How To Price Your Photographs

There Is No Easy Answer on the Price of a Photo

Woman photographing a beach with i-phone
Buena Vista Images/Digital Vision/Getty Images

How much do I charge for my photos? What are the common pricing practices for photography? These are very common questions for new photographers (and some experienced ones).

In photography, there is no "fixed" valuation, that is there is not a one-size-fits-all price. Photographers are generally in a perpetual state of anxiety that they are undercharging or overcharging for their work.

In reality, there is only one correct price -- the meeting point between what the customer is willing to pay and what you are willing to accept for your work.

This number will vary greatly from photo to photo and from situation to situation. Sometimes these two numbers will never meet. Nor should you worry that you undercharged if the buyer eagerly accepts your price.

That being said, there are some ways to help you find the "normal" pricing for a specific situation.

"Photographer's Market"

"Photographer's Market" is a book published each year with many listings of book, magazine, and other publishers. Each listing includes what types of photos they use, the approximate price range they pay, and what rights they purchase.

Even if you are not pricing photos for a company listed in "Photographer's Market", you can use it to look up similar companies to get a general idea of price range.

Buy "Photographer's Market" at Amazon.com

Free Online Pricing Guides

While it may be tempting to do a quick search for "photo pricing" on the Internet and use a free pricing program, there are drawbacks to this approach.

Most of these online systems are designed for "high-end" applications and do not take into account regional price fluctuations, current competition from online stock photography sites, or rights purchased. As a result, the prices tend to be greatly overinflated and not inline with the reality of the photography market.

FotoQuote

If there is an "industry standard" pricing program, it is FotoQuote. FotoQuote takes an incredibly detailed approach to the variables involved in a real-world pricing situation.

One of the items that you may find especially useful is the magazine ad pricing data. For example, if a magazine offers you $100 for use of a full-page color photo but the ad pricing data shows they charge their customer $10,000 for a full-page color advertisement, you now have information to use in negotiations.

FotoQuote also has good information on licensing term definitions for beginners. While the program is not inexpensive, there is a free demo available that will give you a taste of how the program works.

Visit FotoQuote's website

Factors to Consider When Pricing Photography

Now that you know where to look (and not look) for pricing information, you need to know what factors can modify your pricing situation.

These factors affect the sale of a photograph for use in advertising, on websites, and other commercial usages.

They do not play a role in the sale of photographic artwork, portrait photography, or work-for-hire commercial photography. All of those have entirely different pricing structures and considerations to take into account, not least of which is your local market.

Licensing the "rights" for the use of a photograph. What rights the buyer wants to purchase is the biggest determining factor in pricing your photographs.

You might sell the license for the one-time use of a photo on a local billboard for a few hundred dollars. Yet, you would require significantly more money if the purchaser wanted to buy all of the rights (basically, the copyright) from you. 

The reason behind the price difference is that photographers make a living off of their photography licensing by selling usage of the same photo many times. For example:

  • A magazine might purchase the right to publish a photo first in the United States.
  • Another magazine purchases the rights to print the same photo in a book in Europe.
  • An advertising company purchases the right to use the photo as part of an advertising campaign.

If a company wishes to buy all rights for a photo the cost is higher because you will not be able to "resell" the photo. Take the time to research what different licensing terms mean so you know what you are selling regarding your photos.

The buyer plays a significant role in the price. Many times your first purchase request will be a local group asking to use a photo in a very minor way. A chamber of commerce could ask to use a photo in a local calendar or a local author could want to use a photo in a self-published book. In situations like these, the buyer generally has a tiny sum in mind for the use of the photo.

Conversely, a large magazine will plan on spending more for the same rights. Also, non-profit groups and charities tend to believe that they should pay less for purchases. Whether you agree or not is up to you.

Whatever the case, remember to behave in a professional manner even when your first instinct is that an extremely low offer is insulting. Negotiation will determine whether or not the buyer's final offer and your final offer match up and you can make the sale. You always have the right to say no if you're uncomfortable with the terms.

The final factor in determining the price of your photographs and licensing is you. If you are a hobbyist and someone offers you $25 for the use of a photo and you are happy with that, then take it. If you are trying to make a living with your photography, you probably won't be able to take such small sums unless the rights or the buyer meet specific criteria and you're feeling charitable.

Only a few photographers are paid the way you probably imagine. Every one of them put in their time working for lower sums before they reached the "big leagues."

Digital Photography Changed Everything

It is also important to realize how digital photography has changed the photography market as a whole. Many photographers have felt the effects of a new society in which the masses have the ability to make a decent photograph. This is because cameras do so much of the work and you do not need to spend big money on higher megapixels (even though 'quality' goes beyond the size of a camera's sensor). 

The reality is that there are thousands of more photographs available today than there ever has been. In many cases, this has brought the value of photography down. Many pros are not getting the same rates that they did in the days of film and many have had to make adjustments to their pricing structures and strategies to stay competitive.