Photo District News, otherwise known as PDN, recently released an article titled, “Does Editorial Post-Production Cost Too Much?”
This is one of those articles I wish came out when I first started in the industry. I really never knew how much to charge or what the earning potential really was for a retoucher. Considering the lack of resources out there for us, it was not easy to find out. When you couple that with how hidden knowledge about price structure was, you were really shooting in the dark.
This is also relevant to anyone else in the industry like photographers who are in search for a retoucher and want to know what to expect.
At the time, the only way to really find out was to ask a working retoucher in hopes they were being honest, or go around requesting a quote as a photographer.
When you read through the article, you get a general idea that retouching is expensive, timely, and also inconsistent as far as rates go.
For instance, there are a few excerpts that drive the point home as far as inconsistencies go:
Per image rate:
“At The Happy Pixel Project, retoucher Hayes says a few magazines, like some Condé Nast publications, simply stick to a standard per-image fee: $350 for an inside photo, $600 for a cover. (Commercial work pays by the hour, not by the image, so costs are higher than for editorial work.) With a set price like that, she says, “sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. It’s actually pretty reasonable.” Hayes does the same amount of work whether an image is for a cover or inside page or Web site. She says that’s to save work later in case the image is needed in another format, but it could also have something to do with a perfectionism that seems typical of retouchers.”
“But there are apparently some photographers who would go beyond that.The New York Times Magazine’s Ryan says she’s seen photographers ask $1,000 per image.”
“If there’s something more a client wants—any sort of compositing, changing the elements of a photo—he sends the work out to a freelancer at $100 per hour, and bills the client with no markup.”
The primary take away from this article is that is you’re in search of a retoucher, keep in mind that there is no standard. Also keep in mind that retouching is not cheap and when someone states that they work at $100/hour, it’s a fairly standard number.
If you’re not in the industry, it’s hard to understand how we get such a high figure. You have to factor in expertise, high demand, overhead, lack of availability, and mostly due to a lack of other competent retouchers in the market that also drives up prices for such a specialized talent.
I bring this up because many people believe the cost is too high, but in reality it is fair. Price is defined by demand combined with specialized expertise and this industry is no different.
On the other end, there are also many other retouchers in the field who work for very little because they are either starting out, have very little experience, or don’t do this full time. Just don’t expect their rate to reflect the industry standard.
I appreciate the people of PDN in writing this article because it’s a great reference point that educates many people and attempts to demystify the rate structure within the retouching industry.