Commercial Photography Pricing
If you are a photographer who has ever been contacted by a business or agency requesting pricing for a commercial photo shoot (a shoot designed to create marketing/advertising images), then you’ve been asked to create a quote that includes your commercial photography fee. And now you are wondering how to price your photography fee for commercial / advertising use.
And you likely have already heard about the $20k, $45k, $85k+ photo shoots happening in the industry every day.
You may have landed here after a Google search for the term ‘day rate’ as that’s often what small and medium-sized businesses ask for in order to try and quickly compare the rates of the photographers they contact.
In this article I’ll go through the terms you should be using and also show you how to calculate your photography fee, so you can learn the basics of pricing commercial photography jobs with confidence and knowledge.
There’s a little bit of math you’ll need to do, but the good news is, once you have done the work you won’t need to do it again until you change your rates.
Grab a beverage and a calculator and dive in.
Commercial photography pricing 101
Before we explore commercial photography fees, it’s important to go over pricing 101.
An estimate for a commercial photo shoot includes the following four things:
- Non-photography fees charged by the photographer
- Daily photography fee (the focus of this article)
- Usage fees to license the images
- Expenses required for the production
Non-photography fees include but are not limited to:
- Pre-production fees
- Tech/location scouting fees (if these are done by the photographer)
- Model/talent scouting/casting fees (if this service is provided by the photographer)
- Travel fees
- Post-processing fees
- Retouching fees
The daily photography fee is what this article is about. This is the main fee a commercial photographer charges to provide the photography service, which often only covers service time and not products/images. (More on this below.)
Usage fees are fees charged to the client to license/use the images in the specific ways the company needs. I cover this below, and link to an article with resources on how to calculate usage fees.
Finally, expenses are the costs incurred by the production (shoot), in order to deliver the results the client expects. Commercial photo shoot expenses include but are not limited to:
- assistants (camera/photography assistant and/or production assistant)
- hair and makeup
- equipment/gear rentals
- location rental fees (studio, house, office, etc)
- and all other expenses incurred that are required during the life of the project to fulfill the client’s brief
Ok, now that we know what the different fees are in a commercial photography estimate, let’s move onto how to determine the photography fee itself.
‘Day Rate’ backstory.
Up until several years ago, the term ‘Day Rate’ was the most frequently used term when describing how much a commercial or editorial photographer charges for their time.
This term has fallen out of favor, to be replaced by the terms ‘Creative Fee’, or ‘Photography Fee’, which I go over below.
‘Day Rate’ vs. ‘Creative Fee’ vs. ‘Photography Fee’
The term ‘Day Rate’ is a misnomer, because it implies that that single day is the only day a photographer does work for the shoot. The reality is that there is always so much more work that goes into preparing for a shoot (and wrapping it up afterward), that isn’t included in that one day of work. Read the article ‘The Critical Distinction Between Photo Shoot and Project‘ for more on this.
When you use the term ‘day rate’, you are (poorly) educating your client that you are only investing the day of work the client is paying for. Unless you are breaking down all work involved in the shoot, the client will have unreasonable expectations about what your actual time investment is.
The client is likely to underestimate how much time you are investing in their project, and view the fee as high, based on the ‘day’ you are shooting for them. So you can see why this term just doesn’t really work, and it’s better to use ‘photography fee’ or ‘creative fee’ instead.
Some commercial photographers charge a fee called a ‘pre-pro’ (pre-production) fee for the time they invest preparing for the shoot, and some choose to roll it into their photography/creative fee. Some photographers charge a ‘post-pro’ fee for any work that they do after the shoot (returning equipment, mailing a hard drive, etc.), and some choose to roll it into their creative/photography fee.
‘Creative Fee’ rolls the photography fee (e.g. day rate), and licensing fee (usage fee) into one fee.
If you are new to commercial photography and aren’t sure what a usage fee is, check out our articles What is a Commercial Use Licensing / Usage Fee?, and 8 Great Resources for Calculating Commercial Photography Usage Fees.
Some photographers include all pre-pro and post-pro work in their Creative Fee, and some opt to include it as a separate line item in their fees on their bid(s).
A creative fee makes the most sense when it’s hard to qualify and quantify exactly what kind of time is involved, especially when it’s not possible to quantify the licensing fees on a per-image or even catalog basis, and it makes more sense to combine those with the photography fee. This is often the case with advertising photography pricing, where it can be easier to pitch an all-inclusive creative fee, because the art buyers at ad agencies know what this is.
Essentially a creative fee communicates to the client: “this is how much it will cost for me to create the images you require.”
A ‘Photography Fee’ is simply the fee that pays the photographer to do the photography. It’s similar to the term Day Rate, but doesn’t specify how long that time is. It could be five hours or it could be twelve.
For example, a commercial photography rate per hour of $200, multiplied by four hours of shooting time = a $800 ‘Photography Fee’.
The term Photography Fee makes sense to use when separating out the licensing fees in an estimate/bid. The more stingy the bean counters are at the agency/company requesting the photographer’s rates (e.g. a bid/estimate for a project), the more you will need to be precise with your fees and expenses, making each line item in your commercial photography estimate crystal clear.
The inverse to that is: generally the smaller the client, the more they will feel like you are nickel-and-diming them if you include a bunch of different line item fees in the estimate. (Although it’s the responsibility of each photographer to educate their client. If pricing is complicated/confusing to you, imagine how a client who is new to hiring a commercial photographer feels.)
When working with small businesses, you may also want to include any pre and post work in your one photography fee.
You’ll also want to use different pricing strategies for small business clients as they require more education. You need to be able to explain your pricing in a way that makes sense, and make sure you are crystal clear on why you set the prices you charge. Read our article 5 Tips for Shooting for Small Businesses for more on this.
Negotiations are customary in commercial photography, and when you are knowledgeable and informed about your pricing, it makes that process significantly easier.
No matter the size of the client, you should always assume the client wants to know why you are charging what you are charging for your commercial photography services.
Half Day Rate
Ask 99% of established commercial photographers about half day rates, and they will all say “there is no such thing as a half day of photography”. This is for the reasons I mentioned above about preparing for the shoot and wrapping it up afterward.
A three hour shoot can easily turn into eight hours when you factor in travel time, time to pick up equipment, props or other supplies, post-shoot processing, etc.
Additionally, there is a lost opportunity cost, because the photographer is unlikely to be able to book two commercial client shoots on the same day. It just isn’t feasible in most cases, with the possible exception of event photography that occurs at night.
You need to consider whether you are willing to potentially lose a full day of pay you’d generate from a full day shoot to a half-day shoot where you are generating less revenue, because you can’t do both.
Some photographers elect to offer half-day fees, but my recommendation to photographers is to always charge between 65%-75% of their full day photography fee when they do, or 60% of their full day rate and then charge for pre-pro and post-pro separately so they are making sure they are being paid for all of the time they invest.
You are also well within your rights to set a minimum photography fee and not set a minimum quantity of hours that covers. It would simply be ‘whatever time I need to create the images’. In an ideal world, this is how all photographers would work (e.g. value-based pricing), and clients would understand it.
Calculate how many hours of time you will invest, multiply by your (internal) hourly rate (more on that below) and then make sure all of that time is accounted for in your fees.
Pricing Commercial Photography Fees
Pricing commercial photography is a complicated and tricky topic that goes far beyond the scope of this simple(ish) blog post, but I outline some strategies in this article that will help you calculate your own photography fees, which is the first part of the equation in commercial photography pricing, as I explained above.
I know from past experience that when searching the web for information like this, you really just want a price. So here’s a range.
Commercial Photography Fees (‘Day Rates’) for U.S.-based commercial photographers range from $1000/day to $5000+/day
- New (and somewhat new) photographers: $1000-$1250/day
- Established photographers without representation (an agent): $1300-$3000/day (averages are often in the $1500-$2500 range)
- Well-known and famous photographers with representation (an agent): $3500-$5000/day and up
These rates don’t include any licensing (which is where the revenue from the big $20k+ shoots come from), so they are for the photography service alone. (We div deep into licensing fees in our Business of Commercial Photography course, which includes real life awarded bids and rejected bids from $2500 to $250k.)
Some commercial photographers who shoot primarily for small businesses and solopreneurs, prefer to charge by the hour and include a small number of images in each hour (5-15), for social media and web licensing. These rates are often in the $250-$500 per hour range, and may or may not include minor expenses like an assistant and some gear.
As you can see, the rates vary widely, and this is due to the reasons I outline below. A photographer’s rates are (or at least should be!) based on their own business and personal expenses, hence the variance.
A photographer who lives in Manhattan or San Francisco is going to have significantly higher rates than a photographer who lives in rural Iowa for example.
To clients (and some photographers) reading this, the rates above may seem high. But they really aren’t, and here’s why.
Most commercial photography work days are 10 hours long, meaning you will be expected to shoot for 10 hours before charging overtime. If you divide the rates above by ten, then you see what you’d be charging per hour.
$1000 per day / $100 per hour is a fantastic rate for an employee, but as a business owner who has to pay self-employment taxes, studio rental fees, $$$$ gear expenses and gear maintenance fees, marketing expenses, website expenses, monthly subscriptions, software fees, education fees, etc, etc etc, it’s not that great when you figure at least half of that revenue goes out the door.
Take 25% off the top for taxes alone. So your $100/hr is now $75/hr before monthly overhead and annual expenses (and ideally business savings!). Take off your monthly and annual expenses and you’re down to $50-$60 per hour.
The problem with charging cheap rates (e.g. under $100/hr) is that a photographer’s monthly billable hours are limited. (I don’t know a single photographer who wouldn’t love working 40 hours per week at $100/hour! It just doesn’t happen, and is not feasible at all.)
So billable hours are not the same as working hours, hence the rates that- on the surface- seem so much higher than an employee.
If your net (take-home) rate is $50 per hour, and your billable hours are only 20 hours per week (more on this below), your weekly ‘salary’ will only be $1k, or $4k per month. Not a terrible salary when just starting out if you’re young, have minimal personal expenses, and live in an affordable area, but you can see why you’d want to raise this as quickly as possible, and charge for all of your time.
All of this is why it’s so important to calculate your fees based on your actual costs of doing business instead of just going by averages or pulling a number out of the air because it sounds good to you. (More on costs of doing business below.)
How to calculate YOUR Commercial Photography Fee
#1: Reverse engineer these fees, starting with how much revenue you need to generate annually in order to pay all of your personal expenses. (E.g. your annual salary.)
#2: Determine how many days per year you can realistically shoot.
Spoiler alert: it’s darn near physically impossible to shoot 5 days/week x 4 weeks/month x 12 months/year. You are also highly unlikely to get that volume of work, so I recommend looking at shoot days from a monthly perspective.
I’ve had many five day shoots before that have required FT+ work for 4-5 weeks leading up to and following the shoot. This means that for six weeks I was only able to work on that one five day photography project. Or a seven day shoot that required two months of my time.
If I had only been charging $1,000/day for my Photography Fee I would have been in deep trouble because I live in an expensive city in Southern California. Especially considering that when working with an ad agency or corporate client you often don’t receive the balance due payment until 30-90 days after the files are delivered.
If you are working primarily on multi-day projects for large national and/or international brands, you might only be able to shoot 5-7 days per month.
If you are working on smaller, less involved projects for local and/or regional clients, that number might jump up to 10-16 days per month.
You are likely to do a mix of both, so you’ll want to come up with averages.
Important: this is something a lot of photographers don’t consider, but you’ll also want to decide how many days per month you <want to shoot. Maybe you enjoy shooting all the time, and want to do a higher volume of photography. Or maybe you enjoy investing a smaller amount of time into intense and demanding shoots, with longer ‘recovery’ breaks in between. (What I personally enjoy.)
These goals can help you formulate your marketing plan, and go after the kinds of clients you want to work with that will provide the kinds of projects that feed your shooting appetite.
Ok! So let’s say you can shoot 12 days per month. 12 days x 12 months = 144 shoot days per year.
Let’s be a bit more conservative with that estimate and also imagine you’ll be shooting for one or two big clients that year. (Awesome!)
Final number: 120 shoot days per year. (Truth be told, that’s still a lot, but we’re being optimistic here.)
#3: Now you need to take that information and calculate your Costs of Doing Business (CODB).
The great news is, this is the easy part!
Just head over to either the NPPA (the National Press Photographer’s Association) CODB calculator (for USD), or the (NPAC) News Photographer’s Association of Canada’s CODB calculator(CAD) and put in the numbers you came up with above (desired target annual personal salary + # of annual shoot days), adjust your costs accordingly, adjust the resulting cost for each assignment day to make it ‘pretty’ (e.g round up $1439.87 to $1500), and you’ve got your Photography Fee.
I always recommend adding padding onto any pricing you create when in the early stages of a career, because it will invariably take you longer and cost more than you project. Adding 10%-15% in padding should be adequate.
So maybe you come up with a photography fee of $1,250 per day.
Your shoot fee may look something like this for a simple 1-day shoot for a small business/startup client.
- Photography fee $1250
- Pre-production fee $500
- Licensing fees: $2500
- Assistant fee: $350
- Retouching fee: $800
Total shoot fee: $5400
Note that anything under $10k for a shoot + licensing + all expenses is considered a pretty low budget shoot for medium-sized companies, and teensy-tiny for large and global companies, who often invest $50k-$250k in a photo shoot.
$5k-$8500k is an average all-in price for a one-day shoot for a small business.
This is not to say that all small businesses will pay that, only that it’s a reasonable fee to create images for a company who will make more money in sales due to those images.
Yes, there are tons of companies out there who expect to pay Fiverr prices for $5k shoots. (Let them go to Fiverr.)
Finally- what to do with that number- your Commercial Photography Fee.
Create a document that includes that fee, as well as any other pricing strategies you have, such as for half days and pricing based on client size. (It doesn’t have to be fancy, it could just be a simple Google Doc, as it’s just for your internal use.)
Include the fee in the re-shoot term of your Terms & Conditions for all bids & estimates you send to potential clients. (Using a contract with Terms & Conditions for every project is non-negotiable!)
If you have a commercial photography rate card that you send to clients (a PDF or webpage that outlines common or set rates), you can include your fee on the rate card as well.
And finally, include your fee as a line item in your commercial photography invoice.
You can always change this number at any time, but it’s always good to have it handy so it can be easily referenced in the future.
Also remember that it’s perfectly normal for your fee to change over time. In your early years you may decide to raise your fee at the beginning of every year, as your skills and talent grow. You have every right as a business owner to set whatever fees you need to keep you alive, well and happy.
The services you provide to companies have great value, because they help those companies make more money, and you should be compensated adequately for those services.
To summarize this article:
- Use the terms Photography Fee (for photography alone), or Creative Fee (for combined photography + licensing) instead of Day Rate.
- Create a strategy for calculating half day rates.
- Use different pricing strategies for your small business clients.
- Decide where you fall in the spectrum of photographers & average Photography Fees.
- Determine what your personal annual salary needs to be.
- Decide how many days per month (and year) you want to be shooting.
- Calculate your CODB using one of the linked calculators.
- Include your Photography Fee in the re-shoot section in your Terms & Conditions that you attach to estimates, and include it in BlinkBid or fotoBizX.
- Include your fee in your commercial photography rate card if you use one.
- Include your fee in your commercial photography invoice.
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- successfully estimate projects and land bids, from small to large
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- prepare for any size shoot
- go from starving artist to well compensated creator.
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