Rates for photographing artwork?
March 30, 2006 10:23 PM   Subscribe

What should I charge for photographing artwork?

An art gallery has asked me to provide a price list for what I would charge to photograph the work of their artists. Though I have sold a few pictures, I am not really a professional photographer, rather an enthusiastic amateur. I've done some still life shots with basic lighting setups but I've never attempted to shoot artwork before. I've read some advice online (incl here) and I think I'll be able to handle it, though any advice you can offer on that end is much appreciated. However my main question is about rates... what should I charge? I realize this will be alot of work, so I don't want to charge too little but I also don't want to price myself out of the market?

If it helps, I have a high end digital SLR and also medium format camera (that needs a tuneup). I'd prefer to shoot just digital. If I have to I'll rent lights (though I've never worked with strobes!) The gallery sells hip. funky, low-to-medium priced original artwork. And I think this is something that the artists would be paying for, not the gallery.

Also, people have suggested that I call other photographers around the city, posing as a customer, to try and get an idea of the rates around here? But that just seems so sneaky...
posted by mushroom_tattoo to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You're just taking photographs of existing artwork? Assuming that the gallery wants to maintain copyright (therefore this is just a work for hire situation), I'd charge whatever your time is worth to you, plus expenses. So, maybe $100 / hour plus any rentals, transportation, etc.

That's assuming they want the RAW files and they'll process them themselves. If they want you to give them a finished JPEG / TIFF / etc. then you should charge them for the time it's going to take you to tweak the photos in Photoshop.

The best way to do this, of course, is to just give them a reasonable quote on a per artwork basis. Assuming you're just setting up a tripod, fixing the lighting, etc. then you can safely assume a single artwork will take you something like 15 - 30 minutes to shoot, therefore tell them it'll cost $50 / artwork, and the processing will cost another $35-60 (depending on how proficient you are with photoshop).

Another wrinkle to this is how many pieces they want documented. I'd give them a volume discount if they're going to give you 6 hours worth of work, although your mileage may vary.
posted by bshort at 11:15 PM on March 30, 2006

mushroom_tattoo, I'd call other photographer's in the area or, at the very least, have a friend that happens to be a reasonable social engineer do the calling. bshort's advice is good, but there are markets where this response will get a laugh, others where you'll get more work than you can handle and still other's where these prices are competitive. It all depends on your local market.
posted by sequential at 11:28 PM on March 30, 2006

What the hell... ask for $1200 first.

If they look shocked or say "WHAT?!! $1200?!!! ARE YOU KIDDING?!!!"

No , I was just kidding. $100 and I'll make you some nice photos.
posted by SwingingJohnson1968 at 11:31 PM on March 30, 2006

Best answer: It's important for the photographic community (and I mean the professional community) to be upfront about what new entrants should charge for their work - it's in their interest to help you understand what's involved, and explain the costs associated. Professional photographers make a living out of their work, and have established rates that allow them to eat, maintain their equipment, test new concepts and of course throw outrageous parties.

I would strongly suggest getting in contact with a professional photography organisation to get some advice on what you should charge - they will help you, and at the same time may be able to offer other advice that you may not currently know that you need (copyright, contracts, releases, etc). It's a great way to connect with members of what could turn out to be your new vocation.

In Australia an organisation was set up to deal with, among other things, the very issue you have posted - they are called the ACMP, and I am sure that wherever you are, a similar organisation will exist (ASMP?)

Remember, once you print your first invoice (and hopefully get paid), you're no longer an amateur.

Good luck - and invite us to your first outrageous party..
posted by strawberryviagra at 4:09 AM on March 31, 2006

OK - I just had a wander around the ASMP site and found this and most appropriately: this (editorial and advertising photography rates estimators).
posted by strawberryviagra at 4:29 AM on March 31, 2006

Actually - the estimator is for rates charged for the publishing of your images (sorry, should have checked before I posted - handy though). The first link (in my previous comment) reiterates what I suggested, so don't be afraid to contact them with your rates question.
posted by strawberryviagra at 5:07 AM on March 31, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks very much for the advice, Mefites! God, I love this place....
posted by mushroom_tattoo at 9:20 AM on March 31, 2006

It's important for the photographic community (and I mean the professional community) to be upfront about what new entrants should charge for their work
Perhaps this is true when the demand for work greatly exceeds the supply of photographers, but in any competitive situation, this is false. In my experience, shooting as a professional, there is a significant amount of secrecy and competition between photographers. Your statement is also true of academic or learning communities, but if you're come to me in my professional capactiy as a competitor and total stranger and say, "I'm going to offer the same services in the same market as you. Tell me what you charge," the likelyhood of me sharing competitive information with you approaches zero. Your experience will vary, but probably not much in competitive markets.

In principal, I agree with you. Economically, it just doesn't make sense.
it's in their interest to help you understand what's involved, and explain the costs associated.
Again, from an economic perspective, that doesn't make sense. It's in the best interest of the individual business, in this case a photographer, to let the market set the prices and to let those who set their prices wrong fail. Market economy. Plain and simple. It's usually in the best interest of the existing business if the newer business fails.

You could, however, get this information posing as a customer, talking to prior customers, or, in the friendliest way, by assisting or mentoring with another professional. That's actually how I learned the business end of the two distinct areas I service.
and of course throw outrageous parties
That's just plain weird. I mean, I do throw a mean party, but, uhm, this probably has nothing to do with my trade.

The rest of the advice is spot on.

In case this post reads as pedantic or argumentative, the truth of the matter is our experiences vary as pros. I do event photography, but have done some pick up gigs for real estate/architecture, some portraiture, and some commercial (read advertising) work. I got pricing from the clients in the newer markets, but I generally knew the contacts at the client prior to having a business relationship with them. From sub industry to sub indsutry, the prices varied quite a bit. I also don't work full time as a photographer.
posted by sequential at 2:04 PM on March 31, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, Sequential. As you pointed out, photography is a competitive market, and most of the professionals I've met have indeed been secretive when it comes to talking about rates. Contacting past customers or finding a mentor are great suggestions, but I need to assemble a price list NOW. So perhaps I have no choice but to be a little sneaky about it and call around posing as a customer. I'm not sure where you're located, Sequential, but if a stranger calls you up in the next weekend asking about what you charge to shoot artwork... it could be me!
posted by mushroom_tattoo at 3:42 PM on March 31, 2006

I'd like to just clariify something regarding setting reasonable benchmarks.

Photography is not like most other trades. Not too many people take up plumbing as weekend hobby, that then leads to them to getting paid for it.

The difficulty for the professional photographer is when someone enters the arena with some skills, but no real understanding of the real costs of running a photographic business. Usually the amateur who takes on the occasional photographic job also has a day job, and they don't really need to be overly concerned about running costs and quite happily accept whatever is available and thus naively lowers general cost expectations. In a small market, say in a country town that can only handle one or two photographers, the professional photographer has to compete with the new entrant who is subsidising their weekend hobby with another job. Now we can argue over the fairness and the market setting the prices, but I think you'll find that it definitely is in the interest of the professional photographer community to establish benchmarks and offer advice about costing out jobs to protect their trade.

Photographers are renown to have had their heads stuck in the sand about this, about protecting their rights, etc - all based on ill conceived paranoia (in Australia, photographers were, up until the establishment of the ACMP in the mid 90's, excluded from the copyright act - purely because none of them had actually made any representations when it was being drafted - you can imagine the issues that this caused).

Really, you don't need to sneak around asking individual photographers - although that's a valid technique - just get on the phone to the ASMP and simply tell them what you're doing and they'll help.

That's just plain weird. I mean, I do throw a mean party, but, uhm, this probably has nothing to do with my trade.

*Call your party what you want (I intended it as a joke) - but maybe, sequential, if you throw the occasional party/gallery opening/publicity event, you'll engage with more potential clients - just another cost for getting business. Try it sometime - it always paid off for me.
posted by strawberryviagra at 6:42 PM on March 31, 2006

Response by poster: That's exactly what I'll do, strawberryviagra. Thanks.
posted by mushroom_tattoo at 7:46 PM on March 31, 2006

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