A Photographer’s Guide on How to Charge for Professional Photography

Below is a list of types of common categories of photographers, 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 how you plan to use the photographs. For example, a photograph created for a local newspaper advertisement (local use) does not command the same fee as using the same image for a national billboard campaign. The value of the photo is higher and photographers do charge premiums for more prominent image use.

How Much Do Photographers Charge?

Hobbyist: Free or (under $100). There are many people who love photography, they have a good eye and like to share their passion. They have a job in another industry, and, most likely, don’t follow many of the best photography business practices, but they can get the job done.

Amateur: $25 – $75 per hour. These photographers are like hobbyist, However, they have a little more experience selling their imagery. For instance, they may have a blog or an online portfolio.

Different types of photography lend themselves to different pricing models. Event photography is generally based on an hourly or day rate. When it comes to commercial photography, some photographers, like me, charge on a per-image or per-project basis for corporate headshots in NYC.

Depending on the photographer, the per-image pricing model is lower risk for the photography buyer, and rewards for the photographer for a job well done. Some photographers charge as little as $25 per photo, while top photographers receive thousands of dollars for a single photograph. I’ve added the average, local use, per-image range moving forward in this list. It’s important to note that per-image pricing adjusts based on production levels and the volume of images produced. Rates also fluctuate depending on location. For example, New York photographers tend to charge more per image than Detroit photographers.

Professional Photography Rates

Student: $50-100 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. Some advanced students do – and should – command as much as professionals. With that said, the photography schools are cranking out a lot of newly pressed photographers and many are trying to earn some income and attempting to get their foot in the door.

Semi-Pro: $50–$150 per hour / $25-125 per image. These are photographers who have ambitions to join the ranks of the professional. They may have another job or income source to keep them afloat, but which they aim to leave behind. Sometimes their additional skills are compatible with their photography. Many compete with professional photographers for jobs, but are not quite ready to jump in with both feet.

Professional: $75-$250 per hour / $75-$250 per image. We can argue that a professional is anyone who is paid at least once for his photography. For the purposes of categorization, a professional is someone who depends on photography to make living. More precisely, professionals who have a solid portfolio to represent their 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 $1,500 per image.

Should The Buyer Own The Copyright?

As soon as a photographer clicks the shutter, she owns a copyrighted image. This is true with anyone who creates a photograph. Even your iPhone selfies fall under the copyright law. The best way to transfer a copyright is in writing. This is because when you pay a photographer to create images for you, the copyright doesn’t automatically transfer with the purchase.

Should you own the copyright? This is a big issue in the photography community. In the digital age, many photographers have become lax on the issue. When a photographer gives up his copyright, he loses the opportunity to make future income from the photograph, and, in some cases, forfeits the right to show the images in his portfolio. However, for the photo buyer, the general rule is if you don’t plan to resell the image, there is no need to pay extra to own the photograph copyright. If you do require copyright ownership, photographers often charge another 50%-100% for their work, provided they are willing to sell.

For your safety, make sure you have, in writing, what you can use the photographs for, and for how long. Make sure that the photography estimate or contract fits your short- and long-term needs. If you don’t know, you can request unlimited use of the images. Most photographers are willing to negotiate, so assume that she is, and approach the photographer accordingly. If you don’t want your photographs used for stock photography, you may request the images not be reused or sold. Photographers create additional income from their photographs, so there may be a fee for such requests.

Different areas of photograph have different average price ranges. Below are a few helpful ranges.

Wedding Photography: $1,700–$3,500. Wedding photography has a wide range. Beginners might only charge $500, while top destination pros command well more than $10,000 to get started.

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.

Local Website Photography: $25-$150 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 before you hire a photographer on price, take a look at his portfolio, to see if the work that he creates is right for your needs. This rule is true at all levels of photography. It’s also worth noting that a great landscape photographer may not be the best choice for your wedding, or that a food photographer may not produce exactly what you want for your portrait. That is, knowing how to work a camera doesn’t mean that the photographer understands how to create what you desire. Once you narrow down the portfolios of the photographers you like, then make price a consideration.

Pricing Your Photography

By The Numbers: How Much Should A Photographer Charge?

One of the hardest parts of being a photographer is determining how much to charge for your work. If you work from a reasonable starting point, it will not be as difficult as you think. 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 proposal. It’s not always easy, especially when you face new types of photographic opportunities, but over time, repetition will make this process much smoother, quicker, and easier.

How To Figure Out Photography Pricing

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 the right thing to do.

It is important to make sure you are covering your expenses, and meeting 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 wish to earn in a year?
– 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 your field, it’s time for a reality check. The fact is that the average photographer does not make a lot of money. Most photographers make about $30,000 a year. Of course, top photographers can make hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. There are some photographers who top one-million dollars. Like many of the arts, those in the top ten-percent make an excellent living, while the remaining ninety-percent struggle to make a full-time career in their craft.

You can get a job as a photographer. The average salary is much higher if you do. Unfortunately, good 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 average photographer who works for someone else earns about $27 per hour.

Freelance Photography Rates

So why can’t freelancers charge the same rate? The answer is simple. Freelancers don’t work 40 paid hours per week. Their business is such that they are required to buy their own equipment and pay their own expenses. This simply is not a burden placed upon salaried photographers.

Many independent photographers come into the business thinking they have low overhead. To stave off getting into an expense-related hole, I recommend you double your estimate of what you expect to be your incurred expenses. Inexperienced photographers often only count the camera they already own, ignoring, or not recognizing the fact that success, by definition, brings expenses. The truth is that your expenses are higher than you think.

Take a look at 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 personally network at events or use Google AdWords: marketing costs money. A good rule is to spend ten percent of the amount you wish to earn. So, if you plan to make $55,000 next year as a photographer, I recommend you spend at least $5,500 on marketing. I further recommend that you be smart with your marketing budget. For instance, spending your whole $5,500 budget on one industry portfolio book will most likely not produce the results you expect. 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 shoot on the weekends. An established commercial photographer will shoot, on average, only a few days per week. As they have not yet built their businesses, students coming out of college are lucky to have two or three photography jobs per month.

Lets say you wish to make $60,000 next year as a professional photographer. You’ve added up your expenses and it costs you $1,800 a month or $21,600 per year to run your business. Wait! Don’t forget $6,000 for marketing. This increases your total to $27,600 for business expenses annually. Now, add your $60,000 salary to the total and this makes your target photography sales goal $87,600 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 to make money. 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 is the photography project is going to cost.

Per-image-pricing is a good way to give clients a feeling of control over the project. Just as important, per-image pricing rewards you 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 $87,600 by 50 (or your own estimated figure) and you will see that, to meet your goal, you need to generate at least $1,752 each on those 50 days. Divide that number by ten to estimate your hourly rate. In this example, it’s about $175 per hour. That is a big difference from the salary wage of $27.

Using the same hours (500) at $27 per hour a photographer will make $13,500 a year. Your work – and you – are worth much more than that.

Per-Image Pricing

In 2016, 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 20 years ago. Interestingly, although pre-production time is less, many photographers find post-production work much more time-consuming.

Unfortunately, many photographers do not consider post-production time to be part of their pricing system, and, as such, fail to factor in that time. This error can cost the photographer dearly. I’ve created a simple tool 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

Here is my best example of why per-image pricing is better: You receive a call from a company that needs new photographs for its website. They want you to create 10 photographs, to be taken at their location. Let’s say you quote a photography fee of $2,000 per day and $500 for expenses. The total estimate is $2,500. First, you know they will choke at a photographer asking for $2,000 for one day of work. They don’t make that much money, so why should you? Unfortunately, most clients don’t realize that photographers generally don’t work every day, have considerable expenses, and spend a lot of time on editing, managing and performing post-production on the images.

Nonetheless, they agree with your rate and you go on site. You do a great job and complete the assignment by 1:00p.m. The client loves the photographs. Yet, there is a problem. They don’t feel they should pay you for a full day considering you finished so early. You can explain that you reserved the 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.

This brings us to the advantages of per-image pricing. Rather than quoting $2,000 for your fee and $500 for expenses, you simply tell the client you will charge $250 per each client-selected photograph. You now place the value on the photograph and not 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 adjust your rate. In addition, if you create more wonderful images than expected, the client may buy the extra photographs.

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. Prospects are risk-averse, and they often make price the vehicle for lowering the risk of hiring a photographer. I place the risk on myself, and this does not diminish the value of my photography. I let them know if they don’t like any of my images they don’t have to pay for them. However, I suggest that that might be the case with my competition. I have confidence in my photography and I know that in most cases, clients will by more images, not fewer.

Yes, sometimes it does happen. I have to expect that if I put the risk on myself, I will sometimes lose. Sometimes an assignment goes wrong; a clients 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.

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