How to price your photography? People like your work and want to buy your photography services. Great! How do you decide what to charge? Too much and nobody will buy. Too little and you’ll be losing money.
In this article, I’ll explore how to set prices for your photography services based on my over 20 years experience as a photographer.
If you scroll to the end you’ll also find a bonus tip.
In a later article, I’ll look at pricing your prints. So stay tuned and subscribe to Pixinfocus to receive all the updates.
Where to Start
Start by asking if you’re really good enough to be selling your services. Really. Just because your mom or uncle Joe says you’re great doesn’t mean you’re the next Annie Leibovitz or Ansel Adams. Look at the web sites and social media of professional photographers in your area.
Do you measure up?
Making a decent living or earning just enough to support your photography habit isn’t easy, but it can be done. If you’re good, you love what to do and you have a unique style or perspective to offer, you can make it as a photographer.
So, where’s the pricing “sweet spot?” Well, that depends.
The answer is complicated and unique to each photographer. Your goals may not be the same as mine. You may be selling different products and services, have a different background and level of photography experience.
You’re probably working in a different location, with its own cost structures. Everything is more expensive in Manhattan than in Minot, ND. All of that, and more, factors in to setting your prices.
The Main Factors You Should Consider When Pricing Your Photography Services
Start by examining supply and demand in your market. Who is your competition? Who are your potential clients? What are they looking for?How can you fill their needs?
Figure out what you need to earn in order to meet your goals, whether that’s making a good living or supplementing your income with a part-time photography career.
Look at your expenses. You’ll have a wide array of fixed and variable expenses to consider.
(If being a full-time professional photographer is not your goal, ignore any factors that don’t apply.)
Do Your Research. Find Out What Sells.
You know what you want to offer but will anyone buy it? People sometimes open businesses based on what they want to sell, not what people want to buy. In business, it’s all about meeting the customer’s needs. Know who your client is, and what, when, where and why they’re buying. What do they like and dislike? What are their pain points? What problems or needs can you solve?
Know your competition. How many other photographers are already selling the same products and services. What are their price ranges? Is the market big enough for one more photographer?
I often work with small to medium non-profit organizations for whom I do events, headshots, and document their activities. Before turning to full-time photography, I spent more than 20 years in the non-profit field. Today I’m able to understand their needs and pain points.
I know how good photographs can meet their needs, sometimes in ways they haven’t considered. There are many non-profits in my area and, because their budgets for photography services are smaller than most businesses’, they’re often overlooked and misunderstood by pros. There is a lot of opportunity for me.
Fixed vs Variable Expenses
Once you know your market, it’s time to figure out what your expenses are going to be. You’ll have a lot of fixed expenses, and costs that vary from job to job.
– Fixed Cost of Living
Fixed expenses include living expenses, like mortgage, health insurance, car payments, utilities, taxes, food, clothing, entertainment, vacations, retirement savings, savings for the kids’ college education . . . all the things your income will have to support.
– Fixed Cost of Doing Business
Running a business involves its own set of fixed expenses, including
- Business insurance,
- The cost of any new or replacement gear,
- Office or studio rental,
- Professional services (accountant or tax preparation),
- Subscription services like Adobe Creative Cloud and Dropbox,
- Your website and marketing.
– Variable Expenses
Most jobs have their own set of costs, which can vary from job to job and new photographers often wildly underestimate them. In addition to the job, itself, you’ll spend time cataloging and post processing your images. There may be materials you’ll need or parking fees at a job site. You might have to rent specialized gear or props for a job, or pay a venue fee for a shoot at a special location. What will the deliverables cost you?
How Much Should you Charge for Your Photography Services?
Divide the total yearly cost of your fixed expenses by 2,000 (40 hours/week x 50 weeks). Take any applicable variable expenses and divide by the number of hours required to do the job.
Add the two figures to get the cost per hour you’d have to charge just to break even. But you’re not going to book all 2,000 hours and you want to do more than just break even. A number of photographers recommend multiplying the break-even figure by 2 to 3 to set your price.
If a print package “upsell” (more expensive wedding album, bigger family portraits) is part of the job, that extra sale is mostly profit and your base rate should still be enough to cover all your costs. I will also add an extra 10% or so if the client doesn’t want me to use any photos from the job for marketing my business
I’ve run my numbers through a couple of online job calculators which say I should charge at least $500 for a one-hour job that includes two more hours of pre and post work. Depending on where you live and what kind of earnings you need, your ideal fees might be lower or higher.
Surveys show that entry-level photographers charge an average of $50 – $150 per hour; experienced professionals get $150 – $500; top pros get $500 – $1,000 or more. Top end sports, fashion and commercial photographers can bill $10,000 a day for assignments. A world-class photographer, like Annie Leibovitz . . . well, the average person probably can’t afford her.
Don’t be Afraid to Work for Free in the Beginning
Maybe you can’t charge $500 when you’re just starting. While you gain experience, and build your portfolio, don’t be afraid to work for less than the calculators advise, or even for free. You have to start somewhere. And who knows what can come from a free or underpriced job. I’ve gotten recommendations from charity shoots that resulted in other work at my regular rates.
In the end, pricing, like photography itself, is an art.
When negotiating a price for a job, first ask the client what their budget is. Sometimes you’ll find they’re willing to pay more than you were going to suggest.
Frank Gallagher is a photographer and writer from Washington, DC. He built up his photography business after a career in nonprofits during which he developed extensive experience in visual storytelling. He enjoys sharing his love of photography with others.