Photography Rates Explained

I got a call this morning from a client that is also a friend and has known me forever. He has hired me in the past for his company (he is the owner) to do Architectural shoots so he knows my work and he knows how I make my living. Even though we have known each other since we were both in diapers he was surprised by my day rate.

“What are you doing!? Smoking crack!?” he said when I answered. “We can’t afford that much! I am offering you x amount of shoots and you want to charge us that much? No way!”

He wasn’t really protesting what I charge but how he thought I charged it. When I met with his art director a little over a week ago I quoted her my hourly rate and my day rate. When she talked to my friend on the phone she told him that I charge X per day, which I might add is correct. However my friend thought that was for every shoot. That part was not right.

I am going to say “units” rather than dollars, pounds, euros or whatever denomination just to keep this internationally friendly. Let me say here and now that these are not my actual rates and they are only made up to better explain how rates work, and to keep the math easy.

Let’s say my rate is 250 units an hour. I might offer a day rate of say 1600 to 1800 depending on travel, needs for assistants etc. for 8 (or more) hours on site. In reality that is actually a 10% – 20% discount over the hourly rate. Discounts a good!  Good for the client, good for me because the client likes to come back for the discount.

However my friend was upset because some of the projects he needs shot may only be a single state of the art room or a part of a new building. These things can be shot in as little as an hour. He was under the impression that the day rate was for any job or project. If that were the case I could live really well!

When I explained to him that smaller jobs didn’t mean a full day rate he was able to understand that in fact I did not have a crack pipe in my hand. I better explained to him that my day rate was for 8 or more hours (per day) of shooting on his bigger projects. The smaller projects would be  charged only by the hourly rate.


Now in this case my friend was offering me a large number of projects that will in fact keep me fairly busy this year. Because he is a friend, but more so because he will guarantee me (in writing) all of these projects I offered him the discounted rate of 200 units per hour on all the projects not just the ones that take a full day. As long as he was getting his 20% off he seemed happy.

Historically photographers are not good at communicating verbally about business stuff. Many of us are more artistically oriented. What this (true) story tells me is that I and many of my colleagues need to spend more time communicating to our clients so they better understand things like rates. Although my friend was jumping to conclusions and that I had taken up crack smoking, it is my job to better explain how my rates work, why I do things in a certain way and most importantly, why doing them is a huge benefit to him and his business.

Next time I go into how rates break down, what you are actually paying per image, and how much a photographer really makes.


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