A Look at Your Photography Investment and Pricing It (Part 2)

Yesterday we talked about your expenses to run an office and equipment overhead, today lets look at some real numbers to create those photos.

Both examples below are locations I shot several years ago (Thailand 2006 and Croatia 2007). I choose these locations because they have a history on the market and I felt would demonstrate realistic numbers.

Example 1: Thailand

Thailand: The following are true numbers from a photo shoot I did in Thailand.

Income from sales: $7349, sold 23 times

International Flight … $1600, In-country Flights … $163.22, Driver … $873.71, Guide … $387.97, Fuel … $196.58, Lodging … $428.01, Meals … $337.60, Entry Fees … $87.50, Airport taxes … $47.87.
Total : $4122.46 (misc costs not included)

Time invested in processing images:

Thailand produced approximately 1800 raw images. After editing and complete processing I finished up with 280 images.

Editing: 4.5 hours, Processing (raws to tiffs): 6-8 minutes per image equals 28 hours, Writing descriptions and keywording: 3-5 minutes per image equals 14 hours,
Total Time : 46.5 hours (Total time is based on least amount of time per image).

I have only had three photos from my Thailand trip that has generated any money. Depending on the location and popularity of that location this can be typical, some photo shoots generate photos that sell more than others. The other two photos that have sold from this investment generated $1080. of income with 12 sales and the other generated $434.34 from 14 sales.

Breakdown of Thailand expenses and profits: Travel expenses … $4122.46, Income from sales … $8863.34, Profit … $4,740.88

Example 2: Croatia

Now let’s look at another situation with very different results, Croatia.

Income from sales: $872.50, sold 2 times

International flight … $1108.11, Rental car … $317.15, Fuel … $138.71, Lodging $684.96, Meals … $495.18, Entry Fees … $63.36, Parking and tolls … $81.39

Total cost : $2,888.86 (misc costs not included)

Time invested in processing images:

Croatia produced approximately 1500 raw images, after editing and complete processing: 235 images.

Editing … 4 hours, Processing (6-8 minutes per image) … 23.5 hours, Writing descriptions and keywording (3-5 minutes per image) … 11.75 hours.

Total Time : 39.25 hours (Total time is based on least amount of time per image).

The photo shoot in Croatia up to this point has only generated 3 photos that have sold.

The breakdown of expenses and profits from Croatia; Travel expenses … $2888.86, Income from sales … $1394.50, Profit … -$1494.36 (a business loss).

A Business Summary

Doing business is expensive and a risk. As you can see from the two examples from above, I invested a lot of money up front, one turned out profitable and the other did not. Obviously, I have come out ahead more times than not, otherwise I probably would not be writing this post, I’d be at another job doing something other than photography. I learned early on in my career that I had to learn quickly what my overhead was and what kind of return I needed from my photo sales to survive. Every photo shoot I choose was decided based on what I thought was a need in the marketplace. I treated every trip as a business trip and not a vacation. How did I decide where to go? If you recall from a statement above, I said photographers should know the market in which their genre of work would be used. In my case it is travel. I am constantly reading and looking at what travel industry professionals were promoting and predicting to be the next hot travel destination. In many cases my homework payed off and there were certainly other times it didn’t.

Regardless of what you photograph there is overhead. A check from your stock agency isn’t a salary until you deduct your expenses. To close, I would ask those photographers who are sincere about making money, to take a look at your investment and time and evaluate your options, you might be surprised to see what is available to you. It is not important how many photos you sell, what is important is how much you get for the photos that sell. I wish you well in your business pursuit. Until next time, Good Luck.

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Note: I’m a contributer to the Photobizcoach blog, for photo techniques and travel locations visit my Photoconnection blog.

© William Manning: all material on this blog is the copyright of William Manning. No reproduction on this material is allowed without written permission from the author/photographer.


  1. Tim says:

    I appreciate your sharing of experience and knowledge.
    That breakdown you did is pretty basic but here is the interesting thing. After you deduct other cost, like insurance, taxes, where do you sit?

    If you don't have up front money from where ever you get it, what comes first the chicken or egg?

    It's just not practical in most cases to travel to exotic locations. I happen to live in an area that is saturated with artist and photographers photographing the beach community I frequent, so how do you make money and capture an area that has been photographed from every way possible?



  2. Tim, You're right, it's not practical in today's environment to travel to exotic locations to shoot and make money doing it. My breakdown was pretty basic but I felt good enough for the purpose of the article. There are risks and investments in every business, but most business people make business decisions with their head and not their heart.

    Let's first for the sake of readers to identify this topic to stock photography. There was a time when it was possible to travel at your expense and recoup your investment plus generate an income. I did it for almost 20 years but in fairness, I had outstanding outlets to do so.

    Today, it is (nearly) impossible to recoup this investment. I believe there are several reasons for this, first technology has changed the way business is done and who the players are within the industry. Secondly, we photographers rendered all of the power to our stock reps, who were in my opinion, arrogant and made many decisions that hurt both them and especially the photographer. Let's go back when royalty free images were first introduced. Photographers were offered 20% commission on sales, a silly offer but photographers went with it without trying to negotiate. Years later, I asked a industry leader why 20% and his reply was, we threw that number out and photographers accepted. He went on to say, we would have gone with a higher commission but we were never challenged.

    We can also go back just a few short years ago and look at prices for internet usage. The prices were set incredibly low and look where internet use is today. Prices should have been much higher. No need to explain farther.

    Now let's get back to your question. How do you make money? I'll be straight forward, it is extremely difficult. That being said, what I suggest to photographers when asked this question is, don't play the micro-stock game. Remember, making money in photography is not about how many pictures you sell but how much you get per image. I would rather sell one picture for $100 than 235 images for .35 cents. Look for clients who are willing to pay a fair market price for your hard work and talent. Don't be afraid to say "No" to a potential client when they refuse to pay your asking price. Be open to negotiating but stay within reason.

    So many photographers are simply bad business people, don't be one of them. Bad business will eventually lead you to no business.

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