For those who don’t deal in the world of commercial photography pricing, writing or receiving a quote can seem like a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. I’ll be honest here, I’m writing this blog post for two audiences; my clients, who often don’t understand why things are priced the way they are, and my students and fellow photographers who are new to the world of commercial photography, who constantly ask the same questions over and over again.
Here is the thing… Unlike buying a product or service where you pay a single price and have a “thing” or have work performed, commercial photography is based on three primary factors; creative fees, expenses, and usage licensing. Before I go into detail on what all those words mean, let me show you an example of a fictional quote for a job to create very high quality edgy and artistic athletic photos for a local gym to use in their advertising campaigns, website, email marketing, and social media.
Job Name: Tough Guy Fitness – High Production Value Photography
USAGE LICENSE 5 Images @ 500 ea. = $2500
This license is strictly limited to the terms and conditions below, and governed by the Copyright laws of the United States, as specified in Title 17 of the United States Code:
- Licensee: Tough Guy Fitness
- Licensor: Adam Lowe Creative
- Credit: Adam Lowe Creative
- Date: 2017-03-04
- Duration: Perpetual
- Quantity: Unlimited
- Exclusivity: Exclusive
- Region: Worldwide
- Media: Any media, print or electronic
Creative Fees $2700
- Pre Production @ 150.00 /hour for 4 hours
This includes meetings with clients and the marketing team to gather and document requirements as well as planning for the photo shoot.
- Session Fee @ 2,000.00 /day for 0.5 days
This includes the time and talent for the main photographer while on set. Creative fees are typically billed in half or full-day increments.
- Post Production @ 100.00 /hour for 8 hours
The time spent on post-production. In some cases, the photographer may outsource this work to a full-time retoucher and it will simply be included as a line item.
- Travel @ 75.00 /hour for 4 hours
Travel to and from the shoot location. This estimate assumes one trip to “scout” the location and one trip for the actual session.
Expenses – Crew $2000
- Digital Technician @ 1,000.00 /day for 0.5 days
This person manages the digital images as they are captured, cataloging the images as they are shot and tagging which ones will be used for different purposes. He is also responsible for on-site backups and ensuring that all digital technology stays working properly.
- First Assistant @ 1,000.00 /day for 0.5 days
This is the photographer’s main assistant. He/she is responsible for making sure the photographer has everything he needs to create the images. While the photographer is the “captain of the ship”, the first assistant is his first mate and handles much of the actual “hands-on” work with the lighting, sets, and talent (models), freeing the photographer to concentrate on the image and the client.
- Hair Stylist @ 500.00 /day for 0.5 days
This person is responsible for ensuring that the talent’s hair is styled properly for the session. She stays during the session to perform any necessary touch-ups.
- Makeup Artist @ 500.00 /day for 0.5 days
This person is responsible for ensuring that the talent’s makeup is styled properly for the session. She stays during the session to perform any necessary touch-ups.
- Production Assistant @ 1,000.00 /day for 0.5 days
This person is often used to coordinate communication between the client or the client’s representative and the photographer.
Expenses – Insurance $500
- Insurance @ 500.00 ea.
This is additional insurance taken out for the specific session to cover the location and crew. It is in addition to the standard liability insurance carried by the photographer.
Expenses – Location/Studio $3500
- Location Fees/Permits @ 1,500.00 /day for 1 day
Many public locations require special permits for commercial photography. Commercial photography can be defined as any photography that involves an exchange of money. Some locations also require permits for photography if there is more equipment than a simple hand-held camera.
- Set Build/Prep @ 500.00 /hour for 4 hours
Time for the photographer, assistant, and/or prop master to prepare the set for the session.
Expenses – Miscellaneous $2350
- Craft Service @ 250.00
It sounds ridiculous, but commercial photography is time-consuming and everyone needs to eat. This cost is typically charged to the client.
- Prop Purchase @ 500.00
Cost of any special props that are needed for this specific session.
- Expendables @ 100.00
Cost of expendable items used during the production.
- Equipment Rental @ 1,500.00 ea.
Any specialized technical or location equipment rentals necessary for this particular project.
Expenses – Talent $500
- 3 Adults @ 500.00 ea.
Cost for the models’ time and talent.
That’s a lot to take in, right? Okay, so this example is a bit extreme and most productions won’t have this much crew or this many expenses. I just wanted to include as much detail as possible so you can understand what some of these items are when you run across them.
So, of the three main fees I mentioned (creative fee, expenses, license fee) the first two probably make a lot of sense. Of course the photographer needs to be paid for his time and yes, unfortunately there are a lot of expenses that come along with a high production value project. Nobody likes spending money, but we all get it…
So what’s this licensing thing? I thought I already paid for the photographer to create the images!
Well, you did pay for the photographer to create the images. You just haven’t paid to USE the images yet!
Think of it this way, if you were to go to Getty Images to for a single stock photo of an athlete, you would end up paying approximately $1535 for the right to use the image for 3 years in a digital-only medium. You don’t own the image, you are simply licensing the right to use that image. You get to pay less for the image because the creator is licensing it to multiple people to pay for his expenses to create it. However, when you custom-commission a photograph you are paying for both the image license and the cost to create it. Generally, you are getting an exclusive license to use the photograph, meaning that the photographer can’t resell it to anyone else. And even if he could, well, not many other people would want to pay for something that is customized for your company and brand!
Here is an analogy for you… music!
If you or I want to listen to the latest hit from “Barenaked Ladies” we just go to iTunes and license (not buy!) it for $0.99. That gives us the right to listen to that song as much as we want, wherever we want. But, if we want to use that song as the theme song for our television show it would cost anywhere between $25,000 – $50,000. Now, get this, maybe we want Barenaked Ladies to write a brand new song for us to use as the theme on our television show (Like they did for The Big Bang Theory). Not only do we have to pay for the license to use the song, we also have to pay for them to write and record it for us!
It’s exactly the same way in commercial photography…
The fictional Tough Guy fitness studio owner above might be wondering why he can’t just hire a photographer to snap a couple photos while people are working out and pay the photographer for his time. If that’s what the owner wants then there are certainly photographers who will be happy to do that, but realize that the end result will look more like a snapshot than a truly professional image that represents their brand.
Oh, and portrait photographers… the same goes for you too! Remember, we as photographers aren’t selling our time or our images. We are charging for our time and LICENSING our images.