Thinking about getting some product photography work done? Professional images can go a long way to elevating the image of your brand and your products. There’s a lot of service providers out there, each with their own specialties and unique pricing structures. Product photography pricing can vary widely and getting a handle on what to expect can be a daunting task when trying to put together a budget.
In this guide we’ll outline the costs involved with product photography, selecting a product photographer, and how to save money on your product photography project.
Do I even need professional product photography?
Before we get started, let’s explore whether professional product photos will help you achieve your goals. There are some cases where your money is better spent elsewhere. In other cases professionally shot photos are an excellent idea.
Who should consider a professional photographer
Brands large and small regularly use professional photographers when selling through online marketplaces or their own online stores. If one of these examples sounds like you, then professional product photos may be an excellent choice.
You manufacture your own line of products
Possibly the number one best case for hiring a professional product photographer is the product manufacturer or brand owner who makes their own products in large quantities. Whether selling direct or in a marketplace, these companies can photograph each product once and re-use the photos many times over. This significantly lowers the photo cost for each unit sold.
You sell product on a marketplace such as Amazon.com or Walmart.com
If you’re selling on one of these, or a similar platform, you’ll want to have high quality visuals. Great images make your product easy to identify and help you stand out among other sellers offering similar items. Much of your competition will be using a professional photographer. Considering a pro for your own products can help you remain competitive.
You have an online store through Shopify, BigCommerce, or similar
If you sell directly through your own online store, it’s important to earn the trust of your customers and give them confidence to complete the transaction. A customer may hesitate if they feel the product photography was done hastily or doesn’t accurately represent the product. Does a company who cuts corners on their photography cut corners in other areas as well? Shoppers understand a company that puts effort into their photography also puts effort into other areas of their business.
When to reconsider professional photos
Product photos can be a big investment, one that should be worthwhile in the long term. If one of these sounds like you, it might make sense to reconsider hiring a pro.
You sell one-of-a-kind items
Imagine an artist who makes hand painted floral vases, each vase being a one-of-a-kind custom piece. Once the vase is sold the photos of that vase cannot be reused, except perhaps in a portfolio of previous work. Ideally, once a photo is shot it can be reused many times to sell identical products. The artist in this example is at a disadvantage because they require a new set of photos for each unique vase, reducing the profit margin on each sale. Similarly, the seller of an individual antique item or family heirloom using an online auction site would not be able to reuse the photo assets unless they had several of the same item to sell.
The exception would be in the case of high value items where the sale price is many times the overall photography cost. Still, except in these rare cases, it’s usually best to skip professional photos for one-off or very small run goods.
You are a reseller rather than a manufacturer
Another time to consider other options is when you are a reseller of another brand’s product. Imagine a candle shop who sells candles from many different brands via their online store. Unlike the artist in the example above, the candle shop stocks many of each candle. Because of this, it makes financial sense to shoot them professionally, right? Well, maybe. While the candle shop owner may plan to sell many of each item, the candle manufacturer plans to sell a lot more. Because of this, most manufacturers have already had their products professionally photographed. Chances are the candle manufacturer will be more than happy to share those photos with their retailers. Who doesn’t love free photos? (Just be sure to get permission first.)
That doesn’t mean a reseller shouldn’t seek the help of a professional when it does make sense. Resellers should still consider hiring a pro if they aren’t able to obtain high quality photos from the manufacturer. Same goes for when the reseller wants to create a cohesive style across their product offerings.
Freelance vs. full-service studios
When selecting a product photographer you’re likely to encounter two main categories of photographer: freelancers, and full-service studios. Both may offer remote or “mail order” photography services. Let’s take a look at each and weigh some of the pros and cons.
A freelance photographer is typically an individual photographer, but may also have one or more assistants. Freelance photographers may have access to studio space such as a home-based studio or a rental studio. Often this type of photographer will focus on weddings, portraits, and parties; but may also offer product photography.
- Travel. A freelancer may be more willing to travel to your location and shoot on-site. It’s usually better to bring the products to the studio rather than bringing the studio to the products. However, this option can offer some advantages, especially if the products are difficult to move or of very high value.
- Flexible rates. A freelance photographer might have room to negotiate on price. You may be able to strike a deal and save on the total cost of the project.
- Help a friend. Many people have friends or family members who know a photographer. It never hurts to work with people you already know, or have been referred by a trusted source.
- Experience. A freelance photographer often works in many areas of photography and may not have much experience specifically with product photography.
- Availability. Freelance photographers are usually one person outfits. They may be booked out for many weeks, or unavailable on the dates you need them.
- Capacity. An individual photographer can only produce so much work over a given period of time. Successful businesses require more and larger projects on an ongoing basis. Such businesses may quickly outgrow a freelance photographer.
- Studio. A freelance photographer is less likely to have access to a complete photo studio with equipment targeted towards use in product photography.
A full-service photography studio differs from a freelancer in that they will have a permanent physical location, often with several photographers and support staff. Full-service studios tend to cater towards commercial work, including product photography and modeling.
- Experience. A full service studio is likely to have product photography experience, shooting a large variety of items for use in many applications.
- Availability. Because a full-service studio has a larger staff, you’re more likely to be able to get your project scheduled and shot quicker. A full-service studio can also be more dependable when it comes to handling a steady stream of ongoing work.
- Studio. Typically a full-service studio is going to have the space and equipment to properly shoot your product. They will usually have dedicated areas and staff for unpacking, prepping, assembling, and styling the products which are to be shot.
- Cost. For many projects, the total cost may be lower than with a freelance photographer. Full-service studios frequently deal in bulk projects and will have processes in place to streamline the shoot and make workflow more efficient.
- Set processes. Full-service studios are likely to have set processes in place to make completing projects more efficient. Sometimes this can feel more burdensome and less casual than working with some freelance photographers.
- Negotiation. While the overall cost of a full service-studio may be competitive, you’re less likely to be able to negotiate a lower price on fixed-rate services.
How do studios price product photography?
There’s a lot of studios out there and they all take a different approach, each with their own advantages and challenges. Some studios will use several different pricing structures depending on the service being offered. While there’s no right or wrong way, we’ll take a look at some of the most common product photography pricing arrangements.
This is by far the most common pricing structure. Most studios who specialize in product photography are going to offer per-photo pricing of some sort. It’s the simplest pricing structure and works just like it sounds. If a studio charges a rate of $50 per photo, and you order 10 photos, then you will be charged $500 for those photos. Many studios will offer per-photo rates in a tiered structure. For example, 10 photos being priced at $50 per photo, but that rate drops to $45 each if you order 20 photos or more. Tiered structures help both parties by rewarding the client with a lower rate when ordering a large number of photos while raising compensation to the photographer for smaller orders.
By the hour
Hourly rates are also very common when working with product photography studios. While hourly rates can be quoted with any type of project, they are most often used when the more simple per-photo method doesn’t make sense. A studio may quote hourly rates when a project involves a large amount of set-up, product preparation, or creative styling. For example, a client who sells mattresses and wants them photographed in a bedroom setting. A project like this may require a large amount of props, set construction, product prep, and assembly. Because of this, a photo studio is likely to quote an hourly rate for each image rather than a simple per-photo rate.
Packages can make a lot of sense for those seeking to get a variety of images for a specific purpose. They can target the needs of sellers on a specific platform, Amazon.com for example. These packages will aim to bundle the most common shots, while meeting the technical specifications of that platform. Package deals can offer discounts over individual services while eliminating some of the guesswork.
What factors affect product photography pricing?
Unfortunately, not all products or projects perfectly fit the standard product photography pricing model. Expect studios to quote higher rates when asked to shoot products that fall outside their standard size limits or when a project needs to be delivered very quickly.
Most studios will specify what types of products will meet within their standard pricing model, a size limit is usually first on the list of those specifications. If you have a large item you need photographed it’s a good idea to check with the studio on what size limitations they may have and how this plays into their pricing. In addition to size, studios may charge extra for products that require a large amount of preparation or cleaning before they are ready to be photographed. A good example would be a camping tent that needs to be assembled and the wrinkles steamed out. Tents are not only large, but also require a fair amount of assembly and preparation prior to photography.
The style in which the product is to be photographed also plays a big role in cost. On one end of the spectrum you have white background photography, which is considered the standard go-to for most product photography studios. One the other end you have lifestyle shots, which may require elaborate sets or on-location travel. Usually the white backgrounds will fall within a standard pricing model with no upcharge. Some studios will offer a variety of solid background colors for the same rate as a white background. However, beyond these standard styles, prepare for additional charges if you’re looking for more involved creative work such as lifestyle or on-location shoots.
There’s a saying that goes “You can have it fast, cheap, or good, choose two.” While cliché, it’s a saying that rings true in many industries, and photography is no exception. An efficient photo studio will often have their calendar mostly committed a week or two in advance. But they will also leave some room for high-priority rush projects. If you need to get your project done ahead of everyone else, most studios will have an option to move your project ahead on the list, for an additional fee.
When choosing a mail-order photography studio, shipping costs will contribute to the overall cost of your project. A good rule of thumb is shipping costs should represent less than 10% of the overall cost of a project. Of course, if you have a large or heavy item you need shot the cost of shipping these items will become a larger factor.
How can I save money on product photography costs?
Nobody wants to overpay, and a smart use of resources frees up money to be used in other areas. Here are some things the savvy shopper can do to save money on product photography costs.
Like we discussed above, many product photography studios use a tiered pricing structure. This gives bigger discounts for larger projects. Frequently, brand owners will have several products in the pipeline that need photography. Instead of placing several small orders, place one large order to take advantage of tiered pricing. Keep in mind, however, some services a studio offers (like lifestyle shots, or packages) may not qualify for tiered pricing.
Take a look at whether the studio has any packages for the type of photography you need. Add up what comes in the package vs. the cost of those services individually. There’s a good chance the package price is the better deal, just make sure you’re not buying extra services that you don’t need.
Send perfect product samples
Take care to select the best product samples you have available and package them carefully when shipping them to your photographer. Sometimes photographers are tasked with photographing products that are defective, damaged, dirty, or scratched. Send your photographer clean, undamaged products which have little to no visible manufacturing defects. This will help prevent additional charges to correct these issues.
The bottom line
Product photography pricing can vary from place to place, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be confusing or unpredictable. Here are some key takeaways to consider when hiring a pro for your project:
- Make sure professional product photography makes sense for your project. If you’ve made it this far, there’s a good chance it does.
- Choose a photo studio that meets your needs. The closest studio isn’t always the best studio for your project.
- Understand the most common product photography pricing methods. If possible, familiarize yourself with the studio’s pricing before you make first contact.
- Consider the products you’re shooting and the visual style you’re after. Think about how these may complicate your photography project and prepare to simplify, if needed.
- Plan your projects and prepare your product samples to reduce costs whenever possible.