Photography Rates 101 – what I need from you for a Job Quote

Sometimes I encounter some confusion when I give a rate for a job request. I hope the following will help avoid confusion in the future.

But first, a joke to illustrate what a Professional Photographer is:


There was an engineer who had an exceptional gift for fixing all things mechanical. After serving his company loyally for over 30 years, he happily retired. Several years later the company contacted him regarding a seemingly impossible problem they were having with one of their multi-million dollar machines. They had tried everything and everyone else to get the machine to work but to no avail.

In desperation, they called on the retired engineer who had solved so many of their problems in the past. The engineer reluctantly took the challenge. He spent a day studying the huge machine. Finally, at the end of the day, he marked a small “x” in chalk on a particular component of the machine and said, “This is where your problem is.” The part was replaced and the machine worked perfectly again. The company received a bill for $50,000 from the engineer for his service. They demanded an itemized accounting of his charges.

The engineer responded briefly: One chalk mark $1; Knowing where to put it $49,999.
It was paid in full and the engineer retired again in peace.

When you are hiring a professional photographer, you are paying for years of experience, knowledge of optics and lighting, and if the job involves models, the ability and expertise in directing models into poses that are required for the job.

What type of lighting is needed? What resolution is best for the final usage?

What type of make-up will the model need? Wardrobe (if any)?

Need a glass bottle photographed which shows off the glass texture and evenly lit without losing details? Will it need to look like a refreshing drink or is it OK for it turn out bland and non-appetizing? (Probably not, but you’d be amazed at how many photographers can’t shoot a damned bottle to look cold and refreshing…)

You need a professional photographer!!

And yes, many are fairly expensive. Especially photographers who have a huge studio!!

A brother-in-law or friend with a new “Olympus” DSLR and kit lens is NOT a professional photographer.

Neither probably is the guy with a new camera who’s charging $50.00 for a headshot.

Professional photographers do not have to be licensed in Texas (or other states) like Plumbers or electricians, but it’d sure help if we did have to go through a licensing process. I think 30+ years as a photographer pretty much licenses me to be a pro.

Now, about my rates….

I have several rate “tiers”. The primary two top tiers are “Commercial” and “Personal”.

The Commercial photography I do is anything in the following:

  • Product Photography
  • Executive Portrait Photography, staff and board of directors
  • Company newsletter and prospectus photography
  • Advertising, Editorial and Marketing Photography
  • Conferences /Trade Shows and Event Photography
  • Glamour magazine layouts, calendars, posters.

I further divide my rates into two distinct areas: “Editorial” and “Advertising”. I consider magazine layouts, website layouts and website only shoots to be “Editorial”, the rest is “Advertising”.

I typically charge less if I am hired for several days, or for a editorial layout which will act as promotional material for myself, versus a slick Ad shot where no one, not even the client, will know who shot the piece.

All my rates are quoted ONLY on request, and all quotes will try to include the following:

  • Usage rights
  • Modeling fees
  • Assistant Fee
  • Hair/Make-up fees
  • Film/Processing or Digital Capture fees
  • Other expenses.

You see the bit above called “Usage Rights?” That’s a term no one has ever heard of unless they’ve dealt with professional photographers or worked in advertising. What this means is, even though you’ve hired a photographer, the photographer still owns the rights to the images photographed. US Law, Title 17, states all forms of art are property of the creator unless agreed to otherwise prior to employment. Most commercial photographers are non-employee contractors and thus, own all rights to all images created. Those rights are then licensed to the client for specific usages and time limits. Any other use is considered infringement and can land the infringer in some serious legal hot water at the federal level.

Even portrait photographers have this protection. On school portrait packages you now see an added fee for “copyright release”.

Often, I get people only telling me what they want photographed, and they usually do not tell me what the image will be used for in any way. I need this info to create a proper bid on the job, and to know how to shoot the object or person so it’ll look great in its final form.

If one is targeting off-set printing of a photograph, it’ll need a different profile and tweeking to look the same as it would on a PC screen, or on a traditional photographic print.

All the other fees are needed in making any project work out. You can’t expect a model to work for free and sign a release giving you the rights to publish his/her photo without being paid. No one works for free if anyone else is being paid.

With Personal Photography, I can comfortably quote rates online, giving a price for a shoot, because 99% of all headshots or portraits will be done in the same manner and are usually only for someone’s wall or social networking website.

I typically spend a lot less time preparing for such a shoot versus a editorial magazine shoot where I need 4 models, make-up and props. I typically spend 2 to 3 days in preproduction for a shoot for every day I bill the client.

In all cases, for all types of clients, I require a 50% deposit up front before I can lock the booking into my calendar. This is because in the past I have had far too many clients fail to arrive after I’ve set-up, traveled or hired assistants for a shoot.

Before asking for a quote, you will also need to tell me the budget for the project. Without this information, I can’t determine if the job is even worth me providing a quote. There are too many variables in this to provide a “Ball Park” figure if you don’t even have a “Ball Park” budget. Hell, by telling me the projected photography budget, I can tell right away if I can do the job for that or not.

I’m easy to get along with, and I can negotiate for most any budget, but I do need to charge for any shoot. The more info you give me, the better on target my quote can be.


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