Advice - Photography / Day/base rates

Photographers working on commission charge by time, typically by the day. However the photographer is the owner of the intellectual property in the work, and the day rate charged is legally for an initial licence to reproduce the photographs.

Getting down to brass tacks, before a photographer negotiates a commission fee they have to work out the figure below which they are not prepared or cannot afford to work.

This figure varies according to individual circumstances but should start at around £400 per day before production charges and expenses.

It has to cover all overheads and investment in equipment before producing enough to cover holidays, periods of sickness, and a pension.

And this base figure has to do that while also taking into account that three full paid days a week is usually about as much as can be fitted in between preparation before the work, post-production and delivery, with time to spare for all the other aspects of running a business including marketing and accountancy.

Allowing, after holidays, for a 48-week year, that leaves 144 days to produce the estimated turnover, which will need to be several times the required annual income.

Each photographer has to work out their own figure according to their requirements, their costs, and the number of days they can work in a year.

The NUJ provides a calculator for photographers to work out their own figures.

Static day rates now leave many photographers working below the level at which it is possible to earn a professional income. The only long-term solution is to establish a higher day rate - one which over a period of time would provide a living. In the short term many photographers accept lower rates in the hope of surviving through subsequent reproduction fee sales.

No photographer should work for less than £300 per day.

As mentioned above, the commission fee should include an initial limited licence for reproduction, to be negotiated between the photographer and the client, beyond which further reproduction fees are chargeable. Typically photographers working for editorial markets restrict reproduction to one issue of a newspaper or magazine, and further restrict the number of reproductions included, for instance six per day or three per half day.

Some may charge a premium for use on the cover. Some charge "day rates against space".

Day rates against space

Under this arrangement the day rate is a guaranteed minimum for doing a shoot. Licence fees are paid in full for first use as well as for subsequent uses. Historically, day rates were introduced as a guaranteed minimum for photographers who had traditionally been paid on commission by space rates alone, and who therefore risked being paid for no more than one small picture - or even nothing at all. "Day rates against space" are therefore not so much an innovation as a return to paying photographers in full for the licensed use of their pictures.

For further guidance on licensing see "Negotiating rates and rights", linked below.

There is no such thing as a half day

Even the shortest jobs end up taking the best part of a day. The time quoted should include travel to and from the job and processing and delivery afterwards. No job should be invoiced at less than a day. However, in a buyers' market photographers often have to charge for shorter periods, of half a day or a number of hours The licence included in these fees is usually more limited. A half day should be charged at no less than 60 per cent of a day rate.

More advice and links...
* Negotiating rates and rights advice for photographers
* Uploaded 09/06/2323: if you have a printout, check the current version at
* Rates for the Job good, bad and ugly
* Join the NUJ to get individual advice & representation

Text © Mike Holderness & previous contributors; Moral rights asserted. The collection (database right) © National Union of Journalists. Comments to please. You may find the glossary helpful.

The National Union of Journalists must not, can not and would not wish to dictate rates or terms of engagement to members or to editors. The information presented here is for guidance and as an aid to equitable negotiation only.

Suggestions apply to contracts governed by UK law only. In any event, nothing here should be construed as legal advice.