Advertising photography: How to estimate an advertising photo shoot 

 June 25, 2015

By  Pascal Depuhl

Estimating an advertising photo shoot – it’s all about the details

As you can imagine there are about a million details that go into creating an advertising photograph. In the end, everything needs to work together to create the perfect image. Starting with the talent, the crew, the weather, the location, the gear, the logistics, and much more. The smallest issue can bring a carefully planned shoot to a grinding halt, but a thorough estimate and planning can help you get over that wrench that get’s thrown into the job on the second day at 4am (like it did on this one) – more about that on the third post in this series.

ABE Website screenshot

Working on the production of this ad begins about a month before the crew steps foot on the beach. It starts like many of my photo shoots do. My phone chimes out a notification: someone has filled out the contact form on my website: “We need new photos of our running armbands in action.” it reads “Ideally shot locally in Miami or vicinity. Our small business is located in Broward, and we would like to work with a local photographer. Can you contact us, and let us know if you are interested, and what you need to make a quote? Thank you.

Estimating an advertising job

Of course I’m interested. And I’m local. So what next? I’ve had people ask me “How much do you charge for an advertising photo shoot?” You’ll see why that question is impossible to answer without some more information. First I need to know how many images we are going to be creating. That number is made up from the products that we’ll shoot. How many colors does that come in again? Are there multiple sizes? Although this is a technically is an assignment for a product photographer, in this case we’re going for that aspirational feel. After all the client is advertising how awesome their product is. How many days is the production going to take. All those questions go back to the client. A llittle while later I get an email back from with answers to those questions.

The more you know, the more accurate you can estimate

Then I need to get even more detailed: What’s the brands demographic that these advertising photos are going to target? Am I looking for fashion models, real people or athletes? What is the age of the target market? How many different looks are we going for? Where type of locations are we looking for? Do we need special photo gear? It goes on and on. Here’s where creating photo estimates for over 20 years comes in handy. I know where the hidden costs are. I’ve been using a template that ASMP (the American Society of Media Photographers) created, which protects me from forgetting production items in the estimate.

Finally you have to get an idea of the budget. Is the client planning to use friends and family for the photos? Or are we flying in known athletes? Probably somewhere in between. What about stylists and hair and make up? Do we need to rent an RV with a driver? Are we going to pick the perfect locations or are we limited to work on the cheap ones? All these questions can help you figure out where a clients head is. Some times they just don’t know what a real advertising photo shoot costs – especially small business that are just starting out – other times creative departments don’t want to give you a budget.

Long story short, after a few emails and phone calls, you should have information to know what you need to shoot, how much it’s gonna cost and how much of your time it’s gonna take.[nextpage title=”take a look at the actual estimate for this advertising photo shoot”]

Here’s what my preliminary estimate looks like for this shoot. Get as detailed as you can in your description of the shots as well as what you project your fixed cost to be: crew, talent, locations, food, parking, tolls, …

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The estimate for this advertising gig will be the basis of the production book that goes into even more details (check next weeks post for what all is included in that book). Your bid should reflect all the options you’ve discussed with the client. The most important part of this process, is to communicate with your client. During the planning of this advertising shoot, I found out that the particular beach we loved, had an extra fee that the owner charged us for getting onto it before sunrise. Here’s a tip: Send a quick email to the client and include a solution (or two), in case that the extra expense blows their budget. I wrote something like: “I love this beach and I think it’s perfect for our photos, however in order to get the shot at sunrise, we need to pay an additional $x. If that’s too much, we can go to the public beach down the street or we can save the same amount by (be specific where you can save money in the budget). What do you think.

Clients hate surprises. Can you imagine not discussing this with them and then presenting a bill that was a couple hundred dollars higher than the estimate? That’s a great way to not get hired again.


Once the budget for the shoot gets approved, it’s time to scout, cast, plan, visualize, book, schedule and much more. Read about How to find the perfect spot for your ad next

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Pascal Depuhl

Miami product photographer, video producer, cinematographer and chief mindchanger at Photography by Depuhl I love to share the knowledge I've gained over the past two decades. Catching light in motion.