We’ll help you build a smart product photography pricing strategy that works for YOUR business!
On any given day in the Cole’s Classroom Facebook group, we see a request for help on product photography pricing. The post usually goes something like this…
“A store has contacted me to take pictures of their new product line. I need to write up a quote and get it to the owner before the end of the day. But I don’t even know where to start on how to price this. HELP!”
Product photography pricing can feel overwhelming. Prce yourself too low and you risk leaving money on the table and working a lot of hours for very little income. Too high and you might lost this job and future shoots.
But more than that, I think new scenarios sometimes feed deeper insecurities we have as emerging photographers. We don’t want to price something wrong because we feel that makes us look like we don’t know what we’re doing. Which in turn, feeds our fear of not being good enough.
The best way to combat that fear is with knowledge. In this tutorial, we’re going to give you an introduction into the world of product photography pricing, discuss some pricing strategies and give you some ideas on how to build a product photography portfolio.
What is product photography?
Product photography is taking photographs of products, usually those offered for sale or rent by a business. Sometimes the product itself isn’t for sale, but it ties into a service. Either way, you’re taking images for another business to promote that business in some way.
Common uses for product photography include social media ads, business websites, online stores, magazines, billboards, brochures, catalogs or menus.
Commercial photography and product photography often overlap and often employ similar pricing strategies. But product photography is usually focused on a physical, tangible good, whereas commercial photography is more broad in scope. It might include photographing buildings, people and environments as well as just a product.
How much does product photography cost?
Like all other genres of photography, product photography costs vary. Prices will depend on your geographic location and market, demand, size of the business, reach of the business, skill as a photographer, scope of the job and related expenses, just to name a few things.
For example, a job taking images for a small boutique clothing store in rural Wyoming with a fairly local audience would be priced differently than a job shooting a high-end department store headquartered in Chicago with a national audience.
Beginning the Bid – Gather Information
A quality, competitive quote begins by gathering information from your prospective client. This helps you better understand the scope of the job and will be important when it comes to pricing.
You’ll want to know most of the following before you provide a pricing estimate to a client:
- What will the images be used for? (Etsy, local ad, national ad, billboard, etc.)
- What is the potential audience size for the business?
- How many times will the image be used? (One time use, lifetime license, etc.)
- How many products will be photographed?
- Will you need an assistant to help with props, staging, moving the product, etc.?
- What kind of setups per product will be needed (studio vs. environmental, lots of props vs. seamless background)
- How many images will be required per product (front view, side view rear view, etc.)
- How many required setups per product will be needed?
- Will there be models present?
- Who supplies the models? Who pays for the models (if any)? Will the models need makeup and styling?
- Do you have scouting fees for checking out a new location?
- Will you have travel fees for on-site shooting?
- Any there any other related expenses (venue fee, studio rental, equipment rental, props, backgrounds, etc.)?
Know your costs of doing business
Before you start pricing product photography specifically, you should have a pretty good handle on your business costs overall. Creating a product photography pricing sheet independent of your overall business finances doesn’t make much sense. Instead, you should know about how much it costs you to run your business each year, how much you want to bring in each year, how often you want to work during the year and how those numbers work together.
If you don’t have an overall pricing strategy, take a step back and develop one. Visit our tutorial on setting freelance photography rates here. It makes it much easier to price new kinds of work or new jobs if you understand the overall picture first.
Product Photography Pricing Strategies AKA Should I charge by the hour or by the photo?
The product pricing strategy you choose should make sense for you and work for your business. Just because the photographer down the street does it one way doesn’t mean that’s the best or only pricing strategy. His costs of doing business might be different than yours. His work might be better than yours. Or he might have copied his pricing strategy from another photographer without really understanding why. Don’t repeat someone else’s mistakes…make a decision that works for your business!
Separate out the Product Costs
Start with the production costs associated with the shoot. After asking the client all those questions above, what do you estimate the costs of simply producing the shoot will be? This should not include your time and talent at this point. Just how much it will cost to pull the shoot together.
Charge by the Hour
This strategy sets a fee based on the length of your shoot. For example, you estimate that the job will take 4 hours to complete and you have an hourly rate of $250. Additional time will be billed at $150 per half hour. The client will receive all the final images from the shoot.
Advantages: easy to understand, you are compensated for your actual shooting time, provides an incentive for client to prioritize products he wants photographed.
Disadvantages: the client may rush you to save money, the client may feel you worked slowly on purpose, all-inclusive pricing can drive down the perceived value of each image, you are not compensated for the extra time you may spend in post-production, makes it incredibly easy for clients to price shop for the cheapest option.
Charge by the Job
Some photographers choose to bin on the job as a whole. For example, you know you need to photograph 5 different products from multiple angles in studio and environmental setups. You choose to quote a single price for the entire job, regardless of how many hours you shoot, spend editing, or how many images the client ends up using.
Advantages: less pressure from the client to rush for cost savings, easy for client to budget for, no surprise costs for the client at the end, guarantees you know how much you’ll receive for the job.
Disadvantages: all-inclusive pricing can drive down the perceived value of each image, no incentive for the client to prioritize her needs, job may require more time than planned for which you aren’t compensated.
Charge by the Image
You can charge a per final image purchased. For example, you decide your per image price is $225. The client will pay $225 per final image purchased, regardless of how much time you spend shooting or editing. This is how many professional product photographers structure their pricing. You might require a minimum number of images be purchased in addition to the per image charge. So your final pricing structure would be $225 per final image with a minimum of 4 images to be purchased.
Advantages: places the value on the final product and not on your time, creates the greatest value for each image, helps you concentrate on a small number of final images.
Disadvantages: some clients may balk at the high cost per image, doesn’t account for extra time you may have to put in after the quote is provided (extensive editing, etc.).
Hybrid Pricing – Creative Fee + Per Image pricing based on usage
A final option is to employ some sort of combination of the above strategies. This is another common strategy of product photographers. For example, you might charge an hourly fee for your time shooting PLUS a per image fee. Or you might quote a flat fee to cover your costs PLUS a per image fee.
This product photography pricing strategy is the idea behind charging a “creative fee,” or a “day rate.” You charge a minimum fee to do the work then the client pays a licensing fee for each final image they choose.
Advantages: gives you the most flexibility in customizing a quote and adjusting your fee based on the scope of the job and final image use; places value on your time and final product; keeps price per image value higher than all-inclusive quotes, guarantees you a minimum amount earned even if the client only purchases 1 image.
Disadvantages: some clients have a hard time understanding what goes into the “creative fee,” and clients used to working with hourly based photographers might not understand the process.
What is a License Fee? What are Usage Rights?
As a photographer, you own the copyrights to each and every image you take. You can then choose to grant a second party the right to use those images in some way. I once heard a product photography license described as a client “rents” the image from the photographer for use. The license gives the client to rent the image, and the usage rights spell out exactly how the client can use the image.
These should be spelled out in each and every job you do. Even if you choose to provide ALL inclusive pricing, the usage of your images should always be spelled out. It should be part of your quote, contract AND final agreement. Most of my work is as a family photographer, but even then, I spell out client usage in my contract and in the print release I deliver to clients.
Why is a license and usage agreement important?
A license and usage agreement protects your intellectual property. Without an agreement, the client may feel free to use that image however she wants, in perpetuity.
Let’s say you are working for a local clothing store who wants some images of a new line of shoes they are carrying. You complete the job for them but fail to spell out usage rights OR make the mistake of giving them unlimited rights.
The clothing store posts their images online and the manufacturer loves your images. They want to buy the images and use them for a national advertising campaign. So your original client sells the manufacturer your image for a few thousand dollars. You get nothing.
Here’s another scenario. You are working for a local vineyard taking pictures of their wine for a catalog. A home interior goods store sees your image and decides it would make a great image to sell as a canvas. They contact the vineyard who sells them your image for pennies on the dollar. Now your image is printed on a canvas hanging in stores across the country selling for $250 a piece. You get nothing.
Yes, you can pursue legal action and perhaps get compensated for the sale and use of your image. But legal action and court battles are costly and emotionally exhausting. It’s so much easier to simply spell out the terms up front and have your client acknowledge their understanding through a bid, contract and license.
How to price your license and usage rights
A license and usage agreement also gives you the flexibility to scale your prices based on how the images will be used and by whom. The license for your neighbor who makes and sells jewelry on Etsy is going to be less than the license for a national company selling purses in 25o stores nationwide.
High volume product photographers often base their license fee on how much the client is spending on advertising their product, usually as a percentage of the total marketing or advertising budget. They also take it one step further, employing a sliding scale of sorts, based on the client’s total campaign, to make sure they are getting compensated fairly. Additionally, you can grant usage extensions or package or second run discounts.
What if my client wants copyrights?
No product photography pricing article would be complete without some discussion on copyrights. Some clients may ask about purchasing full copyrights to your images. Essentially, you are selling them full rights to the image that they can use anytime, anywhere with no further compensation paid to you. In fact, the client would own the copyrights and YOU would need to get THEIR permission to use the images.
But before putting any terms together, make sure the client understands what it means to buy the copyrights. They might be trying to solve a problem unrelated to the actual copyrights.
With that being said, if your client does indeed want full copyrights and understands what that really means, you can sell them those rights. It’s your business, after all, and you need to do what makes sense for you!
If you choose to sell full copyrights to your client, make sure the price per image is in line with the potential future income of those images. You might also consider asking for a license BACK from the client for you to use those images in your portfolio or advertising.
Educating Clients is Critical
Don’t overlook the value of educating your client on exactly what goes into your pricing structure before you ever provide a quote. Begin by telling them what your process is. A conversation might include something like:
“First, we’ll discuss what type of shoot you are looking for. How many products will we shoot, what staging will be needed, what your overall vision for the final result will be. This helps me understand your vision and goals and know exactly what I’ll need to do to prepare for and complete the shoot.”
Then you can ask how, and where, those images will be used and explain licensing fees to your client.
Now you can describe the value you bring to a shoot. Describe what the shoot will entail, how you work, how you photograph AND how you edit.
Finally, it is time to loosely describe your pricing structure.
“I’ll provide you with a quote based on the costs it will take to pull together the shoot, an license fee for each image you choose to purchase for use and a creative fee that includes my time spent photographing, editing and preparing your images for use.”
Explaining your process helps the client understand their quote wasn’t just pulled out of thin air and gives you credibility. It also gives you the opportunity to answer questions, provide feedback and add value to your services.
Providing a detailed quote
When you’re ready with your quote, pull it all together for the client in a straightforward quote. Break it down by the following:
- Production costs, itemized
- Creative Fee (however you are going to bid this, by the hour, by the job, etc.)
- License Fee (if being billed separately)
I think it’s also important to spell out what usage rights the client is getting for these images included in this bid.
Be transparent and honest in your quote or estimate. Business owners will appreciate the details and like knowing exactly what they are getting.
Publishing your Prices
One final question you might have about your product photography pricing strategy is should you publish your prices? This can mean publishing a stand alone flyer or listing your rates on your website. Like the larger question of how to price, this triggers our anxiety about “doing it right.” Will it help your find your ideal client? Will it steer clients away? Will you make some businesses angry? Argh!
This is one more decision you’ll have to make according to what feels right for YOUR business. Here are some pros and cons of publishing your pricing.
- Clients know what to expect when they contact you
- Saves time by eliminating clients with very small budgets who won’t ever pay your rates
- Can create immediate value for your work
- Can help create feelings of transparency, trust and honesty (i.e. no hidden costs)
- Clients can easily price shop without even knowing anything else about you
- Client may never even contact you once they see a base rate
- Clients can’t first be educated about the overall value you bring to a job
- Locks you into pricing that might not fit the scope of the job, and if your customized quote varies from your published price, can create feelings of dishonesty
- Does not allow for customized rates based on how and where the final images will be used.
Again, there’s no right or wrong answer, but know the advantages and disadvantages.
Pulling it all together – Your business, your strategy
There are plenty of clients and other photographers out there who will look at whatever pricing strategy you have created and tell you all the things you are doing wrong.
You’re too expensive.
You’re not expensive enough.
You shouldn’t price by the hour.
You shouldn’t charge a separate usage fee for print and web.
You shouldn’t sell copyrights.
You should sell copyrights but only for LOTS of money.
I don’t care what your product photography pricing structure is, there will be someone, somewhere that tells you it is all wrong.
But if you’ve followed these guidelines, figured out your costs of doing business, how much you’d like to make, your production costs and a fair license fee for usage, then you’ve done your homework. At the end of the day, this is your business. If you feel your pricing is fair to clients, reflective of your skills and abilities and you are comfortable with your structure, stick with it. You are in business for you, not them. So do your homework and create product photography pricing that works for you and your business. Let all those other folks worry about themselves. You have you covered.