Case Study: Producing A Successful Estimate

As a producer at Wonderful Machine, I work with photographers around the world on a daily basis to help them connect with clients and estimate projects both big and small. One of our members recently asked me to help him compile an estimate for a shoot with an agency working for a steadily growing restaurant chain. The photographer was a food and lifestyle specialist based in the Midwest, and he was contacted by a midsized agency in Chicago. The restaurant chain had more than 500 locations across the U.S., and they were working with the agency to refresh their website and integrate it with social media and online marketing.

After a phone call with the art buyer at the agency, I was sent a creative brief that detailed a shot list featuring tabletop views of various menu items along with shots of the restaurant environment. The shoot was to take place on a single day inside one of the restaurants during regular business hours, and they planned to close off a portion of the restaurant to accommodate the crew. The client requested to use the images for three years on their website and social-media outlets, as well as in web advertisements.

Here’s a breakdown of the fees:

Creative/Licensing Fees: The shot list described 13 images in three categories:
1. Two tabletop still-life images of various menu items shot head-on (camera level with the tabletop).
2. 10 tabletop still-life images of various menu items shot at three-quarter angle (camera placed slightly above the tabletop).
3. One architectural/environmental shot of the restaurant.

When determining a fee, we first factor in the creative requirements of a project. For this shoot, the camera angles and lighting would stay about the same for all of the food photos, and most of the challenge would be about making the food look great. Each food or drink item would need to be meticulously styled, requiring streamlined collaboration between the photographer, stylists, client and agency.

The primary use of the images was for a redesign of the restaurant’s website, and secondary usage would be for online advertising, email marketing and social media. I chose to price the first image higher since only one "hero" shot would be used on the website’s landing page and likely would be the main image used on social-media sites, web ads and other online collateral. The other 12 images would be used on secondary pages of the client’s website (though the agency asked for identical licensing for all 13 images).

It’s important to remember that "web" isn’t so much a type of licensing, but rather a medium. The ultimate use of the photos would determine whether it’s publicity, collateral or advertising use, and we define each of these types of uses on our Terms & Conditions page. After considering the size of the client, scope of the use (no print), experience of the photographer (this was his first major commercial assignment), shoot difficulty/complexity, the quantity of photos, the fact that only one image would be used as the "hero" and that the value to the client would diminish for similar images from each scenario, I valued the first image at $2,500, the 2nd through 5th at $1,250 each and the 6th through 13th at $800 each, for a total of $13,900.

After I come up with a fee on my own, I like to check it against a couple of other pricing resources to see what they recommend. Blinkbid called for $2,600 to $4,500 for one image for one year for that usage, and fotoQuote recommended $6,500 per image for three years within their "web pack" (which includes web advertising). These pricing guides are useful when you’re quoting exactly the same parameters that they’re showing, but often they don’t match up to a client’s intended use, and I generally find them to be on the high side. In this case, we were essentially shooting 12 variations of the same food picture. So the question is, do you simply multiply that one-year fee for one picture times the number of pictures and times the number of years? If I did that, the fee would be $2,600 x 13 x 3 = $101,400. As much as I wanted the photographer to get that fee, it’s simply not worth that much to the client. I decided on an even $13K for the fee, which was reasonable for the scope of the project and also helped to keep the bottom line under $20K.

Assistants: We budgeted for two assistants for the shoot day.

Digital Tech: We’ll hire a digital tech to import files and operate a workstation or laptop anytime we have a client making approvals during the shoot. This allows the photographer to keep working on set while the clients watch the progress on a monitor. Some more expensive digital techs are prepared to bring or rent high-end camera equipment and processing software to add images into layouts, but at this price range, the tech simply would be importing files from cards and organizing them while allowing the client to occasionally review the work.

Food Stylists: The restaurant’s chefs would be cooking the food as they typically would for their customers, but in order to further style, plate and arrange all of the shots in one day, we included fees for two food stylists—one working on the current setup and the other prepping for the next shot. We also included a stylist assistant to help out.

Photographer Scout Day: The photographer would need at least a half-day to walk through the restaurant with the agency and client to determine specific locations and angles while reviewing the menu items.

Equipment Rental: We included a fee to use some of the photographer’s own equipment while allowing for a few additional rentals, if needed. This is on the lower end of what we might expect to charge for equipment on a shoot like this, but in order to make their budget work, this was one of the places where the photographer was willing to come down a bit.

Image Processing For Editing: While the digital tech would import and handle basic organization of the images as they were shot, the photographer still would need to spend additional time after the shoot to edit, rename, tweak and process a web gallery for the client and agency to review.

Image Processing For Reproduction: We figured it would take a full day to further process, retouch and deliver the 13 high-res selects.

Miles, Parking, Misc.: The restaurant was local to the photographer, and the client would be feeding the crew, so I only needed to include $100 for miles and miscellaneous expenses.

Results: The photographer was awarded the job.

As a Wonderful Machine producer, Craig Oppenheimer has estimated and negotiated hundreds of photo assignments and has produced shoots for clients both big and small. When he isn’t helping photographers with estimates or production, he tirelessly promotes the Wonderful Machine brand and arranges monthly portfolio events with high-caliber creatives around the country while consulting with photographers on targeted marketing campaigns. If you have any questions, or if you need help estimating or producing a project, contact Wonderful Machine at

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