A guide to retouching rates, with tips and advice from experienced professionals in the industry
Commercial Retouchers make the beautiful perfect. They are architects of polish, masters of design and how to present a product/campaign under the best possible light. Most of them are also incredibly creative, able to master the wonderful rules of colour, composition and design to create spectacular visual works.
While a few retouchers may work in-house, the vast majority prefers to work freelance, managing their own workload from the comfort of their house. Given that freelance retouching is a much specific discipline, it may be challenging to find resources online for those just starting out. If you are looking for information to launch your career as a freelance retoucher, it is especially natural to wonder how much to charge for your retouching jobs.
This guide will help you do just that. Not being a retoucher myself, I opted for a chat with someone who knew a bit more than me; the guide below includes answers from Timothy Bennett, one of the top ranked retouchers on Creativepool.
If you are still considering whether you should become a freelance retoucher or not, make sure to check out our retoucher job description!
Image credit: Paul Hill & Paul Cooper for Liverpool FC
How do I charge clients for a retouching project?
Like in many other freelance disciplines, charging the right amount for freelance retouching work is extremely important to keep the industry healthy and fair. That said, you may encounter a vast variety of different works and projects which will require different rates. According to Tim, “a retouching job can be anything from minutes to days depending on the complexity and volume.” He personally charges minimum/hourly rate for quick jobs, but more time consuming work will usually require a day rate.
It can help to research the market before plunging into your freelance retouching career. In the case of Tim’s, it helped having worked as a client-facing retoucher before moving to freelancing, meaning Tim was able to translate his former salary into his freelance rates. If you’ve never worked as a retoucher before, feel free to network with fellow professionals and make some ground research to understand the best rates for your business.
At any rate, it is important to judge on a case-by-case basis and allow for some flexibility. As a freelancer in control of your own finances, you should be able to help a loyal client with a little favour if needed! Tim himself does this occasionally, though keep in mind that the exception should never become the norm.
So in a nutshell:
- Retouching work can be anything from minutes to days
- You should charge accordingly to the volume of work
- Make some research to understand the current going rates for your specialism
- This is to set standards for the whole market
- Be ready to make exceptions to help a loyal client! This can only help in the long run
Image credit: Kevin Relf for Iris and Formula E
How do I calculate the costs of a project?
A number of factors go into calculating the costs of any retouching project. We already mentioned the time factor, but like in many other freelancing specialties, deadline and usage may play a part too.
Of course experience helps. Tim is able to estimate the amount of time required to complete a job with relative ease. Still, he never quotes a job until he’s “seen the high-resolution files and the client has made the final edit.” Additionally, there may be some revisions taking place and timings can be slightly extended. It can be useful to add an admin fee to make up for all additional costs. 10% is usually a good amount, but it largely depends on the kind of project.
You should absolutely consider the deadline in your rates too. If the client wants a rush service, Tim believes you should “absolutely charge more”. Your client is paying for your time and expertise, and if you need to work on a difficult project in a shorter timespan, upping the price slightly will certainly help.
Lastly, keep medium and usage in mind. If your work is going to be used in print, it will have a potentially different impact on sales and conversion, as opposed to a hero image on a website or a brand’s campaign. Local VS international should also play a part in your final fees. All of this adds up to a price that is usually proportioned to the kind of value you are providing for the client.
If you’re looking for help, you will find that the freelance community is quite open and always willing to help. You can reach out to some fellow retouchers here on Creativepool and start connecting!
The one rule to keep in mind is this, as Tim summarised brilliantly: your rates do not reflect your client’s budgets, they reflect your experience.
So in a nutshell:
- Consider 4 factors:
- Amount of work
- Medium & Usage
- Change your rates for shorter deadlines and usage rights
- Compare your rates with similar work from colleagues
- Be confident in your own abilities
Image credit: Timea Buknicz
Common mistakes when pricing retouching work
Sometimes you may be required to calculate rates in a hurry during a meeting with a client. You should always remember to do your research beforehand if possible, but if you are just caught in the middle of something or there just wasn’t any information available, you run the risk of shooting yourself in the foot by calculating on the go! Tim himself has done it a few times. His key advice for this situation is to have ballpark figures locked in your head. “If you know that a quick grade is going to take say 10 minutes a file, or a beauty retouch is going to take 6 hours, be able to calculate those figures for volume quickly. The amount of times I’ve shot myself in the foot by miscalculating that in a hurry!”
Additionally, we creatives are creatures plagued by a constant impostor syndrome, and this can translate in a number of factors when running our own business. When you are just starting out, you may be tempted to undercharge to attract more clients. This is damaging to both you and the industry as a whole. Tim himself agrees that you should never undervalue what you do.
Tim says: “I do think that people tend to only quote for the time it takes do the work, and not take into account all the other stuff, the admin, the chasing invoices, the marketing, the rent, tax, your equipment, etc. I have met more than my fair share of photographers who essentially do all the editing for free, denying themselves both payment for that time, and the ability to use that time for another paying job. If you’re doing something that precludes you from working for another client, then you should be paid for it.”
If you undercharge, you are automatically undervaluing your work and setting lower standards for the whole industry. You should always be true to the work you are doing and have full confidence in your personal creative skills.
This is not just to ensure that the whole industry is treated fairly, but to avoid a mental health breakdown or your personal burnout in the near future. If you don’t charge the right way, your business will not be financially sustainable, or you will have to find compromises with your mental health.
Tim adds, quite perfectly: “Speaking frankly, if you’re a freelancer in the UK and you’re charging less than £25-30 per hour for anything then I urge you to put your prices up tomorrow. Even then, you’re probably worth more.”
If we were only looking at automated freelance platforms, I can see why you would think that lowering your prices may be the best option for you. There are dozens of platforms for freelancers out there, and most of them have the same problem: penny rates for weeks-long jobs. You can’t compete with someone charging £1.50 per image on Fiverr or Upwork. If you are setting your prices lower to enter that market, don’t. “The clients you want are not using freelancer websites, and you’re not losing out by not being on them," Tim concludes.
Image credit: Viki Sharp
Unfortunately there aren’t too many resources specific to retouchers out there, and most are in common with photographers. Still, they can be a good start to understand the requirements of the job, and the photography industry in general.
The Professional Photographers of America association has a number of benefits for members, including insurance, contracts and the possibility to be added to an international directory.
In the UK, the Association of Photographers is an equally great start. Memberships start from just £30 and provide discounts, business forms, templates and more to help you get started in the business.
We hope that this guide will set you on the right track to start charging fair rates for your retouching projects straight away! If there’s anything we should add to this piece, please feel free to leave a comment below.