Learn four ways to calculate what you should charge when offering engagement photography services to couples getting married.
4 engagement pricing options that equal a LOT of happy clients
There’s nothing more exciting than helping a couple celebrate that time in their relationship between the casual weekend dinner dates and their official walk down the aisle.
If you’ve ever wondered, “How much should I charge for an engagement photo session?”, here are four things to consider when pricing these pre-nuptial portraits:
- Overhead and Cost of Sales
- Availability and Opportunity Cost
- Location and Logistics
- Whether offered as an Add-On or Standalone Service
#1: First things first: know your numbers
Before you can figure out your engagement photography pricing, you must start with a foundation of what it costs to offer that type of shoot (cost of sales), as well as your baseline cost to “turn the lights on” every day (ie, your overhead).
If you use a CRM and accounting system like Táve Studio Manager, you can easily track these numbers and run a report to figure out your annual costs.
While there are several methods for calculating target revenue in relation to your expenses, my preferred method is to use the cost of sales.
I first figure out what the products and services will cost in the package, then multiply by the recommended 25% PPA “Cost of Sale Benchmark.”
I check that math against what I know my break-even cost per shoot is, and then adjust as needed.
Example calculation of costs
Let’s say you offer a 1-hour photoshoot with an online gallery, 10 retouched digital downloads, and a 16×20 print. Assuming some quick round numbers for the purposes of this example, let’s add it up:
- $50.00 = 1-hour shoot @$50/hr (the cost to your business for your shooting time)
- $12.50 = 30 min card download and cull @$25 (the cost to your business for your office time)
- $25.00 = 100 images color-corrected/lightly edited @0.25 per image
- $30.00 = 10 images retouched @$3 per image
- $52.00 = 16×20 print @$45 + $7 shipping
= means you have a $169.50 Cost of Sale
The 25% Cost of Sales PPA Benchmark means we need to multiply by 4 (100% / 25% = 4): $169.50 x 4.
So for that package, I would aim for a $678.00 price point.
Shorter “Engagement Portrait” sessions will require less time, and their average cost will be less, while longer “Adventure Style” engagements will cost more.
If you need a lower starting rate to remain competitive, don’t discount. Instead, make adjustments to the items in the package.
You can reduce the number of images, reduce the shooting time, you can forego the free retouching, or you can make the print smaller. This is where you can get creative in how you price your services.
#2: Pricing for availability and opportunity cost
Once I have a package price, I then consider the impact the service will have on my availability. I may need to adjust for the use of limited available dates, or other opportunity costs.
One benefit of engagements is that the date is not usually set in stone. This adds some flexibility to the pricing, without additional risk to the business. I could set an ambitious goal of eight engagement shoots per month, and earn a tidy extra sum without taking away any valuable weekend time slots.
If I want to limit my number of bookings, however, I might increase the price to shoot less while earning the same.
Potential logistical challenges
I also watch out for logistical challenges. Early in my career, I offered a product that I could only get from one vendor, and the turnaround was very slow. While my time to order it was the same as any other product, the frustration it caused my clients waiting for it to arrive was just not worth it. I replaced it with something else with a similar profit margin, but much less headache.
Price can also be used to minimize risk. My undercover engagement proposal sessions used to have a lower price point and the clients booking it would not heed any of my instructions about what to do. I would be hiding in the bushes, unable to do anything to fix it, and always stressed I would not get the shot.
On paper, the photography session was profitable, but I increased the price anyway, and the problem went away almost immediately. People who pay, pay attention. Clients now have enough skin in the game that they don’t want to risk going to the wrong spot, so they follow instructions, and the session is no longer a source of stress for me.
#3: Pricing for location
Travel distance is an obvious point when it comes to pricing, but I actually mean having packages cover those locations that you know you can produce a consistent result.
When pricing reflects locations that are familiar to you, you can work more efficiently, and bring only the gear you need to nail the shots. You’re also more readily aware of things like nearby construction, special events, and changes to normal hours.
Build relationships that can result in occasional perks, such as extra access after closing, or a flute of champagne on the house. All of this reduces the time and effort to produce the images and elevates the experience for your client.
For sessions outside these normal venues, you will want a higher tier that reflects the extra effort. For example, there’s a beautiful hotel near me, but I know I have to coordinate with the team to gain access. It doesn’t take very long, but it is just one more thing I have to think about.
There are also private island venues that require me to retrieve ferry tickets and ride over on a schedule that may not line neatly up with my start time. All of these have location-specific pricing that is higher than my base package.
#4: Add-on, or standalone service?
Though traditionally considered an upgrade to your wedding photography packages, you do not have to limit your services as an engagement photographer to only those couples for whom you’re shooting wedding photos.
Engagement photography can also be a standalone service, especially if you live anywhere in which couples travel for vacation. Being in the Florida Keys, my engagements are almost exclusively booked as a one-off service for couples who are getting married elsewhere.
Some photographers offer a discount on engagement photos for existing wedding day bookings.
What about “free” engagement sessions?
As long as you’re remaining profitable, this can be a good strategy. My only caution is against offering a free engagement on the assumption that it “gives you time to get to know each other.” When you do this, you devalue your brand, and cause extra work for yourself for a benefit you can just as easily get with a coffee date!
Now go get started!
Adding engagement photography packages to your price list is a fantastic way to add a valuable service to your couples. The images can be used on their wedding website, displayed at their engagement party, added to save the date cards, and turned into printed keepsakes.
By considering your costs, making adjustments around availability, minimizing logistical nightmares, and creating price levels based on location, you can boost your studio’s revenue with this fun and profitable service!
Written by KARRIE PORTER | Photographs by KARRIE PORTER PHOTOGRAPHY