random ramblings on pricing photography

I’ve been receiving a number of questions lately about pricing photography. Pricing photography is a difficult and confusing process and, I’ll be honest, it’s getting more difficult all the time. There are novice portrait and wedding photographers with great websites, experienced photographers with outdated websites, moms with a camera that aren’t preoccupied with profitability and established professionals offering the complete package. After looking around I understand why many of you are overwhelmed when it comes to establishing price value for portraits and weddings…at the moment I am, too. What will the coming year bring? More photographers seeking part-time income? Or a reduction in the pursuit of hobby-generated photo income?

I’m much more comfortable with pricing for advertising photography but it’s not particularly simple. My studio uses a system based on the complexity of the job and calculating and our cost of doing business, a formula learned years ago from the book Pricing Photography: The Complete Guide to Assignment & Stock Prices.  While it’s not easy to figure or explain, it’s accurate and has served me well. In addition, the usage by the client is also figured in on a per job basis. This is where my local professional photo organization comes in, too. As peers we all understand our market and have the same concerns about preserving the value of photography. Nationally, we all refer to the ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography, 7th Edition for guidelines.

I thought you might be interested in hearing what other photo jobs in my area are currently paying:

Catalog photographers shoot for a negotiated day rate, creating images for catalogs. They shoot for lower daily rates but are guaranteed a certain amount of work. A project for them may last from one week to several months. These photographers usually supply their own photo equipment and may work on location or in the client’s in-house studio. Prices can range from $300 a day for simple studio shots on white to $1000+ a day for more sophisticated photography.

Pricing for other types of photography may be easier to discover, especially if it’s a non-negotiable “take it or leave it” situation. You may be surprised to find that a major news service pays less than $200 to freelance photographers for covering an entire NFL or MLB game, the last time I checked. Plus the wire service claims all rights to the photos. So, for four hours of work, providing their own photo equipment and giving away all future earnings, the photographer walks away with $200. Rates for news and editorial uses haven’t kept pace with inflation and are still around early ‘90’s levels…plus the photographers rights have eroded.

Compare that to rates paid to photo assistants here in the Cincinnati area. Good commercial photo assistants are generally paid $150 a day (up to 10 hours). That rate hasn’t gone up in a number of years and it really is long overdue. In nearby Columbus, OH, I hear the rate is more like $200 a day. So, let’s do some math. If there are 260 working (week) days a year and a good assistant gets booked 3 days a week (that‘s a good year), that’s 156 days a year x $200 = $30,400 a year. Being self-employed, they’ll pay their own taxes, health care and expenses out of that.

Good regional magazines usually pay around $75-150 for one photo used in the front of the issue. A feature photo package seems to pay from $450 – $1500, depending on complexity. There may be additional budget for a makeup or set stylist on important packages. Small magazines may want to pay with coupons from advertisers. Seriously.

Public relations and event photography is often charged for by the hour. Locally, $125 an hour seems to be a reasonable shooting rate (with a 2 hour minimum charge). That’s just the photographer’s rate and CDs, prints and other forms of image delivery are charged for in addition.

As you can see, prices really are all over the board. Many years ago the ASMP tried to publish a recommended price list for their photographers but the Federal Trade Commission ruled it was Restraint of Trade. As a result, we’ve always been on our own. Dan Heller’s Photography Business Blog has an insightful post, Data Analysis and the Pro Photo Industry, that tells the whole story.

I sometimes wonder what the industy would look like if that standardized price list would have been published. Would pricing be viewed differently today? Would photographers work together more cooperatively? Or would the independent nature of creativity still lead us to fend for ourselves?