All images on this site are the property of Helter Skelter Media Ltd.

Why Photographers Get Paid

How Photographers get Paid

Why Photographers get paid

It might seem like a tautology, but bear with me; understanding why Photographers get paid is important to both new photographers and people with a requirement for photographs.

I’m a product photographer and one of the most common complaints I hear from my customers is that they engaged a photographer for free or for a very low fee and the photographs didn’t live up to their expectations. I’ve seen lifeless food, reflections of the photographer, jewellery without sparkle and drink that looks quite frankly, poisonous. All of these have been produced by photographers pitching services for free or for suicidally low rates.

There are two sides to this story – firstly, it’s never been easier to take photographs. And if that’s a good thing, there is a downside, which is that photography is a craft that technology has facilitated to the extent that people often believe they can create professional standard photographs without any training or experience. The result is that prices across the board are declining as faux-photographers compete for customers who would value the experience and skills they think they are getting for their money. You can’t blame a business for hiring cheap labour, but we have only ourselves to blame if we become that cheap labour.

The second side is that colleges and universities are turning out decent photographers looking to build a living in an industry that is fiercely competitive. These new photographers have a lot to offer, but will often get pulled into the “this shoot will give you more exposure, so you should do it for free” conversation. I had a prospective client recently remark bluntly that they “have access to a number of wedding photographers who are happy to offer their services for free”.  If it works for them that’s great, but I wonder if it works for the photographers for very long.

I can’t speak for wedding photographers or anyone else – this post is from a perspective as a product photographer and explains what photographers get paid for.

What is a Product Photographer?

Product Photographers make images which are used to help sell a product.

What do photographers get paid for?

Here are a few things

Flawless Technique

Understanding the Client

Understanding the client’s Market

Delivering Outstanding Images – Every time

These things are value propositions – elements that differentiate one photographer from another, that adds value to their client’s business.

What are photographers compensated for?

Compensation is an americanism – but it does have a use here because there are things your photographer is doing that other people don’t have to do.

Buying Equipment

Buying Insurance – Equipment, Public Liability etc. 

Learning Complex Software – Photoshop is amazing, and amazingly complicated!

Learning new techniques

Maintaining a business premises

Photography is a Business

Professional Photographers run businesses. If they don’t look after the business, the business will, to be blunt, fail. And this is why so many photographers disappear without trace.

So how much should I be paying?

A picture is only ever worth what it is worth to the client. There are no hard and fast rules, but consider this – when you hire a photographer, you are hiring someone who will understand your vision, set up a studio, obtain props, take the pictures, process the pictures, print the pictures and promote the pictures. You’re hiring someone who will make your product look exciting, enticing, seductive and scrumptious – and sometimes, to be honest, that doesn’t happen straight out of the box. This is what you are paying for. If it was as simple as clicking the shutter, you wouldn’t need a highly skilled professional.

What am I being charged for?

Most photographers charge by the day, the half day and some by the hour. This income has to pay the rent, the bills, new equipment, insurance and so on. On a good day, food may be bought, even wine! Charges are usually levied by the session or by the object photographed and cover the time taken to take the photograph and apply an agreed level of post processing to them. Then there is the matter of copyright.


In UK law, copyright of a photograph belongs to the photographer in the same way that copyright of a piece of music belongs to the composer.

Does that mean I don’t own the pictures I paid for?

Technically, it means that the pictures you paid for are licensed to you. Sometimes that license will have restrictions – type of use, exclusivity, length of license for example.

When you book a photographer, be sure to understand what you are buying – most photographers will charge more, the more rights they assign to the client. For example if you want to obtain all rights to the image, in perpetuity, you need to realise you are restricting the photographer’s ability to profit from that image after the session – so logically, it will cost more than a license for commercial use, exclusive, 2 years.

When considering a photographer’s charges, understand what you want from the photograph – if it is for a PR campaign that will last three months, then do you really need the image for 2 years? You need it to be exclusive, but realistically only for the length of the campaign.

Helter Skelter Studios & Copyright

At Helter Skelter Studios, because we are a commercial studio specialising in product photography, we do not give away copyright. Instead, we license pictures in one of three ways.

  1. If the requirement is short term and you don’t need exclusivity we will quote you on the basis of a Fixed Term, non-exclusive, editorial license. This s the cheapest way to get pictures – its cheaper because we will charge you for any prints we are asked to provide, and we have the possibility of reusing the images after your requirement has expired. We simply charge the Session fee for these licenses.
  2. If the requirement is for exclusivity and your need is longer we might suggest a Fixed Term, Exclusive, Commercial license – this gives you exclusive use of the images for commercial purposes for an agreed period – often two years. If the images are so successful that you decide to run them for a further two years, then you must renew the license. We charge Session + 50%  for this type of license.
  3. If the requirement is for exclusivity for ever, then this is similar but not the same as transferring the copyright to you. We recommend Exclusive Commercial Use In Perpetuity. In terms of what you can do with the image it is the same as transferring the copyright, except for the fact you cannot resell it, alter or repurpose it in any way without our permission. We charge Session + 100% for this type of license.

The detail of these licenses is negotiable, the guiding principle is that we try to license what our client’s actually need, no more and no less.

Why Photographers get Paid

We get paid because we deliver images that work for our clients, we sprinkle a little bit of magic everywhere we take our cameras. Talking to my friends in the business, I haven’t heard a single one say that shooting for free has paid off. Quite the reverse in fact, expectation will be just as high as if it were a paid assignment, because you are a free resource you will get treated like one – unrealistic schedules, sudden cancellations and so on. The other side of this coin is that businesses who encourage free photography generally don’t get the best photographers and almost never succeed in building a good creative relationship with their photographer. Is that valuable? In the end, it’s really up to the client, that is the nature of business and for the professional photographer’s standpoint, a position of cultivating good and lasting relationships with clients, that is why photographers get paid.



  • Share

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.