Figuring out a decent pricing structure for your photography business is one of the biggest challenges facing new professional photographers.
Snapping a high-quality shot and dealing with a Bridezilla is child's play compared to the work that goes into finding the right pricing model. It's a balancing act between making sure you're charging enough for your skills, while offering the best value for your clients.
Will you charge a la carte? Based on the amount of time? Number of images? These choices are essential to the success of your small business. There's more to it than just picking an amount that looks good on paper.
In this guide we'll cover everything new photography business owners need to know about pricing, including tips and tricks for certain popular niches. Let's get to it.
It's hard to overstate how important your pricing is. Obviously it influences your day-to-day life, but as a small business owner, it also has an effect on who your clients are and what your they expect from you.
On top of that, once you've got your pricing in place and set expectations, it's hard to change going forward. For that reason alone it's something you need to take a lot of time to carefully consider.
The first thing to think about is what your price represents. Pricing isn't about just setting a single price, naming an hourly rate, or even coming up with a couple of photography packages. All these approaches are too rigid for today's market.
Approach the problem from another direction. Rather than coming up with an amount that sounds good and fitting your business around it, think about what pricing your business can afford.
Start by understanding your business costs. Will you have a photography studio? Work from home? What gear do you need? All this and more comes in to play. Plus, costs differ based on the type of photography that you're doing.
For example, event photographers need multiple cameras, special retouching software, extra lighting gear for photoshoots and to take into account travel and accomodation. With all that in mind they'll have to charge a higher price.
At the most basic level your rates need to do three things:
If your rates can't support the essential expenses of your business, then something needs to change. That's not all though—as any small business owner will tell you, you've got to leave plenty of cash handy for unexpected costs that pop up too.
Then it largely comes down to balancing costs with your profit margin. The good thing about having your own photography business is that once you have the right gear (which is a hefty upfront investment) there aren't too many recurring costs.
Some other factors to think about are flexibility and market awareness. Flexible pricing helps broaden your client pool, allowing you to scale your pricing up or down to meet your client's budget.
Perhaps more than anything it's important to be familiar with the market you're operating in. Look around online and see what other photographers charge in your niche charge. Is there a certain business model or workflow they tend to follow?
Take your time to do this market research. Then, depending on your skill level you can undercut their pricing, choose to match them, or go with higher rates if you're more experienced.
Coming up with pricing is a daunting process. There's no escaping how important it is for your success. But if you do some market research, consider your specific niche and the clients you want to attract, and make sure you're making enough money to put food on the table, you'll be off to a great start.
Now we've been through a general overview of pricing, let's have a look at the different ways you can charge your customers, as well as the costs your business might have.
Your most significant cost isn't camera gear, software or a fancy studio for you to do all your work in. The biggest cost you'll face is your time. Deep, right?
While you might find it fun to pursue your passion for photography, you're still running a small business. Not only are you a photographer, a marketer, accountant, salesperson and customer service representative.
That's a time-consuming affair. On top of actually taking photos you'll spend hour upon hour doing things like:
All that adds up. If you don't budget your time and money correctly, you can turn a reasonable hourly rate into something akin to a casual job at the local McDonalds.
Retouching and post-production are huge time sinks. Tinkering with digital files takes plenty of time and will probably be what you spend most of your time doing. For example, a wedding photographer might spend eight hours at a wedding, but a few months editing the photos.
That's why an hourly rate doesn't make sense most of the time. It's better to charge a standard rate that doesn't take hours into account. If you're a seasoned pro it might only take you a few hours to edit a large number of photos, but you shouldn't be paid less for your efficiency?
Beyond paying yourself your business has lots of other expenses. Some, like setting up your own website or creating a logo, are small. Others like gear, insurance and superannuation, can be more significant.
If you're just getting started, most miscellaneous expenses will be tough to estimate. It's alright if you don't know how long your gear will last or what insurance prices will look like in the next few years. Try to get a general idea of these costs so you can more figure out how much you need to make to be profitable.
For example, in areas with a high cost of living, expenses might be a bit higher (though your clients might make more so you can charge a higher rate). Just make sure you give yourself a suitable salary with a rainy day fund to match.
The last thing you want is for a broken lens, or an unforeseen global pandemic like COVID-19 to be the difference between you being able to pay the rent or not. Remember: first and foremost your job as a small business owner is to look after yourself.
So how do you reach the magic figure? There are a few approaches to pricing you can take, all of which depend on personal preference and what you consider will give you the best chances of success.
The most straightforward approach is to charge an all-inclusive rate per session. This is where your client pays a lump sum that looks after everything for the allotted time. With this strategy you just have to make sure you have enough sessions booked to be profitable.
There's one problem with this: while you can cut prices with coupons or specials, it's tough to charge above your advertised price or increase prices for repeat customers in the short run.
As a result, this strategy can be challenging for full-time photographers, requiring you to be constantly increasing the number of clients you have. Not only are there only so many hours in the day, there are only so many potential clients in your market - eventually you're bound to run out.
Consider going with a pricing strategy that uses different packages. This allows you to split the services you offer into tiers and meet several price points at once. Your photography price list could range from a few hundred bucks for basic work to a few thousand for intricate shoots.
Not only does this prevent you from alienating existing customers, it allows you to move up your average price point. The sweet spot is around three or four different tiers - this keeps things simple for potential clients to understand, while bringing more value.
When setting up packages consider what you're adding to each tier. A trick is to add extras that don't cost you much more in materials, effort or time. For instance, if you already offer digital downloads in your base package, you could add black-and-white copies to the next tier up.
You can easily come up with higher priced packages by using add-ons like books, calendars or even canvas prints. These don't cost much to produce, look premium and add value that your customers will be happy to pay for.
Another pricing model we suggest adopting is charging per hour or per item. This isn't really the way to go for wedding photography, but it's common in commercial photography because it's well-suited to the subject matter.
The upside to this model is that it lets you set clear expectations for your client. They know just how much they'll pay and exactly what they'll get for it. An additional benefit is that it allows for easily integrating things like a stylist or outsourced post-production.
The first thing that comes to mind when most people think about professional photography is either fashion or weddings. Weddings are a subset of event photography and one of the most common niches in the biz. It also has some of the widest variables in pricing.
When it comes to wedding photography you'll see everything from a flat rate in the low triple digits with images hand-delivered on a USB drive, through to a photography team charging twenty thousand dollars for canvases, custom albums and a video that wouldn't look out of place at the Cannes Film Festival.
Things get even crazier when you consider different markets. Rates in New York City or San Francisco will be very different from a rural town in Kansas, not to mention the wild rates you can charge for a destination wedding.
It's difficult to come up with a single price because it is highly dependent on location. Try to think about the value you offer your customers and what they need. Some folks might want trendy, fun photos to chuck on social media, while others will want to go for a more classic album.
More so than other photography niches you'll want to have a firm baseline price and work with your client to build something around their needs. That way you can make sure you're hitting a profit while upselling them on different services like physical prints or albums for family.
As you build your client list and portfolio, you can scale your pricing to reflect your stature in the wedding niche. After a while you might even consider shifting from a list price to a sales model, which means you'll offer a more fully-rounded experience for your clients.
This includes things like:
Again, we recommend taking some time to check out some local photography websites in your area. That way you'll be able to get a gauge on the typical prices, packages and the overall quality of work they're delivering.
Portrait sessions are usually a much smaller scope than weddings. Where weddings might last as long as eight hours, when you're photographing portraits you'll be looking at a starting point of half an hour up to nothing more than two.
For that reason it doesn't make sense to go for an hourly rate or even a day rate. It's better to charge a flat fee for the session, and offer prints at some markup over cost. This works for all types of shoots, from family Christmas photos to headshots and personal branding shoots.
These days the digital file aspect can be tricky to handle. Some photographers worry that if they make digital files available for sale they can't sell physical versions. You can do both, or for a higher profit margin you could offer exclusively digital delivery.
Another viable option for portrait photographers is to offer prints and deliver digital files only once prints have been purchased. This isn't a bad way to go—clients get the best of both worlds and you don't lose anything by sending over the files digitally.
There are two common models for quoting commercial or product photography: day rate and per-product. Let's take a quick look at good examples of both in use.
A flat day rate works well for extensive sessions. Say you're working for a restaurant. You may decide to use one and spend the day taking photos of food for their menu and fitting in a few shots for social media. It lets you work alongside the client to get all the coverage they want, and keep within their budget.
A per-product rate works better for smaller sessions. Think of things like a few product shots for a catalog or digital product listing. Shoots like this have a simple template (usually a variety of views on a seamless white background). This makes it easy to schedule and control costs.
A quick side note: some clients may have unique needs, like separating the product from a background and other bits and pieces that require some fancy retouching skills. If this happens to you, consider offering these types of post-production services as a separate fee.
There are services available for typical post-production tasks, but this can be an excellent way to boost your profit without much extra effort. Something commercial photographers may find particularly helpful is Rosh Sillars' per image pricing calculator, a useful tool to figure out if you should be charging your clients for each image you produce.
Realtors are very price-conscious. Between real estate marketing, gathering leads and selling houses, they think about money, money, money all day every day. That's why for real estate, a tiered pricing model makes the most sense.
Consider offering a budget option with up to two steps beyond it. At the basic tier offer shoots in daylight and available light, with basic interior and exterior photos. The other tiers can add things like flash, exposure bracketing, HDR window view or twilight shots.
For more premium levels, you can add drone photography and elaborate Photoshop post-production like virtual furnishings. A tiered model like this allows you to attract as much business as possible—from bargain listings through to high-end mansions.
You can even adding a modifier to the tiers for extra-large houses. There's a massive difference between a house with 2,000 square feet to one with 6,000. As always, make sure you're giving clients value while respecting your own needs.
Pricing your photography services requires you to understand a dizzying array of variables. To make sure you're making enough dough, the best thing you can do is learn the ins and outs of your market and define the value you present your potential clients.
In the simplest terms: it comes down to matching the needs of your clients and making sure you have enough money to put a roof over your head and food on your table. Concentrate not on a magic number, but finding the right price that works for you.
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