Real World Estimates – Food and People Shoot for Hispanic Ad Agency

by Wonderful Machine producer Jess Dudley

We recently helped one of our food/people photographers quote on an ad shoot for an agency that specializes in reaching Hispanic audiences. The ad agency’s client was a major food brand, and the product they were promoting was a household name. The campaign was aimed at Hispanics and was to be used only in Spanish language media (primarily grocery store point-of-purchase). The agency needed pictures of a celebrity chef (standing, wearing chef jacket, looking at the camera), a recipe she makes using the product, and four still-life pictures of various products in their product line. All of the pictures would be shot on white background, at a studio near the agency and talent, in one shoot day. The usage was six images for “unlimited use in the U.S. for one year.”

When I build an estimate, I like to figure out the production costs first because it helps me really understand the scope of the project, which can influence the licensing/creative fee. One of the things that made this estimate interesting was that the agency asked us to use their estimating form (see below). That was nice because it gave us prompts for all the information they expected to see. And from their perspective, it makes it easy to compare quotes.

Production Crew. The photographer would have to fly in from another city for the shoot. She would plan to take her regular first assistant. She didn’t feel the need to add on a local assistant. My ideal is having one assistant who is familiar with the photographer traveling along, and one local assistant who is familiar with the local people and places who can help get us out of a jam when the unexpected arises. I put in for one assistant shoot day and two assistant travel days.

I find that hair/makeup, wardrobe, prop, and food stylists tend to be in the same general price range. But for this job, the food styling was the most critical component, so I budgeted more for that. The product itself isn’t very glamorous, so the recipe really needed to shine. In addition to looking through every food stylist website I could find, I spent a lot of time talking with local food photographers, folks at kitchen studios, and local magazines, to make sure I knew who the best food stylists were in that area. I planned on a day of prep for the food stylist to sort out the recipes and to buy the food, and a day on set for the food stylist and their assistant.

For this type of shoot (one subject, non-cosmetics shoot) one person can handle both hair and make-up. One stylist could handle the wardrobe (which would be provided) and propping with one prep day and one shoot day. Even though the wardrobe was to be provided, we still needed someone on set to steam the clothes and fuss with the fit. Chef uniforms are not the most flattering, so some time and attention would need to be spent pinning the uniform properly to give it a more fitted appearance.

I factored in three days for the production coordinator (me). It would mostly be pre-production to pull all the elements together and make the travel arrangements, and then just tying up loose ends after the shoot. The shoot was simple enough, and due to the photographer’s needs and the client’s budget concerns, I didn’t need to be there for the shoot.

Photographic Medium. We put in 300.00 for basic digital workflow. That’s less than we normally charge for a project like this, but it reflected the photographer’s comfort level. The retouching needs would mostly be file clean-up, smoothing wrinkles, smoothing skin, and fussing with the food a bit. I figured an hour for each image. The client requested a proof print of each of the final images because the final colors of the labels and product itself are so important.

Studio Rental. I had a couple places in our database, and got some more from some friends in the area. We found a great studio with a nice cyc wall close to the agency. As I’m checking on price and availability for all my support services, I generally put my favorites on hold. That way, I don’t have to scramble when the job comes through. When you put someone on hold, it’s like a tentative booking. If something else comes in for them on that date, they call you and ask you to confirm or release them from the hold. If you confirm and then cancel, you are obligated to pay them whatever cancellation fee you have negotiated. If you release them from the hold, or if the job doesn’t come through and you haven’t confirmed, there’s normally nothing to pay for.

We expected a cast and crew of about 10 people for a light breakfast and a normal lunch. I normally factor in about 40.00/head for that. If I have time, I’ll make some calls to confirm that with some caterers. If not, that amount is a safe bet to account for.

Equipment. The photographer was traveling with her own gear, for which she was charging a modest rental fee.

Location. Just needed a certificate of insurance for the rental studio.

Travel. We’d need round-trip transportation for the photographer and her first assistant. Estimating travel costs can be tricky. Airfares can vary wildly depending on when the travel is taking place and how much advance notice you have. Between the time you quote on a job and when you get it, fares can double—especially if the shoot dates change. Make sure you’re clear in advance about who is going to pay/get the difference when the fare goes up/down. In this case, we were charging our actual cost on the expenses and the client understood that it was subject to change. I normally figure on single occupancy hotel rooms. It wouldn’t be unusual to ask two assistants to share a room if the budget is tight, but it would have to be an extreme case to have the photographer share a room with the assistant. I chose to rent a car so we could run last minute errands. But I could have shaved off a few bucks by using a car service to and from the airport. Excess baggage is important to pay attention to these days. It’s a good idea to have your own scale to make sure your equipment cases don’t exceed 50 pounds. And unless you’re flying Southwest, you’ll have to pay close attention to the baggage charges, because they add up fast. In the past, I’ve been able to get discounts from airlines for photographic equipment (especially if the photographer had a valid press credential). But these days, with airlines trying to make money any way they can, it’s rare to get that kind of treatment.

Props, Wardrobe and Sets. The pictures required only simple plates for the food, no props for the chef and just white background for all the pictures including the product itself. But it’s better to have extra stuff that you don’t use than wish you had a wooden spoon or an oven mitt to put in the subject’s hand when the art director feels inspired. I talked to the prop stylists and the food stylists to get a better sense of what I should budget for plates, pans, place settings and the food. Depending on what else they’re responsible for, it would be reasonable to have the food stylist or the prop stylist handle the cooking-related props. It’s not unusual for food stylists to bring along a small selection of serving dishes which can fill in for whatever the prop stylist gets. Just be sure to be clear on who’s bringing what avoid any confusion on the shoot day. And of course, you can plan on the prop stylist being able to buy and return items that don’t get used.

Talent and Casting. The celebrity chef was the only talent and we didn’t have to pay her out of the photography budget.

Miscellaneous. The client requested delivery by DVD. More often we simply upload the files to our FTP and send the client a link. The “Shipping and Messengers” is actually a car service for the chef.

Photography Fee. Lastly, I nailed down the fee. The key points to consider were: national brand enlisted a mid-size agency and relatively unknown “celebrity chef” to promote a small segment of their business to the Spanish-speaking population of the U.S., using six images for one year (see “usage license required” on last estimate page). Some of these factors create upward pressure on the value and some push it down. The fact that only 17% of the US speaks Spanish as a first or second language seriously limits the audience of this campaign and drastically lowered the licensing fee. This brought the fee down from what would have otherwise been 10-12k to under 7k. Majors and minors refer to the prominence of the image in the ad. In this case, they expected to use the portrait and a couple of the other pictures big, and the rest much smaller.


There Are 31 Comments On This Article.

  1. 17% huh? I think wm needs to travel more.
    As a national average I understand that, but spanish speaking markets are growing tremendously, and in those neighbourhoods the percentage is 100%.
    Seriously, in NY I’d bet 50% of the residents can speak spanish, and are definitely bilingual.
    Seems like a market viewpoint suited to 25 years ago to me. Spanish is not a niche.

    • I agree with Roberto. 17%? Where have you been? Do you ever read Adweek? It is all about the Hispanic market. Also, not only NYC, but California, Florida are huge markets. I think overall the estimate was right on for production expenses (a bit low in a couple of places) but I think the fees should’ve been a bit more substantial.
      Thanks for posting APE!

    • @roberto, I agree. I love all the work that Wonderful Machine is doing here but as a former art buyer, I have to chime in.

      1. Even if the agency tries to skew the estimate as a small minority (when in fact it is stated the Hispanic Market is one of the largest buying markets and are 48.4 million in the US- according to the US Census bureau) Please don’t base your fees based on population since it is virtually impossible to guess who is going to see the images so it should be based on the work.

      2. I wouldn’t separate from majors to minors- that is a practice in automotive. The agency has one year unlimited rights and can use minor shots on coupons, billboards- anywhere.

      I really appreciate the work they have done in presenting these estimates, I am just concerned photographers could be giving their work away for less than it is worth.

      six shots for $6,750.00 is only $1,125.00 per shot and that to me is giving it away.

      • @Suzanne Sease, another thing to add in EVERY estimate- no third party rights granted. You must protect yourself that the celebrity chef CAN NOT use your images without additional compensation. Usage needs to spelled out more carefully than one year unlimited and and all media (this means TV!) And ALWAYS make sure you note that the photographer retains promotional and copyrights.

        • @Suzanne Sease, Cristina R & Roberto,

          I certainly agree the the Spanish speaking population is growing and that it’s a highly sought after market segment for advertisers. The figure I used, 17%, was determined using the most current census data available (see Suzanne’s figures). I only mentioned this to illustrate the downward pressure the smaller intended audience may have on a client budget and the value of the licensing.

          Regarding the majors and minors, the client insisted we use their estimate spreadsheet and in the shot list referred to minors and majors. I usually don’t distinguish between the two, but for this project I had to abide by the agency’s guidelines to keep the cost consultants at bay.

          I agree with you about Third Party Use, Copyright and Promotional Use. Our standard terms and conditions, which go out with every estimate, cover all of those. I’ll be sure to include the T&C in any future posts.

          Lastly, every shoot, photographer, agency and client are different. I would have loved to get more for the photographer, but in this particular situation it was the most we the client was willing to pay and just a number the photographer was willing to work for.

          Thanks for your comments and clarifications,

          Wonderful Machine

  2. Even though I don’t shoot food, or in studio for that matter, I found this useful. Thanks for keeping these posts coming, Rob. The details of how others are handling various aspects of estimating are fascinating and incredibly useful.

  3. A Realist or a Cynic

    Very helpful to see this. One question, though – I understand it may be a “modest” rental on gear that the photographer owns, but this seems surprisingly low. I’m guessing that on an ad job, there is at least something like a Canon 5D2 with one backup body (no medium format, no tech). Still, a rental on a 5D is about $200 with no lens. So even if the entire camera package had two lenses and two bodies (no tripod, no extra lenses, etc), it still seems low. While it is somewhat “profit” if it’s owned, I’m always careful to still budget what it would cost me if I had to rent at the lowest cost vendor – otherwise easy to get burned when the client changes what they want and you have to rent after all.

    Basically, I get concerned that clients will start expecting a “setup” to cost a few hundred bucks, regardless of what they’re getting. I’d love it if Jess could discuss that aspect more, as he kinda glosses over that section of the quote. I can’t figure out how my camera budget could ever be under $500 per day.

    Thanks again – very helpful to see stuff like this.

    • @A Realist or a Cynic,

      Every photographer treats and bills for their equipment differently. The photographer in this case, didn’t have to rent any supplemental equipment. They owned everything they needed.

      If the agency or client changed the shoot in a way that would require additional equipment, we’d simply say that we hadn’t estimated for it and that they would have to approve the additional rental costs in writing.

      Thanks for your comment,

      Wonderful Machine

  4. These posts are some of the best educational tools I have come across for figuring out what to put into an estimate and what is real and competitive out there. I especially like the itemized part, since I seem to manage to forget some aspect of the shoot. Which, of course, comes out of my pocket later. Thanks and please keep it up!

  5. The numbers, one more time, are dramatically low, and tons of money were being left at the table. Nothing new coming from WM…

    Considering it is now obvious that no one, neither the photographer, nor the WM Agency, had a copy of Fotoquote or any other application helper to obtain a reference price before estimating this project, I would strongly suggest to buy one and be amazed at estimating figures which have been sometimes criticized as being in the “lower part of the pricing range”. The are still huge in comparison to this estimate.

    Let me give you a sample figure from FQ: Only for Billboard Advertising, you would get and average of about $2200 per state, for 5-25 billboards for 3 months. The number grows for 6 months adn grows again for One year, and grows again, if the number of billboards is bigger( 26-50 per state,etc).

    it means Nationwide billboards, this is, 50 states, would make a theoretical figure of over 100K and even though this may sound unrealistic, it is not.

    Some “package pricing” may be discussed, but geez man, we are talking National-Unlimited! So it is not only Billboards, it is the Web and Social Media, magazines, Press, POP, posters, brochures, stickers, T-shirts, yo-yos, you just name the media and it is included.

    I have just got a green from a mid sized client for a Billboard, Web and indoors posters, only 5 States, image(s) will be used in 1 layout so the final figures in photography fees are over 11K plus Production costs.
    Images are not complex to shoot, actually, it is just portraits in white studio seamless, but the usage is extensive enough to warrant some decent fees.

    A typical symptom of an erroneous estimation – as in this case- is to notice that operational costs and crew are more expensive than the photographer(???) for a shooting situation that does not require of any special features, no special effects specialists, even the catering can be solved with the chef! no CGI, no complex Post Prod involved, it is just a portrait and some still lives done under standard Studio Production.

    I bet that this is yet another one of those estimates that is hiding photographer’s and/or Agency fees by inflating production costs. I will repeat it indefinitely: it does not help to inform Agencies and clients that their shooter is so cheap, by diluting his/her fees, hiding them under Production costs!! Set the production pricing correctly and the shooter’s fees likewise. This form of “dilution’ of the photographer’s fees is destructive in the long term.

    Sorry WM folks, missed the boat again! Encouraging shooters to accept less than 10K for 5 pictures for National-Unlimited distribution, you are doing our community a massive disservice. I am sure the client did not even blink when confronted with such estimate.

    Get FotoQuote or any other pricing software and use it -only- as a starting reference point. Complexity of the shooting and/or Production will add to those figures. Please, study and learn!

    Susan’s comment( Hi there!) regarding “No third Party Usage” is a must. We all have to include this as part of the contractual terms.
    Once the images are in the hands of the Agency, anything can happen, so you better cover your back, in detail, in advance.

    Also, very recently, several shooters have been dealing with this scenario: due to the changing economic situation, a separate clause must also be included, that defines the usage/licensing rights when Company “A”, which owns some publishing rights for your pictures, but is acquired/bought/took over/absorbed/merged/ with or by Company “B”.

    You will be facing this situation in which Company “B” assumes they now have the publishing rights from Company “A” but this is not straightforward.

    You have to set in writing, both in estimates and invoices, what is the fate of those licensing rights, if a merger or acquisition occurs. Or course, you may choose to grant them or not. Ideally, you should not grant them for free, as in a transfer, but it is not crazy at all to issue a new license and demand payment, if your paperwork is very clear-cut about this.

    Jorge Parra

      • @former WM-er,
        you’d better explain that one. that’s a pretty huge list of photographers they represent. probably have their hand in bidding more jobs than most people.

        • former WM-er

          @A Photo Editor, I’ll try:

          So, they make you pay a pretty hefty monthly fee to use the service (“portal”, as they call it). Sounds cool, right? Initially, you think that since that defrays any commission percentages, then it’s a good deal. Not so. Any job that comes through, you need to get an estimate done by Jess, and he charges $150/hour, whether or not you get the job. So you’re already in the hole $500 off the bat. And it isn’t like you feel like the monthly fee is getting you work and will pay for itself, as there is little to no individual promotion; they pick one person out of their 500 or so photographers to feature in an email blast (and their email blasts are way too frequent and turns a lot of PEs and ABs off so no one reads them anyway). Most of the photographers on the roster are middle of the road shooters. No big names, no work that really stands out. All the good ones have real reps. Look at the tearsheets; no-name magazines and a couple of crappy lifestyle campaigns here and there. I appreciate trying a new business model but I think if you want to really make it in the long haul then WM is not for you.

          • current-WM-er

            @former WM-er,

            I agree with all your points. i tried WM for a year and can’t say I got any work from it. A lot of wannabe assistants e-mail me though after finding my name there (nothing wrong with that, but it just shows who’s looking at it for the most part)

            I think the most oddball thing though is they list your specialty based on where you will fit on their website css design. incredible. Obviously there are a lot of ‘portrait’ photographers, but not so many automotive. so there’s plenty of room in automotive but no room in portrait, even if you are a great portrait guy in your city

            There are just too many photographers on WM. Ending on a positive note, I’ll say it’s a good learning experience about what works and what doesn’t.

            • current-WM-er


              I’d also like to note that I’ve found the people at WM are genuinely nice people, but who just seem to have too much to do. As a producer myself, Jess is genuinely knowledgable though he dropped the ball on the market estimate here, it’s still good to see the bid process opened to the public.

              The lesson to take away is you need to always look out for your own interests, keep in touch with your own marketing and know how to price your own productions. A second pair of eyes is always a good thing.

              • @current-WM-er, The very first action to take action about your suggestions, is to buy at least one of the software packages for estimates, both for assignments and stock. APA Estimating Software, BlinkBid, FotoQuote, the amazing products, the options are varied, there is no reason not to have one around.

                At the very least, everyone can jump to Stock sites like Getty or Corbis,etc , place yourself as a customer looking for pricing ranges. Then you just add exactly the type of work you are being requested, include the same licensing terms, and you will get a REALISTIC base number that any Art Buyer/Creative Director/Client would have to spend, if he/she decides to go with RM Stock imagery (not Royalty Free ok?)

                Consider then that assignments fees are higher -by definition- and there you go, some realistic ball-park figures may be guessed.

                I bet that , if anyone runs the current project under discussion, (5 images, unlimited National licensing) even stock files would have warranted better prices than those submitted for this assignment, given the huge licensing terms requested by Agency/Client.

                This is exactly when the licensing system works wonders:

                If a client is requesting more, then he pays more. Then, when confronted with real prices, then they have to adjust the licensing requested, down to their actual media plan: Why pay for billboards in Tokyo, posters in the Moscow metro, magazine Ads in Australia, etc, if client is not planning on using such media? Why request those rights?

                Clients easily stop asking for international rights, or global rights or Buyouts when the money they have to pay, licensing/publishing rights, keep piling up proportionally.

                The very same image, a portrait against a white seamless, may be worth a few bucks, a few hundreds, a good few thousands, or a lot more, depending on the licensing/media plan requested. The complexity of the image and the production values required to achieve it is a separate issue.

                Like it or not, smart use of licensing terms is an essential part of being a photographer these days. It is NOT rocket science either. Everyone should handle the basics.

                OTOH, Get used to leave behind the licensing system when estimating, and draw yourself a future with financial limitations.


          • @former WM-er,

            Not sure why we generate such strong feelings from people. But here are the facts as I know them.

            We charge American photographers 100.00/month to be listed on our site (provided they link back to us). We’re more expensive than some and cheaper than others. Here’s a link to our current membership form for U.S. based photographers:

            We call it a portal because rather than showing photographer portfolios on our site, we prefer to forward clients directly to the photographer’s website. We feel it’s more efficient for everyone involved. You can find a pretty comprehensive list of photographer sourcebooks/portals at this link: They’re all a little different. We recommend that photographers list themselves on several of them.

            Our consulting services are optional, and members pay $75/hour. Non-members pay 150/hour. Jobs don’t come “through” us. We’re structured as a portal, so clients contact our photographers directly.

            More precisely, we’re a marketing company for photographers. On top of the water so-to-speak, we serve as a directory for select photographers. Underneath (like a duck), we’re paddling like mad to promote our photographers every way we can think of.

            All of our promotions feature our individual photographers. We promote them using emailers, print mailers, magazine ads, web ads, individual emails, individual phone calls, client meetings, publicity and our blog.

            We send out emailers once a month to a list of about 30k art buyers. The unsubscribe button at the bottom of the emailers makes it easy to unsubscribe.

            We have a very talented and eclectic mix of photographers, and we’ve been able to attract better and better photographers over time. I aspire to some day be the worst one in the bunch.

            Lots of our photographers employ reps as well as us in order to optimize their marketing reach. Here’s a list of reps whose photographers also use us: Adrenalin Management, Andrea Hutchins, Aurora Select, Braren Artist Management, Bernstein & Andriulli, Blasco Creative, Claque Reps, Claudine Steffen, Contrasto, Cynthia Held, D agency, Deddens + Deddens, D-tales, Design House Reps, Faucher Artists, Green House, Happy Artists, Hilton Media Group, Horton Stephens, International Rescue, Invision Images, IS Production, JH Artist Group, Kane Larin, Lenlee Jenckes, Look, L2 Agency, Mark Gibson, Match Photographers, Hennessy Represents, Melody George & Associates, Michael Ginsburg & Associates, Mitey Big, PhotoAgent, PhotoBy Solutions, Photographers & Artists, Randal Walker Management, Randy Cole Represents, Rex Agency, RPresenter, Schumann & Company, Servicepool fur Creative Organisation, Shape Shifters, Stone Camera Management, Tom Maloney Reps, Wolf & Company, zero2sixty|creative.

            Clients can search by location or specialty. We like to limit the number in each location to 25 and we limit the number in each specialty to 50. Part of what clients tell us they like about our site is our edit.

            We currently have 440 photographers on the site. Most of our growth from here will be overseas. We’re adding 2-3 photographers a week, and we’ll probably eventually plateau around 700 total. My target number is mostly driven by what I think clients will find useful. The value for the photographer is a function of the cost vs. the return. My job is to find a balance between the number of photographers, the cost per photographer and the extent of the promotions we can do for that price.

            Wonderful Machine won’t be the right match for every photographer. And some of our photographers will get more value from us than others. Not everyone in the industry will appreciate who we are or what we do and say. We are simply motivated to serve the interests of our photographers and we’ll continue to do that as best we can.

            You can see everything we’ve ever published at this link: If anyone wants to offer any comments, concerns, criticisms or suggestions, I’m always reachable at or (610)260-0200.

      • @A Photo Editor, last year I sent you via email info about a campaign I shot, but you considered it was not a match in terms of type of work.etc, as to add it to that old thread. However, I just finished the campaign I shot, and will be happy to email you the estimate or the invoice.


  6. first : thanks jess for writing this up and sharing with us.

    second : i’d love to hear some responses from jess about the issues that people are bringing up in the comments. i too thought the entire quote was a bit low, but would love to hear jess’ thoughts. it could have been a special circumstance, a family friend, this was the 3rd job where the other 2 were quoted accurately but they needed a ‘favor’ for this one, etc.


  7. Also a glaring omission, travel days for the photographer and pre/post production for the photographer. Am I to assume this is included in the already low fee? At the very least, I would expect to include 2 days at 1000/day for travel/pre/post production.

  8. matthew pace

    So how does Wm work? Do they rep photographers or are they hired to quote on jobs by photographers? Also would love to see the results from some of the shoots WM quotes on… a few images..Show us what we’re talking about as I find this educational.

  9. Helpful addition to this discussion:
    [I’m imagining hopefully here…]
    “These numbers seem low. Because, for a very similar project, here are the job specs we got from the client, our estimate with real numbers, AND we got the job…”

    Not so helpful:
    [Actual quote from a post above…]
    “The numbers, one more time, are dramatically low, and tons of money were being left at the table….”


    C’mon, let’s talk nuts and bolts.

    Rob’s blog gives us a wonderful street corner on which to toss ideas back and forth about what’s happening out there in the real world. Jess’s post is a great start to a needed conversation about pricing – an area variously regarded as rote menu-gazing (FQ, Getty), magic voodoo, and state secret.

    I’d challenge all of us to weigh in with our own real-world examples of actual jobs we’ve completed and the price we received so we can get a sense of the temperature out there.

    Jess got the conversation started. Let’s keep it going. His format of presenting redacted estimate/proposal forms seems like the right way to do it.