Real World Estimates: Automotive Advertising Campaign

by Jess Dudley, Wonderful Machine Producer

One of the biggest projects I’ve worked on, both in terms of production expenses and licensing fees, was a shoot that I estimated and produced recently for one of our Midwest photographers. Though he’s mostly known for his phenomenal portrait photography, he was asked by a major ad agency to submit a quote to shoot the print campaign for a newly rejuvenated sports car brand. The agency’s art director called the photographer after she saw an editorial project he had shot. (I love when that happens!) We later found out that not only did the photographer’s style catch their eye, but his magazine shoot actually provided a lot of the inspiration for the campaign’s concept. It goes to show that even with big agencies, there are times when the creatives are open to collaborating with photographers on concept development as well as execution.

Shoot & Licensing Needs

The process started with the photographer brainstorming with the AD to develop a clear concept, and me discussing the licensing needs with the art buyer. Then the photographer and I agreed on the production elements we’d need to bring together in order to support that concept and the way the photographer wanted to shoot it. Unlike the typical hero shots in the desert, this project was based on gritty, urban images executed in a more documentary style, with real people found on location. The cars would need to look pristine, but the personality of the campaign needed to be “fast and rough around the edges.” Given this approach, we weren’t going to have a standard shot list with comps to work from. Instead, the photographer and I planned to create (along with a location scout) a guide full of hip, young, bustling locations. That, along with a client-provided list of angles to shoot the cars from, became our literal and figurative roadmap for the shoot. The photographer and art director agreed on shooting for three days each in two different cities. The photographer planned to work with minimal lighting equipment for maximum mobility.

The client had an immediate need for 20 images, but expected to use additional images in the future. They planned on using them in a variety of ways, primarily web/social media, but also in collateral material and print ads. They asked us to quote on exclusive, worldwide use of any kind, forever. With my head firmly around what we had to do to create the pictures and how they were going to be used, I got to work on the estimate.


When the logistics of a shoot and the licensing of the images are more cut and dried, I tend to lump the creative and licensing fees together. But the more spontaneous approach to this production and the open-ended licensing needs of the client warranted a different approach. It made sense to quote the shoot days and the licensing independent of one another so we could add time or images without renegotiating the contract. So I created one estimate page detailing the creative fees and production expenses, and a separate page detailing the fees for usage.

The photographer and I settled on $2,500.00/shoot day for his basic creative fee. But what about the licensing fee? There were some factors to consider. The agency and the client were both pretty big players. The client was going to get a lot of use out of the pictures, and they stood to gain a lot from them, all which suggested a solid fee. Applying slight downward pressure on the value was the fact that the photographer didn’t have a long track record with automotive advertising, the spontaneous nature of the shoot made the campaign a little risky for the client, and this campaign was only one of several that they were producing for that brand. After consulting my usual pricing guides and agency contacts, I chose to price the first 20 images at $80,000 (effectively $4,000 each), with the option of the next 10 at $3,000 each and the 10 after that at $2,000 each.

This is actually a departure from my usual strategy. I normally value additional pictures at somewhere between the prorated fee and the prorated fee plus expenses. In other words, if you were to shoot five pictures for a $5,000 fee and $2,500 in expenses, prorating the fee for additional pictures would be $1,000 each ($5,000/5). Prorating the fee plus expenses would be $1,500 ($7,500/5). I figure that if the photographer is productive enough to generate additional ads from the same shoot, he should get some consideration from the fact that he’s saving the client money they’d otherwise have to spend on expenses for a future shoot. So I might normally value the additional pictures at $1,250.00 each. However, in this situation, the initial selections were most likely to be the ones used in ads, and if they ended up using 20-30 pictures beyond that, those later pictures were going to more likely be used for the web and social media. So in order to encourage as much of that as possible, I chose to discount those additional pictures.


The first assistant would be traveling with the photographer and would be responsible for organizing the gear in advance of the shoot and upon return, which amounted to 13 days:

  • 1 day before the shoot to prep, rent and pack the gear
  • 2 tech/scout days (1 day prior to each shoot city)
  • 6 shoot days (3 in each city)
  • 1 travel day to the first location
  • 1 travel day between the two locations
  • 1 travel day home
  • 1 day back at home to clean/organize/return gear
  • The second assistant would be local to each of the locations and just show up on shoot days (though in retrospect, it would have been nice to have them for the tech/scout days as well). Not knowing how long the shoot days were going to go, I chose to add a line item for assistant overtime to cover myself in that event.


As the producer, I would be attending the shoot. I would be responsible for managing the locations, location scouts, vehicles, talent, lodging, travel arrangements, and of course putting together a production book with all of the maps, routes, locations, travel, comp and contact info. I figured my time on the project, from start to finish, would take 15 days:

  • 3 days to prep and coordinate all of the details
  • 2 tech/scout days (1 day prior to each shoot city)
  • 6 shoot days (3 in each city)
  • 1 travel day to the first location
  • 1 travel day between the two locations
  • 1 travel day home
  • 1 day to organize the receipts and create the invoice
  • Location Scouts

Finding good locations was going to be crucial to the success of this shoot. Our plan was to initially have a scout in each city spend two days taking snapshots at as many locations as possible that might be appropriate. The photographer would review the scouting report with the agency to narrow down a list of locations the photographer would then scout in person the day or two before the shoot. (Not surprisingly, it wasn’t too long into the first day of shooting that we spotted a cool location that wasn’t on our list and deviated from the plan.) Two location scouts (one in each city), two days scouting on their own, one day with the photographer.

Precision Drivers

We budgeted for three days of precision drivers, which included one day at the track, and one day in each of the two cities. These drivers were necessary to do anything that either pushed the limits of the car or safe operating conditions. If you ask me, I could drive as well as they could, but I didn’t have the same credentials or insurance. After a few recommendations from our local resources and a cursory search on the local film office database to make sure the recos (agency speak for recommendations) were experienced, we booked our two drivers.

Security, Locations & Permits

Our location scouts both had experience with permits, location fees, and police/security in their area and helped me with those numbers. We ended up blowing most of this budget on one day when we decided to shoot at a racetrack (they are not cheap, nor easy to rent). Luckily, we didn’t need to spend much for our other locations. The rest of the budget paid for an off-duty cop to close down a roadway when we decided to shoot a little boy peering into one of the cars from the street. Safety first. Our scout had worked with him and was able to line him up the night before.

Talent & Wardrobe

In keeping with the fast and loose approach of the shoot, and since we were only going to use people as space filling elements, we decided to use found talent and outfit them with their own clothes. We relied our local resources to call in friends, family and colleagues, and we street-cast a handful of others. During the scout day we’d decide whether or not we wanted people to populate a particular shot and set our local resources loose to call in a crowd. On the shoot day, if we saw a group of kids or good looking couple walking down the street and felt like we could fit them in, we’d ask for 30 minutes of their time. We wanted to keep it real, fun and casual to help the pictures come off as authentic as possible. We paid most of the models $100.00 each (which we recorded on the model release).

Post-Processing Days

When you shoot this many images, you have to account for a significant amount of time to process the raw images after the shoot (usually between 1/2 and 2 post-processing days per shoot day depending on the complexity of the processing and expectations of the client). I usually quote $1000.00/day for post-processing. In this case the photographer was doing the processing himself and wanted to charge a higher rate.

“Reasonable” is what I aim for when I’m putting together any estimate. I don’t want to ever give the impression that we’re wasting the client’s money on anything unnecessary. But I also don’t want to risk looking like I haven’t thought of everything. Even though I want the estimated expenses to be lean, I want to include enough fat in them to account for the unexpected, hence the roundness of the numbers. After a few tweaks here and there, the client approved everything—though the photographer ended up signing the agency’s purchase order instead of them signing our quote, which is not unusual. We did the shoot, and the client ultimately licensed 40 images.

There Are 51 Comments On This Article.

  1. Excellent information here and a heads up for photographers who feel that no one is working and if they are no money is being made. READ this carefully lots to learn here folks:) I work with photographers every day who license and price effectively. Just got off a phone call with Agent Frank Meo who shared his pricing tips with my online group…fascinating. Also had a great talk with Aric Rist NIKE’S Global Brand photo manager.Both of these guys will be on Clarion Call in June sharing important info on pricing licensing and negotiating. Check out the link for info on other presenters at:

  2. Seanb876

    All of these rates are appalling, considering that it’s advertising.

    • Agency Art Producer

      WOW I’d call $95k (fees and usage) for a week of work pretty good coin-And another $50k or so in usage on the back end.
      Jess was very smart not to price themselves out of the job.
      Building in additional licensing options is also a great way to encourage clients to buy out takes and make up for cutting creative fees.

      • @Seanb876 Sounds a decent of money to be getting in for a weeks work in this climate to me!

        Why do people moaning about money never link to their work btw?!

        • @Simon Winnall,
          Simon, in the US that feels tight. Remember, 300 million people in the USA, it’s not England.
          I’ve been on car shoots with guys who shot 85% automotive and this seems potentially underproduced and underpaid, for the photographer. Crew fees also seem tight. $300 for a first assistant doesn’t cover costs (Workers Comp, employment taxes etc), same for 2nd at $250 (experienced freelancers command $300-$350). Clients need to be billed what our crew costs really are, not what they think they are. I’m not sure what % cut WM takes, but if this was a typical photographer / rep situation, the shooter would be taking 30% of that fee and licensing to cut with their rep. A Creative Fee per day of $2500 for an advertising car shoot comes off as low ball. While I appreciate Wonderful Machine posting their estimates (and I really do appreciate them) I do find them to be somewhat “editorial” for larger advertising shoots.
          By the way, I think there’s a very good reason people don’t always post their names and sites here – its called Google.

    • @Seanb876, Considering the usage model has not always existed and that it may go away entirely, especially in smaller markets, it refreshing to see an estimate like this one.

      Forget what you learned in the 80’s and 90s; it no longer applies!

    • @Seanb876, I just skimmed this thread, and I agree. Prices have really gone WAY WAY down.

      As an example, a little over 10 years ago (just before 9/11, which disrupted the industry) some of the top tier NYC agents were getting their photographers $40K – $60K for a one day studio shoot w/licensing: N.A./1 year/editorial – this on say a choice of half a dozen finished images.

      Using a pricing model which separates the creative fee from the licensing fee can be big trouble. What if the agency and client decide to only license 2 of the images – not 20+ images? Or what if they decide to not run with the images at all? That comes down to $2500.00 a day for the shoot days, but there are probably several weeks of pre and post work involved. A photographer won’t starve @ $7500./3 weeks (minus business costs), but day in day out, waitressing may be as lucrative.

      Maybe I missed it, but what exactly are the licensing usages for this project? How much will the agency be spending on media space to run the ads? Why did the client so quickly license additional images for future needs, when they could have come back as those needs arose? (Sounds like they had immediate use for these additional images in mind during the negotiation process)

      This thread is good illustration of the lowering value of image creation. Law of supply and demand? Oversupply of images and image makers today? How much lower will prices/values for images drop over the next ten years?

      • @Bob, To clariy, the usage terms: “N.A.” (North America), “editorial” (advertising in editorial media- ie. magazines).

  3. Bob Sutterfield

    You say “If you ask me, I could drive as well as they could, but I didn’t have the same credentials or insurance.” Why would you think photographers and producers and everybody else involved has distinctive and valuable professional talents, but just because you know which end of a brake pedal to aim at the problem, you could drive as well as them? That’s just as fallacious as thinking everybody with a fancy camera (meaning: one with a big lens) is a photographer, and good images arise just by chance.

    • @Bob Sutterfield,

      That was an apparently unsuccessful attempt at humor. There’s no doubt in my mind that precision drivers are far better, and safer, behind the wheel than I am. Well worth the expense for the expertise.


      • Bob Sutterfield

        @Jess, Fair enough :-) You just happened to touch an intersection of my passions. I’m an enthusiastic amateur participant in both photography and motorsport, and I strive to learn from professional practitioners with actual skills in either domain.

  4. 3 days prep for a Producer on a multi city multi location job doesn’t seem like enough prep days and seems like a very discounted amount of time for a Producer…

  5. Really appreciate these ‘Real World Estimates’ articles, they have shed new light on how I think about quoting for a job, even if the job is of an entirely different order of magnitude.

  6. I love this kind of industry feedback about the details. They are just as important if not more so than knowing technical aspects of shooting. The best photographer with a terrible business know how is not going to be able to make a living doing what they love. Great stuff. Thanks!


  7. This is a timely information for me as a photographer who is getting more and more assignments the past few months. I have to admit, I still have more stuffs to learn each and every time.

  8. Love the time you have taken to break it down. Including the thought process and reasoning for specific actions and pricings should really clear things up for those who are struggling with pricing.

    What I have seen in the past is that photographers are way over or mostly way under for the current economic climate. A well thoughtout plan like the one here brings credibility to costs and fees. Thanks for the insights.

    • @Ed, Totally agree. It’s quite a challenge really especially if you don’t have enough connections to show you the way. Good thing there are sites like this to help us.

    • Michael G

      @Ed, no need for anyone to struggle. Just visit and participate.

      Just a thought.

  9. where are these images. Ill be the judge of the 95k price tag.

    ps come to australia where theyd ask you to shot the entire job without loadings.


  10. Great article. I’d be interested in seeing a Real World Estimate on automotive images (or anything else) that were produced via CG. Much of the auto market has moved to this already and I think it could lead to an interesting discussion on the digital aspects of photography that we’re going to have to tackle in the future.


    • @Morgan Hagar, CGI is not much cheaper. You still have to scout locations, pay permits, rent cameras, rent some lights, hire a water truck if you want the ground wet, cast talent, etc., etc., etc. The savings are maybe 1-2k in grip & lighting, and OT for crew. PLUS the cost to the CGI studio for data prep, rendering, and extra retouching (on top of the usual retouching & compositing that goes into a car shot). Overall the photo will cost more than a traditional image. Even including car transport & prep- it’s still probably more for CGI- although there are big advantages to CGI when we need to go to a remote location, or a difficult location for a car (3 feet of snow in a forest). Anyway, the main cost savings comes when a manufacturer doesn’t have to build and ship a prototype. But that part of the equation isn’t really happening yet! =)

      • @Jeff, Yes, I know the money end of CG hasn’t become completely viable yet, but eventually it will. What I was getting at (yet not too well I suppose) was my interest in what difference there would be (or not) in estimating a project like that. I’m assuming it would very similar, as you described. However, since it is still in its infancy I’m wondering if there are standards or widely used preferences.

  11. ResoL101

    I’m going to read this a hundred times until it ALL sinks in…wish they taught stuff like this at SCAD.

  12. Wow, thank you. Lots of great, and expensive, lessons in here provided free.

    Anyone looking for images from or a well armed assistant in Afghanistan, contact me.

    Rob Sholl
    rob AT

  13. While I agree this is good money, $15k for 6 days of shooting does feel light for advertising, coming down to $2,500/day.

    Love seeing these estimate breakdowns from other shooters. Thanks!

  14. Huh- locations were selected a couple days before the shoot? Don’t know how you guys got permits and location releases in that case. Sounds like potential for big problems- not having time to secure a #1 pick, getting kicked out of a spot, or getting bit later for not having gone through the proper channels. At the very least, not being welcomed back into town next time, and making all production companies look like cowboys- going & shooting what they want, when they want it.

    Although I will admit there is much more freedom in less-shot areas, once you get outside of California or other major shooting areas. Guessing that worked to your advantage.

    Anyway, great that it worked for you. But for the other readers- a car production is usually an excruciatingly precise affair. The location, camera position, lensing, etc, has all been approved by agency and client ahead of time. There are contracts, releases, walk-throughs. They are big, busy, expensive days, and nothing is left to chance. There are many ways to approach a job, but what is outlined above isn’t typical in my experience.

    • I couldn’t agree more. From the verbiage used in the post (i.e. doesn’t regularly shoot cars, quick/rough around the edges, amount of time spent scouting etc) it sounds more like a quick-and-dirty gonzo “street style” campaign where quantity is at a premium and “feel” is more important than precision. I mean they’re talking about shooting 20 car photos in 6 days!? A typical car set is at least 10 hours and hundreds (if not thousands) of frames for 1 shot. Many many lights involved, a full crew of around 20 people, street closures, water trucks, multiple grip trucks etc. This shoot seems to be nothing of the sort, which again goes back to the fact that the photographer doesn’t even shoot cars and was chosen based off an editorial shoot. I’m not saying there’s anything “wrong” with the way any of this was done, but for someone not familiar with the world of automotive photography I think this is an extremely distorted view of what a typical car production is actually like.

  15. I’m curious how much you might charge for the same usage parameters if the images in question were existing stock images as opposed to images shot on assignment? Would stock demand a higher usage fee in your opinion? Thanks, great post!

  16. I really appreciate the topic about “Real World Estimates”. I can even used this for myself since Im just new on my job and I admit I still have more things to learn and discover.