial quote.
Some typical production expenses could be:
- Renting equipment and set props
- Need for a team of assistants
- Travel expenses
These are expensed separately as they do not account for the time of the photographer’s work. This expense is purely for the costs of producing the photoshoot and expenses that occurred from the project.
There are calculations you can make to come up with your photography and licensing fees. The production expenses are separate and are not impacted by the value of the photographer or the client’s intended use for the images.
Photography Fee Pricing
This calculation works for all freelancers, photographers included. This is the calculation that a photographer will do to set a price for their services. You will need to set your photography fee (calculated by hourly rate) and licensing fees as a photographer.
To set your photography fee:
- Set your desired annual salary: Starting with this goal in mind will determine the number of hours you plan to work and how to charge for them.
- Calculate adjusted annual salary: This is the sum of your target annual salary and the expenses and overhead incurred doing business. This can be the rent you pay for your space, equipment costs, your marketing expenses, website and Internet, and any other costs. You can easily calculate the cost of doing business with this simple calculator. This calculator is one of the better ones I found. I may create a model in Excel for download. You can add a little padding in the beginning of your career when costs may be higher.
- Determine the number of billable hours per year: There are 2,080 working hours in a year. You will spend about 25% of that time doing non-billable work. Set the number of hours you would like off from this 2,080 (vacation time, sick days, etc.). Math: 2,080 minus hours off multiplied by 0.75 = billable hours per year.
- Photography fee (hourly rate): Adjusted annual salary divided by working hours per year equals the hourly rate. This is the rate you can use for your photography fee.
This value leaves a lot of room for the photographer to set a price on the value of their own time based on their skills, experiences, and the type of photography services they will be providing. The photography fee can change over time as the photographer gains more experience and skills. The quality of their work is heavily tied to the fee.
Licensing Fee Pricing
Licensing fees are variable, unlike photography fees. They fluctuate based on the client and the scope of the intended use for the delivered photos. Larger projects have the potential to make a significant amount of money for the client, and the photographer wants to make sure they see some of that value. They are not simply paid for the time they give to create the photos.
Licensing fees can work on a sliding scale as there are no set rates, and this rate varies in the industry. The licensing fee is based on the amount of money that will be spent on using your image in media outlets. If more money is spent on a marketing campaign, the discount on the license should also be larger.
A 5% fee for a small client spending $1,000 on a campaign is much different than 5% of a larger client’s $100,000 campaign. $50 versus a $5,000 fee is much different, and the $50 may not be worth the time. Use larger percentages for smaller clients and lower percentages for big budgets as you will receive ample compensation but also not overcharge them for the service.
Here’s a guide to charging licensing fees based on value spent on media outlets:
- 15% for $1 to $1,000 budgets
- 10% for $1,000 to $5,000 budgets
- 2% for $50,000 to $250,000 budgets
- 1% for media outlet budgets of $250,000 or more
Licensing fees are typically time bound as a client will not need the image for more than a couple years. Campaign strategies change, and these images may not be used as a brand grows and changes. If a client does need the photos beyond the terms laid out in the contract, photographers will often offer them a discounted licensing fee for additional time needed.
Commercial Photography Prices
Now that we’ve broken down what commercial photography prices are based on and how photographers calculate them, it is helpful for both photographers and clients to see what these rates look like around the country. Rates will vary based on geographical location.
These are the general fees ranges in the United States. Daily fees for commercial photography can vary between: $650 – $5,000 depending on all the factors we’ve talked about through this article. They break down like this:
- New photographers: $650 – $1,000 ($65 – $100 per hour)
- Established photographers without representation (no agent): $1,250 – $2,500 ($125 – $250 per hour)
- Established photographers with representation: $4,500 – $5,000 ($450 – $500 per hour)
These rates do not include licensing fees and a day’s rate usually means 10-hour work days. Photographers will apply their hourly rate or a higher rate for overtime beyond their designated workday.
Alternative Methods of Pricing Projects
The most common way to price commercial photography is setting the day rate or photography fee that we have mentioned throughout this article. There are also different ways that photographers will price their services and photos. This strategy may be more beneficial for the type of work they do or the clients they book.
Many commercial photographers are hired to take photos of products for advertisements. Companies may hire the photographer to take lots of photos of different products. Being priced by product can allow for unlimited shots per product, which may be attractive to a client. This payment structure is not always advantageous for photographers if many photos are used.
To avoid this, photographers may set a maximum number of photos per product and then charge for additional photos. They may also charge a different rate for products in different categories. This is based on the difficulty of photographing certain items and products over others.
Photographers can set this payment structure in tiers, dropping the price per product for the greater number the client brings to them. This allows them to make a profit photographing just a few products or many.
These rates can be negotiated with the client and must be high enough to run a profit, but not too high as to lose clients to competitors.
Some photographers may charge by the photo. This is a more attractive pricing structure for photographers, especially if they are photographing products. This structure only makes them edit and retouch photos that are actually going to be selected by the client. They also get paid specifically for every photo they produce, which may be more profitable than by product.
The “by photo” structure may also be a better solution for the client as they are able to select only the photographs they need and therefore stick to a lower budget. This is the most common method in product photography and can be a popular method for its feasibility for both the photographer and client across many commercial photography projects.
The only downside to this strategy is if there are minimal photos required, and this is your only charge. The photographer must also charge for their time shooting in addition to the photos to ensure they are running a profitable business.
The photographer and client should negotiate these rates to find a fair pricing for both parties.
As this guide points out, there are many factors that influence the price of commercial photography sessions, and there are multiple ways to structure the prices. Typically, the higher priced quotes from photographers suggest a higher level of quality, experience, and more in-depth job. Each job will vary in its scope and requirements, which will impact price.
Once again, the main factors that influence commercial photography pricing are:
- Photographer experience and reputation
- Duration of shoot
- Scope and location of the shoot
- Pre and post-production time and effort
- Intended use (licensing)
I absolutely love this kind of stuff. It's exciting to do the math because it shows the possibilities that exist. I did this to some extent with my computer freelancing gig and did this quite heavily with my WordPress services freelancing gig. It's a little bit of extra work but don't skip it.
Having an idea of these factors will allow a photographer to best assess the rate they charge and allow clients to make sure the price reflects the appropriate level of performance in each of these categories. Selecting a commercial photographer based on price may be a good strategy if you are on a budget, but keep in mind that paying more for a photographer should result in an overall better experience and final product for the client. Investing in top quality photography can directly result in more money from successful campaigns with great photos.