How Much Should You Charge for Your Photography?

One of the most nebulous concepts in professional photography is the task of pricing your services and products. If this is something you struggle with, this helpful video will give you a lot of great guidelines for knowing what to charge to maximize your income.

Coming to you from Karl Taylor, this excellent video details issues surrounding knowing what to charge for your photography. This is always a tricky thing, as there are no hard and fast rules, and many factors can influence your prices, such as your skill level, your genre, your target market, location, and more. Successful pricing requires finding the proper middle ground: if you price yourself too low, not only are you going to make it difficult to be financially viable, you may also inadvertently give the impression of being a lower quality photographer. And of course, charging too much can make you lose clients. It is an issue that you should definitely put a lot of careful thought and research into, as it will set the tone for your business. Check out the video above for lots of helpful tips. 

And if you are really serious about building your photography business, be sure to check out "Making Real Money: The Business of Commercial Photography With Monte Isom!"

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Tom Reichner's picture

Unfortunately, only very rarely do I ever get to have any say in how much I will get paid for my photos. The publishers that I sell to almost all have set rates in place for each kind of usage. They tell the photographer how much they pay for using an image, not the other way around. This is pretty much standard in the stock image industry. Photographers just don't get to make pricing decisions ..... that's just not the way it works.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Stock is not a place to make a living in photography (my opinion), small publications don't pay either. But commercial work does work the way described above. Most clients do understand the benefit of investing in a service just like they do with other industries. Photography budgets typically are tiny compared to video productions, yet the impact of photography if done right can have the same value or impact. You have to be service oriented in a 8-5 world because the client who comes out of his/her office for a shoot is dedicating special time just for that. Anything you don't prepare for can affect their day in unpleasant ways. They rely on you, your equipment and your work. That is very valuable to them.

Tom Reichner's picture

Doing commercial work sounds great if it pays better than stock. But as a wildlife stills photographer, I don't think that commercial work exists in my niche.

I know several guys who make a decent full-time living selling wildlife stock photos, and they don't do any commercial work. I mean, I don't think there is even a such thing as commercial work in the genre of wildlife still photography. Nobody hires anyone to do assignments anymore in this genre. That ship sailed years and years ago.

What would you do if you were only interested in photographing wildlife, and only interested in shooting stills, not video?

Benoit Pigeon's picture

First I'd like to mention that the photography you describe is not pertinent to this very topic. This is about hired photographers, while you are more into the presentation of your work in order to make a sale.
Regarding wildlife photography if you are not hired with a contract for a story, you basically can't charge per hour or day or predefined contract with a deadline. That's really the issue, you spend a lot of time out a tremendous amount of hours and gas, driving lodging carry food or what ever is needed and then you have to probably spend a lot of time selling the images. Micro stock is probably not going to cut it unless you dedicate all your time building a very large stock of strong images. So you may spend a couple years without making much money while adding to your cost. I don't see it being a full time occupation on it's own, but then if you diversify with macro photo and get good at it and may be some sports photography and other things you can do in the wild you may be able to sustain your cost by grouping your shoots and make a point of bringing back 3 or 4 groups of images on totally different subjects per outing. So where is the action during what season is what I would look at. Return on my cost and time would be a priority if I was doing wildlife, so I would consider anything near the wildlife I would want to shoot as added potential revenue. I mean it's the same for us in the hired world, we don't spend our time shooting just what we want, but we learn from that too. We have the same stress of waiting for the client to call again when they have more work and looking for more revenue, more clients.

Stoopy McPheenis's picture

I can only try to relate this to what I know but you may consider reaching out to successful safari companies, wildlife parks and rescues, as well as wildlife organizations like WWF and The Wildlife Conservation society or tourism boards in areas that promote eco/wildlife tourism. I have know clue if there's any market there, I'm just throwing out ideas.

I don’t do much editorial, I will say everytime I’ve been contacted to shoot an assignment and presented with the we only pay this I’ve been able to make counter offers and have gotten the rate I needed to do the work. Point is never ever believe “we only pay this”. If they won’t negotiate then walk

Tom Reichner's picture

I was speaking of usage licensing, not assignments. Publishers have set rates for what they pay for various usages. For instance, a magazine has a rate schedule that will read something like this:

Front Cover full bleed: $400
Front cover inset : $150
Back cover: $125
Contents page: $125
Two page spread: $150
Full page: $100
up to 3/4 page: $75
up to half page: $50
less than half page: $35

Of course the rates will vary for each different magazine, but that is how it is done. That is how every magazine I have ever worked with operates.

When you're a busy Editor or Art Director you usually have one day per issue to do all of the photos for that issue. That means sourcing them, selecting them, editing them, and making sure you are right on schedule with the monthly budget.

These people can't be bothered with contacting each photographer individually about how they are going to use each photo and negotiating how much they will pay for the usage. They don't have time for that B.S.

The vast majority of publications have a group of contributing photographers that they work with. To become a contributing photographer, you first have to sign a set of papers in which you agree to work within their set parameters. Submitting images for consideration means that you agree to their standard rates and payment schedule, along with a lot of other stuff about exclusivity and whatnot. If you're not happy with this, then they don't want you. They have many world class photographers who are willing to work within these parameters and for these rates.

So when they accept you as a contributing photographer, you sign all that paperwork and then you submit bunches and bunches of images. All of the contributing photographers do this, so that the publication will have tens of thousands of keyworded images on file from photographers who have already signed agreements as to rates and usage. Then when they are picking the images for the issue they are currently working on, they just pick what they need from that pool, knowing that rights and rates have already been all figured out ahead of time.

The example you use about negotiating rates ....... well that just isn't how it is done at all when it comes to magazines and publications that use wildlife photos. I've worked with dozens of magazines over the years, and I have never heard of any of them doing it at all the way you say. For wildlife still imagery these days, there aren't assignments, just usage of stock images that the photographers took "on spec".

Looks like you spent more time making excuses on a photo forum than trying to negotiate with an actual buyer.

Tom Reichner's picture

Making excuses? I am telling you how things are in the publishing world. No excuses made at all.

I just don't get the way you think. It's like you are commenting on things that you don't really know about. My comments come from over 12 years of professional experience in this segment of the photography industry. What is it that qualifies you to say the things that you have said? And yes, before saying something on a forum, you should be qualified to say it.

Stoopy McPheenis's picture

You have to believe in your own value, if you want others to do the same.

It's pretty complicated.
How much have you spent on your gear = X
How many years is X viable before being outdated = X/Y
How much did it cost to do the work agreed to = X/Y + C
How much do you want to make at minimum per hour = I (income)
So X/Y+C+(I x Hours)=Client Bill
If you charge less than $25/hr you are not going to be able to pay taxes and your bills.
I'd suggest $35/hr is the absolute lowest you can possibly charge and then only in areas where the cost of living is low.
To make an actual living you'll need to charge at least $50 to $100 per hour.

Peter Gargiulo's picture

Whether it's photography, art direction or design, I go with $100/hour. That's also with over 20 years of experience.

Stoopy McPheenis's picture

The last number is the correct one.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

$25/hour isn't going to take anyone anywhere, unless they have a book full each day of every week of the year.

Tom Reichner's picture

I live pretty well when I can make $22,000 a year (in US dollars). Some years I only make $16K or $18K, and in those years I don't get to travel around the country as much as I'd like.

$25/hour, if one works 40 hours a week, is going to get you $50,000 a year in income. I could live like a freakin' king on that kind of dough!

I can't understand why people think they need so much money. If you make good decisions and prioritize the really important things, one can live a fun adventurous life on so much less.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

The point was, in photography you don't get to book all day, sometimes you don't for days or a couple weeks. I don't look at my income monthly or even yearly, but over two year. If a client pays late I can get a big check in January and that would not reflect my actual taxable income of the previous year.

Lee Christiansen's picture

$22,000 is not a huge sum, but if you can have a great life on it then that's fine.

But if you're wondering why people need so much money - think mortgage, pension... I need to put more than half of your yearly income aside into a pension, because one day I'll want to stop and as a freelancer, no one is out there looking after me. (And it's darn hard to keep working in this industry until I'm nearly 70).

As freelancers, many of us forget that we need to plan for a time when we're not freelancers. Today is all well and good, but tomorrow comes along very fast.