I’m super excited about this new monthly column entitled “Pricing & Negotiating” coming in from the fine folks at Wonderful Machine. Since they price and negotiate for so many photographers they’re in a unique position to show us nearly any scenario you can think up. Here’s the first one:

Tag-teaming with TV crews on ad shoots

Our producer Jess Dudley recently quoted a job for one of our photographers to shoot a number of environmental portraits of real people, for a major New York ad agency and their pharmaceutical client. Each of the subjects was a patient using the drug made by the client. The pictures were going to be used in print ads and collateral material, to help illustrate the improvement in the patients’ quality of life since starting the drug regimen. This project was different from most because the ad agency wanted to shoot TV commercials (with a separate video crew) on the same day, using the same location, models, stylists, wardrobe and props. Shooting print and video simultaneously offers a number of efficiencies for the client. It certainly makes some parts of the photographer’s job easier, and it helps create continuity between the two final products. But it adds some estimating and logistical challenges as well. In the end, our photographer was awarded the job, and Jess also served as on-site producer and digital tech.

Jess explains how he approached the initial estimate:

Request For Bid

Since the client had a lot of experience commissioning photo shoots, they were able to express pretty clearly what they wanted to accomplish, and what their expectations were (though there were still a lot of unknowns). The art buyer sent us a letter (known as a “request for bid”) with many of the details that we would need in order to put together a proper cost estimate. Then, I followed up with questions.

When you’re working with less experienced clients, you’ll need to be more proactive about getting all the information you need. We use this cheat sheet to prompt us for all the items we’ll need to consider.

Here’s what the client asked us to bid on in the RFB:

  • 6 portraits of real people
  • On location at a suburban home (near the photographer)
  • You’ll have to schedule the still photographs around the video shoot
  • The video crew will find the location and dress the set (you may need additional props)
  • You’ll be able to share some of the wardrobe, stylists and catering with the video crew (and you may need to share part of those costs)
  • We’ll want unlimited use of the pictures for a year (mostly for consumer ads and print collateral)

The Fee

At the most basic level, I think about the total cost of any job as a function of time, materials and licensing.

Lumped in with “time” is not only the actual time needed to prepare for and execute the shoot, but also the difficulty, level of skill, and rareness of skill required. If it’s a job that hundreds of other photographers could do and want to do, it’s not worth as much as a job that only three people in the world could do or would want to do (either by virtue of special skill or unique style).

“Materials” broadly refers to all of the production items that you have to pull together to add to the photographer’s vision, in order to pull off the shoot. These might include: assistants, digital techs, retouchers, location scouts, locations, permits, insurance, studio rentals, hair & make-up stylists, prop stylists, props, wardrobe stylists, wardrobe, vehicles, travel, meals, catering, models, casting, equipment rental, set construction, etc.

“Licensing” describes how the client is going to be able to use the picture(s). Broad usage for a long period of time is worth more than narrow usage for a brief time. Advertising use is normally worth more than collateral use. Collateral use is usually worth more than publicity use. And publicity use is usually worth more than editorial use.

I normally bundle the “time” and “licensing” into one “creative fee,” taking all the factors I can think of into account. The client had already produced a similar project before, and I was able to see the results of that, which they seemed to be happy with. The approach they were looking for was relatively low-tech, simple, flattering portraits, with naturalistic lighting, showing the patients in a warm and friendly way. What they valued most was having a photographer who could bring out the personality of the patients.

My normal rule of thumb for unlimited use of one image for one year, for a major brand, is that it’s worth about $10-20k. In this case, the pharmaceutical company was a major player but the drug itself was no blockbuster. For advertising use especially, I will normally charge by the picture rather than by the day. Even in cases where I’m quoting by the day, I’ll put a cap on the number of images we’re including for that fee. In this case, I felt that the first image held most of the value and each additional image was worth much less. Since they were very similar portraits, just with different people, each additional image merely complimented the first, rather than providing unique material.

The fact that the actual time, difficulty, and technical/creative demands would be relatively modest put some downward pressure on the price. The fact that it was a client with global reach, and they needed unlimited use (including the potential of national advertising) certainly put some upward pressure on the fee, and the one-year duration was a limiting factor. The fact that the location, props and models were going to be provided for us put downward pressure on the price. The fact that the project was local to the photographer put downward pressure on the price. The fact that the photographer had to work around the video crew was basically neutral. It just required that the photographer have patience and a manageable ego.

As a point of reference, I’ll sometimes check Getty or Fotoquote to see what a similar stock photo would fetch. But in the end, you just have to consider the totality of all the information you have, and use your intuition to determine the price. For this one, I decided to quote $14k for unlimited use of six images for a year.

The Production Costs

The art buyer wasn’t sure, at the time of the initial estimate, which production items were going to be paid for out of the video budget and which were going to be paid for out of the still budget. So to play it safe, I assumed that we were going to have to pay for everything we were going to need (or at least our fair share):

  • 1 digital tech: so the client could see the results as we went along
  • 2 assistants: to help move the equipment around, and stand in for the subjects
  • 2 hours of retouching per image: should be more than enough for non-supermodels
  • 1 production day: for me to pull together all of the production items
  • 1 scout day: for the photographer to walk through the location and map out a plan with the line producer
  • 1 location fee: we don’t have to find it, but we’ll need to help pay for it
  • 2.5 wardrobe stylist days (1 to pull, 1 to shoot, .5 to return) and some wardrobe: we were only going to need to augment what the video crew was already providing
  • Hair/make-up stylist: you might think that a makeup stylist could work on both sets, but because the stills and video were happening at the same time, on a hot day (requiring constant powdering), and sometimes hundreds of feet apart, I decided that we’d need our own dedicated person
  • Props: unlikely, knowing how thorough video prop stylists are
  • Travel, misc.: minimal for local shoot
  • Catering: breakfast and lunch for our crew of 4
  • Equipment: also minimal, so I chose not to charge separately for it
  • Sales tax: some situations require the client to pay sales tax, but rather than speculating on it, I just say, “plus applicable sales tax”

Here’s the proposal (estimate and terms & conditions) I sent to the art buyer:

Later, more details came in so I had to revise the estimate. The project changed from 6 people to 5, and they also wanted to license a head shot of each subject, which they would simply crop out of each environmental portrait. To me, it was a wash. It was 10 images instead of 6. But the head shots weren’t really adding a ton of value for the client, and shooting 5 subjects instead of 6 was less work for the photographer. So I left the fee at $14k.

The art buyer also decided that she would determine our share of the location fee, wardrobe, and catering, and she would just tell us the number after the shoot, to add as a line item on the invoice. We would quote our other production items in the usual way.

That all settled, she signed off on the estimate, and sent me a check for $13.5k to cover expenses.

We had a pre-production phone call with about 20 people to iron out how the day was going to go. Then we did a walk-through of the location the day before the shoot, along with the video director, prop stylist, and line producer.

The shoot went really smoothly. The video crew shot their thing, then sent the subjects to us to do our bit. We made adjustments here and there to the wardrobe and grooming. But otherwise, it all went off without a hitch.

A couple things (in general) to remember about price quotes:

  • A proposal should include at least a cover letter, estimate page, and terms & conditions page. This job was relatively straight-forward, so it doesn’t need much explanation. More cosmplex projects will require a more extensive description of how you’ll approach the shoot and how you’ll solve the technical and creative problems it presents. You’ll have to convince the client that you know what you’re doing, and that you’ll be able to deliver the final product.
  • Be clear about whether you’re offering an estimate (where the expenses are detailed, and will vary somewhat in the final invoice), or a bid (where you’re offering one lump price, and as long as the client doesn’t change the parameters of the job, that will be the exact cost).
  • Be clear about who you are contracting with (normally the ad agency).
  • Be clear about who you are conveying the image license to (normally the client).
  • If the client (or anyone else) is going to provide some normal production item (like catering or props), acknowledge it on the estimate so there’s no confusion about it.
  • Be clear in cases where the client is paying for any of the production items directly, rather than through you. If you are going to be on the hook for a lot of expenses, you’ll want to make sure that you either get the expense money up front, or that the creative fee, production fees, and/or mark-up justifies the risk.
  • Avoid having your payment be contingent on the ad agency being paid by their client. It’s very hard to collect money from someone with whom you do not have an agreement.
  • In the same way, be clear with your subcontractors. Normally, it’s the photographer’s obligation to pay subcontractors in a timely fashion regardless of whether they have been paid by their client. If you want your subs to share in your risk, the golden rule dictates that you have to tell them that at the time of the booking.

We delivered the pictures. The client was thrilled. Here’s the final invoice:

A little less than a year later, the art buyer contacted me for a quote on extending the licensing on all 10 images for an additional 2 years.

When a client relicenses a picture, I normally discount the rate on that use. As the pictures age, they tend to (though not always) decrease in value. In this case, I figured the second year was worth about 3/4 of the first. And the third year was worth about 3/4 of the second. So I sent her a quote for $18k, which she accepted.

You can contact Carolyn Tucker to find out more about Wonderful Machine at 610.260.0200 or carolyn@wonderfulmachine.com.

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  1. You forget one final bullet point in the list:

    When things go that well, always have Minnie Riperton’s “loving you” queued up and ready to go. ;-)

    heres a link in case you need it

  2. Thank You!! Thank You! THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Very interesting! Looking forward to more of these!

  4. Fantastic post! Thank you so much for taking the trouble to explain it!

  5. Very interesting and useful post. Thanks for that. One thing though; why is the final invoice so detailed? Is the client really interested in what the assistants or makeup technician were paid?

    • @B Small,

      Each client is different when it comes to cost consulting and invoicing. We’re almost always required to provide full backup of all receipts and invoices. One client even required a backup/invoice from the photographer for travel days. This is a negotiable point, though. I know one photographer who will offer a discount if they don’t have to provide backup receipts or rather charge a premium if they do.

  6. So glad to see this column rolling. What a brilliant idea. Should be a real positive thing for everyone in the industry

  7. Photographer’s name is shown at the bottom of the final invoice. Might want to take that out.

  8. Wow, awesome article, thanks for the detail you have covered!

  9. Much appreciated!!

  10. Tremendous resource – many thanks to everyone involved.

  11. Rob –

    this morning I read this Wonderful Machine article and then was telling my wife about the estimate and how it was very similar to a shoot I did awhile back – tag teaming with TV crew, sharing make-up stylists, unlimited usage for 1 year, 10 images, etc. – and how large the difference is in my estimate vs this one…granted I am a long ways away from New York City and the high overhead, plus I wasn’t shooting for a large drug company, but still it was interesting to compare and contrast.

    More importantly however was when my wife ask, “how did you get this information?”, in regards to the estimate by Wonderful Machine, I thought to myself “well A Photo Editor, of course” but then had to go on to explain A Photo Editor to her, etc, etc – it made me realize its easy to take for granted this information and the work that goes into it.

    So here’s to you, Rob. and Wonderful Machine, Sosa Stone, all the great interviewees, and on.


    very much appreciate this blog.

    thanks again


    • @CH, Thanks for writing this. And yes, to Rob and Wonderful Machine- it is so great to give back!!!

    • @CH,
      Thanks Chris. Appreciate it. It’s very surreal how this all came about.

  12. maybe it’s just me but seems like there should maybe be another zero tacked on to that fee. 14k for 5 images for pharmaceutical client and a”big ny agency” seems waaaaaaaay cheap. maybe 14k/image but even that seems below market considering the usage.

    • @knowitall, At first I agreed with your thought, the creative fee seemed a bit low – not another zero low, but low. However, when you think about it there is little pre-production work and creative input by the photographer. Locations, wardrobe, models, etc are all the ideas, energy and time of the video production.
      Having done similar work, these are great jobs to get if you don’t mind giving up some original thought and working around another team’s set.
      Thank for the post, Rob.

      • @Geoff,

        That may all be true but, I still say usage trumps all of that. I have a friend w/ a lot of pharmaceutical clients and his fees are much much higher and these are not daunting or logistically complicated shoots. most of them are in studio.

  13. Rob and Carolyn,
    That was one of the best post I’ve read on here. Very informative. It helped shed light on some questions I’ve had about my estimates. This industry can sometimes make you feel like you’re alone in the dark. Thank you again for sharing both the procedure and numbers. Have a great weekend!

  14. Wow, this is insanely useful, thanks for to wonderful machine and yourself for this post.

  15. Carolyn- great job. The only thing I would have done differently is to state the territory of usage- International should have warranted a lot more in fees. At this point they have no territory restrictions. Also, to protect the photographer state that the talent had been paid for by the agency or film crew. I would have retouching to be determined because now they think they can have all six images retouched at 2 hours per and retouching can sometimes take 12 hour for just one image (I used to call my art directors Dr, Frankenstein), I would have charged for tech scouting for the photographer to go over the areas at the exact time he planned to shoot to prevent possible problems. I think you are calling it location scouting. And last I would have a RV on site so the 6 models have a place to change, the client has a work station and the caterer can set up and not in some one’s house. Last to cover your photographer’s tush, I would have location fee to be paid by agency/TV crew.

    Please note- you have done an AMAZING job detailing all this and then sharing it. It is so needed. I just wanted to point those things out. I have seen photographers get screwed by not noting what was the responsibility of the client or film crew. But then again, fortunately this job was older and you didn’t run into these issues. I just want the folks who read this to consider these items. I guess I have been doing this for 25 years now, I am jaded!!! Thanks again for taking the time to write this for the photo community!!

    • @Suzanne and Amanda,

      A lot of your points were addressed in other correspondence with the client (talent fees, retouching, etc.). And yes we called the tech/scout day location scouting in this estimate. Although we have our standard language we usually default to the client jargon to avoid confusion on their end. Catering, RV and client workstation, only a portion of which were our financial responsibility, were provided by the TV crew. We made sure to clarify all of this in other correspondence through the estimating process.

      Thanks for offering your valuable insight.

      • @Wonderful Machine, Carolyn, Thanks so much for clarifying, I figured as much just didn’t want to confuse those who are reading this. Again, great job!!!

  16. Thanks for the insight. It’s a side of the curtain I never get to see.

    Is it a common practice to lump the creative fee and usage?

    Since this is a couple years old would the market dictate the same invoice?



  17. Just wanted to echo my thanks for this really informative post. Thank you Sir Haggart, Carolyn, Suzanne, Amanda, and all the WM people!

    • @Shea Naer, thank you! Yes, Carolyn and WM have really offered some fabulous advise and the way she has taken the time to type everything out is so appreciated!!

  18. Very Interesting Articles…..Keep posting such typesof Articles…

  19. Excellent series, keep em coming!

    I have a question: If you get an online quote for a given use at Getty or similar stock sites, do you use that same quote for an assignment shoot licensing or do you use a smaller quote? And if so, how much smaller on average?

    I ask because with a stock photo there’s the percentage that stays with the stock agency and there’s the production costs paid by the photographer to produce that stock photo (usually). So the licensing value of stock photography IMO is bigger than a photo produced on assignment.

    Am I right on this?

    • @Octavio Salles,

      There is a lot more to it than that. If they could use stock without production expenses, they probably would. It’s hard to stay in business if pricing images like a commodity (rice, oil, copper).

      This may be helpful:

      • @Bob,
        fotoQuote must be great, unfortunately we don’t have a similar product here in Brazil so it’s hard to know if your rates are good or not. So I often use stock agency rates as a base for my licensing rates on assignments. Of course production costs will add to that rate and also of course an assignment produced photo is unique to that client, and that should force rates up too.

        • @Octavio Salles, Octavio- I use Getty as a base so for fees only – and add the production expenses required to do a job. I estimated a job the other day for a client where Getty would have required $30,000.00 for International and non-exclusive so my client could go under that by $20-25,000.00 exclusive but show the Getty price as to why they are a better deal. I use stock pricing a lot to negotiate with clients and it seems to help. And since you are in Brazil it a great place to start. And it is a great way to show the client they are getting a “catered” images verses one that can be used by so many others. In addition, stock images are generic and personalized images have branding of the client’s product.

          • @Suzanne and Amanda,

            granted you probably have more experience at this than me but, why would you offer more usage and original imagery for less money thank a stock image?

            is not the fact that they are getting “catered” images and exclusivity worth more?

            i always take the stock quotes off Getty and bid maybe 20% higher.

            • @knowitall, Sometimes the Getty pricing can be gray without talking to a sales rep. I had a client who was estimating a project and the client was telling them they didn’t have the budget when I put the criteria in and Getty was saying something crazy like $30,000.00 per shot- the estimate was based on shooting 8 shots in conjunction with broadcast- knowing it wasn’t going to fly at $240,000 in fees, I had her use that info to her advantage. If it is just one shot- then use it as a reference to be either higher or less. It is just not cookie cutter but does help as a gauge to fees. I have used it on jobs where I show them how a catered images should cost more. I am sorry- I should have elaborated more that it was more than one shot.

  20. Nice to see I’m not the only one to let typo’s slip by in a proposal.

  21. Holy Mackerel, Rob, I hope the gods are treating you well! You consistently post information that we need. THANK YOU!!!


  22. Thank very much for being so transparent and honest about how you do all of this here. It is very helpful.

    May I ask some questions?

    How did you get to the stage of being asked to quote?
    Did you have an existing relationship with the client?
    Do you know how many other photographers you were competing with?
    Did you meet with the Ad Agency to fully understand the job before quoting?

    Many many thanks once again.


  23. thanks again for this learned a lot. Wouldn’t mind making an invoice this large someday

  24. Thank you for the post. I am just curious. Does anyone outside of the NY area find these fees to be in a whole different arena than what they have to work with. I know this project was for a major international client and with a major NY agency, but is there that big of a gap between NY and the rest of the country?

  25. […] Thanks to people like Chase Jarvis and Rob Haggart there is some much needed light being shed on the little know aspects of running a photography business. I was very happy to read an interview posted by Rob on A Photo Editor with Carolyn Tucker from Wonderful Machine regarding pricing and negotiation. The full article on A Photo Editor can be found here. […]

  26. Thank you for this post and everything else that you guys do to us photographers!

  27. One of the most helpful examples of the pricing process I have ever seen. Thank you!

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