On Setting Your Photography Rates

Things to consider when setting your photography rates


$ dragon like leaves. Photo by Alina Oswlad.
Dollar-sign, dragon-like wet leaves stuck on trees in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Alina Oswald.

“How much is that doggy in the window?” I know only the beginning of that song, but what stands out, thinking of it as a creative, is that in the song someone does ask and actually is willing to pay for the dog.

When it comes to creative content, some “clients” not only don’t want to pay for the content, they don’t even ask how much that content is. It surely must be for free, right? After all, they say, it’s just one picture or one-page article or one drawing….

Unfortunately and sadly, nowadays a lot of creative content is offered for free, in hopes that at some point the content creator will, eventually, be paid. Or sometimes content creators work for rates that are so low, might as well it can be for free.

But not all content creators are willing to work “for credit” or for very little money. On the other hand, not all content creators can afford to ask for an absurd rate. While some have questions about how to set their rates, in particular if at the beginning of their creative careers, there’s no actual formula for setting one’s rates. To add to that, nobody really wants to talk about it. That’s how it is and that’s okay. I’ve talked to industry pros promising to help others figure out how much to charge, and I always end up slightly disappointed, because they don’t really answer the questions. What I think it’s lost in translation is that in general, content creators, photographers for example, would like to figure out a bulk park number to consider when setting their rates, based on the photo shoots they do (oftentimes not too fancy photo shoots)and their experience, for example.

So, I’m not going to talk about (my) rates in particular, but rather about what to consider when setting your rates, in general, depending on your client, the quality, type and purpose of the work you provide, where you live, and much more.

First things first, though. When, if ever, should you work for free?

The short answer is “never.” But there’s a ‘but’ after that. If you’re at the beginning of your creative career and need to get that proverbial foot in the door, and need samples, work for free, in particular if you get to cover the subject of your choice, something you’ve always wanted to cover. But make sure that the client understands that working for free is not unconditional and not for an unlimited amount of time. Quite the contrary, let the client know that you can offer to photograph for samples (for your own portfolio) for a very limited time. Let the client know that you mean it, too. Otherwise, the said client will take advantage of you, your time and your work.

A better alternative would be to trade services. Say, you photograph an author’s headshot for their book, and the author helps you figure out how to write an artist statement, for example. Or, provide a few images to a graphic designer and they help you with a logo for your business, and so on. But here, again, make sure you choose wisely.

The Price of Love. Sylt, Germany
The Price of (doing what you) Love. Photo by Alina Oswald.

A note: some potential clients would want you to test (for free) with them, before they hire you for the actual photo shoot. Beware! If you don’t have work samples anyway, and need samples, might as well test shoot with them, make sure you can keep and use the resulting images for your portfolio. (Read the contract or agreement or whatever the client wants you to sign before you begin photographing.)

Most of the time, especially if you already have work samples on your website, point the client to those samples, especially if the client wants to hire you to create something similar.

If you’re already hired for a job and, even better, you’re paid the booking/hiring fee or deposit before the photo shoot, and the client wants to do a test shoot (hopefully previously discussed) in order to meet everybody involved in the shoot, etc, by all means, do the test shoot. It will help you in the long run–it will help you connect with those you’re to photograph, prepare for the actual photo shoot, and increase your chances to be hired again by that client.

Now, what do you do when the client comes to you, and you can actually charge the client for your work?

First of all, should you post your rates online or not? That depends on you and the kind of work that you do. Usually, wedding photographers tend to post their rates, packages, on their websites.

But how much do you or should you charge?

Again, it depends. There’s no crystal ball, not really.

If you work for, say, publications or other clients that pay you a certain rate, you can negotiate that rate, usually after working for them for a while, but that’s pretty much it. It’s more of a take-it-or-leave-it situation.

On the other hand, if you want to/can set your rates for a headshot session or an engagement or a wedding or whatnot, consider that magic number–that is, the amount of money that would get you to take the job. And of course, be reasonable about it, keeping in mind your experience, the amount of work that you need to do, time spent, use of images, and so on.

Do your homework. Consider how long would it take you to complete the job, not only the part of the job that the client sees–the actual photo shoot–but the total amount of time you spend planning, setting up, preparing, actually photographing, post-production work to create the final number of images (edited, retouched, resized, etc) that you need to submit. In addition, consider your deadline–when do you have to submit the final product–does the client need the images right away, the next hour, day, week, etc. Knowing when you have to deliver your work helps you better organize the entire project, pre- during and post- photo shoot. Considering all these factors will give you the total amount of time it will take you to actually complete the job. Divide the amount of money the client is willing to pay you per the total number of hours that you would actually spend to complete the job, and you get your per-hour rate. Based on that, you can decide whether to take the job (or not) or negotiate the rates.

Lights. Camera. Action. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Also keep in mind:

  • charging $2000 for a one-day photo shoot (using as an example) doesn’t mean that you work on those images just for one day; it only means that the actual shooting (the photo shoot) will take one full day, and travel, setting up, before-the-shoot meetings with the client, back-and-forth communication with the client, planning, etc; add to that the time you need in post-production to deliver the images per client specifications, per guidelines, within deadlines, etc.; one-day photo shoot might translate into several days of actual work on your side; same goes for any kind of photography project
  • when all is said and done, your per-hour rate could end up being $10/hr or $25/hr or $50/hr etc. Think about that! Consider your experience (and do be honest!) and the amount, as well as quality of your work, equipment usage, also the potential future opportunities of working with that client, the subject to be photographed, location of the photo shoot, travel, perks (if any) etc. Consider all that when trying to determine if the payment is fair or not. And based on that, decide whether to take the job or not.
  • one note for writers: when it comes to writing articles, in particular articles based on interviews, consider the time you spend doing your homework, researching the story/subject and preparing your questions for the interview; also consider the time it takes to actually interview your subject(s), transcribing the interview, fact-checking, writing/editing/proofreading/etc the article in a certain amount of time to submit within deadlines, as well as adding your creative touch while you write the said article, etc.; and then consider how much you get paid (and when, and sometimes if) and what rights the client buys for your article.
Hope Offering. Image by Alina Oswald.

Other things to consider:

Try not to promise something (or a quality) you cannot deliver.

Avoid taking projects that pay next to nothing. Usually,  they’re not worth the effort.

Think it through, any and every potential project/assignment/contract. When you’re starting out, it may be worth considering taking any and every job. As you get better at your craft…maybe not so much.

Just something to think about.

As always, thanks for stopping by.

Alina Oswald

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.