Marketing Conversations for Photographers

Issue #6: Tips for how to price commercial photography

By Cindy A Stephens

As a marketer I can tell you that knowing what to charge for a service or product is always challenging.  There are no hard-and-fast rules to follow.  Unfortunately for photographers, understanding how to price our work has become ever more challenging in the past decade.  The shift to digital imagery has heralded new considerations with regard to digital products, the length of time a digital image will be in use, multi-media work, and more.

Commercial photographer Scott Indermaur tells me that “even people with 20 years in the business, they are still sharing pricing suggestions with each other.”

This is the first of several blog posts designed to help photographers price their work.  While I can’t tell you specifically how much to charge, I can provide examples of how commercial and fine art photographers approach pricing: what are the pitfalls?  What are the best practices?  Should you negotiate, and if so, how?

Commercial photography pricing structure

Scott Indermaur is a commercial photographer. Most of his clients are companies ranging from Federal Home Loan Bank to General Motors.  His corporate commercial work often ends up on a company website or in a brochure.   In addition, Scott tells me he is focusing more in fine art.  During the past seven years his Revealed  project has taken off, resulting in museum exhibits, a book, mini-gallery exhibits and film.

When it comes to how Scott approaches pricing, he says “For years I spent so much time creating estimates, including figuring out how long an image would be used.  Now I realize that simple is easier.  I try to kick out an estimate in 30 minutes.”  While Scott admits it is a gamble not to incorporate a limit on the amount of time an image will be used into his estimates, he believes that most of his work will be used for only 1-3 years before his client wants newer material.

Scott says that he is now more confident in what he can produce, and more confident of setting pricing so both he and his client can get a good deal.  The structure Scott uses for pricing commercial assignments includes four components:

  1. Visual Production: Scott’s visual production fees are based on his knowledge of what the market will support and also his competition.  He has two rates based on use: 1) for national/international clients that require high-end production; 2) for local/regional clients.  For example, if a global company wants an image of its CEO for its website to advertise the company, he’ll charge one visual production rate. If a local law office wants him to come in and take a photo of its senior partner, he will charge less than in the prior example.
  2. Digital fee:  Scott doesn’t include his fees for downloading, archiving, editing, and uploading images to an online gallery in his visual production fee.  This post-production fee is itemized separately as one line item.
  3. Post-production: Time spent re-touching images may be billed per image depending upon the assignment or as a post-production day rate.
  4. Travel and Expenses: Scott often travels for his assignments and he builds-in estimates for hotel, airfare, mileage, insurance, etc.  If the assignment takes a bit more in costs than he originally estimated, Scott will often absorb the additional cost.  “I don’t try to nickel and dime clients and spend energy on counting every penny,” he says.   “For example, I charge a per-diem on food for the day. I do this because I do not want to spend the energy in auditing an assignment afterwards by organizing all my food receipts.”

Scott’s pricing structure gives him a framework for determining what to charge for a new assignment.  Even with his many years of experience in the business, however, Scott often consults with contacts in his network to get a second opinion.  In fact Scott tells me he still shares pricing information with his friend of 15-years who is also a commercial photographer.  Pricing is hard!  Below are three tips to keep in mind:

Tip #1: solicit advice from your network

Scott and his friend do weekly video check-ins and are accountability partners for each other. “It is great to have someone in the industry that you trust, he says.”  Scott also recommends having agreements in place up front so that if both of you are bidding on the same job, you don’t share pricing until after the assignment has been awarded, just share the specs.  “Set the rules and respect each other and don’t share notes until after the assignment has been awarded.”

Tip #2: price fairly to where you are still enjoying the job

Scott tells me that his biggest mistake regarding pricing is taking the job at a relatively low price point that he later regrets.  He says, “sometimes you have to take a risk, sometimes you take on a job and it is a roll of the dice.  It might lead to good stuff down the road or involve feel good work for a non-profit or something else that feeds my soul.”  Scott’s philosophy is to price fairly to where you are still enjoying the job and don’t have any regrets.

Tip #3: include a contract with your estimate

“It adds a little clout, clients realize you are more serious,” says Scott of including a contract with his estimate.  Scott prefers a short, half-page agreement.  The American Society of Media Photographers offers samples of terms and conditions: www.ASMP.org

 Trend in architectural photo pricing to watch

Part of what makes knowing what to charge so difficult is staying abreast of changes in the market.  Scott shared an example of a pricing shift that is working very well for some architectural photographers, which other artists may want to watch.

He says that an architectural photographer would charge $2000 for a day (note – the amounts in this example are hypothetical).  What s/he would find is that a competitor would come in and offer $1,500 for the same job.  To combat downward pressure on prices and lost income due to competition, what some architectural photographers are doing now is charging a flat fee of $1,200 that includes three images.  Additional images are $100 each.

What they have been finding is that they deliver three images and the other 12 they shot.  Generally, the client buys all of them, not just the three “ordered”.  The photographer has now reaped $2,400 and actually increased his/her total income.

“I think it is brilliant,” says Scott.  “It falls into the pricing structure of how someone buys on iTunes, you can buy an entire album or just one song.”

Pricing isn’t something that you’ll master and then not worry about again.  It is an ongoing part of the business that needs regular supervision and updating.  Scott advises “find as many friends as you can who are professionals at all levels, pros with 20 years in the business and also novices just starting out.”

Case in point: Scott recently received the nod for a multi-media project and called three photographers for help on how to price the project (note — if your networking skills are rusty check out 5 tips for building your photography network).

If you have a new pricing approach that you’d like to share, or know someone that is a pricing guru who you think would make a great interviewee, email me at cindy@cindyastephens.com.  Our photography community will be strengthened from sharing successes with each other.


Scott Indermaur has been sharing stories for two decades through the visual language of photography. His assignments have taken him from the smallest rural communities to the world’s most urban environments. His gift lies in discovering the familiar in the exotic and the remarkable in the ordinary. Whether he’s capturing a fleeting moment in history or cutting to the essence of a portrait, Scott tells the story in a language everyone understands.  He is located in Rhode Island New England and the Board Member for ASMP New England.

Cindy A Stephens is a Vice President of Marketing and a fine art photographer. She specializes in developing high-impact marketing strategies using digital and content marketing to build brands and expand market share. As a photographer Cynthia specializes in photography of main streets and back roads using unusual framing and multiple planes of perspective.

 

 

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