The high, medium, and low end of pricing for commercial photography

The high, medium, low cost breakdowns of commercial photoshoots
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The high, medium, low cost breakdowns of commercial photoshoots

It’s not a secret that a high-end commercial shoot has a higher budget than a shoot for a small business. But what goes into that budget? How we do translate those costs on a smaller scale, but still beautiful results but with a reasonable price tag? Today we’re diving into the pricing of commercial photography. High-end shoots, my costs for a shoot as a medium-range option, and a lower budget option.

Breakdown of high end commercial photography costs

High-End Professional Commercial Photography


Photographer’s Day Rate x number of days  $1400/day

Photographer’s Assistant $300/day

Retouching  $975/day

Prop Stylist $500/day

Food Stylist $500/day

Studio Fee $1500/day

Equipment Fee (additional rentals) Varies –

Licensing Fees Varies – Can be tens of thousands of dollars

Model – Varies on experience

Please note that the above are estimates which may vary from market to market. You can certainly have costs that are more or less than the estimate listed. The above costs, for a single day, without additional rentals, model, and licensing fees are $5,175. With licensing, this can be easily over $10,000.

So this brings me to… what the heck is a licensing fee?

Licensing in commercial photography

Licensing fees for commercial photography

These are the charges for the use of the photo that can add a significant amount to the overall pricing for commercial photography. Essentially, it is a fee so that you are able to use the image for business purposes for promotion and sales. This is in addition to the production costs – photographer, stylists, additional talent, outlined in the high-end shoot.

Why I am paying for this now when I haven’t had to in the past?

You might feel unsure about paying for licensing because you’ve never had to with other photography you’ve had before. Family and wedding photographers don’t put licensing fees in their contracts because you’re likely only using their photos for personal use at home or with other family members.

These photos are not distributed for the purposes of business or to profit off these photos. Contracts usually say that they are not intended for commercial use and to contact the photographer if they would like to use them as such.

Current Copyright laws in the USA

In the USA, the owner of an image is the person who takes the photo. The costs listed in the high-end production quote (minus the licensing fess) are the costs it takes to make that photo happen or the production of the photo.

This is how Ariana Grande, as well as other celebrities, get sued by the paparazzi. Even though she was the subject in the paparazzi photo she used for her Instagram account. She didn’t take the photo, so she didn’t own it. Legally, the paparazzi could make the argument that her IG account was for self-promotion for her own brand and he or she was owed licensing fees. I’m not going to weigh in about if I think this is right or wrong. But it is lawful.

How to determine Licensing Costs

Licensing fees usually contain terms of use, for example how you’re going to use it. For billboards, print circulation, for websites, etc. The location of the use: only in the USA, all of North America, worldwide, etc. And the length of use: 6 months for a seasonal campaign, 1 – 2 years, in perpetuity. The broader the use, the more it will cost to license the photo(s). There are calculators and software that calculate what the current rates are for licensing. There are different websites and software that will calculate this fee based on your location and current market rates.

Your photographer will know this and calculate it out for you based on your scope of use. This is usually why people find pricing for commercial photography complicated. Because it is, but I hope this breakdown helps you understand it a bit more.


Custom Branded photos with a team of professionals working for you with expertise in the field, faster a shoot with fewer people involved in the production


Costly, out of reach for most small businesses

Small Business Photography / Mid-range Commercial Photography

As a small business owner, you don’t quite have the same budget because you’re at a smaller volume. But you still want something impactful that’s going to move you forward and catch other people’s eye.

I’m a small business owner myself, and I understand wearing a lot of hats for your business. I cut costs down by having my own home studio where all tools are at my disposal. I act as your personal stylist, retoucher, and occasional model. Each additional role taken on does add to the shoot time, but it still provides phenomenal savings to you, the client, to have a single production team that does it all for you!

I do custom quotes so that you only pay for the shots you want and not other things in a package that you don’t need. Please fill out a Contact form if you’d like a quote for your project!


Custom Brand Experience, Budget-friendly


Fewer resources mean that it can take a bit longer to shoot the project than it would with a team at your disposal.

Low cost options in commercial photography

Affordable Commercial Photography: Stock photography

You can go to stock photography and get great photos at a fraction of the cost. You just pay for the licensing fee since the production has already been done. This is probably the most bang for your buck options in terms of value pricing for commercial photography. There are no start-up fees like the DIY option, covered next, there’s no production cost because it’s already been done for you, but the downside is that these photos aren’t customized and can be used by anyone who is willing to pay the fee.

This is a better option for those with a service and not a product. You want customized shots of your product, and of you as a service provider. I think of stock as a nice add on to custom images you already have of you and your product and not the only option in your image catalog. Which is why I always try to incorporate personalized stock photo for any Personal Branding Shoot I do!


Even more, cost savings than previous options.


Not a custom photo if you choose to do stock photography – your product may not be in the photos, or you if you are a personal brand aren’t in the photos. Works better as accessory images that the primary ones you use over and over again for brand representation.

Main Stream Stock Options:

Adobe Stock

Getty Images

Smaller Scale Stock Options:

Death To Stock



Affordable Commercial Photography: DIY route

Or you could go the DIY route and learn how to take photos yourself. This is what I chose to do. But it took me YEARS of education, trial and error, and shooting to the kind of results I wanted.

Yes, there can be a ton of potential savings here, but there is a high learning curve involved. There can also be significant start-up costs if you want to start learning how to use a DSLR, good lenses, photo editing software, props, finding time to educate yourself about how to shoot.

I would only recommend this if you really like photography and feel like you could do this for the long haul. Otherwise, you may want to try taking photos with your phone or do a rental to see how much you really enjoy it before taking the plunge.


Still maintains custom photos other don’t have. If you do DIY, you won’t ever have to worry about licensing fees because you’ve shot it yourself or hiring out for another photographer because you do it yourself!


Heavy time investment if you DIY, also significant start-up costs if you want to invest in a DSLR, good camera lens, and editing software to start off your photography adventure.


So that’s a breakdown of the pricing for commercial photography. There’s a lot to consider. And things in your business can change over time. If you start doing DIY photography and learn that it’s not for you – you can always choose to outsource it later when your business has more traction and funds. Businesses are like a living entity with different needs to continue to evolve over time. What your business looks like today is likely much different than it was six months or a year ago! I hope this information was helpful to you! I’ve included some related links below if you want to dive deeper into commercial photography!

Pricing for commercial photography

Other related links:

How To: Find the right brand photographer

30+ ways to use photos from your Branding Session!

Personal Branding Session in East Bay, CA


When you should hire a professional photographer


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