Sound familiar? If you are just starting out, after all the technical stuff you have to learn with food photography, the next biggest hurdle will be how to price food photography photo shoots.
There isn’t one formula that fits all photography jobs
Here’s why pricing is so hard. There isn’t a formula for this. Sure, some food bloggers have come up with some formulas for pricing images based on social media stats and how many readers they have on their blog, but that’s totally different from what we are talking about here.
I’ve even seen some formulas that food bloggers have made based on how much you want to make for a living, plus your expenses = what you charge. That sounds good in practice. Here’s the problem with this – each type of usage in the photography world has different rates. There is no standard pricing for photography, and these formulas completely ignore the usage of the images by the clients, and the photographers end up not charging nearly enough, and are selling themselves short.
If you are a food blogger, and now a potential client is approaching you to do food photography that will not be on your blog, but will be used for advertising, you are now pricing images for commercial food photography usage, and that’s an entirely different ballgame. The pricing structure is nothing like the pricing for blog posts.
You will have two types of clients
Before we even talk about pricing and the types of jobs you could shoot, we need to talk about the types of clients you can have.
Client Direct – these are clients where you are dealing directly with the end client. There are a lot of different types of companies that can use food photography.
The images above are from a client direct job – a high end grocery store.
Here’s a list of various companies that will need food photos that you can work directly with:
- Restaurants (all different sizes – but the really big ones are usually working with an ad agency
- Coffee Shops
- eCommerce Websites – these can be specialty food websites, menu planning websites, food delivery sites
- Retail specialty food stores / gift stores
- Grocery stores
- Food manufacturers – think of all the different types of foods you can find in your local grocery store
- Farms and dairies
- Food distributors – they are bringing foods in from different places
- Food equipment manufactures – this will also involve product photography
- Food appliance manufacturer, this will also involve product photography
- Book publishers
Client direct doesn’t always mean they are a small company, but they usually are. Some large companies have a mini agency in-house to save money from hiring an ad agency, so you would be working with their creative director who has experience hiring food photographers.
Many companies now have in internal marketing department as well so we can work with them directly on smaller jobs then they would hire ad agencies for the bigger jobs.
Keep in mind, when you are working with a small direct client, their pricing will be less than a large one, and you’ll be working with someone who is usually not a trained art director or designer, and most likely is not familiar with food photography.
Often times I get calls from small companies and they’ve never hired a photographer before. They have no idea what’s involved and often have very unrealistic expectations about costs. Most of the time, they don’t have a shot list, and some aren’t even willing to make one, so they have no idea what they want to shoot – which obviously means you can’t give them a price.
So when working with these types of clients, it takes a lot more time, a lot more teaching them how things work, and a lot of hand holding, usually for much less money.
In the beginning, you will be doing this kind of work, and it will help you to get confident to then go after the bigger clients.
I will still take these types of jobs if the client is nice to work with. If they treat me rudely from the start, I fire them right away and tell them I am not the gal for them.
Agency Work: The second type of client will be agency work. This is what I do mostly. It does pay the most as well.
The images above were shot with an ad agency in Chicago for McDonald’s.
Agency work means a few types of clients:
- Ad agencies that have their clients
- Design firms that have their clients (like for food packaging, one of my favorite things to shoot)
- PR firms
- Social media firms / Social media management firms
Some agencies do it all – others just specialize in one type of work. I prefer working with large client direct companies, ad agencies, and design firms. PR firms and social media firms pay the least, and these days are demanding our copyright – which I will not give up unless they pay a lot for it (which never happens).
Agencies are usually very knowledgeable in hiring food photographers, and if they aren’t that familiar with food, they fully understand hiring other types of photographers, and it just takes a little coaching to explain the nuances of shooting food to them.
These jobs pay the higher day rates because the usage tends to be much bigger – the images are going to be used all over the place instead of being printed in a magazine for a month. They will actually run ads in those magazines and other places for example.
The goal with agency work is to create images that will make their client sell lots of product, therefore making them lots of money.
To say that another way, you, the photographer are potentially going to help the client make a lot of money, and that is why your fees are compensated for that.
I can hear you salivating over there about the idea of getting paid very well for working with ad agencies. Hold your horses for a minute.
Please know that this is also the hardest type of work there is to do. The other reason why you are compensated well for this kind of shooting is that you are an expert in your field. You are technically an excellent photographer. You are known for your lighting.
You also know how to do production on huge jobs. You are good with people. You can manage a crew of 10 with 5 clients on set. When a piece of equipment breaks down, you know exactly what to do without blinking an eye, and the client has no idea what just happened on set because it’s running like a beautiful, well-oiled machine.
This can be extremely stressful a lot of the time because anything can literally happen at any time, and you have to be quick on your feet to handle it, and know how to fix the problem, all while taking pictures at the same time, that the client loves.
Everyone is looking at you to run a smooth photo shoot.
Now, if you aren’t there yet, and you are offered this type of work, you just need to know the right crew to hire to help you with the production. But that’s a post for another day.
What kind of jobs are there?
Now that we know the two main types of clients you can have, let’s talk about all the different types of photography jobs, and image usage you can have.
Editorial – this means images to be used by a magazine in their magazine to talk about their content – a feature story, or a filler piece. The above images are from a feature magazine shoot.
Usually the magazine will tell you their rate for the piece that you are working on. Feature stories pay more than filler pieces.
Some magazines will pay you based on how large your image will be printed in the magazine – full page, ½ page, etc. So, if you are only shooting one image for them, it might be based on this.
Many times, the magazines will tell you what they are willing to pay for the food stylist and prop stylist. So, they tell you the fee you will get, and they tell you what they pay for the food and prop stylists.
For feature stories, I’ve been paid $2500 – $3000 plus expenses and it’s up to me to determine how many days I can make that shoot happen in. They will only offer the stylists $400 or $500 for fees for the day.
I’ve actually been asked to shoot for magazines for free quite a few times. I respond with a lecture about how awful that is, and shame on them for exploiting photographers. I also say it’s not my fault they have no idea how to run their magazine so that they can pay their artists. Please see my post about why you shouldn’t shoot for free.
Then when magazines want to use images of mine that are already shot, I will license them the images using stock pricing, which I charge anywhere between $300 – $1000 – again, depending on how they are using that image, and how big it is in their magazine.
Internet Web Usage – this really has become the Wild West here. 15 years ago, there were standard web usage rates, but now companies ask for all kinds of different things with all kinds of different rates that are usually extremely low, so I probably turn down more of these types of jobs more than any other, unless it’s a bigger client through an ad agency.
The images above were done with an ad agency for the client’s website.
For pricing on web usage – when it’s client direct with a very small client, they won’t have much of a budget at all, and you need to work out your costs in order to do the job and make a profit. When it’s with a larger client, see the pricing below for advertising.
Advertising, Food Packaging, Images Used On Menu Boards, and Other Collateral – I do this type of work often, and it is usually with ad agencies and design firms. It pays more because your images are really becoming part of a brand, and again, if your food photography is beautiful, this could help the client to sell a lot of product. Day rates, or fees for this can be $3500 – $10,000 a day depending on the size of the end client, their image uses, for how long, plus expenses where you shoot 4-6 shots a day with a full crew.
Sometimes I will do a price per shot, and sometimes I will do a rate per day. If the images are extremely complex, I will probably do a fee per shot. When the images are not as complex and we are shooting lots of shots to be composited, which is the way these days, then I charge a day rate with a limit to what we shoot each day.
My next post will be all about pricing the smaller jobs when you are starting out. As you can see, there is a lot to consider for this and must be its own post.
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