Calculating Value as a Photographer (part 2)

Mar 2, 2021 | Creative Business, Food Photography

Calculating Value as a Photographer

I’m back with part 2 of my series on value in the photography world. This post is a bit shorter ,but hopefully will help you to get some practical application out of the first post in the series, which you can find here if you missed it.

There is a lot that is factored into pricing, and it’s something that you should be working on with a mentor to determine if you are really struggling to add it up on your own. That said, here are a few things to factor in when you come up with your pricing.

Overhead Costs

As we discussed in part 1, photography is a very expensive field to get into. I appreciate people who say that you don’t need a lot of money to have a photography business, and that is true to an extent, but if you want to really grow your business it is going to take a good chunk of change. You really do need to spend money to make money when you want to compete at a high level and stop playing small.

Add up all of your operating costs and determine what that number is each month so you know how much you need to charge just to stay open. This list will look unique to everyone, but it most likely involves online courses and continuing ed, cameras, props, lighting equipment, backgrounds, laptop, memory cards and drives, wifi, Creative Cloud, shoot ingredients, health insurance, equipment insurance, photo deliver software, accounting fees, and more.


I put gear in it’s own category because it’s such a huge expense. Cameras are not cheap, and good lenses are a huge investment. These things also require maintenance that you need to have budgeted for. Have a rough idea of what you need to spend each year to keep up with changing gear trends and maintain what you already have. You will likely want to try new lenses and lighting equipment as you grow, so it’s important to have a budget with some wiggle room to expand your technical skills.

Market and Cost of Living

A big reason I can’t tell people what to charge is that I don’t know other markets outside of my own. What you charge is very much dependent on the size of the market in your area and what makes sense for your cost of living. If you work in the restaurant space you should have a good idea of how competitive the landscape is and what pricing makes sense for the arena. I charge a different amount to restaurants in New York City than I would charge if I was based in Kansas.

Cost of living is especially important when you are first starting out and your prices are going to be lower. You need to make sure you’re charging enough to pay a salary at least equal to an entry-level creative job in your state so that the work actually is sustainable for you. When I was a new designer in an entry-level job the company was still charging enough on the projects I worked on to pay my salary and the overhead of the agency.

Value to the Client

Licensing fees are a huge part of the cost of photography. And while some brands will try to bully you out of charging them, you have a responsibility to your business and to the photography industry to charge appropriately for image use. It’s important to do some research on licensing fees to understand how to use them in your pricing, but generally, you’ll be charging more if someone wants to use your photos on both a billboard and social media, as opposed to just social.

One exception to this is restaurant work, where I typically charge a flat rate that has full rights included.

Adding it Up

Hopefully, you can add up these different areas to arrive at a project fee that makes sense for you. If nothing else, at the end of the day, your pricing needs to cover 1) Your overhead costs 2) Your salary 3) Your profitability as a business. In other words, you should be able to pay the project costs, your own salary and your business should be making money, too.

And one last thing: if you look at a proposal before you send it and you think you should maybe be charging a bit more… you should 🙂

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Hey! I’m Moriah– a commercial and editorial food photographer and creative entrepreneur who is perpetually drinking coffee and covered in dog hair. I write this blog from New York City where I run my creative agency, The B Edit. I write this blog in the hopes that you can one day have your creative dream job, too!   

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