The Anatomy of a $200k Photo Shoot

$200k commercial photo shoot bid article

The title of this article may be a jaw-dropper to many photographers, but in this post you’ll see how easily a company can get to this price for a single multi-day photo shoot. 

As a commercial photographer, you likely know by now that photo shoot costs for commercial photography can range from sub-$1k shoots for small product shoots, all the way up to multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars for major advertising shoots for global brands.

So what costs go into a photo shoot anyway?

There are two ‘buckets’ of costs in a commercial photo shoot:

  1. Fees
  2. Expenses

Fees are what you need to charge in order to deliver images that fit your client’s brief. 

Expenses include all the elements that go into your shoot.

Photography fees include:

  1. Photography fee (to do the actual photography)
  2. Usage fees (the fee to use the images)
  3. Pre-production fee (all the planning and prep work + client communications)
  4. Location scout fee
  5. Tech scout fee 
  6. Travel fees (if applicable)
  7. Post-production fee (time you spend ‘wrapping up the shoot’ the day after, e.g. returning gear and props, paying vendors, etc.)
  8. Post-processing fee (time you spend culling and color-correcting the images and delivering a gallery/drive to your client)
  9. Retouching

Expenses include but are not limited to: 

  1. Producer
  2. Crew
  3. Food
  4. Locations
  5. Talent
  6. Props
  7. Travel
  8. Etc

All items totaled together results in one total project cost. 

(Note: I personally call this a ‘project cost’, not a ‘photo shoot cost’, because there’s far more that goes into a photo shoot this size than just the photo shoot itself. I think the distinction is important because it reminds your clients that it’s not just the 2/3/4+ day shoot they are investing in.) 

Big projects can take weeks if not months to plan, coordinate, and complete before the final deliverables are ready for the client. 

The shoot in this article is a big project for a huge brand, with extremely high-value images resulting from the shoot. 

SO, what would a $200k commercial photography bid look like?

Something like this (click to enlarge):

$200k commercial photography bid estimate

This commercial photography bid is slight revision to a bid for a photo shoot that was awarded to a midwest photographer who occasionally does commercial photo shoots. (All personal information was changed, and the rates slightly adjusted to make ‘pretty/whole numbers’.) His shoot was actually higher in price. 

The photographer who did this shoot isn’t famous, doesn’t have a big portfolio or much of a client list. They were in the right place at the right time, which is how they landed the project. 

It was also the final quarter of the year, and this client had surplus marketing budget money they needed to spend off before the end of the year. This drove the price way up, and the photographer had just enough experience to know that the client’s budget was very high. So the photographer ended up generating substantially more revenue than they would have normally with other projects. 

Are you a photographer? Is this your first time seeing a commercial photo shoot estimate that’s this high in price? 

If yes, you likely have questions. And I have answers!

Photographer’s FAQs about a $200k bid. 

Q: How often do shoots like this take place?

A: All the time.

If you think about the quantity of global brands, and the money they invest into their advertising strategies (often many millions), $200k is a drop in the bucket to them. 

Imagine if the company is investing 20 million into an ad campaign for a new product launch. $200k is just ONE percent of that total cost. One percent.

Look at the company’s most recent annual report (just google ‘brand name + annual report + most recent year’), and you’ll see the kinds of numbers they are working with. It should give you some perspective on your project. 

Now all of this is not to say that most or even many commercial photographers are doing shoots like this. 

Only that they take place all the time, and can be a goal any photographer can set as something they want to ultimately achieve. 

Q: How will I know when I need to price a shoot like this?

#1: When you’ve met all the criteria in our article ‘How to know if you are ready to do commercial photography‘. (E.g. our ‘readiness test’.)

#2: Have been doing commercial photography for several years and feel confident directing a crew (assistant, PA, HMUA, digitech).

#3: When you are contacted by a major ad agency (the agency has multiple offices around the world, and/or has huge household name clients in the ‘work’ section of their website), and they say they need ‘high production value’. 

If you are contacted by an agency that fits the above description, and they ask for a commercial photography bid for a shoot for a global brand, and it looks like the shoot is going to span multiple days, ask the agency contact “what kind of production value are you needing for this?’. Their answer will give you an idea of what they expect. 

If they say “high”, and you’ve never done a big shoot, you need to get help, ASAP. (See next question.)

Q: I was just contacted by a humongous advertising agency, and although I don’t know for sure, I think the project they want me to bid on will be about this size. I have no idea what to charge. I’ve never done anything like this before, and I usually shoot for small clients! HALP!!

Yes, you definitely need help. If you try and create a commercial photography bid like this on your own, you stand a 98% chance of losing the bid by bidding too low. (Likely way too low.) You’ll show your inexperience to the agency, and they are unlikely to contact you again.

If your bid comes in substantially lower than the other bids they receive from other photographers, they’ll be concerned that you underestimated expenses, and will come back to them later asking for more money to pay talent, locations, etc. Or if it’s a true bidding situation, that you won’t have the money to pay your crew.

These are big red flags, and a major risk you run when you try and bid big shoots on your own for the first time.

SO, you need help from a consultant who charges on an hourly basis who can either:

  • Create a bid for you, or
  • Review/revise the bid you create 

Find our list of consultants who work on an hourly basis on our consultants page.

Q: $50k in usage fees?? How do I get that?

A: You’ll need:

  • Solid experience producing shoots this size for companies this size
  • Breadth and depth of knowledge about the business of commercial photography (pricing, negotiating, workflow, contracts, etc.)
  • An impressive client list
  • The perfect body of work for this client for this project
  • Solid knowledge of the value of an image to a huge company
  • (Ideally) a rep who can negotiate for you on pricing
  • Luck
  • Timing
  • Confidence

Yes, there are the one-off shoots like this one where photographers without any of the above can generate huge revenue, but TBH those are rare. 

The more checkboxes above you can check off, the greater your chances of generating high revenue numbers from usage fees. 

Q: The photography and talent fees seem really high. Why is that?

A: It’s the unlimited usage in all media in perpetuity, combined with the fact that the client intended to use the images in extensive high-value use, e.g. print advertising, trade shows, billboards, digital ads, etc.

The usage is also reflected in the talent fees, where professional talent get paid for usage as well as their time. So that’s why the talent fees alone are $90k. 

The usage fees reflect the unlimited usage in perpetuity, and are actually very reasonable given the benefits this huge brand will receive through their extensive use. (Again- ‘drop in the bucket’.)

If the client wanted to come down in price, they could have elected to pay for a shorter duration of usage (e.g. 2-3 years), which would have brought the talent fees down as well. They could have also reduced the number of images licensed and/or restricted/defined the usage as well. 

Q: How do I figure out the expenses part of the bid? That seems really complicated. 

A: At the end of this article, subscribe to my pricing email series (5 emails). 

Pricing tip email #3 includes a link to the commercial photography bid in this article, but that linked bid also includes a ton more information, including average prices for each expense. This will give you a really good idea of what to ‘put in’ for each expense. 

After you drop your email address in to get the pricing series + info-packed bid, be sure to check your spam folder to make sure you’re getting the emails. (They will arrive every other day.) Add team at theimagecrafters.com to your contacts list to help deliverability. 

Q: How do companies choose photographers to shoot projects like this?

A: When looking at various photographers to invite to bid on a big project like this, the three main things agencies typically consider are: 

  1. the style of the photographer’s work/content in their portfolio
  2. client list
  3. experience working on big shoots for big brands (as evidenced by their portfolio) 

They want to be reassured that the photographer has the chops to get the job done, done smoothly, and done well. 

But as I mentioned above, their ultimate decision can also be based on a combination of timing, location, relationships and other factors. 

Q: I’m not a big-time photographer. Could I actually get an opportunity like this?

A: Never discount the possibility that a shoot like this could land in your lap! 

I’ve lost count of the number of photographers who have come to me feeling super anxious, because “I have this amazing opportunity and I really want it but don’t know what to do! And they need a bid from me in three days! Ahhhh…..” 

It’s truly best to educate yourself ahead of time than be in a position where a big client needs a bid from you in a few days and you are panicking and scrambling. 

You can start that education right now. 

Photographers: drop your email below to get my 5 pricing tips email series + weekly educational emails

The emails are loaded with value, and are designed to help you make more money and avoid stress and hassle as a commercial photographer. 

From the 5 pricing tips email series you’ll learn:

  1. What you should never do with your prices, including on huge shoots that pay you well
  2. Why you should never answer this question about your rates when a client asks it
  3. The most valuable person in your corner when calculating expenses, especially on big jobs
  4. How you should always present your rates, especially on shoots like this
  5. What the most valuable action is you can take to raise your rates and get paid well

Pricing Tips Email Series For Photographers

By subscribing you agree to receive our 5-tips pricing email series plus weekly educational emails and occasional promotional emails.

Unsubscribe anytime, no hard feelings.

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