The top 10 factors that influence our commercial pet photography photo/video shoot pricing

by | Commercial Pet Photography 101, Photography

Our commercial animal photography & videography services come with a huge range of prices, from low to very high.

Sure we have some package prices, but truth be told, those don’t work for the majority of pet brands, because each company’s needs are so unique.

You may wonder what could possibly create such a huge range in prices for a commercial pet photography shoot. In this blog post we shed some light on what goes into a shoot that influences the final number on the estimate you receive.

Factors that influence photo/video shoot pricing:

1) The quantity, quality and type of human and animal talent

We’ve had shoots for global brands where the tally for talent alone has been over $30k! These are the photo shoots where we need a dozen professional adult and minor models and a whole bunch of pro talent dogs and cats.

Vetriscience copyright Cowbelly 98

We can usually get ‘real people’ human models for under $1k per day. Or if your cousin Jim throws his hat in the ring we can probably get him for a couple hundred.

The longer the talent needs to be on set, the higher the cost.

Animal talent ranges in price from cheap family dogs and cats who don’t need to do anything but look cute (at $75-$150 for an hour or two), to professional talent who are trained to perform commands on the spot for $850+ per day, not including the trainer or travel time.

If you’re cool with the pet owners having an image or two, we are happy to make partial payments to them in images. Just know that those images will most definitely end up going on the pet owner’s social media accounts! (Note that this isn’t an option for straight video shoots.) So if you don’t want those images floating around the internet, it’s best not to give them to pet parents.

We will never ask a pet owner to take time out of their busy schedule to bring their pet for less than $75/hour ($150 for two hours, which is the time commitment we generally require). Their pet’s likeness is helping your company make money, and they deserve to be compensated for that.

The more challenging the shots are to create, and the higher quantity of those we need to create, the more time we need when working with family pet talent. And in some cases, we’ll put our foot down and say that a shot is only possible with a trained model.

Side note- most pet owners think their pets are trained, but when they show up on a set in a strange environment and are surrounded by a couple dozen people, popping lights and a trainer they’ve never met before, their obedience and confidence goes out the window.

For this reason it’s always our preference to use professional animal talent.

Same goes with people- they are trained to give you the looks you want, without you having to spend time explaining why the look on their face is weird, or how they get a double chin when they move their head like that.

It’s substantially quicker and easier for us to photograph professional human and animal talent.

Side note- because pet cats are so unreliable for commercial modeling, we only work with professional agency cats for our cat shoots. Those talent are typically between $350-$500 per two hours, not including trainer or travel time. 

2) The quantity, quality and type of locations

We might get a city park permit for only $350, but if our client requests a fancy high-end modern home with a gorgeous yard, that’s going to cost us $3500-$4500 for the day.

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One of our San Diego county residential locations. Cost per day for this location is $3000.

Sure we can shoot in a regular pet owner’s home, as long as you are fine with their dust bunnies and mismatched furniture. (Side note- we still need to pay them.

For a regular pet owner’s home, figure $750-$1k for the day, depending on how many people and animals are traipsing through their home.)

Note that we still need to location scout to make sure those homes are up to snuff.

3) The intended image usage (print ads & billboards? or web & social media…)

Photo rates are calculated based on the value to the end user, meaning, how much revenue you stand to generate from the use of the images.

An image you plan to use in a single organic social media post celebrating national kitten day is going to run significantly lower than an image you plan to run in a full page ad at the front of a national magazine for one year.

4) The quantity of images/video needed and level of difficulty in creating them

The shot list makes a big difference in commercial animal photography pricing.

Let’s start with image/video quantity: do you need five images? Or 50? Do you need ten minutes of video, or 30 seconds? Five clips? Or 25?

The higher the quantity of images/clips needed, and the longer the videos need to be, the longer the shoot needs to be.

Onto challenge level: do we need to create the perfect photo of a cat and little boy looking through a fence?

Vetriscience Commercial Animal Photography by Cowbelly 01

This shot required a team of people three weeks to plan.

Or do we need a photo of the same cat that has messed up our perfectly placed pillows while doing whatever it wants to do?

commercial cat photography by cowbelly

This shot happened ‘in between’ takes to get the shot we were really after.

The cat and little boy photo above is very challenging, takes a lot of time, and requires a trainer, a professional cat model and human model and human model coach on set. (The shot actually required an entire team. We had over 20 people on set.)

The cat on the couch shot was what we call B-roll- the ‘in-between’ photos we capture when we’re waiting for what we really want to happen.

If your shot list is:

‘Capture five dogs of any breed, size and age at an off-leash park just playing and having fun’ + ‘take photos of one dog laying down after tiring themselves out from playing’ + ‘create one shot of a dog in the back of a car’. 


‘Capture five purebred Brussels Griffon puppies lined up in a row in front of a beautiful sunset’ + ‘create photos of two of those puppies high-fiving their owner’ + ‘take a photo of one of the puppies drinking out of a drinking fountain’.

These are going to be wildly different shoots.

So you can clearly see that the shot list itself is going to dictate how challenging the shots are to create.

The more challenging the shot list is, the longer the shoot needs to be. 

Longer shoots + more challenging shoots = higher cost.

The less specific you are with the shots you need, the lower the cost will be. 

5) The quantity of days we shoot

The more days we shoot, the higher the cost, because all the expenses double, triple, quadruple (or more), depending on how many days we shoot.

The great news is, if we have trained talent and a good crew, we can work pretty fast. Regular pet ‘models’ take the most time and are far less likely to give us great shots.

If you expect us to cram a three day shoot into one day using non-pro talent and a tiny crew, we can guarantee you that a) we won’t get most of the shots on your shot list, and b) you won’t receive the results you expect based on the photos in our portfolios.

Note that as far as shoot length goes, we don’t do shoots that are less than a half day.

6) The level of post-processing we need to do after the shoot

We capture all the images in what’s called a RAW file format. These files have incredible amounts of data (e.g. very high quality), but need to be converted to a file type that can be viewed on the web and printed.

RAW files also come out of the camera looking dull and ‘dingy’ so we need to make them vibrant and beautiful using our post-processing software. We also fix any exposure or color issues, and crop images as needed.

lightroom processing

This is all the work we do before creating a gallery of images for you to select your favorites from.

On average, the amount of post-processing time is roughly equal to the amount of shooting time. E.g. a full day shoot = 8 hours of post-processing time.

7) The amount of retouching required

This is the Photoshop work that all pet images require, to get rid of eye boogers, drool, stray hairs, etc.

Pets are messy, and although we do our best to keep them clean during shoots, it’s just isn’t practical, or even possible at times.

It’s never a good idea to continually halt natural behavior to clean up a pet, because it throws the energy of the whole shoot off. Energy is everything when working with animals. (When and where we can clean up issues without affecting our flow, we do. This is far easier to do with professional talent.)

So, instead of messing with the animals while they are doing their thing,  we clean them up ‘in post’.

And the good news is, we’re pretty darn good at it.

cat photography retouching by cowbelly media

Retouching example for commercial animal photography.

So how much retouching will your photos need?

  • Social media images require minimal retouching
  • Web and small print images require moderate retouching depending on their size and where they are going
  • Trade show, POS, and bigger collateral images can require a good amount of retouching depending on how large and prominent they are being displayed
  • Images that are printed as magazine ads and/or go on product packaging require the most extensive retouching

8) For video shoots: the amount of editing we need to do

The cost of a video production is dictated in large part by the amount of time we need to spend editing.

There’s a huge difference between a five second video clip you post on Instagram, and a three-minute full-blown documentary ‘commercial’ you post on the homepage of your website.

The more talent we have, the more locations we have, the more ‘clips’ we need to put together, the more narration, the more people interviewed, the higher the cost.

What we recommend for companies who know they need video, but aren’t sure what exactly: let us capture some fun and varied video clips for you in generic locations (park + home) with whatever dog and cat models we can find available, splice them together with some endearing royalty-free music into a 5-30 second video, and call it good.

This will keep your production costs down, and your results up.

9) The size of the crew we need to deliver the finished product

The more moving parts we have, the more complex/challenging the shots are, and the more talent, locations we have and the longer the shot list, the bigger our crew will need to be.

For crew, we typically need, at minimum:

Our producer

She is responsible for all the moving parts. She schedules the talent, checks them in when they arrive, runs errands to pick up needed props and supplies, schedules the caterer (so everyone can eat!), secures permits and locations, etc etc.

She is essentially our project manager on set.

And her duties should not be the photographer’s responsibility, because the photographer’s focus should always be on the creative aspects of the shoot, like visualizing and creating shots, working with the talent, communicating style/set changes to crew, and focusing on what they need to do to create the best possible images for your company.

If you don’t allow the photographer to focus exclusively on their creative responsibilities, and continually take their attention away from creating photos, the photos you receive won’t be nearly as good. This is a fact.

Photographer’s assistant

This is the individual who is in charge of the photographer’s gear. They set up lights, change out lenses, clean up lenses and camera bodies, tweak lighting and background positioning, hand the photographer a different body with a different lens on it, etc. They make sure that whatever the photographer needs, they’ll have, at a moment’s notice. The great assistants won’t even need to be asked, because they observe the photographer and predict their needs.

In animal photography, the assistant position is critical, because animals don’t wait for photographer’s to ‘get the shot’. And we can’t miss shots due to the photographer needing to stop and pull another lens out of their bag, or move a light stand (or whatever.)

So the photographer needs to be ready within a split second to capture behavior. Their assistant ensures this is possible.

Digital tech

Our digital tech is the person who ‘mans the workstation’. What’s a workstation? It’s where we keep a laptop with a cable that’s tethered from the laptop to the camera. The digital tech (also called a ‘digitech’) uses special software they are highly trained in using, to ingest images from the camera to the software, while making any needed adjustments to cropping and color on the fly.

They can also composite multiple images together, and use an overlay to see how an image might look in a product package design.

They also rank photos, and can mark the unusable files for deletion, which cuts down on our post-processing time.

They frequently work side-by-side with the client, who is usually at the tech station, viewing the images as they come in. The client may ask to check focus, or see what a head from one photo might look like on the body of another photo.

From time to time, the photographer will stop to review the images on the laptop screen to see if they are happy with what they are creating. They may come up with other ideas at that point, and will brainstorm solutions to anything that isn’t working.

A digitech is required on our remote shoots, because this work is not something the photographer has time or attention to do while shooting. (As I mentioned above, live animals don’t wait for you to be distracted by other things. They aren’t like humans or products.)

For our remote shoots, our digitech will communicate with your team ahead of time to find out what kind of technology everyone will be working with.

We always do our best to make sure that on shoot days we can get up and running quickly and smoothly.

Animal trainer

This goes without saying. Trust us when we say you don’t want our photographer or crew trying to wrangle talent. It just doesn’t work.

Picture five cartoon chefs trying to spin 22 pizzas at the same time, and you’ll get a good idea of what this looks like on set when we don’t have an animal trainer.

Every single member of our crew is there for a good reason, and the team works together to produce outstanding results for our clients.

Photographing animals for commercial use is incredibly challenging, and we have shoots where every single person involved is working their butt off to try and make one shot happen.

Despite our best planning, top talent, trainers, and all the tricks up our sleeve, animals will do what animals will do.

The global brand shoots we have on our site usually have at least 15-20 people on set at any given time, to give you an idea of what goes into the backend of a high-end commercial animal photo shoot.

10) The technology (lighting, camera gear + remote viewing equipment) needed for a successful shoot

Special shots require special gear, and we always make sure we have exactly what our clients need to deliver on their expectations, even if it means we need to rent gear.

We have been known to run to our local photo store at the last minute to get a very specific shade of green backdrop that matches our client’s branding, or rent a very specialized lens that allows us to capture something really unique for another client.

We always go the extra mile for all of our clients, and it shows in the shots.


In sum, the higher the quality and quantity of everything, the higher the price. The higher the value of the assets we deliver to your company, the higher the price.

Don’t forget that this is an investment that pays huge dividends in the form of better metrics across the board.

Images are the most important element in your advertising and marketing materials.

Great images = significantly higher revenue for your company, so it’s well-worth investing in if your hope is to make more money for your business.

Need professional animal photos for your pet-industry business? Learn more about our services here.


Jamie Piper
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About Us

Dogling Creative™ (FKA Cowbelly) is a creative, web and design agency that provides commercial animal photography, stock dog and cat photos, graphic design, branding, web design, copywriting and other services to pet-industry businesses and brands.

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