My most-visited post on my website was titled “How much does architectural photography cost?” and was from several years back. While the information is still relevant, a lot has changed in my business in the last few years, including the addition of video in my offerings. In this post, I wanted to give an update on what architectural photography and video cost in 2023… MAYBE. I would actually argue this post is a lot more philosophical than practical, so brace yourselves.
It depends on the scope of the shoot and the photographer. According to a world census completed by AP Almanac in 2021, the vast majority (35%) of North American architectural photographers charge a day rate of $1000-$2000 depending on location, while only 10% of photographers are charging a day rate of $4000 and above. Keep in mind that the day rate does NOT include image licensing, retouching, etc. This is just their fee to show up – and the reason why that fluctuates is due to a number of factors. In this article, I share what I believe the most important factors are. Personally, I don’t charge a “day rate”. I charge a “Creative Fee” that is determined by the time and resources it will take to complete a project, and that can start anywhere from $1000-$1500 – but may increase based on the project scope. For the sake of this post, I will continue to refer to this as “Day Rate”.
What Factors Determine Photography Rates?
Keeping that information in mind, there are many factors that will contribute to an architectural photographer’s fee. In my original post several years back, equipment was my number one reason. A few years later, and a few pounds heavier, I don’t even consider the equipment to be a factor whatsoever. I say this mainly because I am using less equipment now than I ever have before and am making significantly better images than I was at the time of writing that post. I am convinced that if I lost all of my equipment and had to start over from scratch, I could build my business from the ground up with just a few hundred dollars… without a Go Fund Me campaign. On my first shoot, I would rent all of the gear I needed (one camera, one tripod, one lens) and would use the funds earned during that shoot to purchase those things for my next shoot. I would probably add a second and third lens as well as a computer over the next couple of photo shoots – and that would be all I need. In fact, my entire equipment arsenal (and laptop) can fit in the cargo space of my car. Just a year and a half ago, it took an entire closet to fit all of my stuff – most of which I didn’t need, but thought I did.
This is what my architectural photography equipment arsenal USED to look like. Notice that there isn’t even any floor space. This doesn’t even include the gear that I had laying around in my actual office. Compare that to my entire equipment arsenal now which includes 2 cases for cameras and lights, 1 duffel bag for accessories, a collapsible cart that fits into my trunk easily, a tripod, some light stands, and a laptop. More often than not, all I need to bring with me is a camera and tripod – sometimes not even a tripod 😂.
Ok, so here are what I think are the main factors:
1. PERCEIVED MARKET VALUE
Based on the number of photographers that I have talked to, the perceived market value of any given region seems to have a significant influence on the day rate. The cost of living isn’t so much what determines it in my experience, but the perceived market value of photography (or the photographer). For example, architectural photographers in markets that have an abundance of real estate and generalist photographers who have been able to fill the need of architects, builders, and designers for an extended period of time tend to have a lower rate due to the supply of photographers available. Architectural photography (proper) has unfortunately suffered in those regions as a result of this and the photographers tend to have a harder time “proving” their value over generalists.
Being primarily a Nashville-based architectural photographer, I am able to charge an appropriate amount for my services because the clientele understands the value of proper architectural photography in a fast-growing and competitive market.
2. CLIENT NEEDS
Most architectural photographers I talk to are not only photographing projects for architects. For example, at the time of this post, I have 1 regular client who is an architecture firm. The rest of my business comes from hospitality, design-build firms, retail, engineering firms, corporate offices, and PR / marketing firms. I have also photographed architecture for a company that makes roofing material for hotel porticos – completely random. I also occasionally shoot for interior designers in the residential space and higher-end real estate shoots (Realtors: before you contact me to shoot a listing – my rate starts at $1500 for real estate). As you can imagine, the rates are going to vary widely because the needs and project scope is going to be completely different for each client. I might spend 30 minutes on location shooting 20 photos on one shoot, and 8 hours on another shoot making only 10 photos.
The licensing needs are also going to vary widely based on the client. For example, photographing a full-house renovation for an interior designer would be a day rate plus a per-image rate for licensing. The photos will mostly be used on Instagram and the website. If a lighting manufacturer contacts me after seeing the photos and wants to license a few of them to use not just on their website and social media, but also on their distributors’ network website, the licensing fee is going to be significantly more than what the interior designer paid because the usage is of significantly greater value to them.
This is why when people contact me for a quote on their project, my questionnaire has several questions to help narrow this down and get them a faster quote.
3. PERCEIVED VALUE OF THE ARCHITECTURAL PHOTOGRAPHER
Whew – this is a tough pill to swallow… and I am the one writing it. Sometimes we just need to speak the truth to ourselves, so here it goes: No matter how great of a photographer I think I am – if nobody perceives me to be worth working with… then I am not worth working with. On the other hand, if you put the world’s most amazing architectural photographer and me in the most basic of spaces – it is very likely that you will have a hard time determining who shot what. The world’s greatest photographer could also photograph a piece of dirt alongside the average (professional) photographer and because they photographed it, it will be perceived to be an amazing photograph.
Perception matters WAY more than we think, and I don’t think that there is anything that can increase a photographer’s value more than their own HEALTHY confidence. This is gained through experience, learning a ton, and messing up a LOT. Photographers also run the risk of being OVERLY confident and may not be as self-aware of how that might be coming off.
When I wrote my first post on this subject, I had no confidence in myself. I was trying to prove how “knowledgeable” I was and thought that my post would somehow communicate to people that I was confident because I understood the business of architectural photography. The information wasn’t incorrect, it was just written from a place of desperation.
Several years later, I am significantly more confident in a healthy way. I have experienced a lot of rejection, a lot of praise, and worst of all… a lot of silence! Silence is painful when you are an architectural photographer because you can’t rely on the feedback of your clients to tell you how you did… you have to actually determine whether or not you did ok. Meaning that you ACTUALLY have to do some self-reflection! you have to seek feedback from peers in the industry. Bounce ideas off each other. Try new things. Be self-critical, etc. The silence, as painful as it is, is one thing that can make a photographer more confident because we are forced to be more introspective vs. striving to please everyone.
I am now at the point in my career where I can say with confidence “This is my process, and this is what it costs”… and be ok without getting the work. I have a significant amount of experience that has made me confident in how I currently do business. With time, this will change and evolve.
4. OTHER RANDOM THINGS
This is all of the stuff that doesn’t factor into every shoot, but I will touch on some of those things briefly.
Assistant fees – One of the things I learned in 2022 is that I will do everything in my power to make sure that I have a paid assistant on every shoot that I do – even if I lose money on it. A good assistant is invaluable and makes every shoot significantly easier on me mentally and physically. An assistant is not the client or one of their employees, and the assistant needs to be someone the photographer chooses. A good assistant could range anywhere from $350-$800/day depending on the market, the needs, and the value the assistant brings. I have two assistants that I work with regularly. One of them is an amateur photographer who just happens to work in the built environment and knows everything you need to know about commercial architecture. The other is an experienced photographer who can anticipate exactly what I need and also understands lighting – arguably better than I do. My client or their employees cannot provide that to me.
Travel – This is self-explanatory. In my case, my service area is anywhere between Nashville, TN, and Charlotte, NC. Travel fees start when I begin to venture out of those areas for more than 1.5 hrs. Travel is going to include my expenses and my time.
Licensing – If your usage needs increase beyond basic web and social media usage, the licensing fee will increase accordingly.
WHAT DO I CHARGE FOR ARCHITECTURAL PHOTOGRAPHY?
As much as it pains me to say this… it depends. Literally every single project is different and there usually isn’t a “1-size-fits-all” approach to pricing architectural photography. I have photographed what could be considered “basic” projects ranging from $1,500 to $19,000, although most basic projects of 10-20 images could range anywhere from $2200-$5000 depending on a number of variables. That said, I really need some details before I can give a straight answer to this.
The good news is that people work with me not just because of my results, but because I make things very simple. For example, I thrive and create my best work using a hassle-free, flat rate. This allows me the flexibility to shoot as many images as we need to get the job done properly while giving you the flexibility to select the final images you want to be retouched that you feel best to represent your project.
While my preference is to work on a flat rate, I am flexible and have other pricing options that are based on a creative fee+per-image rate, or just a simple per-image rate for smaller projects. If you would prefer to work with a curated list of pre-selected compositions, we can do that as well.
My contact form (below) is designed to help expedite the quote process. I have many detailed questions that are completely optional to answer but will help me to get you an accurate price quickly.