One of the biggest struggles that photographers have is pricing their jobs so that they are actually profitable. Most photographers are under charging for their work and they have all sorts of excuses and reasons for this.
This blog post is about how to properly price your jobs with smaller clients so that you can make a profit.
In my last posts about food photography pricing we covered the types of clients you can have, and then we talked about figuring out your total costs of living, the costs of your business, and we figured out all the time it will take you to do each job.
Now that you have a sense of the kind of money you will need to bring in, we need to work out how you are going to price your jobs so that you succeed.
Disclaimer: I am not an attorney or an accountant. I am not giving you legal advice. I am simply suggesting ways for you to run your business. You should always check with your attorney and accountant with anything related to your business.
Questions You Need to Ask The Potential Client To Price A Job
When you are starting out, you are going to be working with smaller clients who are usually not working with an ad agency, and so you will be working directly with the client.
Many times they will not know what shots they want. If they are nice to work with, you can help them figure this out. I find the restaurants are the ones that most often have no idea what shots they want.
Or they think they need 200 shots, have no idea what that costs, and really probably only need about 20-30 at the very most.
This is all about client expectations. You control the shoot and what you are willing to shoot for the day, or the job. You make this very clear, put it in writing, and they sign this.
You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you for the job. I find that if they aren’t even willing to answer my questions here, I’m not willing to work with them because they won’t even take the time to figure out what images they need.
If they are new to this and just don’t know how to answer your questions, that’s fine, and we can work towards getting a shot list made for them – if they don’t want to put in the time to figure this out or they say it’s your job to tell them what to shoot, (which how could you, it’s not your business it’s theirs) – they are not a good client and you need to move on.
Here is my list of questions that I ask all potential new clients:
- How many shots do you need?
- Do you have a shot list yet?
- What is the food to be photographed?
- What props are needed? (bowls dishes etc.)
- What surfaces and backgrounds are needed or are the images to be shot on white?
- If they are shot on white, who will be doing the clipping paths for knockout – my team or you/your agency?
- Do you want retouching in the estimate or will you/your agency handle that?
- Will all food be supplied by client or will my crew have to source the food?
- What is the usage requested and the duration of use?
- Do you have any examples of what you want the images to look like so I can get a better idea of what you want shot? (please share a website link)
- What is your budget for your project?
- If you have a chef or food stylist in mind, please let me know that as well.
- Can you describe any other details about your project?
- What city is the shoot to take place? I’m based in LA, but shoot all over the country.
- When do you need to shoot by -when do you need final images?
- When do you need the estimate?
If the client really doesn’t know how to answer these questions, go over them with the client to get as much info as you can. You can’t give proper pricing if you don’t know what you’re shooting.
CREATE PACKAGE DEALS IF POSSIBLE
If you can’t work out a shot list with the client, then you can offer them some package deal options.
For example if it’s a restaurant shoot where you go to the restaurant to do the job, you can offer a 5 image package deal, a 10 image package deal and a 15 image package deal. You get the idea. Work out all your pricing that you will need to cover all the costs we mentioned in my last post.
If you are just starting out without much experience, maybe your 5 image package deal is $750-$1000, the 10 image package deal is $1200-$1750, and the 15 image package deal is $2000. This is just an example for a low budget restaurant shoot that is only using the images for their website and menu – that type of thing. This is not the pricing for a large agency job, and the type of images you will be creating can affect the time to take the photos which should then affect the cost as well.
Keep in mind, if you will need an assistant or a food stylist, you are now adding expenses to the job that need to be covered. This is about getting all your costs covered, AND then making a decent fee for your time. So, you would take your package pricing and add your expenses to it as things get added, like a food stylist.
The other consideration with shooting at restaurants is the lighting in the restaurant. If it’s a dark restaurant, you will need to bring in lighting for the shots. If they want shots of the chef as well, you’ll need to do portrait lighting on them, most likely as their kitchen will have the horrible overhead fluorescent lighting that looks awful on food, and on people. So, if I’m bringing my lighting, I hire an assistant for that, and the price goes up because the complexity just went up. This all adds more costs to that job that you have got to get covered.
This is why every job has its own estimate, and there are no standard rates for commercial food photography.
In your package deals, tell them how much additional shots will be – because they will always want to add shots, so you need to control the client, and make them realize that more shots mean more work, more time, which means they pay more.
Also keep in mind – when you show up to do the job, if they are not ready and don’t have what’s needed to do all the shots they are paying you to do, you still charge them! Their disorganization should not mean you get paid less.
What other expenses will your job have?
If you are trying to come up with a package deal for clients other than restaurants, then you will have a lot more expenses to consider, and the package deals won’t be as easy to come up with, and you’ll need a custom estimate.
Here is my list of expenses that I have on my estimate. Remember, I am doing jobs with agencies and design firms so my crew is bigger than what you will have starting out.
- Food Stylist
- Food Stylist Assistant
- Fresh Food Purchase
- Prop Stylist
- Prop Purchase/Rental
- Digital Tech
- Studio Rental
- Grip and Lighting Equipment
- Production Expenses
- Digital Capture Package
- Meals and Craft Services
- Backgrounds and Surface Fabrication
- Kitchen Equipment Rental
RENTAL STUDIO Will you need to rent a studio? If you are shooting out of your home, and you do not have a professional set up with a client area, you will probably need to rent a studio if your clients are coming to the shoot. You can google your area for photography rental studios. Here’s the thing though, if you are shooting prepared food, you will need a rental studio that has a full kitchen. I will be doing a separate post about renting photo studios for food photography because, there is a lot to this, but for now, just keep this as a consideration for these types of jobs.
Rates for studio rentals are all over the place. In bigger cities, they charge more. Peer Space could be a great place for you to find a rental studio if you are near, or in a big city.
Some studios will do hourly rates. I rent the studio by the day for 10 hour days. In Los Angeles, the rates can be from $750 – $2500 a day for a rental with a kitchen.
FOOD AND FOOD STYLIST: If you are trying to be a professional food photographer –you will NOT be styling the food yourself. You will be hiring food stylists to do the food for you. For advertising work, you will never have time to style the food AND do the photography, and professional advertising clients will never expect you to do this either, by the way. If they ask you for this, this is a huge red flag.
The food stylist rate will vary depending on the type of work you are doing. Editorial, (magazines) and social media work pay the least, so again, depending on your area, this could be a stylist day rate of $500 – $750. For advertising rates the average are $850 on the low end to $1200.
Is the food being supplied by the client, or does your food stylist have to get that? If she or he does, what are the costs of that? Maybe the main food is coming from the client, and the stylist has to bring in all the fresh garnishes. Do a rough estimate for costs, and add that to the estimate.
For bigger jobs, the food stylist might need an assistant or two. Always talk to your food stylists about the job you are estimating, to get their costs if you are new at this.
PROPS AND PROP STYLIST: What props and dishware will be needed for the job? Are you going to do all the props, or do you have a budget to hire a prop stylist? Most of my commercial jobs are done with a prop stylist. There are two ways of working with a prop stylist. See my post about hiring them.
You can do what’s called a Shop and Drop, where the stylist gets your props before your shoot, then drops them off at your studio, and during the shoot day, you are on your own with putting your sets together.
Or, you hire the stylist for pulling props AND for working with you on set. Obviously, my favorite way of shooting. Talk with your prop stylist, and ask them for an estimate for their pricing if you are not sure how to price this.
Prop stylists also have different rates depending on the type of job it is, so ask them what their rates are for your job. You can expect pricing from $500 a day on the low end for editorial work and all the way up to $1000+ for ad work.
PHOTO ASSISTANT: I always have a photo assistant on set, so that’s another expense. I always payroll my assistants because they are considered an employee (even if it’s only for one or two days), so for my area (Los Angeles), the average day rate is $350 and payroll costs add another 25% for a 10 hour day.
ANY OTHER EXPENSES: Think of anything else that is needed for your shoot, and make sure to put it in the estimate. If you forgot something, and didn’t put this in the estimate, and your client already signed it, you have two options.
First is to eat it as it was your mistake, and it’s not cool to raise an estimate after it was agreed to. Second option – just be honest with the client, and tell them what happened. Hopefully they will understand and let you adjust your estimate.
DON’T GIVE PRICING ON THE PHONE!
This is very important, if anyone calls you and just says, “I need some food photos, how much?” which happens to me weekly, don’t tell them any pricing on the phone.
It’s like asking a builder, “I need a house, how much?”. The builder is going to ask you a ton of questions.
Again, if the client isn’t wiling to give you the time to answer your questions, they probably won’t be a good client. Food photography is a process and you need to get as much info as you can in order to give accurate pricing.
If you give them a price range, they will only remember the lowest number. It’s a special kind of amnesia. So tell them you never give pricing on the phone because you want to make sure you include everything needed and the estimate will be in writing.
GET AS MUCH IN WRITING AS POSSIBLE
Get as much in writing from the client as possible by email. Even with large ad agencies, I’ve done jobs where the client, who didn’t know much about shooting food, was making assumptions that were incorrect. Since I had in my estimate in writing what was included, AND not included, I just referred to that and explained that what they were asking for was not covered, and they would have to pay more for that.
With every job, you are going to take your understanding of the job and write it down in your estimate, and show that to the client to agree with it. Once they agree with your interpretation of the shoot, the price, and the terms and conditions, they sign your estimate.
My next post in this series will be the anatomy of estimates and invoices and I will have some software resources for you to keep track of all these jobs that you are going to be doing.
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