by Craig Oppenheimer Wonderful Machine

Concept: Still life and lifestyle images featuring beverages and products

Licensing: Collateral use of up to 10 images per shoot

Photographer: Still life and portraiture specialist

Client: Beverage company

Here is the estimate:


A photographer came to me looking for help with developing a retainer agreement for a beverage company. The photographer had a previous working relationship with this brand, and they required a consistent stream of content for use on their social media channels. Additionally, the company operated multiple brands, and they had the same need for each brand. Each shoot would be similar and would involve a mix of still life images of the beverages, and possibly lifestyle images of people enjoying or interacting with the products as well. The location for each shoot would be provided by the client, and having done this multiple times, the photographer had a good sense of the limited production footprint the client wanted, and a rough sense of what they might be comfortable paying upfront as a retainer.

Pros and Cons of Negotiating A Retainer

Negotiating a retainer agreement can be a bit tricky, but there can be major benefits for both the photographer and the client. For a photographer, the benefit of a retainer is that a client is willing to commit to a large amount of money and multiple shoots upfront. For a client, a retainer allows them to offload finances in one lump sum, rather than having to pay for each individual assignment, and this often alleviates accounting headaches.

However, retainers do sometimes come with downsides. A photographer will need to be able to keep track of how a retainer is being applied, and will ideally be ready to present these numbers to a client when asked. Also, sometimes clients feel that after a retainer is paid, they can control the photographer’s calendar, and that can sometimes become problematic if a photographer has other clients they would like to shoot for as well. A retainer also typically works best if each shoot that is to take place is more or less the same in terms of creative direction, deliverables, and usage. A retainer can be a win/win if the right set of circumstances present themselves, as they did in this case.

Building A Retainer Agreement

The first step was to determine how much to charge for photography fees and expenses and outline the needs of the project. Based on pricing for previous projects, we knew the client was willing to spend about $5,000 for a shoot, inclusive of a $1,500 fee for the photographer, plus expenses. They also anticipated walking away with 10 images to use for collateral purposes (mainly social media). Based on that, and knowing they hoped to do one shoot a month for a year, we came up with a retainer fee of $60,000 ($5,000 x 12 shoots). Below is a breakdown of the expenses we detailed in the agreement.

  • Photographer Fees: We noted that the photographer’s creative/licensing fee would be $1,500/day and include collateral use of 10 images in perpetuity. If a pre-pro day was needed, that would be $500/day.
  • Crew: Most of the projects would just require one assistant, but I listed the fees per day for both a first assistant and a digital tech. I considered adding a producer line item and additional assistants/crew if the projects ever expanded to include talent and a higher production level, but ultimately based the crew list on what was included on previous projects. Additionally, if more crew became necessary with increased project scope, the photographer would still have an opportunity to estimate each project ahead of time and add those elements in at that point.
  • Post Production: We noted that retouching would be $50 per hour, but purposefully didn’t list a total amount of time, with the intention of that it would be quoted with each job.
  • Casting and Talent: Since this could vary wildly, we noted that this was TBD and would be based on the creative direction for each shoot.
  • Equipment: We anticipated $500 per day would cover basic equipment, and the photographer would plan to bring their own gear. If more elaborate lighting setups were needed, that could be quoted on each estimate ahead of time.
  • Styling: We noted appropriate stylist rates for this particular market and noted wardrobe and props would be based on the creative needs of each shoot.
  • Miscellaneous: We simply note that there could be items such as mileage, parking, and meals and that those would be TBD until a specific project scope came to light.

The Fine Print

To ensure the pricing accounted for actual costs, we noted that the expenses were not firm costs and that for each shoot the photographer would create an estimate showing the exact expenses based on the creative needs and each project scope. We also included a clause that stated that after each production, the photographer would provide an invoice that showed how much was being deducted from the $60,000 retainer and clearly show the balance remaining. The agreement states that if the fees and expenses go over the retainer amount, it would be brought to their attention throughout this process and that those funds would be billed on top of this retainer.


The photographer shared the estimate with the client and they agreed to the retainer fee.

Need help estimating or producing a project? Please reach out. We’re available to help with any and all pricing and negotiating needs, from small stock sales to large ad campaigns.

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