What price photography?

Usage, not day rates, should determine the cost of photography, says agent Lisa Pritchard. She explains how and why its price may vary

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Some key things to know about how photographers value their pictures:

— When you commission photography, you buy a usage licence to reproduce the photography in a specific and restricted way.

— The photographer retains the copyright which means they own the right to authorise others to reproduce the images. A photographer should never sell ‘copyright’, and I have yet to come across a commercial client who wants the copyright – ie the authority to allow others to use the image.

— The extent of the usage required is then reflected in the day rate.

— Usage is quantified by four factors (media, time, territory and audience).

— The day rate is accumulative, increasing with each additional factor. For example, five years rather than one, six forms of communication rather than two.

— The percentage increases are not necessarily equally incremental in all industries and certain things need to be taken into consideration – eg in the world of corporate communications, annual reports are by their very nature often intended for a global audience, albeit just employees of the company or stakeholders, so not on the same scale as a global audience for a consumer advertising campaign.

— Different rates apply to different audiences. Generally consumer is the highest, then B2B and specialist, then corporate, then charity and education at the low end.

— Once at a certain level, ie the level when a photographer is a serious contender to be commissioned by advertising and design agencies,  experience and the amount of awards a photographer has won has a surprisingly negligible effect on the day rate. The industry dictates the rate according to the project and there are very few ‘star’ photographers in a position to name their price.

— To calculate a day rate based on usages, work out a base rate for the relevant audience then increase incrementally according to the required factors.

And now the bit you’ve all been waiting for, some numbers. What can a photographer earn in a day?

Above is very broad guide, the figures are as variable as the usage factors. ‘High’ should not be interpreted as ‘expensive’; rates are high when the usage factors are high. By the same token, ‘Low’ should not be interpreted as ‘cheap’; again, certain factors influence this – maybe the shoot was for a small, regional not-for-profit organisation.

Before you start thinking, you’re in the wrong game, don’t forget a photographer doesn’t work five days a week, 40 odd weeks a year. Commercial photographers are doing well if they work five days a month. A lot of their time is spent creating the opportunities to be commissioned in the first place – on marketing and shooting personal projects – not to mention the other production days around a shoot, the casting, location scouting, post-production.

This brings me on to my final point. There’s little point in comparing day rates like for like when gathering quotes. A photographer who quotes a lower day rate might charge more for other shoot elements like digital capture or post-production. Or they might approach the shoot production differently which adds to the costs – perhaps they don’t ‘shop around as much’ to get good rates from the models or the location scout, so don’t get the most for your budget.

When working out your photography budgets you need to look at the shoot production as a whole. Sometimes a photographer’s fee can appear almost inconsequential compared to the total shoot costs. Take two shoots, the fees might be identical if the usage is the same, but the production costs might vary from £500 to £150,000.

Hopefully this has thrown a bit of light on the often complex subject of photography costs. If I’ve just confused you further, I know a very helpful photographers’ agent that can help!

Disclaimer: Please note the commissions mentioned are simply to give an idea of different usages and production elements. The fees and production costs given as examples do not relate to these shoots directly. The figures quoted in this article are a guide only and the personal opinion of Lisa Pritchard. They are not meant to be an attempt at price fixing and should not be used as a rate card.

Lisa Pritchard has been representing photographers to the ad and design industries for more than two decades. Her first book Setting Up a Successful Photography Business was published this year (A&C Black) and is available on Amazon. It contains more on photography rates. Lisapritchard.com