Imagine I'm starting a photography project with a duration of at least several weeks. I'm trying to estimate a fixed cost for the whole project.

As part of this project I'll have to build trust with indigenous people local to the Central American country I'm living in, before any actual photography takes place.

This trust building is likely to take considerable time, but doesn't directly involve photography or post-processing, so I'm a bit stuck on how to charge for this.

Overall I don't have much inexperience estimating project costs.


In the end your client is paying for the photos. If it takes 12 weeks but only the last 4 weeks are actually shooting and processing, that's just the nature of the job. Charge based on 12 weeks of work. There is some flexibility in this: you can't do anything else in that time so you have an opportunity cost (you could have been working for other clients instead), but maybe it's a very interesting project and it will open up other career opportunities so it's worth taking a lower fee. You could itemise and bill actual fixed costs like transport.

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You've essentially just stumbled upon the not-so-modern miracle of "bidding." Using an example of 8 weeks of project with only 4 of shooting...

You could charge the project as if you were charging for 8 weeks of photography ...and someone else could come in and bid for less. Thus, you lost the project by bidding too high.

Conversely, you could wind up bidding very low - shooting yourself in the monetary foot.

As with all things photography - the answer to how much you should charge is essentially, charge the most that your client is willing to pay.

But, do consider:

  • Your relationship with the employer (how badly do they want your photography vs. someone else doing the project?
  • What are your project costs going to be, including the time you don't spend shooting? You have to absolutely bake in the costs to your final fee - but not necessarily profit margin for those costs...
  • What is your opportunity cost for the time? Are you a full time pro that is sacrificing project work for other clients or are you just getting started and have the time to spare?

Personally, I would charge your shooting fee for 4 weeks and travel/living costs for 8 weeks + a lost-projects fee equal to whatever is realistic for you.

Take a look at the number and see if it feels right for you. There's a lot of variability in these types of projects.

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Another way to look at at 2 month project that has 2 weeks of shooting.

What do you need to get for this time? If your work has routinely been pulling in 10 grand a month, then charge him 20 grand for the 2 months of the project.

But if you can close your studio, or rent it to someone else for 2 months, you can drop the price.

But you won't be around to bid on other projects, so your name gets forgotten. So raise the price.

But you really want to do this, and it would be very cool and interesting, so you lower the price.

But you are going to have to bring 2 spare bodies, and likely lose at least one to the Great Swamp Monster, so you raise the price.

Me: Certain expeditions I would do for room, board, and spending money. On the flip side, you couldn't pay me enough to be a kid on santa's lap photographer for more than 1 day.

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  • All expenses paid trip to rural China and Tibet to photograph the cultures, landscapes, and elusive animals. But first, you must do an entire season as Mall Camera guy/gal. What say you!? – OnBreak. Jan 19 '18 at 0:12

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