There is no simple answer to the question of how to charge for your work.
But there is a simple beginning to the process: Examine your Cost of Doing Business to understand the minimums you must charge to meet your income goals.
Once you know your costs, you must consider the market for your images and/or footage. What you "sell" in that market is a license to use your intellectual property, a right granted to you by U.S. Copyright law and by the laws of most other countries. The license can be broad or narrow, perpetual or time limited. This license and any agreement to fulfill an assignment are a Contract.
Coming up with a license - or assignment contract - and a fair-market price for the visual work(s), rights and services delivered will likely involve some Negotiation.
Pricing for Value
Before you discuss price, consider the value your client will derive from your pictures. In general, if your client reaches a larger or more desirable audience with help from your images, you should be paid more. This is the basis of Rights-Managed licensing (the approach NPPA recommends) for the use of images and footage.
Usage metrics are particularly important when licensing existing, or "Stock", pictures and footage. Regardless of whether you are an award-winning photojournalist with lucrative endorsements and workshop gigs, or a mom with a camera, the product you are licensing is there to see. Either it's worth the investment for the usage, or it's not. The photographer's name doesn't affect how the picture looks, its unique value or the story it tells.
Assigning editors, producers and art directors seek photographers they can count on to deliver the pictures or footage they need and want. If your portfolio, education, experience, list of awards, recommendations, and most importantly, previous work for and with them suggest you will more reliably deliver exceptional visual reports, you're more valuable to them.
Some other value factors include time, difficulty, experience, special techniques or equipment required, market segment and the intended use for the images. As with stock, print runs, circulation, viewer numbers and page views are measures of value. The demographics of those who view the images are important.
Advertising, corporate, public relations, retail portrait and editorial photography are all priced differently. Some of the resources linked below can help you with these different markets as well as the visual journalism and documentary photography we focus on at the NPPA.
Day Rate, Plus Space
For news and sports assignments, the NPPA believes the traditional "day rate, plus space" approach to pricing remains both practical and fair. In our digital age, pictures, photographers and usage are all easy to track, for both small and large organizations.
Under this approach, assigned photographers receive a guaranteed fee ("day rate" or "assignment fee") for fulfilling an assignment. If the pictures or footage are used more, the photographer gets paid more. Assigning organizations maintain schedules of usage values, listing fees based on prominence of display, time on screen, size, etc. Some clients add these payments to a low assignment fee. Some media companies with higher day rates only pay for usage if it exceeds the value of the guaranteed assignment fee.
For instance, the assignment fee from such a publication for a news event might be $800, with the fee for use of a quarter-page image set at $400 and use on the assigning magazine’s cover worth $1,600. If a picture were used as a quarter-page only, the photographer would receive no additional payment. But if her picture were also chosen for the cover, the photographer’s final payment would be $2,000 ($1,600 plus $400), plus any other usage and expenses.
This assignment model has changed at many media organizations. Some proffer contracts demanding broad rights, even copyright transfer, for low compensation. A few publications include all immediate usage in the assignment fee and pay space rates for any reuse. This latter approach is better from the photographer's perspective than a total-rights grab. But as you can read in our Best Practices lists, NPPA continues to support paying a day rate, plus space, as a fair method for contracting news photography.
The resources listed below may help you navigate a course to successful pricing choices.
The fourth edition of this classic tome by Michal Heron and David MacTavish was due out in November 2012. It carefully examines nearly every factor in pricing.
For a $50 fee, this private consulting service, better known for its workflow solutions and workshops, can help you compile a detailed estimate for a client, with pricing based on specific usage.
This online guide includes solid advice on licensing, copyright and market segments. It helps you understand the factors that go into fair exchange of value.
This free, international website encourages discussion about pricing and licensing in photography. You can post a question on pricing and get others' opinions on what you should charge. While this is far from a cut and dry way to price your work, reading questions and replies offers considerable insight and some good ideas about pricing.
This site focuses on retail photography, especially weddings, offering a series of blog posts that examine factors in pricing and help you set your rates. The site sells an optional workbook for purchase to use during the lessons.
This straightforward and popular estimating, production and invoicing package helps you build and execute both simple and complex projects, accounting for all costs and fees involved in most any production or assignment.
This pricing system is aimed most directly at stock photography. But the usage rates can help you price assignments for publication (in any media). It works both independently and with Hindsight’s contact-management, estimating and image database packages.
This may be the best-known pricing guide. It's based on usage but includes tools and tutorials to help you build assignment and project pricing. It's included in the fotoBiz photography business management software, it underpins stock pricing on Photoshelter and it's available separately.
A good way to get an idea of what the market will bear is to look at what other image distributors and photographers might charge for similar licenses and services. The following photographers and distributors have posted their prices online. If you want to provide retail (portrait and wedding) photography, you can likely find other photographers in your area who post their prices.
John Harrington is both an active writer and lecturer about the business of photography, and an active Washington photographer. He lists fees for editorial, public relations, corporate and advertising photography.
A set of sample fees for advertising and marketing photography by Detroit's Blake Discher.
This is the world's largest stock photography distributor's site. It's useful for seeing how the market leader's algorithms see the market. BUT you must price "rights managed" creative or editorial images to compare with images you are licensing. (Other licensing schemes include variations of "royalty-free," which is based on the size of image delivered, more than usage factors - and not recommended by the NPPA.)
The other market leader in distributing existing photography. You may need to register (for free) in order to price rights-managed editorial images.