By Craig Oppenheimer, Wonderful Machine Producer

I was contacted recently by an East Coast photographer to help quote on a project for a well-known clothing retailer. The retailer’s mid-sized ad agency had approached the photographer and shared layouts for a catalog promoting the following season’s clothing line. The catalog would feature a combination of fashion portraits and still life pictures on seamless backgrounds. Our photographer, a still life specialist, was asked to just quote on the still life portion of the project which consisted of 23 pictures. The comps showed shirts, pants, shoes and accessories shot from above, on a flat surface, arranged as an outfit. Along with the layouts, the agency provided a detailed shot list specifying 3 days of shooting at a local studio.

A few days later, the photographer and I dialed into a creative call with the agency to learn more about the project. As with all creative calls, this was a great opportunity for the photographer to show his enthusiasm for the assignment, share creative ideas and convey confidence to the agency. During the conversation, we learned that the catalog was part of a much larger rebranding effort for their client that would help the brand reach a younger demographic. This was our first hint that the project may be a larger production than your typical studio catalog shoot.

Here’s what we discussed on the creative call:

  • We talked about the possibility of shooting variations where the clothes were stacked or organized more abstractly rather than the paper-doll way shown in the comp. We spent a lot of time talking about the look of the pictures. Clearly the styling was very important to the client.
  • The licensing needed to include use of 23 images in the fall catalog and on the company’s website for a period of 3 months.
  • The agency wanted us to deliver the raw files from the shoot – organized, renamed and tweaked. Their in-house retoucher would finish them off.
  • We would plan on a pre-light day so that we could hit the ground running on the first shoot day.
  • Our wardrobe stylist would need to attend a “fit-day” to review the clothing with the client and agency. The stylist would also need a prep day to make any necessary alterations prior to the shoot.
  • The client would provide all of the clothing and accessories but we might need to provide some minor props.
  • They couldn’t tell us how big the press run would be but given the client, we knew it would be huge (>1m)

With this information, I could start to put together some numbers. For a typical national catalog shoot, we normally quote $4,000-$6,000 a day for the creative fee including licensing. Catalog use is certainly advertising use (which might otherwise command a higher fee), but unlike other advertising that might show up in magazines or on billboards, catalog use is normally limited to the actual printed piece.  And because of the nature of fashion, the images tend to have very short life spans and tend to require a lot of shoot days (both factors providing some downward pressure on the day rate). Some catalog work is so much about volume and so little about skill that rates can be as low as 1000.00 per day. In those cases, the work is usually done directly for the client (rather than through an ad agency)—and often using the client’s studio and equipment.

In the mean time, we got another call from the agency explaining that they would like us to quote on broader licensing. In addition to the catalog use, they needed 3 months of paid advertising use and print collateral use. A few hours after that, I received another email saying that they now were planning on a 2-day shoot with licensing for just 12 images and they’d like to make it happen for under $100k.

I checked to see what our pricing guides suggested:

Blinkbid: For catalog, web use and print advertising Blinkbid quoted $11,550-$16,500 per image per year or (arguably) $2,887-$4,125 for 3 months. So in the neighborhood $30k for 12 images (factoring in a bit of a quantity discount).

FotoQuote: Their advertising and marketing pack for 3 months suggested a range of 13,728 and 27,456 for one image.

Getty Images: Using their Flexible Licensing, an Advertising Pack of print, outdoor and web for three months in the U.S. would be $12k per image.

Given such a short licensing duration (3 months), I think it’s unlikely that the agency is going to make ads out of all 12 of those photos. So considering all that (not to mention the budget suggested by the client), I decided to price the first two images at 5,500 each and the remaining 10 at 2,000 each, which brought us to a total photography fee of $31,000.

We included the rates for an assistant and a digital tech for both shoot days as well as the pre-light day, and included a second assistant for just the shoot days. The photographer had a producer that he worked with regularly, and at his suggestion, we budgeted 7 days to account for his time to hire the crew, attend the shoot and manage all the post-shoot paperwork. (This seemed a little fat to me given the project.) I also included (at the request of the producer) a production assistant (also a little excessive). I budgeted 1200.00 for the photographer for the pre-light day (which in retrospect, might be a little thin.)

The stylist was just as important to the agency as the photographer, so we included rates for a seasoned soft goods stylist who would also be shopping for the supplemental props. The quote we received from the stylist broke out separate fees for their shoot days and prep days, and we included them as separate lines in the estimate. The stylist would be bringing their assistant and a tailor/seamstress to alter the clothing. We budgeted 4 prep days for the stylist – 2 to get props and 2 in the studio to prepare the clothes, make any necessary alterations, and set up at least the first couple of shots. The stylist assistant would handle the returns.

While the props were originally supposed to be minimal, the agency ended up sending over a few sample images of nice travel accessories and other items that they wanted to have on hand. For those props, we budgeted 2000.00. We included costs for seamless paper and foam core for the stylists to lay out the clothing on and pin it to if needed.

We would need the studio for the two shoot days, a pre-light day, and the additional wardrobe stylist prep day. The photographer also specified 5000.00/day for equipment rental. That might sound like a lot at first glance, but it would allow us to run 2 sets at a time so the stylists could be setting up one shot while we were shooting another.

I tend to include a nominal amount of crew overtime charges as a matter of course to avoid any surprises later. It also gives us some wiggle room in the budget in case other unexpected costs arise.

We also included a post-production day for the photographer to organize and do final tweaks, then deliver the raw files on a hard drive. (The ad agency would be handling the retouching themselves.)

I chose to add a line-item for insurance. It’s customary on motion picture projects and increasingly on bigger still projects to add 1-2% to cover the cost of equipment insurance, liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance.

I budgeted 1250.00 for mileage, parking, messengers, etc. for all the little things that add up when running around town looking for props, picking up equipment, etc.

I always put “plus applicable sales tax.” That covers me in all cases and it doesn’t unnecessarily inflate my bottom line when we do have to charge it. I always spell out items that the client is going to provide (I forgot to mention that the client was going to do the retouching). And we normally expect to get at least half of the production expenses up front.

The whole project came in at $92k.

You can view the estimate here:

I heard a few days later that the client chose another photographer. But I wasn’t able to get any more information than that.

If you have any questions, or if you need help estimating or producing one of your projects, contact Wonderful Machine.

Recommended Posts


  1. Probably was rejected because of the 10k for the producer and the PA. What exactly would they be doing on a still life studio shoot that the stylist, photographer, and their people weren’t already doing? Should have followed your instinct.

  2. What a well written recount of a bid. I have been doing this for a lot of years and I learned from this. Very well done! It was also nice to see where you get your reference for usage fees. I usually lean on my experience with usage and budgets, what the photographer expects, and then what info the client gives me. So to also have these three sites to refer to is new info to me. I have not seen these articles give specific prices so I know we all appreciate that. I learned from your usage breakdown of ads being a different price for the first two images. What a great idea. We can be so creative with bids, and your detailed process reminds me how to open my mind for each unique one. For me bidding is fun, and what you wrote out here was so well done even for someone not new at this.

  3. @MGPeach – A Producer, (Wonderful Machine) in this case, is an integral part of any “large” Production. In most cases – the Producer doesn’t attend the actual Photo Shoot because they are too busy planning and “producing” the photographers next – large Production. Any REAL photography studio has a full time Producer or at least one on speed dial. I gotta say – I expect that comment from an under-experienced client – “I’ll be your assistant … I can carry your gear,” but from a practicing photographer? Please – don’t spread or believe that Stereotype. Photographer, Assistant, Digital Tech, H&MU, the list goes on …. and each one is so important to any successful – Production. Sorry to preach – but it’s gotta be said.

  4. This is great! Really useful breakdown and like Andrea said, really interesting to see the 2 vs. 10 image licensing fees. Thanks especially for the train of thought behind the numbers, much appreciated.

  5. Must feel pretty shitty to “share” a bunch of creative ideas with the client…and still not get the job. I’m sure the client respected the creator and took none of them to the cheapest guy.

    • Giving a treatment is part and parcel of any high dollar work. Better to do that than be a button pushing guy with a camera.

  6. I think I might know who the retailer was. I was approached by a company representing a “high-end” retailer from the east cost for an effort to re-brand etc. They were looking for me to handle/produce many big volume books and deliver entire thing including creative direction and retouching of images. We are a small agency and could not have delivered what they needed. I suggested we would outsource retouching and handle creative and photography (hiring) but they wanted one production company to handle all of the work flow. I hope to approach them sometime in the future.

  7. I usually only lurk but had to say something. This is so far out of any catalog budget I have ever heard of I can hardly believe you didn’t get laughed off the phone on the spot. We’ve done catalogs for years and know lots of shooters who do the same. That and us are not hacks requiring little or no talent to do the job and I know West Coast prices maybe be lower than NYC but if you all can get usage like your talking just for catalog, I say more power to you.

    Perhaps you have such a unique and and amazing vision you feel you can pull this off but I have to believe for catalog still-life you shot for the moon and fell to earth.

    • Agreed. Way too much for a still life catalog shoot. There weren’t even any models. Over the years, putting together budgets, I have never encountered anything remotely close to 91K for a catalog shoot. (Our average on my last job was $15,000/day on location.) And it looks like in the end it was only 12 shots. I think the larger national retailers in our area (west coast) are paying around $2000-$3000/day for about 6-8 shots a day on location and that includes all usage. Even with the agency, I wouldn’t be able to justify $5000/day for still life catalog.
      Also, I would have probably negotiated the ad usage separately. Grant them the usage for catalog and then let them know what the cost per image is for advertising. If we generalize too much, then no one can take our rates seriously. I think the fact that you got 3 different usages from 3 different sources, may be the beginning of the problem with usage fees. There’s no authority. Everyone’s just trying to get the highest average fee and when that doesn’t work, then the bargaining begins.

      • this was covered in the post “Some catalog work is so much about volume and so little about skill that rates can be as low as 1000.00 “

        • I was not referring to a ‘high volume’ catalog work. Not at 6-8 shots a day. And we only hired highly skilled, well established photographers.

          • All levels of rates exist. Some people demand a higher rate and get it or pass on the shoot. I’ve seen it happen many times. There’s no reason to believe it was awarded to a lower rate if the budget is 100k.

  8. Here in Italy you can be happy if a client accepts a budget 1/10 of that

  9. In South Africa $2.5 K if you were incredibly lucky , but our costing is driving a lot of good photographers into other businesses , anybody wanting to buy a house in Durban , South Africa please call :-)
    That said with some levity of course , your costing methods are fantastic and it is great if you guys can get fees anywhere close.

  10. In addition to really crappy money as above we have to give up all rights to our images , i see my food photos appearing month after month year after year in Southern Africa , on posters , in store, in pamphlets , online and on calenders all for a once off payment of just over $1000 per day .
    So a warning to all of you professionals over there , keep up your costing methods and charging for usage otherwise you will end up where we are today , doing 2 jobs.

  11. Thanks for posting this great breakdown and write up of the thoughts and strategy involved in this estimate. The client wrote they wanted to do the job for under 100K, so I guess they set the bar at a specific level based on their expectations/extravagance. Personally, I believe what should be a simple straightforward shoot became overly complicated. The client provides the clothes, stylist helps prepare, arrange, and pack clothes for return, and photographer uses similar lighting for all shots. One digital tech/retouch (3 days), one assistant. One prep day, two shoot days, one wrap day. — of course I’m writing this based on superficial assumptions. I think this job could be done with deluxe treatment for under 30K. My two cents, I think the photographer could produce this job (schedule permitting) as it doesn’t appear very involved.

    • I read the notes that say volume/$1000 and the client expectations etc. But I would still argue that our job is to educate clients about what jobs should cost. Though normally that means, “It really should be more.” Sometimes with young AD’s and art buyers, used to doing advertising or even on figure work, it would behoove one to talk about what is the norm for certain types of work. Charging additional usage for still life catalog work is is no way ever the norm for catalog work no matter how one parses it. I would argue that someone got back to their client with that 100K budget for 23 catalog still life images (or the client talked to their boss) and after that person dropped his or her coffee cup they sputtered to their agency something like-“I’ve never paid that much for a catalog still life shoot, nor even when Irving Penn did it.” ;-)

  12. @Don Cudney, not every shoot requiers a producer. I sure as hell know I’m a REAL photographer and I have done plenty of 5 figure shoots with AND without producers. It really depends on the scope of the production. If I had my druthers and every client had the budget, I would have a producer on every shoot. It makes my life much simpler, but we know not every client has the budget. So, we adapt and improvise wherever we can.

    Im not sure why there is talk about this being over quoted. The client provided a budget of 100K so I think they had a certain level of production in mind. Sounds to me like the estimate was written accordingly. I would agree about the producer. Might have been more than needed, but I havent all the facts.

    As for the different pricing from Photoquote, Blinkbid and Getty, I’m not sure why there was the gulf in pricing between BB and PQ, because BB uses PQ. Getty is a great resource, but I also know first hand that if an art buyer gets X pricing from the Getty Site (RM of course) that they can then get on the phone with a Getty sales person and talk them down substantially. Getty haggles.

  13. To everyone saying this job was overpriced, I don’t think most of you understand usage or what type of Catalog this was going to be. This obviously was more of a Neiman Marcus or Nordstrom type catalog, that is a high-end advertisement for the company as opposed to a “mailer” type catalog that is shot weekly for Dept. stores like Dillard’s. If the client was asking to stay under 100K, then they knew this was going to cost them. Everyone charges differently, I may have come in a little bit lower that this, but based on what the client asked for, I believe this estimate was in line with what it should have been.

  14. A budget is often a hint about the expected production level and the value that the images may bring to the client. As we were able to obtain more information with each correspondence with the art buyer, we began to realize that this was not a typical catalog shoot. In fact, it became apparent that this was part of a much larger campaign, and the value of the images would be much greater than the results of a typical catalog shoot. This is what drove the price up.

  15. Those are well paid assistants. Where was this work taking place?

  16. Cracks me up all the BS people making comments about how they have done $15k/day jobs and 5 figure jobs yet when I look at their websites I just don’t believe it at all!

    • Try adding to the conversation rather than making one of those safe and easy internet insults that so often creep into comment sections. Where’s your website, Jason?

  17. Where I am in Sweatshop South East Asia, it’d be a laugh to get even $1200 for what you just described. And that includes the wardrobe stylist.

    It is ridiculous. I should get into some other businesses.

Comments are closed for this article!