Real World Estimates – Corporate Portraits

By Jess Dudley, Wonderful Machine Producer

Corporations tend to use photography in two main ways: to illustrate their internal communications (like company newsletters whose audience is primarily employees) and in external communications (like annual reports, capabilities brochures, sales brochures and press kits whose audience is shareholders, clients, vendors or the general public). Before the advent of digital photography and desktop publishing, most big corporations had a steady need for professional photography and design for their internal communications. But advances in technology have made it easier for ordinary employees to do what they once hired professionals to do. And though the level of quality may not be the same, it is often considered good enough. That’s rarely the case for external communications which can often have a significant impact on the perception of the company, and ultimately their bottom line.

The following is an explanation of a simple portrait assignment for a Fortune 500 company, primarily for annual report use.

Our photographer first met the corporate communications director of the company when he was there on a magazine shoot. When the company replaced a member of their board of directors, they needed a new portrait to match the existing ones of the other board members. Our photographer was asked to bid on the job.

The client needed a waist-up portrait of one person on a white background. The picture had to match the others that they had shot previously using another photographer. They even had the background paper on hand. The client showed us examples of the other portraits they had done, which we were supposed to match. It’s sometimes awkward when a client asks a photographer to replicate another photographer’s work. Certainly, if there’s anything unique about the picture you’re copying, it would be a good idea to consider whether the client is asking you to infringe upon someone else’s copyright. In this case, the situation and the lighting were generic enough that there was no danger of that.

They needed the picture for a year, for a variety of non-advertising uses, including their annual report, related documents like their proxy statement, their website, and for press kits.

This client was sophisticated enough to understand how licensing factors into the estimate. Some smaller clients may not get why a photographer would want to know or care about how their pictures will be used. It’s very important for photographers to comprehend the licensing model of pricing well enough to explain it to clients in a way that makes sense and is not off-putting. When this conversation comes up for me, I explain that we need to grant a license in order for them to use the photographs. Sometimes I’ll explain further that a more narrow license tends to put downward pressure on the price and a broader licensing agreement adds upward pressure on the price. Once a client understands how licensing affects the cost, they tend to be more specific about their intended use. But it’s crucial for photographers to learn how to have these conversations.

Sometimes a client will know exactly how they want to use the photographs, and I can just put that language in the quote verbatim. However, in many cases, the client won’t be able to anticipate all the possible uses of the photographs, and they’ll want to license a range of uses. Though it makes it a little harder to nail down the value in those cases, it’s a perfectly reasonable thing for a client to ask.

I like to divide up the usage “universe” using simple terms that help the client get the flexibility they want without paying for usage they don’t need (or without unnecessarily driving up the price). For most commercial photography, usage can fit into the following categories: publicity, collateral and advertising. I define advertising as any time a client pays for placement to display a photograph. I call it collateral when a photograph is used in a publication that the client produces themselves. And publicity is when the client gives the pictures to an editorial publication (and is not paying for that use). Defining these types of usage makes it easy to grant a whole category of use for a specified time period, which provides a useful middle ground between one-time use and unlimited use. (See exact definitions below in the Terms & Conditions page.)

Fee

For this quote, the licensing was pretty clear. The client needed collateral and publicity use for one year. I tend to list the specific uses they ask for as well, to assure them that they’re included. By the way, you want to be careful not to think of “web” as a use, but rather a medium. After all, depending on the context of the use (and whose website it’s used on), it could be advertising, collateral or publicity. One way you can clarify this is to indicate the actual website that you’re granting use on.

My usual wording in the first line of an estimate indicates who the photographer is, what the picture entails, where the shoot is going to take place, how many shoot days are included and exactly what the licensing allows. Even in cases where I don’t have all the details, I’ll want to fill in my best guess of what they’re likely to be. When new information comes along, we can always update the estimate. But the estimate has to be as complete as possible. Since this is a simple job, I can describe the whole project within the estimate itself. More complex projects may require the photographer to summarize it in the estimate and then explain in more detail in a cover letter, how he’ll solve the problems presented by the shoot. Remember that the estimating process isn’t simply about presenting an appropriate price. It’s also your opportunity to convince the client that you’re interested in the project, you understand it, and you can handle it.

I’ve found that a typical annual report shoot day goes for between 1500.00 − 3500.00 depending on how sought-after the photographer is, how busy the photographer is, how big the corporation is, how difficult the pictures are, how long the days are. For this one, the photographer was a “medium”. The corporation was large. The degree of difficulty was very low. And the day was short. To me that pointed to the lower end of the scale, but I bumped it up to 2000.00 to factor in the broad usage requirements.

Even though the client was unlikely to license more than one picture, I generally like to specify the cost for additional images in the original quote to minimize awkward negotiations later. Normally my additional image fee is prorated from the shoot fee, but in this case since any additional image would be the same subject against the same white background in the same clothes, I felt a reduced fee of 1000.00/additional image was appropriate. Had the images been environmental portraits, wherein the photographer could have created two very different images, I probably would have prorated the addition images.

Expenses

The expenses on this shoot were pretty simple.

“One assistant” to help set up and stand in for the subject.

“Digital captures delivered by web gallery for editing.” For editorial and corporate projects, we typically charge for a web gallery, then we charge separately for each file prep and for retouching. That way, we can scale the cost to the needs of the client. It protects the client from paying for processing they don’t need. And it compensates the photographer for time spent processing images. You could lump the web gallery fee into the creative fee, but since it’s actual time spent outside of the actual shoot time, I think it’s important to recognize it in the estimate. With advertising jobs, instead of charging for the web gallery per se, I charge for a digital tech who would be doing that work. And instead of charging for file preps, I simply lump the basic file preparation in with the retouching. (After all, there is no advertising photograph that doesn’t get at least a small amount of retouching.) I didn’t quote retouching because I figured that the basic file clean-up that we include in the file prep charge would suffice. The Terms & Conditions says that if the client requests additional retouching that it’s 150.00/hour.

“Miles, parking, tolls.” I charge $.50/mile for car travel, plus actual parking and tolls. On short days like this, I generally don’t charge for meals (though I do pay for my assistant’s meals regardless.) I usually only put in for meals on corporate or editorial jobs when they’re full days, and usually not when we’re going to the client’s headquarters. I hate to give the impression that I’m nickel-and-diming them.

“Seamless paper and groomer to be provided by client.” Any time the client opts out of any normal item, I like to say that in the estimate. That way there’s no confusion later when the subject’s hair doesn’t look great. In this case, the subject was a woman. But the client assured me that she would arrive camera-ready. So no hair & make-up artist. (It doesn’t hurt to bring a comb, mirror, powder and sponges.) Even though the client said they had seamless paper, I brought an extra roll just in case.

There are times when I’ll add a line item for equipment, and other times when I won’t. I do for just about any advertising shoot, and for medium to large corporate shoots. But for the smaller corporate shoots, I tend to bundle it into the creative fee. I don’t have a rule of thumb for editorial clients. I consider it on a case-by-case basis.

They did not require a certificate of insurance to shoot in their offices, so we didn’t provide one.

Sales tax varies from state to state. In some states, if you’re billing the end user, they have to pay sales tax on photography unless they are exempt for some reason (like if they’re a publication or a non-profit). Also, if your client is going to be passing along your charges (like in the case of an ad agency or graphic design firm), they will also be exempt. Either way, I find it’s best on estimates to say, “plus applicable sales tax.” That way, I’m covered and it doesn’t artificially inflate the bottom line.

These Real World Estimating posts are written by the fine folks at Wonderful Machine. If you have any questions, or if you need help estimating or producing one of your projects, you can reach them at jess@wonderfulmachine.com

There Are 44 Comments On This Article.

  1. Jess states that when you are billing the end user in her state that she charges sales tax. I am curious if other california based photographers are using the same method that I am for assessing wether or not to charge sales tax; if I deliver the files online, and nothing tangible is given to the client like DVD’s or printed proof sheets, then I do not charge sales tax. My accountant says this is legit but the a bit blurry, any takes on this? FYI, I operate like this no matter which state the client is based in.

    • @chris, FWIW…

      I posed this very question at a recent small business sales tax seminar delivered by the Washington State Dept of Revenue. I was told that – here in WA state – digital files (whether delivered online or on a disc) are treated the same as paper prints, albums, etc: they are subject to sales tax.

      To find out if it applies in your state (or whichever state your client is in), I’d recommend contacting the Dept of Revenue; you will likely find a phone# you can call to get the answer. WA state happens to have very good phone support for this sort of thing. Since it is a fairly photography-specific situation, you might not find it addressed in the online FAQs or tax rules posted on the DOR website.

      • @Nelson,

        I contacted my state (TX) tax comptroller and they told me that ftp’d files are not subject to sales tax but it will be if the files are delivered on any physical media. I only called once though and I’m not convinced I’d receive the same answer if I called back.

        • @Shane,

          I can confirm that is not correct. Their own website says that images are a physical taxable item, regardless of storage media.

          Image *licenses* are not taxable however.

  2. Excellent post on a subject that many are afraid to discuss. It’s great to see people putting information out there about the business-side of photography as well.

  3. Jess, thanks for the concise estimating practices. I am curious on the sales tax issue though, It is where my vision gets blury, my impression is that you charge tax on goods (no tax on labor) no matter the medium for customers in your state of operation. Clients in other states are responsible for the declaration and payment of use taxesas applicable. Thoughts?

  4. How did you determine to lump the licensing and creative fee together? Or in a shoot such as this is it better to not refer to a fee as a “creative fee”?

    • @jp,

      Do you think this is a lot of money to a large corporation? For a reliable professional to deliver what they want with as little of their CEO’s time as possible – $2000 is a good deal.

      Think outside your own walls.

  5. And they accepted this bid? For a single portrait to be used for one year? PT Barnum must have been right!

    • @Scott,

      Never feed the trolls, but here I can’t resist.

      This is a higher rate than some markets would bear for a glorified headshot. It’s not a complicated enviro. It’s a guy or gal in front of a white backdrop.

      That being said, this is probably a bid for a large company that stands to make piles of cash on the use of this photo.

      The only thing that seems a little “padded” to me is the $500 gallery fee. I certainly charge clients for web and/or physical delivery, but not $500 for probably 7-10 photos.

      And if they can get $500 for gallery and delivery, more power to them.

  6. Great write up, I really enjoyed reading this. I appreciate the examples of real world fees that it takes so that we can all continue to work in our field. Thanks

  7. Hi Jess

    I am a corporate portrait photographer working in London. I have noticed recently that more clients are getting into the habit of asking for all rights to the images at no extra cost. It seems that in this economic climate it is another way they can demand more from the photographer, whilst decreasing costs to them.

    If you are quoting against other photographers which you often are, then I can see this being the standard in a few years. Grant

    • @Corporate Portraits,

      Interesting point, but I’ve had companies demand all rights or all practical rights since before the economy went bad.

      Companies, especially large corporations, can be quite concerned about how other people are using images of their staff, facilities, etc.

      They want all rights to make sure the photographer doesn’t do something with the photos they paid for that hurts their professional image.

      I generally hold out for rights retention, but how much value does a corporate board headshot have to anyone beyond the company and the board member? It’s not really likely to be licensed or republished.

      Maybe it matters more in principle than in practice.

      • @Will Seberger,

        And board members change. Not to sound cliche, but in today’s fast moving world, an image only has a useful life of a couple of years.

      • @Will Seberger, Don’t confuse exclusivity with licensing. They are independent of each other. Exclusivity governs how the photographer can use the pictures. Licensing governs how the client can use them. Sometimes clients say they want “all rights” because they don’t want the photographer to license the pictures to anyone else. But that can be achieved by granting them exclusive use of the images within the parameters of the licensing agreement.

  8. scott Rex Ely

    Great post.
    ?: Jess, how long do your photographers make the files, either web-gallery for review or long term storage of finals, available to the client?

    • @scott Rex Ely,

      Depends on the photographer, but usually the web gallery and finals stay live on an ftp for 4-6 weeks. And, when the client requests re-uploads of previously delivered galleries or finals, I typically don’t charge for either.

  9. Midwest Art Buyer

    I think this price is somewhat inflated. The Communications Director
    probably didn’t have much experience bidding photographers. If I was paying $2k for a 1/2 day portrait on seamless I would expect Nadav Kandar to show up. Also, $500 for a web gallery and basic color correction on this type of shoot is too much. That work would take less than an hour. Kudos to Jess though for making money for her shooter.

  10. I recently had a long conversation with potential Health Care Client for 10 portraits, all Doctors, (head shots really, all on seamless) in two locations in NYC metro area (the Bronx)
    We were kind of thrown together in a car ride so we had an open spontaneous conversation about pricing.
    She had received a bid of 1,800 which she thought was way to high, it seemed low to me and I explained why.
    We went over usage, scheduling, retouching and travel, covered it all.

    She also claimed she had received a bid of 200$ off of some sort of “You Bid it” site. (along with many various bids), I came right out and told her the dangers of low-balling, then getting bad photos and having to hire someone to re-do the job.
    I explained that she might as well just shoot em with her iphone and save the 200$
    I explained that these images represented her company to the world and while few subject want to admit it, there is a lot of vanity involved even in simple head-shots so retouching was mandatory.

    A week later she called me asking for a bid, I stipulated that she handle all coordination of the Doctors and I would do for $1,300 all in.
    That was 5 weeks ago.
    Guess she went with the iphone…

    • @Wayne,

      I’m curious why you bid $1300 on this when you already thought $1800 was low?

      10 doc headshots in two NYC locations for $130 per head (total)? That’s low (even down here in Texas).

      • John Powell

        @Steven Noreyko,

        Sadly, here in Columbia SC, I”ve been told by clients recently that I’m twice as high for headshots. My estimate was in the $125 per person range. Forget discussing usage terms in this town. Not going to happen.

        • @John Powell,

          If I was shooting 10+ people at one location and not providing retouching or web galleries, $125 per head might be reasonable for PR/Publicity/Web use. For a single headshot – no way. Half that? Nope – I’d run myself out of business.

          Anyone who expects to get a quality headshot for less than $100 is a bit crazy. Sadly there are handfuls of weekend warriors happy to do headshot sessions for $50-75. Those folks don’t worry about staying in business because they usually have a day job.

          Unfortunately headshots is one of those areas where “good enough” often rules the day. These cheap clients will usually get what they pay for in the end (mediocre quality). Hopefully they will see the error of their ways and call me when they realize better quality costs money.

          • John Powell

            @Steven Noreyko, I sometimes hate what I do, knowing I’m worth much more. Convincing the client is another issue. I’d like to find once decent assignment for every 5 headshots I do and give up the cheap work or just demand more. Hopefully some day.

            Steven: in what city are you located?

            • @John Powell,

              I am in Austin Texas. I’d say the market is probably pretty similar to what you see in SC.

              The bulk of my work right now is Headshots. I get a full range of people – from those who think I’m the most expensive guy in town (I’m not) and those who find my services completely reasonable. I’m happy to let the people with no money go somewhere else.

  11. In what geographic market was this job happening?

    If I made an estimate like this in Austin TX they corporate communications people reading the estimate would laugh and move on.

    I don’t think the market here would bear even 50% of that estimated fee for 1 portrait subject shot on white.

    Perhaps I’m used to dealing with significantly smaller companies, but then again they’re usually only getting rights for publicity and not full collateral uses.

    In my limited experience, I feel collateral can be a pretty wide category – from simple brochures to full-blown annual reports. In many cases, the client only needs the simple uses. Thus, I treat annual reports as it’s own use category.

  12. John Powell

    I would like to be encouraged by reading this estimate but the reality where I work is very different.

    The ubiquitous ‘headshot’ is about the only steady business coming into the studio at this point and even then, price is the main consideration for the client.

    In my experience, few clients care if you know how to light a person or pose them. Price and terms of a headshot are completely driven by the client in Columbia. To suggest the client has a time limit in which the image may be used is a foreign concept in this town. I have clients who have been using the same image for 10 years in some cases, typically an attorney who does not like being photographed.

    The largest law firm in Columbia, with locations in other major cities, told me I was twice the price of another ‘established’ photographer for doing headshots on location. They also informed me this established noob had no physical studio! The client continues to use me and the location job was scrapped due to lack of coordination on their behalf.

    How do you stem the tide? To refuse work and hold out for that one job that delivers would be suicide especially when those jobs don’t seem to exist here.

    The scene might be different in nearby Charlotte and Atlanta. I would hope so.

    I need to move!!!!!!

  13. This is terrific information for a greenie like me! This is my field of interest as a photographer, and since I’m just starting out it all seems very overwhelming.

    Thanks for breaking it down so well!

    Jennifer Moore
    JenniferLynn Productions, LLC

  14. I think not asking at some point during the conversation ‘what is your budget?’ is a mistake and can lead to you and a potential client being on totally different pages. Maybe not even reading the same book.

  15. Thanks so much for writing this post! It’s exactly the kind of post I’ve been looking for.

    I do have one question, however. You said, “I’ve found that a typical annual report shoot day goes for between 1500.00 − 3500.00 depending on how sought-after the photographer is, how busy the photographer is, how big the corporation is, how difficult the pictures are, how long the days are.”

    How did you find that information? Did you survey photographers you know, or is there an index or website where this information can be found? I’m just striking out on my own as a freelance photographer away from my former studio jobs, so pricing is my biggest challenge and I’d love to know how to find numbers like that in order to figure out where to start and what the market will bear.

  16. Thank you for this information! It really sheds light on how other businesses see hiring a photographer.