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Behind the Lens: Budgeting for Commercial Lifestyle Photography and What to Expect

Updated: Apr 26

Considering the benefits and impact of commercial lifestyle photography on-brand content, understanding the nuances of budgeting for such shoots becomes crucial.


From determining the number of locations feasible for the shoot to selecting the right models to bring the brand's vision to life, each aspect plays a vital role in the success of the project.


We're going to dive into the intricacies of budgeting for commercial lifestyle photography, providing insights to help brands navigate the process seamlessly. We are also going to break it down between low-cost productions and more high-end ones so you can fully understand the range of costs for content creation.


Whether you are aiming for an urban city feel or that golden light on a sunny Southern California beach, understanding what lifestyle photography costs and how to optimize resources effectively is key to achieving compelling visuals for your brand.


The Value of Lifestyle Photography


Commercial lifestyle photography plays a fundamental role in how a brand communicates its story and values. These images go beyond mere product placement; they evoke emotions and create a sense of aspiration that resonates with the audience. Through candid shots and real-life scenarios, lifestyle photography allows potential customers to envision themselves using the product in their day-to-day lives. This connection can dramatically enhance brand loyalty and customer engagement. This is why we always recommend adding at least some lifestyle photography to a brand's content funnel (even if they are shooting for e-commerce storefronts).


The ability to stand out with authentic, high-quality lifestyle photography can be a game-changer. It's not just about showing your product but about crafting a narrative that aligns with your audience's values and lifestyle. That's why understanding your audience and how to create imagery that resonates is so valuable. And, understanding that lifestyle photography is an investment in your brand's image and storytelling prowess.




What Does Lifestyle Photography Cost?


Determining the cost of lifestyle photography can be done by breaking it down into several categories:


  1. Photographer's fee

  2. Location costs

  3. Talent fees

  4. Stylist (wardrobe and/or prop)

  5. Additional crew

  6. Wardrobe

  7. Props

  8. Photo retouching

  9. Usage rights

  10. Insurance costs

We'll break these costs down into a range that starts from very basic (small crew, low-budget production, friends and family talent pool, etc.) to very elaborate (shooting for a larger brand, agency talent, additional crew, etc.).


San Diego Lifestyle Photographer's fee


If you're a brand that is just getting started and aren't worried about having a photographer with a ton of experience you can expect rates to be between $500-$750 for the day.

If you plan on using the content for ads or need a very polished, speciality photographer, plan on spending between $1250-$2000/day.


Low end - $500

High end - $2000



Cost of Photography Location


We have seen some pretty crafty individuals score locations for next to nothing. This is always possible if you're shooting guerilla-style and willing to risk getting booted from a location for not having permits. If you're willing to keep things off the books, you can negotiate location fees between $250-$500 for a few hours of shooting.


If you need more coverage - i.e. you're worried about doing things by the book - you'll have to work directly with location scouts or location websites like Peerspace to secure your venues. These locations tend to cost $1000-$3000/day and don't often allow for rentals less than 8 hours. Some venues on Peerspace and Giggster will allow hourly rentals with fees as low as $75/hr, so it's possible to get high-end-looking venues without blowing the entire budget.


Permit costs vary by city, but most places outside of LA and NYC are less than a couple hundred dollars (or completely free).


Low end - $500

High end - $3000


Talent fees


Talent can often be the most challenging part of a lifestyle shoot. It takes a considerable amount of time to cast, review submissions, and get client approval. For this reason, many smaller agencies or independent photographers rely on the same network of friends or IG models as a part of their lifestyle shoots. This will cost between $50-$100/hr per model.


If your brand requires a more specific look, if a fitting is involved, or if you don't have the bandwidth to oversee the talent process, we recommend using an agency. Agency talent ranges from $100-$200/hr with a 20% fee tacked on for their management.


For the budget-conscious, we would suggest using 4 talents for 2 hours each @ $75/hr. If budget isn't a factor, we recommend 4 talents for a full 8-hour day @$150/hr + 20%.


Low end - $600

High end - $5750


Stylist


Often, the photographer on low-budget productions acts as the stylist (in addition to the producer, director, and everything else). These photographers are rare and should be treated like gold because that's what they are.


In the event you want to spare their emotional health, bringing on a stylist is a great call. On the low end, you can find people for $500/day who will help style all the elements within the frame (wardrobe, props, etc.). Keep in mind that if they are required to source the wardrobe and props, you will need to pay them an additional day rate for sourcing and another one for returning.


High-end stylists who specialize in soft goods, props, wardrobe, etc. charge between $900-$1250/day and usually require one full day of prep for everyday shooting.


Low end - $500

High end - $2500


*Note for lifestyle photography shoots that have heavy requirements for prop and wardrobe styling - you'll need to hire a person for each role.




Lifestyle Photography Additional crew


One of the benefits of a scrappy crew and an outdoor location is being able to shoot with natural light conditions. This can save a lot of costs when it comes to lighting and equipment. For a lifestyle photography shoot on the lower end, you can get away with a photographer and an assistant. The photographer would have to act as a director while the assistant monitored the time and the shotlist. This additional assistant can range from $250-$500/day.


For larger productions, and when lighting needs to be controlled, you would want to consider bringing on a gaffer ($750), grip ($500), photo assistant/DIT ($500), and a PA ($250). They will all be required to make sure the image quality is usable at the highest level.


*One more position to note would be a hair and makeup artist. They usually charge $850/day and often you need a separate artist for hair and makeup (especially with multiple models).


Low end - $500

High end - $3700




Wardrobe


There are situations where you can provide a style guide and have the talent come with their wardrobe options and you can style them accordingly. We've done this many times for lower-budget lifestyle photoshoots and while it's not perfect, it's often close enough.


Otherwise, you'll have your wardrobe stylist shop for some pieces (in person or online) based on talent sizing and then bring everything to set for steaming and fitting.


The dirty secret of the industry is that most wardrobe purchases are returned after the shoot. Whether you keep the tags on and hide them or invest in a re-tagging gun, it's common practice to take the haul back to the returns line and pretend none of it worked out. For this reason, you can have a wardrobe budget of $0. Keep in mind that you'll pay some for the shopping and return days, but that is way cheaper than purchasing all the wardrobe items outright.


There are instances where things are non-returnable and that should be factored in. On the low side of the scale - $250 for non-returnables.


For a high-end shoot with a curated wardrobe, many agencies work out deals with clothing stores to use their apparel for a shoot in exchange for restocking fees, often 15% of the retail value. This is especially useful if you need clothing that can't be found at big box retail stores. A good budget for a larger shoot would be in the $2500-$3500 range.


Low end - $250 (+ shopping/return costs)

High end - $3500


Props


Props follow the same rules as wardrobe. We often set a $500 total budget for non-returnables and everything else we order is done with the intent of returning. There are also rental houses that will provide props for you at a fixed cost per day.


You'll run into higher budgets when you need custom props/set decorations built, props that require alterations that make them non-returnable, or super custom rentals of props from a very specific aesthetic (vintage, mid-century, etc.).


Low end - $500

High end - $3500


Lifestyle studio photography

Photo Retouching


For small-scale shoots that aren't going to be used for extremely public-facing ads, the photographer will edit their work or it can be outsourced via a freelancer website like Upwork. Costs can range from $10-$100/hr. A full-day lifestyle shoot can usually be edited in 8-10 hours.


If you're producing content that your brand depends on, meaning it will be used to drive sales directly, we recommend partnering with photo retouching agencies that specialize in high-end work. This will cost anywhere from $150-$225/image. Assuming 20 selects for a 1-day shoot this adds up pretty quickly.


Low end - $150

High end - $4500


Usage Rights


Now we can discuss everyone's favorite topic - usage rights. The larger the brand and the production, the more of a situation this becomes.


Essentially, the content created needs to acquire rights for usage and distribution - whether that be streaming OTT ads, images for packaging, website, digital ads, etc. The usage is usually assigned for specific platforms and for a specific length of time. For passive web and organic social, there are often low-to-no extra charges.


When it comes to ads, you can almost guarantee to get dinged for an additional fee. This counts for the talent as well as the creators.


Our company has a unique position on usage rights, we don't throw ourselves into the mix. Whether something is for a website revamp or a Hulu ad, we don't add markups. As for the talent we cast, we negotiate directly with the agency to find a fair number for both client and model.


On the low end of things, usage for a digital ad campaign for 1 year could go for an additional $500. On the higher side, an ad that will be featured in broadcast, print, billboards, etc. can cost thousands of dollars in addition to the talent's daily/hourly rate.


Low end - $500

High end - $3000


Insurance Costs


Insurance costs are similar to permit costs—if you have the stomach to go rogue and aren't paranoid about the implied risk should something happen, many photographers and smaller agencies forego insurance. Note that we don't recommend this at all. It would be devastating if something happened and the liability came back to the brand because their creative partner wasn't properly insured.


We carry a general liability + workers comp policy that covers us to the standards of all major productions and studio rentals. Our studio partner also has their own separate insurance policy that covers activities that take place during a normal photography session. We don't charge anything additional to our clients for this.


There are some above-board workarounds if you don't want to carry a full policy. Daily insurance policies can be taken out for specific events and shoot through insurance agencies (like Full Frame) that specifically cater to productions and events (namely weddings). These can cost as little as $50.


Low end - $50

High end - $400/mo


Honourable Mention - Equipment Rentals


This is a factor to consider for higher-budget productions. Studio locations will require that you rent grip and EQ directly from them. Your high-end photographer will likely have a kit fee or need to rent custom cameras/lenses, depending on the content you're shooting. You could easily say goodbye to another $10k here.


We typically work with in-house photographers to avoid passing these extra costs to our clients. We own all our equipment so that isn't a line item on the budget.


Low-End Summary


An incredibly crafty brand that is deeply invested in the DIY way of producing content could pull off a shoestring budget of $5k. Mind you, this would break nearly everyone's brain and body, but it is something that we see happen regularly.


High-End Summary


Our math tallies the high-end totals to just under $32,000. That might sound insane if you're a casual brand, but it isn't even that costly of a production day if you're producing at the highest level. We know that brands like Coca-Cola and Nike work with photographers who charge $20k/day.


How much we charge for Lifestyle Photography


For context, we often produce full-day shoots with talent that run as ads on Meta + digital streaming platforms in the neighbourhood of $15-$20k. We work with clients who have annual revenues between $10 and $100MM. We consider this ballin' on a budget because we approach these productions the same way the huge agencies do; we've just eliminated a lot of extra weight that causes production budgets to balloon out of control.


When we are producing high-end branded content strictly designed for ads, we are closer to the $20-$30k/day range. This is mostly due to the larger crew needed for customization, speciality stylists, and extra attention in post-production.


Wrapping it all up


We know that was a lot to read. Frankly, it was a lot to write.


It's really important to understand all of what goes into producing a lifestyle photography shoot so you can make the best possible choices when selecting a creative partner. You want to work with someone who has the relevant amount of experience for the quality of content you are after.


If you have any specific questions about your upcoming production you want to run by us, schedule some time to chat here.




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