top of page
  • Katelin Kinney

3 Reasons Why Commercial Photography Is So Expensive:

If you've ever wondered why most commercial photography estimates are so insanely expensive you're not alone. I used to wonder that as well. Until I realized how not insane those prices actually are. If you're a photographer just starting to learn about charging for usage rights or if you're a business who needs commercial photography and don't understand why the pricing is 10, 20, or even 50x more expensive than your typical family portrait session, I'm going to break it down for you in the shortest, clearest way possible.

1. Commercial Photography Generates Income

As a business, if you purchase commercial photography it really doesn't cost you money- it actually makes you money. There is a cost to purchasing it up front, yes, but the main difference between the beautiful photos of your family that you bought and a commercial photo that you will use to advertise your product or service is that your family portraits don't generate further income. Commercial photography does. I create a photo of a product. That photo is then used on packaging. That packaging and the eye catching image continue to work towards generating further income. That adds value to those photos.

Hanni weighted razor image used for packaging for online sale and in store Sephora sales

2. You're Renting The Photographer's Images

U.S. copyright law states that when you pay a photographer for their time to create images, even images that you had creative direction over, the images are the legal property of the photographer who created them. That means you have to get permission to use the property of that photographer. This is where usage right fees, also referred to as license fees, come in. You have paid the photographer for their hourly time in creating these images and now it's time for you to pay them to essentially rent those photos. The price for those fees depends on where and how you'll use the photos, for how long, and if you want to be the only one allowed to use those photos. Each of those factors drastically affect the value of the rental price for the photographer's images - and it will still be a tiny fraction of what the generated income will be from using those photos. TIP: FotoQuote is an excellent software program that accumulates prices from all over the globe to give industry standard price ranges for various usage terms.

Flo nasal allergen therapy image used for initial brand launch


CODB or cost of doing business. Here is a small list of costs that commercial photographers must factor in to their day rate/creative fee which makes it appear as though they're getting the salary of a millionaire, when in reality they're just covering the cost of running their business. • Insurance (for both the equipment and liability) • Studio (many photographers will either own or rent studio space) • Equipment (take a look online and you'll see how expensive our technical equipment is)

• Retouching (may be included as a separate line item)

• Individual Value (how common is the skill required for this shoot? If it's rare their value increases) • Marketing (photographers must budget in their own self-marketing costs) • Pre-Production (all the hours spent communicating with the client leading up to the shoot) • Post-Production (all the hours spent wrapping up a project and sending invoices/receipts)

Not included in the photographer's own day rate would be the cost of other elements of the shoot which would be separate line items on the estimate. Those vary drastically depending on how large or small the production is and they could include: • Location fees and property releases • Producer • Production Coordinator and/or Assistant • Photo Assistant(s) • Prop/Set/Wardrobe Stylists • Hair and Makeup Artist • Digital Tech • Talent (Models)

• Props

And that is a relatively small list. Productions/shoots can be just the photographer and the client or it can consist of 30+ people for complex projects. You can see how an estimate can quickly go upwards of $50k-$200k easily in order to pay for all of the staff, license fees, and costs of doing business. Quality photography is not cheap.

O.H. Ingram Distilling image used for social media posts

Above: 1/2 day rate for 4 models, food & location props, full day rate for photographer, full day rate for photography assistant, usage fees for exclusivity in perpetuity, equipment fee, insurance for liability of talent and crew.

In short commercial photography is very different from wedding/portrait photography in terms of pricing and financial value. That can initially be confusing to most people before they start to understand all the elements that factor in to bringing value to those images. So, photographers who are just starting out: Be sure to price your work ethically, not only to keep integrity in our industry, but also because your clients rely on you to understand the legalities of copyright and usage so that they aren't opened up to lawsuits. Know your business. Know the law. Know what releases you need to have signed, what fees you need to pay, and help your clients understand the value and costs of creating commercial photography. And for the businesses: Understand that we aren't trying to take advantage of you or charge arbitrarily high prices to try and get rich. We have a business to run just like you, and we need to factor in those costs just like you. We also have the legal responsibility to rent to you - not give you - the images we create. We're keeping your best interests and our best interests at heart when spending time creating estimates! We honestly want to work as a team with you to help you generate more income and better sales.


bottom of page