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How to Calculate Commercial Photography Fees

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If you are a photographer who has ever been contacted by a business or agency requesting pricing for a commercial photo shoot (a shoot designed to create marketing/advertising images), then you’ve been asked to create a quote that includes your commercial photography fee. 

You may have landed here after a Google search for the term ‘day rate’ as that’s often what smaller and some medium-sized businesses ask for in order to try and quickly gauge the rates of the photographers they contact.

In this article I’ll go through the terms you should be using and also show you how to calculate fees for your commercial photography services. Consider yourself forewarned, there is some work you need to do here, and it isn’t as simple as just pulling a number out of the air or basing a daily photography fee on your years of experience, but the good news is, once you have done the work you won’t have to do it again until you need to change your rates. 

Grab a beverage and a calculator and dive in. 

‘Day Rate’ backstory.

Up until several years ago, the term ‘Day Rate’ was the most frequently used term when describing how much a commercial or editorial photographer charges for their time.

This term has fallen out of favor, to be replaced by the terms ‘Creative Fee’, or ‘Photography Fee’, which I go over below.

‘Day Rate’ vs. ‘Creative Fee’ vs. ‘Photography Fee’

The term Day Rate’ is a misnomer, because it implies that that single day is the only day a photographer does work for the shoot. The reality is that there is always so much more work that goes into preparing for a shoot (and wrapping it up afterward), that isn’t included in that one day of work.

When you use the term ‘day rate’ you are (poorly) educating your potential client that you are only investing the day of work they are paying for (or think they are paying for). Unless you are breaking down all work involved in the shoot, they have unreasonable expectations about what your actual time investment is. They are likely to underestimate how much time you are investing in their total project, and view your fee as high, based on the ‘day’ you are working with them. So you can see why this term just doesn’t really work, and it’s better to use ‘photography fee’ or ‘creative fee’ instead. 

Some photographers charge a fee called a ‘pre-pro’ (pre-production) fee for the time they invest preparing for the shoot, and some choose to roll it into their ‘day rate’. Some photographers charge a ‘post-pro’ fee for any work that they do after the shoot (returning equipment, mailing a hard drive, etc.), and some choose to roll it into their Creative Fee or Photography Fee.

‘Creative Fee’  rolls the photography fee (e.g. day rate), and licensing fee (usage fee) into one fee. (If you are  new to commercial photography and aren’t sure what a usage fee is, check out our article What is a Commercial Use Licensing / Usage Fee?). Some photographers include all pre-pro and post-pro work in the Creative Fee, and some opt to include it as a separate line item in their fees on their bid(s).

A Creative Fee makes the most sense when it’s hard to qualify and quantify exactly what kind of time is involved, especially when it’s not possible to quantify the licensing fees on a per-image or even catalogue basis, and it makes more sense to combine those with the photography fee.

A Creative Fee rolls the photography fee (e.g. day rate), and licensing fee (usage fee) into one fee. (See our article 7 Great Resources for Calculating Commercial Photography Usage Fees for info on how to do just that.) Some photographers include all pre-pro and post-pro work in the Creative Fee, and some opt to include it as a separate line item in their fees on their bid(s). 

Essentially a Creative Fee communicates to the client: this is how much it will cost for me to create the images you require. Makes sense, right?

A ‘Photography Fee’ is simply the fee that pays the photographer to do the photography. It’s similar to the term Day Rate, but doesn’t specify how long that time is. It could be five hours or it could be twelve.

Photography Fee makes sense to use when separating out the licensing fees in a bid. The more stingy the bean counters are at the agency requesting the photographer’s rates (e.g. a bid for a project), the more you’ll need to be precise with your fees and expenses, making each line item in your bid crystal clear.

The inverse to that is: generally the smaller the client, the more they will feel like you are nickel-and-diming them if you include a bunch of different line item fees in your estimate, so you may want to include any pre and post work in your one Photography Fee. (For more information on the best pricing strategies to use when shooting for small and/or local commercial photography clients, check out our Commercial Photography for Small Businesses educational bundle.)

Half Day Rate

Ask 99% of established commercial photographers about half day rates, and they will all say “there is no such thing as a half day of photography”. This is for the reasons I mentioned above about preparing for the shoot and wrapping it up afterward. A three hour shoot can easily turn into eight hours when you factor in travel time, time to pick up equipment, props or other supplies, post-shoot processing, etc. Additionally, there is a lost opportunity cost, because you are unlikely to be able to book two commercial client shoots on the same day. 

Some photographers elect to offer half-day fees, but my recommendation is to always charge between 65%-75% of your full day photography fee when you do, or 60% of your full day rate and then charge for pre-pro and post-pro separately so you are making sure you are being paid for all of the time you invest.

Calculate how many hours of time you will invest, multiply by your (internal) hourly rate (more on that below) and then make sure all of that time is accounted for in your fees.

Pricing Commercial Photography Fees

Pricing commercial photography is a complicated and tricky topic that goes beyond the scope of a simple blog post like this one, so much so that we created a free 23-page guide on commercial photography pricing (you can sign up to receive it at the end of this post), but I outline some strategies in this article that will help you calculate your own Photography Fees, which is the first part of the equation in commercial photography pricing.

I know from past experience that when searching for information like this, you really just want a price. So here’s a range.

Commercial Photography Fees (‘Day Rates’) can range from $650/day to $4500/day and up.

Your rate is likely to fall somewhere in between.

I know, I know, that’t not what you wanted to read. But as I mentioned before, commercial photography pricing is tricky and complicated, and the more information you have on it for your specific situation, the easier it will be for you to calculate pricing that works for your business. 

Still want some ballpark rates? You’ll find them below.

Again, these rates vary widely, due to the reasons I outline below. A photographer’s rates are (or at least should be!) based on their own business and personal expenses, hence the variance. A photographer who lives in Manhattan or San Francisco is going to have significantly higher rates than a photographer who lives in rural Iowa for example.

  • New and somewhat new photographers: $650-$1250 (IMHO $650 is too low, except for for brand new commercial photographers shooting for a small local client)
  • Established photographers without representation (an agent): $1500-$2500
  • Well-known photographers with representation (an agent): $4500-$5000/day and up

Those rates don’t include any licensing, so they are for the photography service alone.

Most commercial photography work days are 10 hours long, meaning you will be expected to shoot for 10 hours before charging overtime. If you divide the rates above by ten, then you start to see what you’d be charging per hour. $65 per hour is a fantastic rate as an employee, but as a business owner who has to pay self-employment taxes, studio rental fees, gear expenses and maintenance fees, education fees, etc, etc etc, it’s not that great. 

This is why it’s so important to calculate your fees based on your actual costs of doing business. (More on that below.) 

How to calculate your Commercial Photography Fee

#1: Reverse engineer these fees, starting with how much revenue you need to generate annually in order to pay all of your personal expenses. (E.g. your annual salary.)
 
#2: Determine how many days per year you can realistically shoot.

Spoiler alert: it’s darn near physically impossible to shoot 5 days/week x 4 weeks/month x 12 months/year. You are also highly unlikely to get that volume of work, so I recommend looking at shoot days from a monthly perspective.

I’ve had many five day shoots before that have required FT+ work for 4-5 weeks leading up to and following the shoot. This means that for six weeks I was only able to work on that one five day photography project. Or a seven day shoot that required two months of my time.

If I had only been charging $1,000/day for my Photography Fee I would have been in deep trouble because I live in an expensive city in Southern California. Especially considering that when working with an ad agency you often don’t receive the balance due payment until 30-90 days after the files are delivered.

If you are working primarily on multi-day projects for large national and/or international brands, you might only be able to shoot 5-7 days per month.

If you are working on smaller, less involved projects for local and/or regional clients, that number might jump up to 10-16 days per month.

You are likely to do a mix of both, so you’ll want to come up with averages.

Important: this is something a lot of photographers don’t consider, but you’ll also want to decide how many days per month you want to shoot. Maybe you enjoy shooting all the time, and want to do a higher volume of photography. Or maybe you enjoy investing a smaller amount of time into intense and demanding shoots, with more breaks in between.

These goals can help you formulate your marketing plan, and go after the kinds of clients you want to work with that will provide the kinds of projects that feed your shooting appetite.

Ok! So let’s say you can shoot 12 days per month. 12 days x 12 months = 144 shoot days per year. 

Let’s be a bit more conservative with that estimate and also imagine you’ll be shooting for one or two big clients that year. (Awesome!)

Final number: 120 shoot days per year. (Truth be told, that’s still a lot, but we’re being optimistic here.)

#3: Now you need to take that information and calculate your Costs of Doing Business (CODB). 

The great news is, this is the easy part!

Just head over to either the NPPA (the National Press Photographer’s Association) CODB calculator (for USD), or the (NPAC) News Photographer’s Association of Canada’s CODB calculator (CAD) and put in the numbers you came up with above (desired target annual personal salary + # of annual shoot days), adjust your costs accordingly, adjust the resulting cost for each assignment day to make it ‘pretty’ (e.g round up $1439.87 to $1500), and you’ve got your Photography Fee number.

I always recommend adding padding onto any pricing you create when in the early stages of a career, because it will invariably take you longer and cost more than you project. Adding 10%-15% in padding should be adequate.

Finally- what to do with that number- your Commercial Photography Fee. 

Create a document that includes that fee, as well as any other pricing strategies you have, such as for half days and pricing based on client size. (It doesn’t have to be fancy, it could just be a simple Google Doc, as it’s just for you.)

Include the fee in the re-shoot term of your Terms & Conditions for all bids & estimates you send to potential clients.

Include it in any pricing/estimating software you use such as BlinkBid and/or fotoBizX.

You can always change this number at any time, but it’s always good to have it handy so it can be easily referenced in the future.

To summarize this article:

  1. Use the terms Photography Fee (for photography alone), or Creative Fee (for combined photography + licensing) instead of Day Rate. 
  2. Create a strategy for calculating half day rates. 
  3. Decide where you fall in the spectrum of photographers & average Photography Fees. 
  4. Determine what your personal annual salary needs to be.
  5. Decide how many days per month (and year) you want to be shooting. 
  6. Calculate your CODB using one of the linked calculators.
  7. Include your Photography Fee in the re-shoot section in your Terms of Use that you attach to estimates, and include it in BlinkBid or fotoBizX

Hopefully this simple article helps you feel more confident in your Commercial Photography Fee pricing.

Want even more in-depth pricing information?

Input your first name + email below to receive our FREE 33-page How to Price a Commercial Photography Job guide

 


 

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