How do I set my rate as a freelance photographer?
I don’t like vagueries. I like to give hard answers. This can be difficult to do with rate because there are so many variables. Still, I find the reason most people don’t want to give hard numbers is that they don’t want to be wrong.
I have no problem being wrong.
Is the graph below, showing rate frequency for photographers, 100% perfect? Almost certainly not. But it gives us a very strong approximation. And perfect doesn’t matter because we’re only looking for a starting place. The whole reason we want to see averages is that we don’t want to be way out of line with other industry professionals (at least until we’re in demand enough to start charging whatever we want). And a strong approximation serves that purpose splendidly.
A couple of things to consider:
- I’m only taking full-time freelancers based in the US into consideration. This significantly raises averages because it reduces the number of amateur and ‘Upwork-level’ freelancers in the mix.
- This is based on project frequency averages, not freelancer medians. This means that freelancers that work more will be more heavily weighted.
- While I consulted data on the subject, I also relied on my own experience.
- I’ve worked with hundreds of photographers over the years, evaluated thousands of candidates, and hired many personally so I have an intimate understanding of the industry.
- Rates are calculated taking time for post-processing into account.
B2C Photographers most commonly earn ~$300-1000 per day.
B2B Photographers most commonly earn ~$500-1000 per day.
For starters, let’s take a look at the red line. As I’ve said before, as freelancers with a job-skill, we never want to accept less than $30/hr, even if we’re just starting out. Are other freelancers going to? Of course they are. Let them take all of the worst clients, we don’t want to get caught in a race to the bottom.
Next, let’s take a look at the difference between B2C photographers and B2B photographers. Photography is among the most over-saturated markets, even within the already competitive creative fields; so there is an abundance of ultra-low-cost shooters. Many of those shooters, however, are focused on B2C projects (family photos, weddings, headshots), leaving B2B markets (corporate events, real estate, product photography) with a higher concentration of serious professionals and, subsequently, higher average rates. While B2C clients are more accessible, B2B projects will often be more realistic in price expectations.
Finally, let’s look at the rate frequencies and what they mean. Because of the high supply of photographers, the averages can be misleading. While there is no lack of lower cost photographers trying to claw their way into the industry, we should ignore them as we try to set our own rate because they’re not being taken seriously. $400-600/day (don’t forget to calculate in photo editing time) is a good starting place for new photographers and $800-1000/day is a good average for more experienced photographers. If you feel that you can get more, don’t be shy, plenty of photographers charge much more, $2500/day or more for a single photographer is not at all extravagant with the right experience in the right niche- in fact, I once worked with a well known photographer who charged $110,000 for 3 days of work.
- Most freelancers, especially new ones, are too cheap.
- Price is only one potential competitive advantage you can have over your competition and it’s (pretty much) the only one that can affect your livelihood. This means that it’s probably the very last way you should try to provide more value than other freelancers in your lane.
- If a client can’t afford you, it doesn’t automatically mean your services are worth less than you’re charging. It’s more likely that this is just not the right kind of client for you.
If you’d like more information about rate you can check out my comprehensive freelance course, where I talk more about how different clients think about rate, mistakes to avoid, and how to defend your rate if a potential client raises an objection.