The subject of pricing photography services is extremely tricky and I’d like to share what I think about it.
You Should NOT Charge by The Hour
Charging by the hour means that the value you’re creating is only determined by the length of the actual ‘physical’ work you’re carrying out (actually being on set and taking images). Nothing could be farther from the truth when it comes to creative work.
If you only use time to price your services, what happens to your prices as your skills develop and you become both faster and better at creating the work your client needs? Your prices will keep going down (you spend less and less time taking the images and delivering them) while the value the client is receiving will keep going up (the quality of your images is very likely to improve with your experience). You are actually punished for becoming a better photographer and rewarded for staying a worse one.
Does this make any sense to you?
Now think about the impact of you becoming more efficient on your client’s time, their business, and overall perceived service level. Your client actually benefits from that.
1) They will have quicker access to your images. Who doesn’t want something sooner rather than later? Imagine what it means to a business to get to market more quickly thanks to your faster delivery!
2) They will save time brainstorming, discussing and negotiating with you because you’ve become a professional and you always aim at saving their time (and yours).
3) They will save time on set and will enjoy the experience of working with you because you have developed an incredible workflow and atmosphere.
As you can see, your clients benefit from you becoming better and faster, yet you don’t. Your productivity gets actually worse, if you think about it. Does this make any business sense to you?
You Should Charge by Value/Solution/Package
You’re creating something that has a value for your client (you are solving a problem for them) and you should be charging for what that value is to them. The time it takes to create and deliver that value is definitely playing a part, but it should not be the primary factor determining the price.
So what’s that value? It depends on many factors, such as usage, number of images, time, etc AND it depends on the type of client. A small mom-and-pop restaurant in a small town that hires you directly and a big restaurant chain that is hiring you through an advertising agency to market themselves worldwide will value the very same images in very different ways. In fact, they will have very different budgets. Should the price be different? Of course it should!
The prices for the example above could easily differ by a factor of 10 or more, so if the price for the small restaurant is $500, the price for the big one could be $5000 or more. This would represent the photography fee only (your work, including usage for a given number of images or a given solution) and would not include any expenses (studio rent, transportation, supplies, etc).
I believe the first question you should be asking your client is “What’s your budget?”. Many will not tell you, probably most of them, hoping you’ll price below the budget. However, it’s a very honest and relevant question you should not be afraid to ask. It can really save everybody a ton of time if you and your prospect client can quickly realize you guys are not a good match.
Now, say that they tell you their budget is $10k, should you be excited and immediately take the job? Not necessarily. You shouldn’t take a job until you know EXACTLY what is expected of you, what the deliverables are.
Know Your Costs
No matter if you know the budget or not, you need to ask your client the following questions BEFORE pricing your work. The answers will give you a pretty good idea of the ballpark figure of their budget (if they didn’t disclose that) and that will give you a better idea of how much you can charge for your work. This list is specific for food photography, but can be easily adapted to other photography genres.
What type of products/dishes?
How many images in total?
How many different products/dishes?
Who is art directing the project?
Who is creating the shot list?
What type of usage and for how long?
Where are you looking to photograph?
When are you looking to have the images ready?
Who is providing the food?
Who is cooking the food?
Who is styling the food?
Who is providing the props?
Who is doing prop styling?
Who is doing retouch?
As you can imagine, your quote for a ‘turn-key’ solution where you provide all of the above (either yourself directly or through recruiting subcontractors) will be very different than your quote for a solution where the only thing you do is to show up on set, take the images, give them all the raw files after the shoot and go home. Suddenly, $10k doesn’t sound like such a high number, right?
Now assume they tell you the $10k is for your fee only, but you still don’t know how many images they need, when they need them, how they are going to use them, etc. Should you take the job? It may sound like a ton of money, but what if they are expecting the following?
300 images in total
2 images/hr (15 images/day —> 20 working days. The images/day you can shoot will be highly dependent on your skills)
Retouch (15min/image -> 75hrs -> about 10 working days. The total time will depend on your skills)
Work made for hire (see my post about that)
You’d be probably working 30 days, so you’d be making about $333/day and you’d lose all rights to your images. Also, you might not have worked with them before, so you have no idea how organized they are. What if they are totally unorganized and will cause huge delays every time you shoot? What if you only mange to produce one image per hour instead of two because of issues that are out of your control? If we run the numbers for that scenario your daily pay suddenly becomes $200.
I’m not saying you should not take the job. How everybody values their work, worth and time is extremely personal. All I’m saying is that what may sound as a ‘big’ budget doesn’t necessarily mean a great deal for the photographer and might just be the doorway to a lot of pain and frustration.
The Big Picture
Let’s take this one step further and think about the big picture for your photography business on a yearly basis. Assume you need to generate $100k from your business in order to break even (see my post about the cost of doing business) on a yearly basis (not a crazy number at all in a city like New York). That means you’re going to need ten of those types of jobs, right? That’s 300 working days, which equals 60 working weeks. A year has only 52 weeks! And you still need to run the rest of your photography business (marketing, learning, networking, accounting, etc), take vacations and allow for sick days.
Are you still sure it’s a good deal? It might still be, don’t get me wrong. You could see it as a one time thing you do to secure some money that you could invest into new equipment or into learning new skills through classes, especially if you’re just starting out.
All I’m trying to do is to shine some light on issues that are easily neglected by amateur photographers or newly pro photographers, hoping to make their life and business decisions easier and eventually help them turn into pro photographers.
This Might Be Useful
Lastly. If you really have no idea of what you should be charging and feel totally lost, here’s a resource that can help you get a sense for what an image can be worth. However, don’t just assume that a potential client who fits the parameters you’re putting into the equation (usage, market type, etc) necessarily has that budget or values the images that way. In my experience, this tool has been useful to sort of ‘educate’ potential clients about photography pricing, especially those who might not be used to hiring photographers. It serves as some sort of a third-party ‘objective’ tool.
Thoughts? I’m very interested in knowing how you deal with this type of issues. Please share your experience with the community by commenting down below. If you enjoyed this information, please share it on your own channels.
Thank You and Happy Shooting!