New Service Aims To Help Photographers Price Their Work

Shakodo is a new website where photographers can share pricing information and from what I can tell it looks like it’s going to be an awesome tool for everyone. The features and design of the site are top notch but the real interesting part is going to be seeing real pricing information and debates over what should be charged.

From the press release:

Photography is one of those professions without any fixed prices; with almost everything being negotiated. Until recently, the photographic market was very isolated and the skill of price negotiation was one of the key success factors for professionals.

With the influx of talented amateurs a market-shift began to take place. With their lack of experience and knowledge about current market rates and not understanding client’s budgets and needs, these talented amateurs have settled for lower price offers. As a result, they have unintentionally undercut professionals while leaving money on the table because they are not aware of the true market value of their photos or services.

Let me know what you think.


There Are 49 Comments On This Article.

  1. If all of these “talented” amateurs would humble themselves long enough to assist an established photographer in their market, then pricing might be a bit easier for them to figure out.

    • @Mike Moss, Couldn’t agree more about people assisting, seems like that’s a step on the ladder that is skipped lately. However, in my days of assisting I never once got a word about what the photographer I was working for was charging for anything even after having worked for them for years. Certainly all things photographic are more transparent than they used to be even a decade ago, but..

      • @Anthony, I am currently working as an assistant and have worked for 15+ photographers — with some I feel totally comfortable asking about billing for the job, while others I would never dream of doing so. The billing stuff is potentially the most helpful aspect of commercial photography I am able to learn through assisting, and I am thankful for any info those photographers have been willing to share with me.

      • @Mike, I assisted many years ago then gave up on my career as a commercial photographer (specializing in food) until last year. Now I am trying to find a job assisting – no pay – and can’t find a food photographer to take me on. So, it isn’t always that the emerging photographer doesn’t want to assist. It’s actually hard to find a photographer to act as a mentor.

    • @Mike Moss,

      Assisting an established photographer falls under the category of old school things that are changing fast. Now there is so much information online, and a lot of affordable equipment out there to practice with – why waste time learning old tricks from old dogs? Personally – I do agree that there is a ton of underlying knowledge to be learned from those who have been in the biz for a while – but to the new photographer out there, what looks better and easier?

      • @Mr. Biggs, Business is an art and not a science. Pricing creative work is based on intuition instead of formula. Any attempts at turning the photography business into a formula will always fail unless the photography itself is a formula (like passport photos) Aspiring photographers must expose themselves directly to their specific market to get a “feel” of what prices it will bear. Then, they can get a sense of what their own individual work might be worth based on how it fits within the context of the community.

      • @Mr. Biggs,

        When I was an assistant, I could always tell which photographers had assisted and those who hadn’t.

        Those who had not were often assholes to their assistants, treating them like pieces of equipment instead of valuable help or a second pair of eyes (like the golfer-caddy relationship)

        The photographers who’d worked their way up were always way easier to work with. Clients tended to like them better too it seemed.

        Also, the information online is often sketchy at best, as the best folks are often busy working rather than writing. The most valuable insights I gained as assistant had nothing to do with equipment and had everything to do with establishing and maintaining client relationships.

        • @craig, Truth. Also, the “real” harm the strobist/prosumer community does to our industry. The most valuable lessons i’ve learned as an assistant were about being professional, keeping cool & how to treat people…

  2. APE: Useful? To whom? Publishing prices by “talented amateurs” (whatever the hell that is) serves only to drive prices down even further. So the bar gets lowered, again. For some balance, dig up a dozen estimates for some big name brands with major photo campaigns and publish what the high-end of the bar looks like.

    • @peter schafrick,
      Have you not seen the estimates I’ve been publishing?

      A talented amateur is someone who shoots part time. They have another job or a trust fund that pays the bills.

      I’m guessing you don’t get weekly emails like I do from people looking for pricing information?

      • @A Photo Editor, I have seen them. What I’m saying is that the high end of the bar is unknown. I think it’s important to understand what the entire range is (not just the very bottom and middle) and what many clients are prepared to pay, even in these supposed tough times.
        Your guess is right. I’ve never received a request from someone looking for pricing information.

      • @A Photo Editor — yeah, they have another job, a trust fund, OR a spouse that pays the bills (i.e., the “momtographer” trend.) My partner and I are full-time photographers without any of those safety nets, so it’s frustrating when consumer clients to expect us to match the low prices of these talented amateurs. Now we’re even seeing the trickle-down effect with editorial clients.

        We can only hope these amateurs A) burn out before we do (haha) or B) get educated on pricing through resources like this. I’ll have to check out this new website!

        • @peter schafrick, We can all shoot for the moon but the reality is that in smaller markets like where I work, $25,000 jobs are not the norm. The ‘normal’ work in my city is headshots, local magazines and small businesses. There are ad agencies but they are relatively small.

          Knowing WHY you charge what you charge is more important than how much. The ‘how much’ will be determined by local market conditions as well as the aspirations of the photographer.

          Teaching a methodology is important. If you know that for every dollar you collect from a client you have to give 40 cents to some type of overhead then you are more likely to stand firm on real pricing. Not sure this website in discussion will cover that but give it time to develop.

          • @John Powell, I didn’t say $25,000 was the norm. I said, depending on the job (the usage, the client, the uniqueness of the images needed, plus the perceived value of the photographer) there is a massive range. If your local agency wants to hire a top-end NY photographer, they know damn well they are not going to get a price break. NY photographers can demand more money because they consistently produce more unique imagery not because the cost to do business in NY is higher. Overhead has nothing to do with pricing of photography.

            • Captain Obvious

              @peter schafrick,

              Anyone who routinely charges more than $25k doesn’t need the service, so attacking either it or its users is mere bullying.

              Anyone who is a pro has heard of Fotoquote.

              Anyone shooting expeditions, or Antarctic events, or whatever, where $25k is too low, is in need of much more budgeting & project-managing than this service.

              For whom this service rolls, it’s needed: direly & immediately.

              Your income will be more protected if you help the amateurs get smart, rather than knocking them ( or their help ) down for not being as absolute as you or your establishment-ideal.

              Another tip:
              “The Feiner Points of Leadership” ( Michael Feiner )
              “Corps Business: the 30 MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLES of the US Marines” ( Forbes senior editor David H. Freedman )
              “The Power of the 2×2 Matrix” ( Lowy & Hood ).

              Learn to value potential, including others’, and to commit to growing it, so the world as a whole is improved.

              Or don’t, if you haven’t got the heart/curiosity to learn…

              ( maybe these books are too absolute for you, and you just aren’t good enough to meet ’em, just like this service isn’t good enough for your absolute “world” or “reality”… )


              Captain Obvious.

              • @Captain Obvious,
                Anyone who routinely charges more than $25k has learned and knows a thing or two about this biz, and has more to pass on to the dedicated photographers who want to succeed. Remember, even the very successful started somewhere. As it stands, the service is geared to amateurs and input my amateurs. Kinda like the blind leading the blind. What’s lacking is mentoring. So the service actually does need photographers who routinely charge more than $25k. Not to bully or attack as you suggest, but to teach. (PS: What on earth is that gibberish about my “absolute” world or “reality”??)

  3. perhaps the photographers with time to answer the questions are not the photographers who should be answering the questions…

    unless there is some sort of gatekeeping, crowd-sourcing fee information is going to tilt away from the real median and head towards the mean, which is not protecting prices.

    the only way people get good information on pricing is by creating real trusting relationships in the real world with real reps, real agents, real art buyers and real photographers. Then the answers reflect what is going on, not what the internet buzz of today says is going on.

    information wants to be free vs. information has value. you can’t have it both ways I’m afraid. In other words, shortcuts to experience in business are the problem, not lack of information.

    • @robert, you are exactly correct. there needs to be gate keepers for this sight to have any real validity.

      maybe the model is that for free info you can have access to the community and for a fee monthly or otherwise one would have access to industry pros who have an understanding of todays commercial photography market.

      this may even be a great place for those photo consultants with representation backgrounds to join in or develop their own website were they can monitize the skill set that they have spent so many years developing. Or this could be the front end of a Invoicing / estimating site that act as a billing portal. just a few ideas. Lou Lesko are you out there?

      as it is this is a free for all. at least with Facebook i can vet those people who i want to contribute to my knowledge base / stream. it would at the very least be important to know who i am getting advice from.

  4. As the kids these days say: lol.

    I think that educating anyone on how to price their work is valuable, but a quick read of that site’s FAQ is instructive in realizing that this site is not just about that. It’s about a futile attempt at industry protectionism.

    Nearly every question starts with a false premise: that the prices for professional photography are falling because amateurs are “uneducated”.

    Wrong, sorry. Prices are falling because this work has less value than it has in the past. Period.

    I have nothing but sympathy for professionals who are struggling due to a changing industry, but this sort of attempt at reality-fighting is amusing.

    • @Chris Wage,
      “Prices are falling because this work has less value than it has in the past.”

      It has less value due to the issues raised above. It’s not reality fighting or old school thinking. BTW, I’m not one of the super young up-starts, but I’m also not yet 40 years old. Young or old, the most successful photographers are not earning less than they were before. The low end is gone, the middle is what’s taking the hit. It’s not about protecting prices, it’s about educating value so mistakes aren’t made. Every other month lately I’ll estimate a job and invariably the client will go in-house or with their cousin and then try and fix it in post with another talented amateur and in the end they reshoot and retouch with professionals, but they’ve lost a lot of money and tons of time or not done a reshoot and damaged their brand with bad production. This is my opinion and experience. Yours may vary, but it’s not reality fighting by a bunch of oldies.

      • @Anthony, that’s a legit point, but that’s a factor of differentiation by the photographer to his client base. i.e. advertising that “you really want to go with me, even though I’m more expensive, because you’re gonna pay for your cousin’s subpar work, one way or another”.

        That has nothing to do with the sentiment that we need to educate amateurs to charge more, though.

        • @Chris Wage,

          Right, but there are some talented amateurs or those just getting into the business that may do a good job for their clients but they didn’t charge enough money. Now we must all work for what the junior art director makes because of it?

    • @Chris Wage,

      Perhaps prices are falling because for whatever reason so many people involved in these industries really don’t know the value of the work. For instance, they might have lost sight of the value of the work (e.g., due to budget strains). Or, they might underestimate the value of the work leading to the false perception that the work isn’t very valuable.

      I’m just starting to work as a photographer, but in my other career I’ve had to educate my clients on the value of my work more and more these last few years. Once they realize that there’s a difference huge between the value of the work I do and the value of the work of someone who charges much less, they realize they’re not comparing apples to apples.

      • @Brandon D., agreed — but again, educating your client is merely differentiation. It’s not the same as educating competitors that they are charging too little, which is a futile effort.

        There seems to be this perception that the market is saturated with all these fresh amateurs out there miserably slaving for next to nothing, because they just don’t know any better. That strikes me as willfully naive — not to mention a little silly.

        The reality is that the market is saturated with people whose costs (either in skill acquisition or physical tools/materials) are much lower. They don’t charge much because it doesn’t cost them much. Hobbyists and part-time amateurs. You can’t educate these people to charge more because they don’t need to, and there’s no compelling reason for them to.

        For the segments of professional photography where differentiation is possible, this process will continue naturally. Photographers will find ways to demonstrate (ably) to the market that their work is superior to the Rebel-wielding johnny-come-lately.

        For the segments of professional photography where an advantage was previously enjoyed due to technological barriers to entry in the marketplace … well.. might be time to find a new line of work.

        • @Chris Wage, not to start an argument here but are you a professional photographer or simply a person with an opinion. I ask because after reading your posts I checked out your site (the link from your signature) and I don’t find any work there. Just a donation button at the end of some instructions about how to download your pics for free and print them yourself:(

          In my view anything that educates photographers about the worth of their work should be supported, we can bitch and moan all we like and that won’t change one thing, mentoring just might.

          • @Barry White,

            I love any comment that starts with “not to start an argument here but” and then delves into an ad hominem.

            Really? That’s all you saw on my site? Reeeeeally. Must be some weird browser rendering problem.

            • @Chris Wage,

              Thanks for teaching me a new word, I had to look it up.

              “The ad hominem is a classic logical fallacy,[2] but it is not always fallacious. For in some instances, questions of personal conduct, character, motives, etc., are legitimate and relevant to the issue.[3]”

              I simply asked a question about your status as a photographer, feel free to answer.

          • @Barry White,

            I visited both your websites, Chris’s loads perfect and fine, and showcases a lot of very creative photography.

            Your website however depends on Flash, which is a failing on your part. Once I had clicked and loaded the flash, I then came across what looks like istockphoto.

            If you are having a discussion with someone, do not go about proving your authority by putting down other peoples work.

        • Donnar Party

          @Chris Wage,

          “You can’t educate these people to charge more because they don’t need to, and there’s no compelling reason for them to.”

          The compelling reason is that they want to quit their day job and shoot full time, without the burn of a HUGE loss of income. case in point: A guy called me out of the blue wanting to assist. I said I’d talk to him. he showed me his book, which was overwrought, but showed potential. He was mid 30’s. He hated being, wait for it, a doctor, and wanted nothing more than to shoot covers for Vibe. This guy needs to charge as much as he can to replace that Beth Isreal income.

  5. O.k, this is like Republicans vs Democrats, Canon vs Nikkon kind of thing. Truth is that times have changed, photogs find themselves trying to be directors cause cameras shoot video now. On the flip side of that coin, you have a whole new group of tech savvy artist with plenty of available information to make something happen.
    I’m not taking anything away from assisting, but there’s a also a reality where assisting is not necessarily going to provide much in the way of bill paying I’m assuming.
    So instead of just blaming amateurs for price drops( I blame the economy), and complaining about this service mentioned above, what are YOU personally doing to educate those so called Amateurs that just “fell of the tree and have no idea on what’s going on”.
    Disclosure: I’m not a pro shooter or an Amateur for that matter, I would say I’m just an advance hobbiest, love photography, and would like to do for a living some day, have a family and expenses, so assisting does’t quite seems like a viable option. So any kind of information on the business of photography is gladly welcomed.
    So where I stand, I don’t necessarily see things being black and white. And if you want change on the above mentioned, start by doing something to remedy it.

  6. Many good points from the other comments. I hate to have to say it though but the very need for, or opportunity for, sites like this are indicative of the underlying problem, the elephant in the room is growing supply.

    Price is a function of supply and demand. While demand has risen, at a certain low price level, the number of willing suppliers is rising faster than demand.

    I fear that increased price disclosure will only accelerate this trend, not help incumbents maintain their rates.

  7. Hmmm. Shakado is an interesting concept and one with potential. I agree that the professional photo community is usually tight-lipped when it comes to sharing actual numbers on estimates, etc and an exchange of info could be beneficial to many. Admittedly, I haven’t had alot of time to look this site over yet, but but I am skeptical that this new and “free” website will be the one catalyst to get the pros talking .

  8. “We believe that the lack of business education is one of the biggest problems in the photography market. As amateurs increase in numbers and professionals continue to keep trade secrets, this gap has allowed the price value of photo licenses and photographic services to decrease.”

    I quite like this theory of photo industry pricing. Why is there such secrecy in pricing when it only seems to hurt the photographers? Clients take advantage of this ALL THE TIME. Winning a quintuple bid is almost worse than losing it.

    The site seems like a great tool as long as there is a critical mass of people who post and comment. If you’re complaining about the unwashed masses lowering the standard for everyone, now you can tell them directly.

  9. It’s a step to help those new to the business, perhaps with thoughts of becoming creative professionals, to move up a little and learn. Unfortunately I just don’t think their goal of wider education will impact prices, because the clients looking for free or ultra-low-cost will always find someone.

    What I think is needed is something like what the Graphic Artists Guild provides. Their Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines uses surveys to create and publish a large listing of price ranges for many types of illustration and graphic design projects. True price guidelines and education need to be all encompassing, and not just for beginners.

  10. I see a real credibility issue here. I would feel really uncomfortable asking total strangers about pricing on a project.

    There are well established reps that will help with estimates for a fee. Also, there are plenty of books on how to price your work.

    John Harrington’s “Best Business Practices for Photographers” is a good place to start. A really smart guy and a great reputation.

  11. charles waldorf

    Look at it this way. You have 3 photographers bidding on a job. 2 established experienced photographers and fresh out of art school hot shot. The 2 established photographers submit quotes that are identical, the third is for 1/2 of what the other 2 have quoted.

    In the economic state we are in, a client sees a low price and automatically jumps at the opportunity to produce the job for half the cost. I would even go as far to say they would pass on looking at a book and just go with the money saving option. So if we have the opportunity to educate Johny hot shot how to charge for what a job is worth, then I think this site is useful, and will help established photographers and the market.

    I also think it will help weed out the people who should not be shooting bigger projects. If the art school hot shot is not really a hot shot and the client absolutely hates the images he produced they might not be so upset because they only paid half price. But if Mr. Hot Shot charges the higher rate and screws up there is a better chance he won’t be in the running next time.

    • @charles waldorf,

      Decent jobs are not decided on price alone. The only time I’ve seen that is local work where the admin assistant is tasked with looking to hire a shutter puncher. Hardly the kind of work to aim for.

      Every professional buyer with a budget looks beyond price…indeed a very low price is a red flag in itself, especially when the buyer already has an idea of what it should cost.

      I wouldn’t buy a $5000 mercedes…

  12. This site reminds me of the cliche about giving a man to fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and feed him for life.

    The advice given is well intentioned, but not all that useful, especially when the client rejects the prices recommended. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad deal for you, especially if you don’t know what to charge in the first place. Finally, it doesn’t really help you with future work.

    Product pricing isn’t a great mystery. Every business does it, and that’s what startup photographers, whether they are full time or part time, need to know.

    Quick checklist for the newbie:
    – Save all your bills, receipts and invoices.
    – Get separate bank and credit card accounts for your business
    – Get a copy of quickbooks
    – Get a copy of Bookkeeping for dummies and read it while you set up quickbooks
    – Once familiar with the terminology and structure of basic bookkeeping, enter in your receipts, invoices and other financial transactions specific to your situation – hooray! You now have some idea of your costs. (Tip: once you’re a successful photographer, or are a trust fund baby, you can hire a bookkeeper to do this for you)
    – Find a good Cost of Doing Business tutorial. Google it. There’s probably some even aimed at photographers. Now you should have a price *floor* for producing the work given your own personal situation. This is important because those numbers on that site or in Fotoquote are meaningless in the real world if you don’t know your own needs.
    – Get a copy of Fotoquote for licensing above and beyond your production costs when a well-off client comes calling.

    And there you have it. With firm numbers in your possession, you can price and negotiate like a pro. Next up, marketing!

    • @craig, While it’s nice to have a floor, the real issue is that the licensing model is not based on CODB. So the estimate of a NYC shooter vs one from a small city (all else being equal) should not be all that different, since the usage is the same. The real issue here is that photographers need to value their work, not based on what it’s work to a photographer, but what it’s worth to the client. Client’s know the value of the work, it’s time all photographers understand this.

      • @peter schafrick,

        Peter, running a business is based on making money to cover your costs. Everything else is built on top of that, including licensing.

        In the real world, a lot (most) of clients are not very big nor have big budgets. Most readers of this website are not working with 5 figure and up budgets each week. It is not unusual for me to do more work for a small client at half the cost as an ad agency that comes the next week. This is because the ad work has more ‘value’ as the larger company will use it more widely… but the work is the work.

        The floor is to cover your costs for these smaller bread and butter clients, while additional licensing fees helps with clients where the images have more value.

        This is still a license model, but takes into account real world life. I guarantee if you throw around some fotoquote numbers to small clients, you will never hear from them again, even if they had enough money to pay a large portion of your bills that month. The local hospital ain’t coca cola, even if the coke shoot requires half the actual work.

        Your work is very good Peter, but remember, not everyone, certainly not the beginner photographers learning bookkeeping ;-), is working with relatively large advertising budgets. They will go broke waiting for that work to come if they don’t learn some basics.

        • @craig, You’re preaching to the choir!
          I understand what you are saying. I’ve been there… believe me I’ve been there. And I understand where beginner photographers are coming from as well. What I am trying to get across is that adding X% to your CODB is rarely the most effective means to pricing. It’s a good exercise sure. But it suggests that all clients value your work equally, and that’s just not the case. It also does not accurately take into account how many shooting days you are going to have, or the value a project might have in your book. Best thing a beginner photographer can is to let your client bring up pricing first. Don’t be so quick to price it, but instead ask how much they have or what their budget is. Many times it will be a surprise to hear that the amount is much more than you would have quoted. IMO, the CODB model tends to leave a lot of money on the table for some jobs.

          • @peter schafrick,

            I don’t really know why you’re complaining… or why you use the term “CODB Model”. Perhaps reread what I write. I never suggested just adding a % to CODB is a good idea. CODB is a common vocabulary term for determining exactly what it costs to perform a job. Below it, you lose money and will, eventually, go out of business. Many beginners just have no idea what their job costs are, to say nothing of appropriate licensing fees.