Commercial Photography Pricing, Explained

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Hey excellent reader, many users, and customers have read this post with delight! Some have found it very long.

Here is some info before reading:

  • Read Time: Approximately 15 Minutes
  • It covers the following in great detail:
    • The subjective value of photography
    • How the number of photos affects the price
    • How complexity affects the price
    • How there is an economy of scale with photography
    • Understanding usage and how it affects the price.
  • Everything is illustrated with a symbolic math equation (so if you’re not a fan of algebra, you might not like it).

If you want to know pricing details right now, please get in touch with us, and we’ll be in touch ASAP.

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So, how much does photography cost?

What are your “rates”? Do you have packages? I want a shoot with multiple models in a local hotel. What’s that cost? I need one photo, how cheap can you do it?…

We get questions like these all the time, and today we’re going to address all of them AND give you some real-world pricing examples with OMS.

There’s a problem with commercial photography.

Commercial photographers do such a wide range of work it’s troublesome to nail down specific rates. Think about the difference between photographing one shoe on white and then scaling that up with a 2-day shoot with models wearing the identical shoe running in the Colorado Rockies. We quote everything that’s asked of us, and there is a thoughtful process to find the answer.

Calculating A Photo’s Price

The equation illustrated here is the simplest way to present everything concisely. It is complex, but focus on the content below, and it will become clear.

Photography Pricing Equation

S = The Subjective Realities
N = Number of Photos
C = Complexity per shot
E = Economies of scale discount
U = Use of the image(s)

The process to find each variable encompasses multiple conversations with any number of people, but for the sake of education, we’ve boiled it down to this.

S – The subjective reality of a photo and the photographer

Photography Pricing Equation - Subjective

To fill in this variable, we apply a multiplier that combines the photographer’s experience and aesthetic sense. For example, our photographer TJ Vissing has been shooting for 30 years, worked with some of the biggest brands in the United States (Gillette, Hershey’s, Olay, etc.), and has an indescribable ability with lighting and composition. Simply put, he’s more valuable than a young shooter, and his consistent quality reflects that. It should also be noted that greater experience means the shooting days run smoothly and efficiently, another added value.

N – The Number of Final Images

Photography Pricing Equation - Number of Photos

The number of photos is straightforward, but I do want to make a note of the word “final.” When we plan out a shooting day to create ten final images, we can take hundreds of photos. From there, a selection process occurs to get it down to the deliverable set of images. There is a varying amount of time involved in the shooting that depends on various factors. And this leads nicely into the following variable.

C – The Complexity of a Photo

C - The Complexity of a Photo

A photo’s complexity is where a large portion of the costs occur. If this variable had an equation, it would look something like this…

Complexity of a photoshoot

When you plan out a shoot, there are a lot of factors we need to know. The less complexity, the lower the costs. To illustrate this point, let’s look at this image taken by our photographer Monty Milburn.

Lifestyle of a party with people enjoying yogurt with a big family part
Photographer: Monty Milburn

This photo required a location scout, booking the location, numerous models, hair and makeup stylist, wardrobe stylists, food stylists, set stylists, photo assistants, catering for the shoot, and more. Also, after many photos were taken, it required final selections and photo retouching to bring it to the state you see today. As you can imagine, this clearly costs much more than a simple shot of a product on white like this.

Product photography - A FJ white and blue shoe with the BOA running shoe
Photographer: Brent Taylor

On top of that, there are multiple options for everything. There are usually numerous stylists to choose from, props, models, etc. To sort through it and plan out the logistics, we find it essential to have in-house producers to work with clients on each element.

1 + E – The economies of scale

Economies of Scale

Similar to the concept in manufacturing, the more photos you take of a similar nature, the more significant the efficiencies. Once the shoot is set up, it’s not that much work to keep going. The total price of shooting one image of a product on white with some beautiful lighting might be $200 (which includes retouching), but if you request 25 final images in total with similar lighting, that can drop to $50 per shot, including retouching.

For “E” we use a discount percentage like 10% (.1), 20% (.2), etc.

U – Use of the image

Usage Equation

In the land of photography, this is called “usage.” It is probably the most nebulous area of discussion when it comes to price. It’s also entirely negotiable from nothing to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

When a photo is taken, the photographer technically owns the image’s copyright. It’s unique because the client owns the product’s copyright in the picture. This catch-22 means each party needs the other’s permission to share it in the world. Since the client will use this image to make money (and sometimes quite a lot), there is a license agreement for the photographer to receive a fair share of the impact their image creates. On the other side, the photographer using the image in their portfolio is a sort of free advertising for the client.

Usage is often determined by…

  1. Taking into account:
    • The value of the product
    • The medium it is being used (web, TV, outdoor, etc.)
    • The expected reach and impact of the campaign(s)
    • The regional, national, or international usage.
  2. How long do they want to use it? 1, 2, or 3 years or forever (or “full buyout”)
  3. Third, add the model usage fees. Yes, models have fees separate from the photo. However, this usually only applies if you use their face or “likeness.” This can vary widely and is often negotiated by the model’s talent agency.

To put it plainly, the more valuable a product and the greater its reach, the higher the usage fee. This fee is usually disregarded on the lower end of the spectrum, such as a one-time social media post, even if the brand is pretty significant.

Important Side Note: Sometimes, we use a negative number to discount an entire project. We do this for charitable organizations, passionate startups, and generally anyone using our images to do some good in the world.

Hey! For future reference, download our usage document created by our Studio Manager at our P&G studio here:

Understanding Usage Rights and Licensing-1


We will choose two images from our portfolio and break down the cost using our equations.

Product photography of artisan pottery with baking goods
Photographer: Sarah Hone

Image of Queen City Clay Products

  • S – Photographer: Sarah Hone – 6 years of experience, superbly modern aesthetics
    • S = 1.4
  • N – This photo was a part of a shoot to get 15 final images
    • N = 15
  • C – Multiple props, food styling (provided by client), multiple small sets over the day, in-studio, basic retouching.
    • NOTE: there was little direction from the client on vision, the goal was volume more than specific results. This allows for greater output.
    • C = $250 (per shot)
  • E – 15 images resulted in a 20% discount
    • E = 0.2
  • U – Small Cincinnati based company focused on the community (Queen City Clay), intended for website usage and social media. Relatively small reach.
    • U = 0

Total shoot cost: $4,500

Lifestyle of a party with people enjoying yogurt with a big family part
Photographer: Monty Milburn

Image of Yogurtland Lifestyle

  • S – Photographer Monty Milburn: 30 years of experience, Master level photographer and can command a complex shoot.
    • S = 1.8
  • N – A part of a shoot to get 2 final images.
    • N = 2
  • C – Numerous props, multiple models, food stylists, location, hair, makeup, wardrobe, assistants, etc.
    • C = $5,500 per shot
  • E – 2 images for a 10% discount
    • E = .1
  • U – Regional Campaigns covering state that includes California and New York, plus models.
    • U = $7,000

Total shoot cost: ~ $25,000

All of this was meant to make you feel empowered the next time you talk to a photographer or a producer. It will be difficult for anyone outside of the industry to use this equation accurately without knowing everything in the complexity variable. But I hope you can go in with your eyes wide open, and you won’t feel intimidated when some detailed questions you’ve never thought of start to arise.

Meet Nancy and Hannah (our in house producers).

Nancy Armstrong

Hannah McNeil

They’ve worked with clients of all sizes and know how to answer questions about everything. They are super friendly and are great at bringing photographers, retouchers, anything you can imagine, and people like you together to execute a vision.

If you’re ready to take the plunge!
Hop on over to our contact form.

If you have any additional questions, please leave a comment below, and we’ll improve this article together!