HOW TO PRICE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY: CHARGE WHAT YOU NEED TO
So you've got a camera, a bit of experience and you're starting to feel confident. You're starting to think you can make some money taking pictures. It's sounding like a better and better alternative to whatever day job you're working now. Hey, I can totally do this for a living! People do this, right? There are photographers everywhere who make their living taking photos and I can be one of them. Yeah, I'm totally gunna be one of them! Let's do this!!! I'll charge people $50!"....
Woah, hold up.
Yes, there photographers everywhere who make their living taking photos. They are amazingly talented and they work super hard to make their business thrive.
Hey, did you hear me? They work super hard to make their business thrive.
There are a lot of things that go into having a successful photography business, and I mean A LOT, but one of the most important things is setting the right prices. If you don't have prices that make sense for you and your business then you'll never make it- no matter how awesome your photos are.
Wait, let me back up just a little bit... What do I mean by "make it"? Isn't having awesome pictures "making it" ? Yes, absolutely. If you take awesome pictures, in a way, you've made it, if that was your only goal. If your goal is to have a thriving and successful photography business then to "make it" means that your business is sustainable. The things you've set in place (marketing, customer service, photographs, etc.) are able to continue because you've got money coming in and staying in.
This can only happen if your prices make sense for you.
Figuring out what prices make sense for you is something that only you can do. I can't tell you what will work for you and your business, no one can. I can only offer some advice and guidelines but you have to do the work of figuring out what will work for you. I want to make it as easy as possible for you so let's get into the nitty-gritty of it.
When you're first starting out asking someone to give you $40 or $50 for photos seems like a lot. After all, you probably have a day job and aren't immediately going to depend on photography to sustain your lifestyle. You're not totally comfortable with what you're doing yet so maybe you would just feel bad asking people for more money (or any money at all if you're like me).
"SURE! I'll do that 10 person family shoot for $35!"
"YES! I would love to shoot your engagement session for $60!"
"ABSOLUTELY! I would love to shoot your 8 hour wedding for $100!"
Maybe things you've said before, or maybe you've just done it all for free for the "exposure" or to build your portfolio. Hey, I get it, most of us have done it.
The problem isn't in doing a couple of shoots for cheap, the problem comes when you do those shoots for too long. Eventually that low price point is going to wear you out. I hear this from photographer after photographer, "my clients don't value me as an artist and I don't know how to get them to." This very sentiment comes up time after time in the photography groups I'm in and almost immediately the response from other photographers is, "what are you charging?"
What you charge directly affects how much clients value your work as an artist.
Don't believe me? Here's what a couple of other photographers have to say about this:
Now that you know you need to set prices that work for you and make your work look valuable to clients, lets talk about how to do that.
STEP 1: DETERMINE YOUR COSTS
Every business costs money to operate and photography is no different. There are so many things you'll have to pay for now and later, regularly and irregularly. Here are a few examples:
- rent + bills (if you want this business to sustain your lifestyle)
- advertising + marketing materials
- client gifts
- hiring other photographers to work for you
That's just a small sample of the things you'll have to pay for in your photography business. Each business will have unique fixed and variable costs and you will have to figure out what yours are.
STEP 2: DETERMINE WHAT YOU'LL NEED TO COVER THOSE COSTS
Now that you have an idea of how much money you need your photography business to cover, you'll have an idea of how much you have to earn to cover those costs. If the above items cost you $15,000 a year (random number) then you know that you AT LEAST have to make $15,000.
But making $15,000 to cover $15,000 in costs doesn't seem like it'll work...
STEP 3: FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU WANT TO PROFIT
What you profit is not the same as what you make (your income). Your profit is whatever you make AFTER all of your costs are subtracted from your income.
Let's say you decide you want to profit $30,000 a year and you have $15,000 a year in costs. You decide that you only want to do portrait sessions and you think you want to charge $75 for a 1 hour session. That means you have to shoot 200 portrait sessions in one year. Think you can do that?
STEP 4: PUT ALL OF THE NUMBERS TOGETHER UNTIL THEY MAKE SENSE
Start by figuring out all of your yearly costs (fixed and variable- things you need your photography to pay for). Now you know exactly how much you have to make to cover those costs. From here you determine how much you want to profit each year. Think of it like a salary at a job. How much do you want your yearly salary to be? Now you need to figure out how much you want to shoot per year and then do some math to determine exactly how much you need to charge.
Easy enough, right?
Oh, wait, I can barely follow that...
I don't know about you but I need real numbers in order to understand anything that has to do with math. Let's take a look at this with actual numbers...
Let's say that what you need for A is $15,000 and what you want for B is $35,000. Then let's say that what you want for C is 100 and the value for D is $55. Now we math.
If you want to make $35k a year and you know that you have $15k in costs for the year, you automatically have to bring in $50k (35+15).
You decide you want to shoot 100 portrait sessions per year (that's roughly 2 per week for 1 year) and you know that each session costs you $55 to shoot. That means if you shoot 100 sessions it will cost you $5,500. You want to profit $35k so that means that you have to charge $405 for each portrait session you shoot. WOAH! That's a lot more than the $50 we felt bad charging at the beginning of this post...
Of course, all of the number I've used were ones I randomly selected, they might not make sense for your business. Like I said earlier, the only one who can know what makes sense for your business is you. Only you know what costs you need your photography to pay for, how much you want to make every year, how many sessions you want to shoot every year and how much each session will cost you.
When you're first starting out you probably wont find anyone willing to pay you $400+ for a photo session. That's OK! You can work up to the numbers you need to charge. The point of this post is to get you to understand that your business will only be successful (sustainable) if you know exactly how much you need to make and work toward making that. It might take time but don't give up, you'll get there! Start low and every few shoots, raise your prices.
Say you start at $100 for a photo session and then every 5 sessions you raise your prices by $75-$100. Before you know it you'll be able to charge the $405 (or whatever number you come up with) you need to sustain your business the way you want to run it.
DON'T FORGET TO KNOW YOUR MARKET
After you've figured out all of your numbers you might be tempted to just stop there and toss those numbers up on your website. There is one final thing you need to consider: your market.
If you've figured out that in order to be profitable (and make what you want) you need to charge $500 for a 1 hour portrait session but most of the established photographers in your area are only charging $300 the same thing, you'll need to make some adjustments.
Maybe you just need to add a little more value to your package. You could offer 2 hours instead of just 1 or offer a large print or extra images.
Maybe you need to cut your costs a little bit so that you can charge less.
Or, maybe you need to work extra hard to market yourself as a luxury brand and focus on clients who would be willing to pay more. *This last option will take time- you'll have reach an experience level that these clients are comfortable with.
I would suggest doing a quick survey of the photographers in your area so that you get a good idea of what your price range should be.
**Please don't e-mail every photographer in your area asking what they charge- all you need to do is look on their website for starting rates to get a pretty good idea.**
Learning how to price your photography to make your business profitable and sustainable can be really frustrating. Set aside a couple of hours and work on figuring out all of your numbers. Once you know exactly what everything costs and exactly what you need to charge (or work toward charging) you will feel SO much better. Trust me.
Once I figured out exactly what I need to charge to be profitable I felt sooo relieved. I can now talk to clients confidently about what I charge and I'm not as tempted to waiver and give people deals and discounts left and right.
Sometimes I make the decision to offer a deal or discount but I do it strategically now because I know my numbers.
Friend, remember, we've all been where you are. Every single successful photographer out there has been the newbie trying to figure everything out. I was that person for a really long time and I'm here to help you move past your "newbie" stage faster than I did. If you have questions about anything I just talked about, just ask!
Keep going! You're doing great!