Digital Processing Fees

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of pressure to reduce my digital processing fees and, in some cases, even hand off my RAW files and let a third party deal with the post processing. Well, let me state this once and for all:

I won’t do that.

If I’m hired to create images that are like those in my portfolio, then I have to be the one to do the digital processing. It’s part of my creative vision. I’ve spent years honing my look and style and I’m not willing to let go of control of that.

For example, here’s what one of my shots looks like before I put my touch it:

Gross, huh? But I see a RAW file with potential. Here’s what it looks like after:

Much better! Could someone else do this? Possibly. Would it look like my work? Probably not.

There are many reasons to charge for digital processing. The main reason is to recoup the costs of owning the fastest computer, the latest software, and the best camera. It’s expensive. I’d say to keep up with it, I spend an average of $5,000 to $10,000 a year on it. And that’s just me. As my business grows, I’d like to hire an employee to do the post work and so the digital processing fees will have to pay for their salary in addition to adding a second fastest computer with another copy of latest software.

The problem is there are few standards out there for digital processing. And so, many photographers don’t charge anything for it or pull numbers out of the air. We need a standard folks!

In the old film days, you would charge for film and processing usually with a significant markup. Shooting film was a profit center of the business and you needed to mark it up to cover the overhead of keeping film on hand. If you also scanned the film, you would charge for that too because of time, equipment, and labor. Either way, you were charging and getting paid for the image in its final form. Just because a digital file is ones and zeros, doesn’t mean it’s cheaper.

So, here’s my standard digital processing: Feel free to use this, tweet it, whatever. Just spread the word.

$1 per capture to shoot digital
$1 per MB of final image(s) delivered

Don’t charge by the hour. Charge by the unit.

Here’s how it works in practice hypothetically:

Say from the shoot above, I shot 108 RAW files and delivered 6 final RGB Tiff files at 60MB each. I would bill:

$108 – Capture and Processing (108 x $1)
$360 – Final Image Delivered (6 x $60)

$468 – Total Digital Processing Fees

To help you explain what all comes with digital processing, I would say it’s anything you do to create your vision plus captioning and keywording each file for you and your client.

I don’t do a lot of Photoshop, so $1 a MB covers my editing time. But if you do a lot of heavy Photoshop and compositing, then you might need to charge more. Like a $2 a MB. If you shoot a high volume of RAW files (fashion, lifestyle, kids, etc) maybe you charge $.25 a capture or just charge $1 for the selects. My point is that you should charge something and you should charge by a unit, not time.

Does that sound fair? Does that make sense? It works for me and if everyone did something like this, it would become a standard.

Fingers crossed.

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  • Jen Wick03/10/2011 - 3:07 pm

    Smart. There are parallels here that allow a takeaway for other creative industries. I appreciate use of a formula here, which always helps in the bidding process. I only occasionally have to defend my rates, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor. When clients think something “shouldn’t take long” (and thus shouldn’t cost them much) they don’t consider what goes into the process: education, training, experience, equipment, rent, digital storage, etc. Very helpful.ReplyCancel

  • Christian Reed03/10/2011 - 3:24 pm

    Capture fee doesn’t make sense to me.

    Were I lucky enough to get an image as good as yours, it might take me 10x as many shots. Would I then charge a $1080 capture fee?

    Seems like you’re taking a roundabout path to an hourly rate.

    It doesn’t matter, though. This issue reminds me of Paul Rand and the NEXT logo. Wasn’t it along the lines of, “I’ll give you a logo. You get no input. It will cost $100,000”.

    Everybody and their half-ass brother thinks they’re a photographer these days. Clients are paying for your talent and expertise. You cost what you cost, but you’ll get it right. Smart clients recognize that and pay you your rate. Clients who don’t get that… Well, they’re not clients now, are they?ReplyCancel

    • Lincoln Barbour03/10/2011 - 4:00 pm

      The Capture Fee covers shooting to a card, downloading, basic adjustments, rating, and adding metadata. For architecture and food, I shoot very few RAW files, so a $1 a shot works for me. When I shoot lifestyle, I only charge for the selects and not the outtakes. I might shoot a 1000, but only give the the client 200 proofs. I would then bill them for the 200.

      I don’t like billing by the hour. If I were to bill hourly, I would buy the slowest computer on earth. Billing by the unit saves my client money and makes me more profitable the more efficient I become. It’s a win win.

      Like I said, do whatever makes sense to you. Just bill by the unit, not by the hour.ReplyCancel

  • lisa teso03/10/2011 - 3:35 pm

    perfectly stated, excellent approach.

    thanks for sharing!ReplyCancel

  • Christian03/10/2011 - 5:50 pm

    Awesome post. I have been dealing with similar issues and think this is a straight forward approach. What are you thoughts about those “extra” processing requests that clients sometimes make, like cloning out power lines, etc? I usually charge a flat rate per image and any additional requests are billed hourly. Thoughts? thanks for sharing.ReplyCancel

    • Lincoln Barbour05/06/2011 - 2:20 pm

      If it’s part of your vision to retouch the shot in any way, then that should be part of your creative fee. After you deliver the image and the client wants more retouching, then you should probably give them an estimate to do what they’re asking for. You could do it hourly or just charge a flat fee. Typical retouching rates are from $40/hr to $120/hr.ReplyCancel

  • Boone03/11/2011 - 11:49 am

    Great post Lincoln. Thanks for sharing.

    For me this is a super tricky thing to add as a line item. Honestly, it’s hard enough to work out licensing with many local clients who just don’t get it. But I appreciate the conversation and also encouragement to “stand firm” in practices that keep doing what we do sustainable.ReplyCancel

  • Erik Bishoff03/15/2011 - 9:55 am

    I’ve also been bouncing this stuff around in my head… for months. I even attended the ASMP SB3 conference in LA a couple months ago to learn more about pricing and fees. Everyone had a different answer, it was a little frustrating.

    I think yours is a good solution. It may not be for everyone, because we all have a different process to our work, but it’s important to address it and we ALL DO need to consider these issues.

    When you’re looking at the breakdown you use and the $1 increments… that’s something clients can understand. Bravo! (…and thanks for sharing this)ReplyCancel

  • andy05/06/2011 - 2:00 pm


    Hey I am a little late to the party here, but I just stumbled across this post after stumbling across your website/blog. By the way, I really like the layout of your sites. Inviting and easy.

    Anyway, my question is do you charge any other fees in addition to the $1 per capture to shoot digital and
    $1 per MB of final image(s) delivered? Model fees, digital storage fees, travel, insurance, permits, etc.? I assume so, but wasn’t sure if your pricing structure was intended to include all of this in an easy-to-digest way. And does this structure apply to commercial and editorial assignments equally?

    I appreciate you sharing your methods and for taking the time (hopefully) to entertain my questions.


    • Lincoln Barbour05/06/2011 - 2:12 pm

      Hey Andy,

      Thanks for commenting and the kind words.

      To answer your question, yes I charge for all expenses on top of my creative fee and digital processing fees. This includes (but not limited to) assistants, stylists, producers, equipment rental, travel, props, craft services, catering, location/studio fee, special effects, and so forth. The blog post was about what I charge for shooting digital (as apposed to shooting film).ReplyCancel

    • Lincoln Barbour05/06/2011 - 2:13 pm

      PS: I don’t charge for digital storage or archiving. I just charge for pulling out of the archive if someone wants it.ReplyCancel

  • Anthony03/01/2012 - 4:01 am


    Thank you for the sharing of information. This is one step forward to educating both clients and new photographers. I arrived in the country several months ago and nobody could tell me a rate structure that they were following. With respect to the industry one should always find that out so that you don’t undercut the competition and thus undermine all of us in the process. So thank you for sharing…

    In South Africa we get paid a day rate and a process fee. However, we don’t get paid usage and the law states that you don’t own your own pictures. the person who commissions the job does. The publications are demanding the RAW files there to do away with the process rate and to control all images… therefor only wanting a monkey to point and shoot.

    It is only when you have explained what the costs are in order to maintain the best equipment and up keep thereof, does a client fully understand the role of the professional photographers fees.


  • Jerry03/15/2012 - 3:53 pm

    I’m colour correcting a sandwich. It’s looking like a damn good sandwich – after 45 minutes. Processing fees make that happen!ReplyCancel

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