How Much is Product Photography?
If you’re in the business of selling physical products, especially online, you’re likely aware of the importance of quality product photography. It can truly be a deciding factor in what makes or breaks your product’s success. So, how much should you expect to pay for product photography?
Typically, low-priced product photography is possible because the photographer, agency or studio is not investing significant time or resources to do the job. Likewise, from the other end of the spectrum, high-priced product photography is likely because they have invested a significant amount of resources and will spend much more time to do the work.
Low-End vs. Hi-End Studio or Photographer
It’s possible to invest well under $1,000 in a camera, lens and lighting to do product photography. You can also find cheap ways to get that sought-after white background. Just the same on the high-end side, one can easily get past $100,000 into camera and studio equipment investments for what is the best of the best in cameras, lenses and lighting.
But there are a lot of technical differences between a camera under $100 and one over $10,000. The same cost proposition exists across lenses of choice and studio lighting of choice. In the end, the choice of gear and photographer used is often one aspect that separates leading brands from others.
A low-end photographer will also likely work from their home. Thus, they are likely to have limited space and limited space means limited equipment and options to do a job. But, these shortages in resources are what allow a lower price.
A higher end photographer will not only have serious investments made in equipment; they will also have more recurring costs. Such costs might include a studio monthly lease, business insurance, permit fees, marketing budget, and other typical costs common to commercial businesses. But because of these investments, they should be able to produce superior quality work and service.
It is unrealistic to expect a low-end photographer to provide excellent customer service and produce high-quality images. This is like wanting to pay $50 for a car and then being surprised when it is used, uncomfortable, slow and is dented. And, it is unrealistic to expect a high-end photographer to provide amongst the lowest industry rates while producing amongst the highest levels of image quality. This is like walking into a fancy car dealership and taking a test drive with one of the top luxury brand automakers and then being surprised when they tell you the car will be more than $50.
Charging by the Hour, by Job or by Photo
Clients often have different pricing ideas from one another, and photographers also have different pricing models. But generally pricing is usually by the hour, job or by photo. There are advantages, disadvantages, and misconceptions about most of these.
For jobs that are quoted by the hour, a client might feel the need to rush the photographer along. In addition, especially for high end studios, there is a lot of work that goes into a product shoot before even one picture is taken. Some clients require 1-2 hours of consult before even deciding to hire. One shoot versus another might require 1-2 hours to identify a mood-board, to read and understand a client’s provided plan, and so on.
Then there is the time needed to setup a studio for a product shoot. This involve camera placements, studio light setups and placement, background setups, and more. There is also the post-production work in software for each photo, which can sometimes take more time than the setup and shoot combined. These are factors often not considered by clients. I have even had a client once tell me “how much time can these photos take – you’re just pushing a button, right?”
Charging by the job is also common. The problem with this is that it might set an expectation that all future shoots are the same price. But, photographing doing high-end product photography for a box of tissues is not the same as product photography for a wristwatch. One is more involved in setup and post-production work than the other. This is true about pricing by the image. Charging one fee for a tissue box photo should usually be less than a wristwatch photo.
A studio might work by the law of averages. In this way, they might charge a bit more than might be necessary for the cost of photographing a tissue box to make up for when they must spend more time photographing a wristwatch. But this also might leave vendors of the tissue box feeling pricing is unfair, since they can argue the tissue box is simpler to photograph.
Costs and Time Often Missed
Debates such as the above or ones photographers are well aware of and experience with clients on a regular basis. There is a lot of time spent with clients even before a sale and even when a sale does not happen. Like any business, such losses must be accounted for.
Other times, clients often do not consider that a photographer spends time on certain things any other commercial business spends time on. These are things such as solving computer and other technical issues. High-end studios will have IT issues, from their website to their work computer, that they must spend time on.
Then there are other business requirements. These include paying bills each month to stay in business, such as electric and Internet. Marketing activities that just about any business undertakes, and much more. Like any business, the time spent, and costs associated with these must be accounted for in the rates charged to clients.
Doing Product Photos Internally
Of course, some business managers do not want to hear any of that. They already know all about that and they still have an idea in their head as to what they believe they should pay for product photography. As a result, you might opt to do it internally.
If you do, you might consider the cost to benefit analysis. Maybe you only have one product and will not have any new products for a year. Even on the cheap, do you want to acquire your own equipment for $500-1,000 and spend a significant amount of time learning how to photograph it, then actually doing it? Or do you just pay someone the $500 or so once? Also, are you prepared to accept that because of your limited equipment, time and resource investment, your quality results will also be limited?
What if you have new products several times per year? Is there a benefit to acquiring your own gear and doing it yourself? Will you be okay with devoting significant amounts of time many times per year to doing it? Does it detract you from other work tasks you need to be focused on?
And finally, what if you have new products very often, like weekly or bi-weekly? Does it start to make more sense to hire a full-time internal photographer? If so, how much of your time will you be spending managing such photo shoots or do you expect your photographer to do it all? Have you analyzed the cost differences between hiring internally and working with an agency you would have otherwise hired? How high-end of a photographer do you hire?
These are just some of the few questions that need answering if you are considering hiring internally. You might do a few outsourced shoots to better calculate pricing differences between internally and externally created imagery.
Image Rights to Use
One other point to consider is about copyrights. It is a common misunderstanding that a business that hires a photographer fully owns the images and can do whatever they want with them. But U.S. copyright law states otherwise.
Some photographers add licensing fees to the images clients buy. These fees can be straight-forward or more complex. Some might charge graduated licensing fees, perhaps based on how many images you bought or how many places you will use them. Another popular method is to correlate them to a percentage of your ad spend. So, be sure to inquire about licensing rights.
Product photography can be a very complex endeavor for some businesses while others mistake it as one of the simplest things they need to get out of the way. These dynamics are what cause so many misperceptions in product photography.
In the end, the cliché is true. A picture is worth a thousand words. So, if you undervalue the importance of what high quality product photography can do for an online business, do not then be surprised by no to slow sales.