How Much Should Photography Cost?

One question which ties up too much time, energy and headspace for most businesses is, “How much should we be paying for photography?”

In the modern business landscape, we have to extend that to videography too, of course. While this article focuses mainly on stills, read to the end for my thoughts on video as well.

The shortest answer I can give is that the corporate communications photography you commission shouldn’t cost you anything. “What?! Free photography?! Where can I get some of that!!” I hear you wail, but of course that notion is ridiculous. Free stuff, as we all know, is often worth exactly what we’ve paid for it.

What I mean is, the photography and videography you commission for your business should, either fairly immediately, or over time, generate more income for your business than it cost to get done. If your photography/videography isn’t winning new clients or gaining fresh business, then you need to look at why it’s not working before deciding you’re paying too much. It could be how you’re deploying the work, it could also be that you’re not paying enough to get the quality you need.

A useful exercise is to start from the other end of the process. Ask what it is you want to achieve with your images, then work backwards to find the solution. That is to say, the photographer you choose is more important than what they charge. Ask yourself if the photographer’s style fits your brand and whether their quality adds a perception of high value to that brand. What they charge should reflect the outcome you’re aiming for. It needs to reflect the quality of their work, the uses to which that work will be put (the Licence to Use) as well as the standard of service they offer.

Just to explain the Licence to Use a little more deeply, a set of photos destined for a one-off press release for a small business won’t command the same fees as a high-production single image used in a national advertising campaign for a global brand.

There are many scenarios between these usage examples, but if you’re open with the photographer about who and what they’re shooting for, they can give far better guidance on the likely fees. And when it comes to the shoot itself, they can plan their own approach and deploy their resources far more effectively for a more successful outcome.

Oh and on that last point, be VERY wary of any photographer who doesn’t ask how the images are to be used. This should be an alarm-bell-moment. If they don’t care what you do with their work, it means they don’t care about your goals. This will be reflected in the results and that’s when photography becomes really expensive, regardless of how cheap it was to acquire.

Much the same approach applies to commissioning video, albeit the costs associated with that tend to focus more on post-production time than on aspects such as licensing. However, if you’re going to commission video, you still need to think carefully about your goals.

Identifying who you’re trying to reach, what their expectations are and how you’re going to win their business should be considered long before commissioning a videographer (ie me!) to press the record button.

If I’m shooting video for a client, of course I want to understand my client’s aims, but I also want to know who they’re trying to win over. If they’re aiming at people who might do business with them, the content, message and production values all need to be of a high quality. There’s no point spending money on a video which is aimless and poor quality. That’s just a waste of money and a drag on valuable resources. It might grab audience attention for a brief moment, but will soon be forgotten in the constant stream of online content marketing. Poor quality production will also harm your brand and cost you sales.

The main message of this post is to think quality first, then work out your budget based on the value you’re likely to gain from the results. Setting out with an unrealistic budget plucked from thin air isn’t going to get you where you need to be, which is why I’m happy to spend time working through these questions with clients before they commit to working with me.

I would be delighted to discuss your stills and video needs, so drop me a line and let’s get your photography and videography making money, not costing it.

You Can Photoshop That (truth in pictures)

When does photo manipulation matter?

I’m not going to dwell on recent events regarding the Royal Family and photo manipulation, but I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. This post is not a judgement or criticism of the Princess of Wales, I’m merely using this as a springboard to a wider topic.

Very often I’ll be taking pictures for a client and the phrase “you can fix that in Photoshop” will rear its ugly head. Sure, many things can be fixed in Photoshop (other image editing software is available), but let’s run through the basic considerations before leaping on the cut-n-paste tool.

Editing time

Moving things around in Photoshop during the editing process usually takes a lot longer than physically moving (or removing) them at the time of creating the photo. Any decent photographer will strive to get everything right in-camera, ie at the moment the photo is taken.

On the whole, I build my editing time into my fees so clients know from the get-go what they’ll be paying for a project. If I then need to extend the editing time to correct for something I wasn’t given time to fix on-site and in-camera, I then have to go back to the client with a revised bill. That’s not always popular.

Deadline

Following on from the previous point, if editing takes longer than planned, this can impact my ability to meet a deadline, so why not save the grief by making sure everything is as it should be at the time the photo is taken?

My Sanity

One thing I try to do when shooting corporate portraits, is ensure the sitter’s hair is tidy, that there aren’t strands across their face and that their clothes aren’t covered in bit of fluff, flakes of skin etc. If it’s a post-lunch shoot, I’ll check there’s no food in their teeth before I start.

Sitting at a computer for hours, endlessly retouching stray hairs, spotting out bits of fluff or removing food bits from between teeth (YUCK!) makes me die a little inside. Far better to spot these things in advance and deal with them in real life.

Ethics

Ok, so this ‘could’ get complicated, but I’ll try to keep it clear and simple.

A retouched or manipulated photo can be used in a business website, leaflet, brochure or corporate social media post (provided the post isn’t put out as a news piece).

Manipulated photos are often used in advertising, which explains why McDonalds’ burgers look edible in the roadside billboards, but taste like damp cardboard whenever you come to eating a real one.

A retouched or manipulated photo CANNOT be used in a press release or as a news image, regardless of destination (web, print, social media, projection onto the Moon). The only retouching allowed would be, for example, the removal of dust spots caused by muck on the image sensor. Minor colour, lightness and sharpening adjustments are fine, but the image has to be an accurate reflection of the captured scene.

Does this make advertorial* a grey area? I don’t think so. Provided the article is labelled as advertorial, image manipulation is acceptable because anyone seeing the article will know it’s not a news piece.

There is a real danger in the area of corporate communication via social media, as Amnesty International discovered when they used a series of AI-generated images to highlight their reports into police violence and sexual harassment in Columbia in 2021. In Amnesty International’s case, they did label their images as AI-generated, but their ethical stance was damaged by the use of fake imagery and they subsequently pulled the posts.

Now AI is a whole new kettle of weird fish, but the principle is the same; images put out by organisations as news or current affairs need to be true. The humble, local press release photo is not exempt just because its’ not going to be picked up by the BBC or Reuters.

And it’s easy to think that a small change doesn’t matter; inserting/removing/tweaking the colour of a company logo, moving or removing an element, addressing some sticking-up hair, putting a hard hat on someone who wasn’t wearing one on a building site – all these are no-nos when the images are destined for any kind of news use, which includes press release material. It doesn’t matter if it’s the local mayor presenting a giant cheque to the local hospice, or a national news event; if it’s offered as a news item it has to meet the criteria of a news image.

For more detailed guidelines on what can/cannot be adjusted in a news image, the Getty guidelines are a very good start.

Staged pictures

This set of pictures from 2023 is a great example of when PR coverage involves a mix of ‘live’ and staged images. The captions for each image explain more of this concept:

In the example above, we have three typical types of PR photo from a single event: the fly-on-the-wall shot, the staged-to-look-not-staged shot and the obviously-staged shot. The middle one is perhaps the least honest, but it’s fair to say that nothing has been added or taken away from the scene as it was captured. In the final photo, I seem to recall going round picking up litter to tidy things up, but again it’s an honest photo of the existing scene. The viewer isn’t fooled that the artist was directed to pose, and this is a common kind of PR photo, but nothing was manipulated in editing software.

What about…?

It’s debatable whether some historical news images would be allowed today. The Independent newspaper’s in-house style of very heavy vignetting in the 1980s and 90s would potentially fall foul of today’s code of ethics. At the very least, a caption note would have to be added to say that the sky had been ‘burned in’.

Other historical pictures were stitched together to recreate a scene from multiple images, but each individual image was not a manipulation; they’ve merely been sequenced into a panorama or extra-wide view of something which existed in front of the camera. Such a photo would require a special note to editors today, but could still likely pass the truth test.

The bottom line

Most importantly, we live in an age where it’s too easy to manipulate images. This degrades the public’s trust in what they see, so it’s more important than ever to ensure that what goes into our news media is true and honest. An insignificant tweak here, a slightly heavy-handed adjustment there and before you know it, a photo is no longer an honest record of a scene or event.

In the course of liaising with a client on their brief, I endeavour to make sure I know the end-purpose of the work. If I’m satisfied they’re purely for corporate communications, I’ll allow for more adjustments than if they’re for editorial. I can adjust images to enhance certain aspects of an image. I might extend a plain backdrop, I’ll tidy up stray hairs and flecks on clothing and more besides.

However, I still prefer to get all these aspects tidied up in real life. It saves my time and my sanity!

*Advertorial is when a client pays to have an editorial-style piece placed in a newspaper or magazine. It’s basically an advert, but usually has the look of an editorial article. Advertorials must always be labelled as such.