A guide to photography rates, with tips and advice from experienced professionals in the industry
Telling entire stories with the power of one frame. Capturing emotions in a shot. This is the matter of which photographers are made; masters of storytelling, weavers of emotions, constantly on the lookout for the perfect picture. A skilled photographer needs no more than a smile to tell you about a person, and no more than a lens to paint entire worlds.
It is quite common for photographers to start their own freelance venture. In fact, many photographers work as self-employed professionals, often setting up their own studio or just working freelance in some capacity.
If you are in love with the art of photography and would like to make a business out of that, the next step is obviously choosing how much to charge as a freelance photographer.
Though I have a personal interest in photography and production in general, I believe I can quite confidently say that my photography skills suck. That’s why I got in touch with two of the most skilled photographers on Creativepool: Ken Gerhardt and Rob Luckins, respectively our first and second ranked photographers on the platform, and Richard Wadey, a Annual 2020 Bronze Winner.
Looking for your next big project? Check out our photography jobs!
Clearly, Ken loves black and white. Whenever he picks up a camera and shares his work, we can see why. Project: Kodak Travels.
How do I charge for a photography project?
While today anyone has an incredibly powerful camera at their fingertips, there is a specific art to photography that only the most skilled artists can and will ever capture. It is enough to glimpse at the beautiful pictures scattered across this very piece, from Ken, Rob and Richard; a skilled photographer, you can recognise at first sight.
It is extremely popular among photographers to charge per day, and only occasionally depending on the kind of project. Event photographers may apply a flat rate, but that will often be based on the specific time required to complete a job.
Ken, Rob and Richard all charge per day. Ken has a fixed day rate for digital and specialised photography, while Rob has a fixed commercial day rate under which he does not go.
Rob admits that it may be “tricky” to work out day rates, but it can be done based on a number of factors. Ken has adopted the good habit of breaking down outside and overhead expenses, including equipment costs where needed and adding up additional fees for overnight accommodation. Ken, however, has built a proper brand around his figure, which probably helped his reputation as a photographer: Ken embraces photography as a form of art, he loves black and white, and his style is exceptionally unique. To the point that clients, according to Ken, are buying “him”, not his services.
Still, every photographer who provided insights for this piece had to start somewhere, and their rates evolved over time based on value and expertise. If all of this gives you a big headache, though, you can always consider going for another route. Richard is the one of the three who is working with an agent and they are constantly staying up to date with the market to understand how things are moving. Having an agent can help take some of the weight of business management off your own shoulders, so you can focus on improving your craft and providing as much value as possible.
So in a nutshell:
- It is common among photographers to charge a day rate
- Occasionally, you could go for flat project rates too
- Your rates will evolve according to experience and style
- They should reflect the value and expertise that you are bringing
- It can help to build a brand around your business and figure
- If you feel confident, you could always look for an agent!
The horror, the pain. One of my favourite works from Rob Luckins – a study in licanthropy.
How do I calculate the costs of a project?
Of course none of the photographers featured in this article pulled day rates out of thin air. Calculating your rates can feel challenging at first, but with some research, it can be done with relative ease.
As mentioned above, you shouldn’t underestimate the weight of overheads and outside expenses. Ken charges a certain percentage increase based on some of these, such as accommodation, but Rob does something similar.
You should consider:
- Image usage
- Pre-production costs
- Travel costs
- Set building
- Equipment costs
- Assistants (where needed)
- Time required to complete the project
- And so on…
The list above isn’t at all exhaustive, but it can give you an idea of where to look and how to reason in terms of your daily rates. An image that will be used globally will intrinsically have more value than one with local usage – simply because it has more value for the client themselves. At the same time, photographers often travel quite a lot, and that must be taken into account when working out your daily rates.
In all cases, Rob and Ken recommend making some research to understand the market and connecting with other photographers when possible. I’m sure I said it numerous times in the course of this series, but it’s worth repeating: freelancers are extremely supportive, and you can often count on a community of warm and welcoming creative professionals to find some support. Don’t be afraid to reach out!
When you’re working out your day rates, the deadline should also be taken into account. However, where some freelancers would charge extra based on a shorter deadline, Ken prefers to turn down the job completely if less time is bound to compromise the quality of the work. Rob, on the other hand, prefers to talk through rates with the client in order to understand if he needs to put aside other work in order to complete that specific project – and if so, charge more for unsociable hours too.
It will also help to work out your market and understand where you sit. If you are working for a small business, you won’t be able to charge as much as you would for a global brand – though rest assured that you should never undercharge in fear of losing a project.
So in a nutshell:
- Consider overheads and extra costs
- Work out the costs of equipment, assistants, sets etc…
- Reach out to other photographers if unsure
- Work out your market
- Make research on the industry
- Consider if you should increase your rates based on your deadline
Ken has few equals when it comes to scenery. Project: Surrealism.
Common mistakes when pricing photography work
Too many freelancers compromise their own value just so they can land themselves a job. This is potentially dangerous for the entire industry, as it sets unfair standards for other photographers as well. According to all of the interviewees on this piece, you should never produce work at a loss.
Sometimes, negotiation will be needed. According to Richard you should always fight for the right fees and you should never get pushed around by a client wanting to land a cheap deal. It would result in you undervaluing yourself, and the industry being hurt in the long run.
Perhaps linked to the sections above, some photographers often fail to consider overheads and extra costs, or they underestimate the amount of time needed to complete a job. Make sure to take these into account – Rob recommends using a comfy spreadsheet for that.
The best way to give you an idea of what rates will be good for you is this: think about the costs needed to sustain you and your business, allowing you to reach the comfortable life you would like to have.
Some freelancers recommend to think of your desired annual salary, add 30%, then divide by 220 (the working days in a year). This will give you your desired day rate in most cases, but remember that photography has a number of added costs and overheads – so it might be a bit trickier!
It's difficult to find someone as skilled as Richard Wadey in portraiture. Project: Kushti Wrestling, Creativepool Annual winner.
Examples of photography prices and rates
Photographers may work in different fields and with different kinds of products, but there are some standards in the industry which are commonly agreed upon.
- Entry level photographers can charge $50-$150/day
- Professional, top-tier and established photographers may charge even $500/hour and earn up to $10,000/day
- Ken is an excellent example:
- His basic digital photography rate sits at £885/day
- His specialised photography rate is £1.250/day, excluding equipment costs
- Outside expenses will be quoted with a full breakdown if travel is beyond Cape Town
- Black & White roll film processing & handprint sit at £350 each
More portraiture, more amazing shots by Richard. Project: Roger Federer for Credit Suisse.
When it comes to support and guidance, photographers in the UK have more than a few options, luckily. Both the Guild of Photographers and the Association of Photographers provide guidance and support for all the photographers out there, freelancers and not.
If you are based in the US instead, the Professional Photographers of America organisation (or PPA) will provide the same kind of support to members, with tax protection, events, opportunities to network, insurance and much more.
All of these will provide useful tools for aspiring photographers, but the Association of Photographers in particular has a handy usage calculator which can be used to understand more about usage rights and how much to charge based on the kind of work that you are producing.
I hope this guide was useful and will get you on the right track to start charging for your projects straight away! Feel free to share your own experience with photography rates in the comments section and let us know if there’s anything we missed.