How Much Does It Cost? A Stylist's Life


Whenever you look at a billboard, a commercial, a magazine editorial or even outfit images on your favorite shopping website, that is the final product of a very long production process. I think when consumers digest these images, they of course only see the beautiful glossies, which in turn influences them to purchase or just be inspired. However, what most people do not understand is the work involved and more importantly the cost of how much it takes to actually execute these lovely images.

Cost, in most industries, specifically service related ones, such as styling/creative direction, is overlooked. And most people who seek out these services, do not understand how much it truly cost to do it right and as close to their vision as possible. I say as close to because based on the client's budget, some things may be traded out in order to execute the project. 

I recently was approached by a potential client who was looking for styling/production services for a boutique line. Of course, this was the opportunity to help mold and develop all marketing images for this brand. Essentially all images would be used through out their social media campaign as well as their website and of course any other marketing opportunities for brand exposure. Conceptually, I was in! I mean, who wouldn't be? 

We discussed the brand's vision and of course what I can bring to the table.  Which not to brag, is a lot. I've been fortunate enough to build a strong list of brands and creatives I can partner with over the course of these years. Plus I've produced my own photo shoots, shoots for others and have assisted stylists on sets for companies including Men's Health and I know what I'm bringing to the table. 

However, there was one question I missed the first day of our conversation. "What is your budget?" Before the client sent me their ideas for what they wanted for their campaign, I asked them to kindly include how much they are willing to spend for this project. Instead of giving them my rate, requesting the rate allows them to come to me with how much they're willing to spend. Providing my rate for a project that has many components, would be premature and detrimental in securing the project and having enough to cover the project. Plus, having the client provide their budget, allows me to create a menu list based on their budget we can do x, y, z, etc. 

Needless to say, when they came back with how much they were willing to spend, it wasn't even enough to cover a day rate for the photographer. You're probably asking yourself, how? Well, I can give you a full breakdown. Usually when you're providing a service, there is a disconnect between cost and tangible product. It's not like you're  buying a happy meal. When you go to McDonalds, you know exactly how much it will cost without fail and you will get that product immediately as soon as you hand over the money. With a service, the cost usually covers all incidentals and parts needed to execute the final rendering. And usually it needs to be paid before the beginning of the project or at most 30 days from date of the service or in this instance photo shoot. 

Just so you have an idea of what exactly it involves, let's use the example I introduced as a case study.

A new boutique cosmetic brand is looking for a full marketing campaign. They want images & videos created that can be used over the course of 4 months from the time of launch to Holiday/Resort (in January). 

Images Needed:

Product Images for Ecommerce Site/social media

Lifestyle Images to be used through out website/social media 

Model shots wearing the product 

Lifestyle images with Models


6 small vignettes featuring each model: 1 lifestyle based and 1 with one applying lipstick

Client's stated budget: $500

Now, if you were someone just starting out, you'd probably say to yourself, $500 that's not bad, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong. This budget is supposed to cover the photographer who has to be experienced in shooting for online (a big difference from real life shoots), hair and makeup and styling fee. No way. The reality is, when you are providing a service that requires a high level of quality and value, you need to be compensated for that. In reality, a project of this magnitude, would be $3,000 - $5,000 job. And considering I am a small team of me with awesome co-stars, the estimate is on the low side. Most creative agencies would charge at minimum, $10,000.

Here is the realistic breakdown:

For starters, because there will be product and live models shooting, this would need to be done over the course of 2-3 days, approx. 6-8 hours/day. Products would be shot 1 day and models days 2 and 3. In this instance, we only need 1 day for models 

Consultation: $100/hr This is for the first meeting, where we brainstorm ideas for your marketing campaign/images. Total $100

Stylist Rate: $500/day For this instance, let's say I'd charge just for a one day rate. This is based off of experience, value of myself, time invested and scope of project. Total $500 

Photographer Rate: $600/day some may know this, but photographers can usually be paid double if not triple this rate per day! But, because I have an amazing team, I can negotiate a low rate and possibly just get paid at a two day rate; mind you this person is also experienced in shooting for websites! Total $1,200

Hair and Makeup Artist: $300/day each (for only days models are present, let's say we shoot them all in one day) Total $600 

3 Models: $300 - $500 day each Finding models for a cosmetic brand is very very different then for a clothing line. Their skin has to essentially be flawless and limited retouching needed. Total 3 models for 1 day: $900

Clothing Budget: $500 based on vision of client. Clothing can be pulled from showrooms; however, there are some brands such as Bloomingdales, where you have to pay a percentage for what you borrow. There are also big showrooms where there is a rental fee. Total: $500

Food/Transportation: $200 For driving to and from set if it is a location set and food for breakfast/lunch. Total $200

Props for Lifestyle shots: $400

Videographer: $500 - $1,000 Someone who can shoot and edit videos based on client's specifications Total $500 

Retoucher: $300 for model/product shots (where necessary) Total $300

Total Realistic Budget: $5,200 

Big difference, isn't it? What a lot of people fail to realize is that to get that amazing Gap ad, pretty clothes on the Anthropologie website and amazing Uniqlo billboard, you have to spend a little pocket change. And as a creative, you have to really, truly stand behind your cost and the value of your work. I used to be afraid of quoting prices for fear of losing clients; however, it is better to be upfront and honest about how much you're worth then to go into a project half assed.  Moreover, it just avoids the headaches if that client is a handful (keeping it 100). And note, my fee is a small percentage of the cost. Now because I'm also essentially producing and putting together the shoot, my rate would be a smidgen more (keeping it 100). We all know being a producer brings in a little bit more. Why do you think movie stars and music artists work to be producers of their work??? 

Sometimes you may not necessarily need to pay all at once. As creatives we know that you can provide invoices with a net 30 from the start of service to complete all payments. It would allow the client not to feel overwhelmed by the price and more confident in the service. 

I wrote this post because I wanted people to understand that it's more than just pulling pretty clothes. There is a process involved in executing projects especially if the images are being used for marketing purposes. And if you're a brand looking for services and someone doesn't have an honest conversation in terms of budget, they are lying to you. I wouldn't trust anyone who wouldn't give me their price unless they were looking to get over on something or list outrageous prices after the completion of the project. I hope this helps in understanding what it takes to make the pretty things. Think I missed anything? Please let me know in the comments!