Pricing photography is one of the hardest jobs of the professional photographer. If my price is too high I might lose the opportunity. If it’s too low I leave money on the table, and if I do that too many time, I will go out of business.
In my opinion, the photography industry is stable, yet forever evolving, after the digital disruptions of the last twenty years. Digital cameras, amazing new software and social sharing change the way photographers approach the craft, deliver images and make money.
Today everyone can be a photographer! A camera is a part of the average person’s life, located in their pocket, equipped with a good lens and amazing enhancement software. Even better, the images are backed up instantly or shared around the world in seconds.
With so many photographers working, there is enormous pricing pressure in the profession. However, there are so many new opportunities in the visual world, I don’t need to limit myself by participating in commodity photography. Event photography, portraits, nature, and documentary are good examples. However, this does not mean I can’t bring something new to the table.
One of the biggest problems in the photography industry is the photographer who does not understand the value of their work and copyright. If someone does not have time or skill to create a needed photograph, my skill is valuable to them and payment is required. If someone wants my copyright, that means ownership of my image has great value to them. If my copyright has no value, then why are clients working so hard to get it? My time is valuable, my expertise has value, and my experience as a person and photographer add to the equation. If I want to supplement my income as a photographer, I must charge enough to keep myself in business.
The answer is that most photographers don’t work a 40-hour week. A full-time Independent photographer is a contractor who needs to pay his expenses. Good quality photography equipment is expensive and cameras, lighting, support equipment and software must be upgraded every few years. Photographers must also invest in their portfolios, marketing, and advertising. Editing and post production can take hours. The cost for this time must be considered into the pricing formula.
How Much Do Photographers Charge?
Some, usually professional photographers, claim that the value of the image and has little to do with the status of the photographer. In other words a student, semi-pro and professional should charge the same. This is because the value of the image to the client is the same.
However, every person or business has a different need, values photography differently and has a different risk tolerance. There is a lot of photographers out there and many styles to chose from in the photography marketplace. Unfortunately, not all photographers understand their value and not all clients value photography.
Finding the right photographer.
Below is a list of types of common photographer categories, 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 to how you plan to use the photographs. For example, a photograph created for a local magazine advertisement (local use) does not command the same fee as using the same image for a national marketing campaign. The value of the photo is greater and a professional photographer does charge a premium for more prominent image use.
Hobbyist – Free or (under $100): There are many people who love the craft of photography. They have a good eye and like to share their passion with family and friends. Many have a job in another or related industry, and, most likely, don’t follow many of the best photography business practices, but they can get the job done.
Amateur – $25 – $100 per hour: These photographers are often hobbyist. However, they have a little more experience selling their photographs. For example, they may have a blog or an online portfolio.
Professional - Different types of photography lend themselves to different pricing models. Event photography is generally based on an hourly rate. When it comes to commercial photography, some photographers, like me, charge on a per-image or per-project basis.
Depending on the photographer, the per-image pricing model is a lower risk for the photography buyer. On the other side, per-image pricing rewards for the photographer for a job well done. In other words, the photographer has an incentive to do a good job. Some photographers charge as little as $25 per photo, while top photographers receive thousands of dollars for a single image.
Below is the average range for local hourly and per-image rates. It’s important to note that per-image pricing should be adjusted, based on production levels and the number of photos produced. Rates also fluctuate based on region. For example, and owing to numerous variables, photographers in San Francisco may charge more (in some cases considerably more) per image than their counterparts in Carlisle, Kentucky.
Student – $35 - 85 per hour or $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. Those who have experience studying under professionals tend to have a little better understanding of the industry. Some advanced students do - and should - command as much as professionals.
Semi-Pro - $50 - $150 per hour or $50-125 per image: These are photographers who have ambitions to join the ranks of the full-time professional. They may have job or income source to keep them afloat, however their aim to the leave the old job behind. Sometimes their additional skills are compatible with photography. They may be video professionals, designers, or graphic artists. Many compete with professional photographers for jobs but are not quite ready to jump in with both feet. Some are happy to create photographs part-time and will integrate the photography into their full-service package price.
Professional - $75 - $250 per hour or $75 - $250 per image: We can argue that a professional is anyone who is paid at least once for her photography. For the purposes of categorization, a professional is someone who depends on photography to make a full-time living. More precisely, professionals have a solid portfolio, experience and commitment to represent their photographic specialty.
Top Professional - $200 - $500+ per hour or $250 - $1,500 per image. Is there really a top professional? In any industry, there always will be a élite group. In the case of photographers, some of the top image makers command over $10,000 per day or $2,000+ per image.
Pricing ranges vary greatly, but this should serve as a guide.
Wedding Photography - $1,500 – $3,500. The rates in the wedding industry vary greatly. Beginners might only charge $500, while top destination professionals command more than $10,000 to get started. Wedding photographers who develop a brand around their work command higher fees. It is important to understand your needs and desired photography style before you search for a wedding photographer.
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. Senior portrait photographers depend on referrals more than most photo niches. Make sure you interview your photographer before you hire her. Remember, Planning ahead makes for a better session.
Local Website Photography - $50-$125 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.
Recommendations - I recommend you take a look at a photographer’s portfolio before you consider the price. Make a judgment as to whether the work that he/she creates is right for your needs. This rule is true at all levels of photography. It’s also important to note that an excellent wildlife photographer may not be the best choice for your wedding, or that a product photographer may not produce the style what you want for your portrait. That is, knowing how to work a camera doesn’t mean the photographer understands how to create the photographic vision you desire. Once you narrow down the portfolios of the photographers you like, then make price a consideration.
Who Should Own the Copyright?
As soon as the photographer clicks the shutter button, he owns a new copyrighted photograph. This is the case for anyone who creates a photograph. It’s the law. Even your smartphone selfies fall under the copyright law. When it comes to who should own the copyright in a commercial exchange, the default answer is the photographer.
A copyright is valuable. However, in most cases, there is no reason for you to purchase a copyright from a photographer. Only unless you plan to resell the photograph. Copyright ownership is not necessary unless you need full control of the images to a generate income. However, if it is true you may need exclusive rights for a period of time, “first right” of publication or request the images not be resold due to proprietary reasons. In these cases, you can negotiate with the photographer for temporary, exclusive, or long-term rights. This is why photographers ask how the photographs will be used. Typically, if you request a copyright purchase, or, as some people call it, a buy-out then there is an additional charge, usually 50-100% of the original photography fee.
For your safety, be sure to have photography use in writing for both proposals and contracts. State the scope of use for the photographs and for how long. Make sure that the photography estimate or contract fits your short and long-term needs. If the answer is not known, unlimited use of the images is an option. Photographers create additional income from their photographs, so there may be a fee for such requests which limit future income opportunities.