Working out how much you should charge is one of the questions most frequently asked when setting up as a professional photographer.
I’ll endeavour to answer the question but it may not be the answer you expect. I have a view that breaks with industry tradition.
Traditionally photographers charge for a shoot by applying half day or full day rates. The rate is the same, no matter how their images are being used or what value their images add to the client’s business. I think this is wrong.
We are expected to charge by a fairly arbitrary system based loosely on the time we spend at a photo-shoot. It’s a pretty archaic way of working things out which originates from a mass production factory mentality. As photographers we’re not cogs in a machine. Our uniqueness, our approach and the value we can add through our creativity and ability to solve problems should be reflected in the amount we charge.
I live and breathe to deliver the best possible work. I use my insight, creativity, unique vision and technical ability to solve a problem for my client; how to create images that communicate exactly what he/she needs for a campaign, a website, a brochure, a report, a magazine etc... I work with heart and soul for every client, large and small because I cannot bare to deliver work that is not my best.
Using time as a measure of value is ridiculous. I could take a great shot within three minutes of arriving on location or it could take three days to produce an equally good image. It takes as long as it takes. I bet a lot of photographers get the images they need quickly and then spend the rest of the day just filling the time because they know the client would think that somehow they had not got value if the photographer left after an hour on a shoot booked for a day.
To be able to work out what to charge you will need to know a lot about your clients, their business and the benefits your photography can deliver directly to them. Calculating how much to charge can only be done on a project by project basis. You will need to educate your clients about the value your photography brings to them.
Many photographers will not find this a comfortable way of working. But imagine the benefits if you can persuade your client to share both the risk and reward. Hypothetically, if the advert to which your image is integral results in 10,000 sales you will earn X and if it achieves 20,000 sales you will earn Y etc.
It’s not an alien concept to the creative industries. Musicians and writers get paid in-line with how many albums or books they sell. Why shouldn’t photographers get paid according to the results they help achieve?
Yes it is difficult to measure and it is difficult to implement. You have to listen to your client and understand them and they have to understand you. But all of this creates a fertile ground for better photography. I want to work with clients willing to recognise my contribution and reward it. They appreciate good photography and don’t see me as a cog in the machine being paid an hourly wage.
I don’t charge according to how much time I spend, or how big my client is; I charge according to what I think I can contribute toward the success of my client’s project. How important are my images to what they want to achieve?
Reward in relation to results. What could be more natural? Yes I am aware all of this sounds idealistic and impractical. For one, pricing by project is more time consuming and it makes it difficult for potential clients to compare prices at a glance. A client ends up buying a photographers services, not because their daily rate is cheaper but because that particular photographer shows they understand the client’s requirement and can deliver the images they need. The circle is complete. Isn’t that how it should?
Clients and photographers need to understand and trust each other, to communicate and to challenge the status quo; working together to create images and campaigns that sweep the mediocre aside. There will be circumstances where a traditional method of charging works out best for everyone but a new way of working out what to charge seems to me a worthwhile challenge.
Your comments are welcome.