Not sure how to price your work? You’re not alone! Here’s how your prices can help you snag your dream clients—and build a lifelong dream job!
Get your photography rates right!
It’s one thing to buy a camera. It’s another thing entirely to make money with it!
You can have the world’s most brilliant eye for light and composition, but if you can’t pay your bills, your photography is nothing more than a hobby that occasionally comes with some cash.
That’s where we come in. We want to help you establish time-tested, pro-approved photography pricing strategies from expert photographers that will keep your business afloat and thriving for years to come! Here’s what you’re about to learn:
- 5 major pricing mistakes photographers make
- How much can pro photographers earn per hour, anyway?
- Pricing formulas you can use NOW
- Here’s how smart prices can get you GREAT clients
- The #1 unexpected way to make money with photography
5 Major Pricing Mistakes Photographers Make
Look, we’re not saying you would make these mistakes; only that some photographers make them. We know you’re doing it all The Right Way, so please sit back, sip your tea, and enjoy these photographers’ anecdotes with a touch of schadenfreude.
Mistake #1: Photographers unintentionally undercharge
Photographers who unintentionally undercharge have our sympathy. You don’t know what you don’t know, right?
So, what makes undercharging intentional or unintentional?
Imagine: your best friend in the whole entire world gets engaged, and she asks you to take a few photos of her and the love of her life. She has every intention of paying you, but you say, “Absolutely not, Stephanie! I’m giving this photography to you for FREE because you’re my best friend in the whole entire world!”
That’s intentional, right? You’ve intentionally chosen to give away your valuable time and talent as a photographer. YAY YOU! What’s the use of owning your own business, after all, if you can’t hook up your bestie?
Now let’s look at a different scenario—one in which you undercharge by accident.
In this scenario, you get a call from a potential client who asks for your engagement shoot prices. But—*gasp*—you’ve never photographed an engagement before! Now you’re panicking, and the client is waiting, so you just blurt out a number: “$100 per hour!”
Let’s be really clear: there isn’t anything morally wrong with a $100 per hour engagement shoot. The problem in this scenario is that the photographer didn’t make an informed decision. They blurted out a rate per hour that wasn’t rooted in any sort of planning or process. And that is what will get you in trouble.
Because one undercharged client is… whatever. But two? Ten? Twenty? Next thing you know, you’re paying for the privilege of running a business. And if that’s your business model—to wobble around in an uncertain photography pricing range—you’ll either burn out or go broke before too long.
Mistake #2: Their skill level doesn’t match their photography pricing structure—or vice versa
If you just bought your first camera and you’re trying to figure out what the “M” means, it’s probably NOT the time for you to charge like you’re Ansel-freaking-Adams. (We have no idea what he charged per hour, but you get the point.)
Likewise, if you’ve been a professional photographer for 10 years, but your prices match those of the new photographer down the street, clients may wonder what’s “wrong” with you. Why are they so cheap? What am I missing?
Every professional photographer has to find their perfect balance between value and price.
As a photographer, your value should ALWAYS outweigh your prices—at least by a little bit! If you’re delivering immense value but charging pennies, that diminishes your photography brand and undercuts your local market for other photographers (as well as the photography market as a whole). But if your value ever-so-slightly tops your photography pricing, then your clients will be happy and you’ll have room to grow as a photographer!
Mistake #3: They don’t have a growth plan
It doesn’t matter if your price is $100 per hour or $100 per minute; you need a plan for growth!
Growth isn’t just about charging more or getting more clients. It’s about how you plan to evolve your business over time.
If you’re a newer photographer, your growth plan probably includes a few price per hour increases.
And if you’re an experienced professional photographer, your growth plan may include adding associate photographers, upgrading your product catalog, or refocusing on a new niche so you can enjoy more time spent with your family.
No matter where you are in your business journey, make sure you have a vision for the future as a photographer and a plan for how you’ll get there.
Mistake #4: They don’t have a legal business
First, let’s get real. Don’t buy your first camera then immediately get a business license. It’ll be a massive hassle when you realize you HATE photography—but oh, shucks, now you’re getting weird forms and notices from every government entity in the country.
See what I mean?
Wait until you know what the heck you’re doing. Then make your business legal.
If you’re booking paying clients and sending out contracts and marketing yourself as a photographer, you need to legalize your photography company. Why? Because you’re not a shady scoundrel, that’s why.
Mistake #5: Photographers base their prices on what they can afford
Your photography prices aren’t about you.
I know, that sounds harsh. But it’s the truth. Your prices are not about you.
Well, yes, they’re based on your budget, your financial goals, and your business growth dreams as a photographer. But what you charge per hour, per day, per print or per event, should have nothing to do with what you personally can afford.
Here’s a little story to illustrate my point. As a wedding photographer, my very first five-figure client booked a coverage-only package with me for $12,000. TWELVE. THOUSAND. DOLLARS. I may have swooned a little when they sent back the signed contract. But guess what? They booked me. Because I was worth it, sure. And because THEY could afford it.
I couldn’t even afford myself!
But it wasn’t about me. It was about them and what they could afford.
Set sustainable prices, then go after the photography clients who can afford to pay those prices. Those people may be nothing like you, in terms of lifestyle. And that’s okay. Just because you prefer a cozy pair of Birks doesn’t mean you can’t connect with the client who lives in their Manolos.
How Much Can Pro Photographers Earn, Anyway?
The short answer? It depends. There are approximately 50 gazillion factors that impact a photographer’s earning potential.
These are the most common considerations…
What’s your photography skill level?
If you’re bad at using a camera, you probably won’t earn very much. Let this incentivize you to never stop learning! Also, consider bringing in a per-hour assistant who can support you where you’re weak.
Where are you based?
If you live in a major city, you’ll have access to more people with disposable income, which can help you make more money. But dollars aren’t the full story. A $2500 client who earns $50k/year is spending the same percentage of their income as the $5000 client who earns $100k/year. What matters is how much YOU need to earn to remain successful!
Are you business savvy?
Anyone can learn to be a better business person—even if business-y things don’t come naturally to you. Read books and blogs; take online courses; talk to other business owners and photographers. The better you are at running a business, the better you’ll be at making money!
Are you a clever marketer?
Just like you can learn to be a better business person and photographer, you can also learn to be a great marketer! There are ENDLESS resources online for everything from SEO to buyer psychology. Marketing is SO much more than paying for ads. Learn a few marketing tricks, and you’ll be stunned by the results!
What’s your work ethic?
You don’t have to be a clinically-diagnosed workaholic to succeed; but you’ll never meet a successful business owner who says, Yeah, I just work a couple hours a day and money comes rolling in! (Unless you’re Warren Buffet. And you’re not.)
The job of a photographer takes work. So if you want to be a successful full-time professional photographer, plan to work your tush off.
Now, let’s talk about salary…
According to salary.com, the average salary for professional photographers in the U.S. is about $65k. From coast to coast, established professional photographers can expect to earn anywhere from $39k to $82k per year and up. That’s a pretty wide range, wouldn’t you say?
So what does it take to actually bring home ~$65k per year?
Are you sitting down? Okay. This might sting a little.
In the U.S., many photographers can reasonably expect to pay 50% of their gross income toward taxes and their total cost of doing business (CODB.)
So if you want that $65,000 salary in your personal bank account, you’ll need to gross about $130,000. Remember: this is just an estimate, and I am neither your attorney nor your CPA. What’s my point? It costs a lot to be a solo entrepreneur. So make sure not to spend all your session fees on new lenses.
In addition to the factors outlined above, overhead is impacted by:
- your total household income
- whether you have employees
- your business’ tax structure
- how much you spend on your business annually
If you’re serious about running a healthy business as a photographer, you’ll need to keep track of every dollar you bring in, every expense you incur, and every estimated tax payment you make.
If this intimidates you, take a breath. It’s not as hard as you may think. You’ve just got to take it one step at a time, one dollar at a time, one photography client at a time.
You’ll get there!
Photography pricing formulas you can use NOW
Good news, friends! Everyone from entry level photographers to the Queen’s own portrait photographers can learn to make their own photography pricing calculations. All you need is a calculator, a pencil, and a piece of paper. Or open up a Google Spreadsheet and get to work!
Here is a basic formula that you should start with:
Price your photography products, services, and packages
Your Product’s Retail Price (what you will charge your customers)
– Product Cost (what you pay for the product itself)
– Product Labor Cost (the cost/value of your labor for producing the product)
= Pre-tax Profit
If you’re using a pricing model per image for your prints, for example, don’t just multiple your print cost x3, as some advise. Instead, calculate what actually makes sense, based on your buyers’ habits and your own income needs. For example:
$25 (your price for an 8×10)
– $6 (your lab cost for the print, packaging, shipping, etc.)
– $5 (your labor cost based on $25/hour)
The same formula works for pricing your services. Then you can combine numbers to do the pricing model calculation for your packages.
Now ask yourself: how much do you need to earn?
Let’s just pretend for a moment that you want to earn a pre-tax profit of $10,000 from your photography this year—and you want to do it solely by selling 8×10 prints. How many 8x10s do you need to sell to get to $10k?
You’ll need to sell 715 8×10 prints. Because 715 x $14 = $10,010. Can you reasonably expect to sell 715 prints? What if you can only sell 200 prints? Then, to make the same amount of money, you’ll need to charge $61 per 8×10. That would leave you with a pre-tax profit of $50 per print, totaling $10,000 if you sell 200 of those 8x10s.
See how it works?
Now go do some math!
#ShootProofPRO Tip: Don’t say you don’t have any personal expenses!
I don’t care if your partner earns a million dollars a month and never makes you pay for anything. You need to know what it costs you to live.
A photography business that is perpetually unable to pay you a living wage is not a photography business; it’s an expensive hobby.
Make sure to build in some wiggle room
Okay. You’ve crunched your numbers, built a budget, and consumed 2.7 liters of water (I am SO proud of you for hydrating.)
Now it’s time for you to go back to ALL those photography prices you set, and add 10%.
Why? So you have room to hook people up. That 10% isn’t necessary for you to achieve your income goals. It’s there so you can be flexible when you want to be. That bonus 10% will allow you to:
- offer a photography discount to your friends and family
- give your repeat clients a VIP price or complimentary product
- proactively issue a partial refund if something minor goes wrong (e.g., you got stuck in traffic and were a tad late for a session)
- surprise your best clients with a gift equal to that 10%, like a small canvas or print
- give a price-conscious client the incentive to go ahead and book you
Whether that extra 10% equals $50 or $500, the point is this: you should never be trapped by your own prices. Make sure your photography prices include a safety net.
Here’s how smart photography prices can get you GREAT clients
Thoughtful, data-driven, growth-focused photography pricing is the first step in getting great clients.
It’s not about your prices being cheap or expensive, or working with low-budget or high-budget clients. When your photography business is rooted in proven practices, you’re better equipped to attract clients who will value your professionalism and want to pay for that kind of photography experience.
Smart pricing leads to quality marketing
Most of us hear marketing and we think of ads. Ads on social media, ads in magazines, ads on popular blogs, ads in the local community magazine… And maybe those things are part of your growth plan! But paid advertising isn’t the only kind of marketing we’re talking about.
When you understand your photography pricing model and your growth plan, you’re better equipped to produce impactful marketing that will attract your ideal clients.
Consider these photography marketing approaches:
Almost every photography promotion I see online is a price-first ad—the photographer is leading with their prices. These are the promotional graphics with ALL the photography pricing details front-and-center. Perhaps unintentionally, these ads imply, You should book me because I’m cheap! Oh and BTW here’s a cute photo in the background.
What if you promoted yourself photo first. What if your photography and your brand were the attention grabbers?
Sure, you’ll probably get more inquiries than usual from people who can’t (or choose not to) afford your prices. But you’ll also attract people who know what they want—people who aren’t motivated solely by price.
Content marketing is… well, it’s this article. It’s the “how to” video you make for Instagram Reels; the podcast you host; the website you guest-blog for.
But, most importantly, content marketing is about connecting to people. Thoughtful, intentional content attracts clients who share your values.
Then, when someone is ready to hire a photographer, instead of thinking, “Who can I book for $50?” they think, “I want to hire that photographer who writes those great blog posts… who shares those gorgeous photos… who hosts that awesome podcast.”
Is it work? Yup. Is it worth it? YUP.
Content marketing leads seamlessly into word-of-mouth marketing.
Word-of-mouth marketing is when other people talk about your photography services and products. (And to get people talking, you need to have really darn good services and products!)
- Want people to rave about your photography? Make great images.
- Need people to book you? Create easy-to-communicate prices and packages.
- Want people to refer you? Treat them like gold.
Because word-of-mouth marketing is all about client experience, it’s so, so, SO important that client care be your top priority. Bask in those words for a moment and really let them sink in:
Client care should be your top priority.
Demonstrate genuine caring to your photography clients, and they’ll never forget the way you made them feel.
The #1 unexpected way to make money with photography
As a photographer and an artist, your goal is to make incredible photos. As a businessperson, however, your goal is to make money. Without money, your business will cease to be a business.
Unfortunately, a lot of photographers limit their own earnings. They’re so focused on Being a Photographer that they can’t see the wide world of possibilities all around them.
Here’s the only thing you need to know about making money with photography:
Sell your clients what they want
Photography groups (*cough*Facebook*cough*) are notoriously full of people who love to confidently advise other photographers to tell their clients NO, as firmly and as frequently as possible.
“No! I won’t edit out that blemish!”
“I won’t resize that photo for you!”
“No! I never sell my digital files for any reason!”
“You can’t bring your friend to your photography session!”
Whatever the question, there’s always someone insisting that the answer should be no, no way, not at all, how dare you ask me this?!?
But just sit back for a moment and ask yourself: what do my clients want? Because—hold onto your hats—guess what people buy? People buy things they WANT. Even if they have to pay a higher price.
“But… how do I know what they want?”
Ask them. Send out surveys. (They’re free on SurveyMonkey!) Survey people who haven’t even booked you yet—people who fit into your “ideal client” mold. Ask what kind of stuff they’re into. Show them examples. Ask, would you want this?
If you’ve been offering the same Pillow with Your Face On It for two years and no one has been like, THAT. I want THAT, then maybe it’s time to stop trying to sell it.
Think beyond the traditional photography sales ideas
I’m not saying you should sell your RAW files or anything. But I am saying… well… you could sell your RAW files.
Bear with me for a second.
Imagine that you send out a survey to 100 people. You ask them, What kind of photography products matter most to you? And all 100 of them say, We want our RAW files.
You can just say NO. Or you can start figuring out a lucrative way to offer RAW files to your clients.
Again: not saying that’s the direction you should take. But you could.
It’s your business.
Nothing is off the table.
(Except maybe those pillows.)
Success is a journey. Stick with it.
I like to think of the pro photographer experience as one long, horizontal line. At one end of the line there’s a big bucket of Photography Skills; and at the other end of the line, there’s a big bucket of Business Skills. And somewhere, standing on that line, is you.
Maybe you’re closer to the Photography Skills end of the line. You have strong creative abilities and an intuitive sense of what makes a great image. Or maybe you’re over by the Business Skills end of the line—a data and SEO expert who loves crunching numbers and forecasting profits.