The Anatomy of a $100K Commercial Photography Estimate

The Anatomy of a $100K Commercial Photography Estimate

Transitioning into commercial photography is no easy task. For some it’s the holy grail, end game, and ultimate dream job to have in the industry. For others it couldn’t be further from what they want- and that's fine! However, for those of you planning a transition from event/portrait based photography into the commercial advertising world, there is a long list of connections, lingo, and experience based knowledge you need to have in addition to being at the top of your game visually.  The blog A Photo Editor, is a fantastic place to start your journey on educating yourself on some of the moving parts, or inner workings, of how to present your brand and talk with art buyers. It’s a good place to get into the mind of what an art buyer looks for and acceptable rates. You will have a lot of archived reading to do if you haven’t yet perused this blog by Rob Haggart, the former director of photography for Men’s Journal and Outside Magazine.

Print One EstimateIn a recent Photo Editor article titled “Pricing & Negotiating: Portraits of Real Customers for Advertising Shoot,” by Jess Dudley from Wonderful Machine, we see real photo estimates (above) and a back and forth dialogue between a producer and an art buyer. These back and forth dialogues with real-world estimates are critical for you to know if you do not have a mentor in your life with years of experience doing this. No, all of the numbers won't be the same for everyone in all arena's but this will help you get an idea of what else it out there. For most of you, this estimate may have considerable sticker shock coming it at $102,710 for "environmental portraits of real customers/users on location." You may be thinking “who the hell would pay that much for 8 portraits?” The answer is many clients and art buyers in the commercial photography world.

Take a look at the article and examine the breakdown of how the numbers come together. Look at the shear size of the team required to pull something like this off and compare that to what you would have estimated this at. Learn the language, familiarize yourself with acceptable day rates for crew, and learn everything you can about usage fees. At the end of the day, this knowledge is just as important as your ability to create an image and for many, may be harder to master than making a great image.

Gary Winchester Martin's picture

Gary W. Martin is a commercial photography producer and founder of PRO EDU. His company creates documentary style Photography and Photoshop tutorials with some of the best photographer/instructors in the world. Gary has spent 20% of his life abroad and once made a monkey faint in Costa Rica. He speaks English and Romanian.

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Thanks for sharing Gary. Super interesting to see the cost breakdown.

Quoting these jobs has to be intense and I am curious if they collect the full amount off these estimates and keep any gains or losses incurred or if they send the actual costs (receipts) to the client and the photographer ends up making his/her well-deserved rate.

Hi Jason, clients don't get receipts unless they hand out petty cash or credit cards. I look at it this way, I'm not a bank but if I have to carry a production for 30d (if the client hasn't given me expenses up front), then you can be sure I would be marking up expenses as they cost me to book keep and keep track of. Its part of doing business.

I have been visiting his site for a while, and the big questions I always have are - how much are they paying the photographer, and what is their margin? You could probably do some math based on some of the more tangible prices, but who knows.

Also, I'm always amazed that nearly all of the camera & lighting equipment is rented on the quotes. It's like none of the high end pros actually own their own equipment.

I'm always inspired by the posts (maybe someday I'll make that kind of money!) and have learned a lot from the site, though, particularly about the value of how, where, and when the photos are used.

Even if they do own the equipment, most people still charge for it as if they didn't. It's standard practice in commercial photography.

Makes sense - will have to roll that into my next estimate. Thanks!

I know several high end photographers who find it is just cheaper and more effective to rent on location. It's quite the hassle to drag equipment all over the country.

I can imagine given how luggage is treated that I wouldn't want to put high-end lighting gear through the hazardous airplane delivery services.

I know plenty of photographers in bigger cities that will also charge a studio fee. Very common line item.

In my limited experience in the commercial photography scene, I never bring lights with me for shoots. I always just rent on location. Profoto has it set up to where you can always find a renter in just about every major city in the US

The photographer, in this quote, is taking home the usage fees, outlined in the very beginning at 48,000 plus any markups in fees. He will also eat the costs if production goes over budget. Another thing to keep in mind is that large corporations sometimes have NET 90 or even NET 120. That means the photographer has to float the costs of the shoot and pay the team of people he hires. Most often that team of people is paid the same day.

Gary, thank you for the additional information (and the article itself, of course). The Net 90+ is a brutal one I had to deal with many times back when I was a graphic designer.

Do note that the quote says that 50% payment is up front to initiate production. So the photographer may float the cost to him/herself, but they're not out of any money up front.

350$ per Day for the first Assistant?! That's almost double the price of what an Assistant normaly costs.

A qualified PA in any metropolitan area is $250/day on the low end, to $400 on the high end. More for digital tech or sound tech.

with this pricing I should move from Germany to the States. 150€ up to 200€ is normal for metropolitan areas over here for an Assistant.

those are pretty close conversions from euro to US dollar

That might reflect a markup. I was curious about $900/day for a producer, and $1000 for the tech. What do you guys think - markups?

I live in Toronto and that's is definitely a marked up price.

Definitely marked up. Think like a producer people.

These companies have to do payroll taxes. Even short-term jobs LEGALLY count as W2 employees and not 1099 if they are told when to report to work, where to report and provided the equipment needed to do their jobs.

So I'd bet there is the markup to include taxes, an accountant to prepare tax documents for them, fees for cutting the checks, etc. Maybe they even figure in time spent to locate and hire an assistant. That can eat some serious time up just looking at resumes and/or going through books.

Just because someone only costs $250/day doesn't mean that that is actual cost of having that person on set.

If the photographer has to cover workman comp and payroll tax, you need to add 22% above the cost to pay the assistant. You also need to consider any overtime is also built in to the price.

$1,100 per day plus mileage for an RV??

$1100 is quite reasonable for a high-end shoot. For a low-end production trailer, it's about $450/day plus mileage. AND you typically have to hire a driver for it at around $250+/day. Getting a nice A-list Quixote trailer in LA costs a pretty penny. VERY worth it but expensive. Teamsters don't come cheap nor are their toys.

Someone has to sit in the office and produce the shoot to find the right person for the job, and find the right person who is also available. The markup probably goes to studio overhead.

I pay my assistants around $250/$300 for a day rate. Is that generally considered high, cause I always thought I was a cheapskate

As someone who assists in Los Angeles, that is about right. Industry standard for firsts is between $250-350, although I've known some that gets $500 depending on the assignment

wrong topic ;)

what is the take home pay?

I would assume anything that constitutes as "TIME" would be the take home pay. Everyone seems to be asking. Just my basic guess

My little calculator says 'Selects Processed for Reproduction' should have been 8*150=1200 OR it must have been 4*150=600 to match up with total.

Its that $10 that really gets ya.

There is a mistake in the invoice : 8 selects processed at 150 is 1200 not 600. This guy has lost 600$. Too bad ! You should tell him. Maybe you'll get a commission.

How many people would do it free "for the exposure"? And then lose their shirts :-)

This is a great article and it's funny that I just did a bid for a commercial shoot last week. The shoot entailed a buy out of rights which basically meant they wanted to have no limits as to where they could use the image and for how long. I had to figure out the realistic lifespan of the image and give them a figure for a perpetual license even though I know the image would be replaced between 3 and 5 years. I gave them a perpetual national license for the cost of 5 years at $42,500. Thats for one image with the main purpose of Billboard (OOH) advertising.

One thing I've learned is that you can't be afraid to charge. Everyone else in the supporting industries are sure not scared. I got a quote for a suspension/wire coordinator (for suspending people) for 3300.00 for the day. How bout 1 mammoth fog machine and 2 large fog machines for 800.00 a day. Why should photographers be the ones that break and crumble under the slightest pressure for a discount?

Fantastic! Thank you for the insight!

they didn't even charge tax LOL?

The images are licensed not sold. This is a B2B invoice, sales tax is for retail gigs.

good insight! this is happen to me when budgeting production cost. mark up is a must, sometimes we dont know if there is overtime, adding tax and travel insurance for the crew and any miscellaneous expanses.

Kool story bro...


True but completely irrelevant. ;)

They misspelled "catering" You would think they would spell check for a 100k client lol

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