“What should I charge? How much is my time worth? Can I make a living doing what I love?” We tackle these photography pricing questions and MORE! (Featuring: KRISTY DICKERSON)
Photography Pricing: You’re Not Alone!
ShootProof: What business aspect do you see photographers struggle with the most?
KRISTY: The biggest challenge in running a photography business is pricing. I know so many photographers who are having a really hard time running a profitable small business.
I asked my Facebook community what their number one struggle is, and pricing is what I heard over and over. For example:
• “I have been photographing for several years, but I can’t seem to make any money.”
• “Figuring out my photography pricing and marketing my business really overwhelm me.”
• “I can’t seem to find my ideal clients.”
Photography Pricing: Getting It Right (Finally!)
ShootProof: What do you say to these folks? Especially when they have great work; their photographs clearly aren’t the problem!
KRISTY: Everyone’s photography business is different depending on their location, genre, scaleability, etc.
Also, a person making their booking decision solely on price is NOT your ideal client.
You have to structure your business to have a few key competitive advantages in your market. There is a myth that this flood of new photographers is hurting our industry and our businesses. I say NO. The only person who can hurt your business is you.
Competing On Price: Don’t Do It!
ShootProof: But what about all the new photographers who show up offering really cheap sessions? Aren’t they to blame?
KRISTY: There will always be cheaper options for any product or service. Photographers who try to price-compete are spinning their wheels, and I guarantee you they are not running a profitable photography business. They will never be able to take their photography business full time, and they may even give up completely.
When purchasing photography, customers sometimes think “Uncle Bob” could shoot their wedding or take that quick family photo. I mean, a camera is a camera, right?
If your options, as the photographer, come down to losing the client or reducing your rates, I say: let Uncle Bob take the photos.
That customer will quickly see the difference. They will get what they pay for in talent, quality of gear, editing, customer service, and so much more.
Accept It: Not Everyone Loves Photography the Way You Do
ShootProof: Many photographers feel like folks just don’t care. They get bad photos from “Uncle Bob,” and they’re totally fine with them.
KRISTY: It’s true. People allocate funds to what they feel is important. Photography is not important to everyone – and that’s okay.
Vacations, clothing, home decor… these are all luxuries to which people allocate their disposable income. You want clients who believe photography is important, and that an investment in quality photography is important.
Photography Pricing 101: Quit Thinking With Your Own Wallet
ShootProof: We hear a LOT of photographers say, “Oh, I can’t charge that much. It’s too expensive!” How do you convince a photographer to charge more when they, personally, feel like their rates are already too high?
KRISTY: When you’re running a business, you have to separate yourself from your business. This is not always easy! I sometimes have a hard time separating myself from my own brand.
If it was up to me. I would charge nothing and just walk around taking pictures for free! But my business couldn’t sustain itself that way, could it?
Know Your “Competition”
ShootProof: But there are so many cheap photographers out there. How do you know those cheap photographers aren’t thriving?
KRISTY: I took my son to get his hair cut last week, and there was a flyer on the counter advertising, “Mini Sessions, All Images, 20 Minutes, $80.”
I showed my husband and he said, “That photographer’s rates are going to kill you!”
But here’s the thing: this photographer was NOT in the same market as me.
Out of curiosity, I went to that photographer’s Facebook page – they didn’t have a website. I could tell they were shooting with a consumer-level camera – still learning and growing. There was no way could they were running an actual business: filing taxes, paying for insurance, investing in the latest editing software, etc.
Honestly, I wanted to email this person and give them a free coaching session, but the last thing I would want to do is hurt someone’s feelings.
I want to help move our industry forward. My goal is for you to be able to do what you love with people who value your work, and still be present for the most important things in your life.
A Deep Dive Into Photography Pricing
ShootProof: Okay, we get it. If you’re not charging enough, you can’t sustain your business. But how does a photographer get from the “learning-and-growing” stage to the “sustainable business” stage?
KRISTY: I’m going to back up a bit, first.
I shot my first wedding for $500, which included all-day coverage and the rights to all the digital images; and my first photography website was hideous – I mean, why didn’t anyone tell me it was ugly?!
What I’m saying is this: we ALL start with the figurative $80 mini session and no idea of how to pay taxes. But let’s talk about how we move from spinning our wheels to running a successful small business, because that is the goal.
Taking a passion and turning it into a career is the goal.
Your Business Goals + Math = Your Photography Pricing
KRISTY: I’m going to break down the cost of an example mini session since that’s what we discussed earlier.
First of all, from your client’s perspective, a mini session has to have value. So let’s say your regular session fee is $200/hour, and you charge $65 per digital download.
If you offer a 20 minute mini session with 15 digital downloads for $425, that’s a huge value for your clients.
They’re getting 1/3 of the time of a full session (valued at $66.67), plus 15 digital images (valued at $975), making the retail value of a mini session $1042.
You can offer mini sessions at this reduced price, however, because you’re booking back-to-back sessions at the same location. (And for families, 20 minutes is usually plenty of time to get great photos of energetic kids.)
What Are You Actually Earning?
- ($140.25) – Say goodbye to a third for taxes.
- ($25) – Account for this shoot’s hard costs (fuel, props, assistant, ShootProof, etc.)
- ($60) – Remember: you have to pay yourself! You’ll invest at least two to three hours of work per mini session between booking, emailing, shooting, editing, and delivery, at $20/hour.
This is a step most people skip when running their numbers. Photographers forget to pay themselves!
Now you have $199.75 in potential profit for your photography business.
But wait: you have to allocate funds to marketing, equipment, insurance, software, website and email hosting, your phone… Of course, these expenses are fixed expenses, so their costs are distributed over all the sessions you do throughout the year.
How Do I Calculate My Fixed Expenses?
KRISTY: This is the gear I have in my bag during a typical mini session, along with just a few of the operating expenses necessary for running a small business:
- Canon 5D Mark III – $3399
- 24-70 f/2.8 II Lens – $2299
- 85 f/1.2 Lens – $2199
- 35 f/1.4 Lens – $1479
- 50 f/1.2 Lens – $1619
- Insurance (per year) – $600
- Software (per year) – $300
- Hosting, Licenses, etc. (per year) – $700
Now let’s say that you plan to photograph 75 mini sessions this year (which is a LOT!) If you were to purchase and pay all of these expenses during this calendar year, you’d need to deduct an additional $167.93 from each mini session.
I know most photographers do not acquire this much gear in one year, so this allocation could be greatly reduced (though you should always be saving for gear replacement and repair.) But we haven’t even discussed:
- education and training expenses
- travel costs
- hiring a branding strategist and designer
- marketing and advertising costs
Even without these unaddressed expenses, we now have $31.82 remaining from our $425 mini session.Your business has made a PROFIT of $31.82.
“Holy Goodness, Should I Just Give Up?!?”
ShootProof: Numbers like these are probably overwhelming to a lot of photographers. Can you share anything, well, hopeful?
KRISTY: Being a profitable photographer is not easy. But you can do it!
Gear is expensive, time is limited, and training is not cheap. You see that my example photographer is going to have a hard time growing her business if she never adjusts her pricing, because there are no leftover funds for growth.
If the person above sounds like you, or if “marketing” sounds like a foreign term, invest in a couple of business books!
If someone said to me, “I want to be a photographer when I grow up,” I would advise them to get their degree in business – not photography.
Over time, my pricing has been honed by the simple reality of supply and demand. As demand went up, I increased my pricing.
These days, I don’t adjust my prices by much, but I make sure I am running a profitable business by providing services and products that exceed my clients’ expectations.
This process didn’t happen overnight. It happened over time: learning and growing as a photographer, acquiring gear, establishing my business workflows, and – most importantly – investing in my own brand and marketing.
Seriously: YOU CAN DO IT!
Photographers Asked Kristy…
“How do you sell prints?” – Katie
KRISTY: I use ShootProof! They have clean galleries to display my photographs, and ShootProof works seamlessly with my business workflow, from collecting email addresses, to marketing your galleries, to sending contracts and invoices, to fulfilling print orders with my favorite lab.
“Do you sell prints, or only offer digital packages?” – Jessica
KRISTY: The mini session example above is a digital package, but typically I request a booking fee, then sell digital images separately along with prints and other products. I show print samples so my clients can see the difference between an image from Walmart versus a hand-retouched print crafted by my professional lab.
Clients have to be educated, and your selling process should provide that education.
“Insurance: can you help?” – Dyell Photography
KRISTY: I recommend Hill & Usher for both liability and equipment insurance. Insurance is something I think EVERY photographer should have before accepting money for photography services.