Pricing your photography

Pricing your photography

As I was preparing an article on the importance of pricing your photography I came across this interesting blog post.

This really got me thinking a lot about how we as artists approach our work. I came from an art background and when I started shooting weddings it just naturally happened. I did a few weddings from friends who wanted me to shoot their wedding and before I knew it I had their friends calling me asking what my prices were. Having no business background I first just figured out what my film costs were and add a little bit to the cost. I never thought about all of the other costs of running a business, the office supplies, office equipment, internet connection, the list goes on and on and on. So my first real year of doing weddings I was surprised when I visited my CPA at the end of the year when she said I had lost money. After all my hard work I didn’t even make a penny. I had another job at the time so it didn’t really make a huge difference then, but when I made the switch to be a full time photographer I had to drastically change my point of view from an artists mind to a business persons mind. I took a look at what the average wage in my area was. Then looked at my expenses and figured out a number of what I needed to make on a yearly basis. From here you can start to get into a lot of detail by figuring out all of your true costs of running a business (don’t forget taxes, phone bills, health care, insurance, your computer, etc…) and then add in what you need to make to figure out your gross sales target.

Or an easy way to get a rough figure is to use what the PPA report (professional photographers of America) says, which is on average a photographer will take home about 33% of gross sales (and the average salary was only $24,000/year). With this 33% figure if you needed $70,000 per year to live on your sales would need to be $210,000 to reach that. And if you are a studio focusing primarily on wedding and say wanted to shoot no more than 35 weddings a year, need to charge $6000 to hit that goal.

With all of this in mind it brings me back to the article I linked to at the top and makes me raise the question “Why I won’t shoot a $2000 wedding”
(you can substitute any number in there that is a low point for your area. In the bay area there are a lot of under 2k photographers and a lot of brides looking for this price point)

Here are a few reasons why I won’t shoot a 2K wedding even in a down economy;

1) Photography is a art form. No matter how much technology improves photography will always be an art form and require talent. If you put 100 photographers into the same room there will always be different images that are taken from each person. There will always be clients that can see the difference in work and will appreciate your art. So to me, my artwork has VALUE! It has a huge value in my mind. For a wedding or a portrait I am capturing the essence of a person and telling a story all through my eyes and with my style and vision rolled into it. That has value and we should all believe enough in ourselves to get paid for our artistic talents.

2) The numbers just don’t add up. Using the examples above if I made $2,000 per wedding and shot 35 weddings I would end up making around $23,000. Even though photography is a huge passion and love of mine I would rather get a job working at Starbucks making much more than $23,000 a year and shoot my own personal projects on my day off.

3) Not getting paid enough can kill your passion. If you are not making enough to live off or just barely scraping by after awhile you will start to resent photography. It won’t be the creative outlet that you fell in love with from the start, but turn more into a chore and something that you equate with being broke. I have been passionate about photography since I was a teenager and want to keep that burning passion alive. If I try and lower my prices because the economy is down, I know that will start to effect how I perceive my own work and start to cause stress.

4) Lowering prices even if you think its temporary is a downward spiral. I know of people who saw their bookings go down due to the economy and lowered their prices to get a few clients. Then they were making less profit but working the same, they became even more stressed and needed more business to come in so kept lowering prices. It can become a downward spiral that can never end up good.

5) I want to take a stand for quality! In a market that is over saturated by newcomers (some which are pretty good, but some that need some more shooting under their belts)
photographers can get discouraged when most brides that are calling are looking for something similar to photographer XYZ’s packages. When brides start seeing photographer after photographer charging $2,000 and asking you for a package like that, I want to take a stand and be different. Show them why someone’s work might only be worth $2,000 but yours is worth $6,000. Be a leader in the industry not a follower!

There are a few nice rate calculators I found on the web. You can plug in some numbers and it will help you figure out your costs and what you should charge. Check them out here:
NPPA Cost of doing business calculator

Freelance Calculator

Pricing is difficult because it does vary by region and many, many other factors. But I hope this article at least gives you some things to think about and that you can work into your own photography business. I would love your comments below!

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Author: Mark

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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  1. If anyone has questions, remember to leave them in the comments box. Lets get a discussion going!

  2. Thanks for the mention! It’s been interesting to see the impact of this blog, which has been by far my most forwarded, commented, tweeted and read. I’m sure there’s a similar dynamic in the world of photography to what we’re seeing in the content-writing world today.

    Carol Tice

  3. Great Article! I’m all about not being the Starving Artist! But being a profitable Artist! I tell photographers all the time to charge for there creative talent! We are not selling paper but artistic images!

  4. So true, we are not selling paper but the vision that is on that paper which could be years and years in the making!

  5. “With all of this in mind it brings me back to the article I linked to at the top and makes me raise the question “Why I won’t shoot a $2000 wedding”

    I just met with a bride who said exactly this….that she found a $2000 photographer, and although she said my work was amazing, that’s who she went with. Some brides will only be shopping for price, and simply don’t care how amazing anyone’s images are.

    I have to remind myself of that, and continue to book the types of clients who shop with their heart. There aren’t as many of those, but they are much more rewarding.

  6. great tips. very usefull, thanks 😉

  7. I have seen a lot of 6000.00 photographers who should give it away free.You my friend leave me at the saying if you can’t say anything nice about someone don’t say anything at all.Q___k fill in your own blanks.

  8. Larry,

    The point of the article is to get us all thinking about how we price and what we need to charge to make a living. People that are charging 6k and might not have great work is a whole different discussion 🙂 Hopefully the market would weed them out, but again the goal here is to make sure we know why we are charging what we are and if that is enough to run a sustainable business.


  9. Any advice for an amateur who has been asked to take some family portraits and promo shots?

    I’ve never sold any of my photos and I have no idea what to tell the potential client. Do I charge by the photo? A flat fee?

    Because I’m an amateur I’m nervous about asking for too much.

  10. An old quote that summarizes some of what you’ve said quite nicely is “Figure out how much you want to earn a year, divide by the number of hours you want to work — now you know your hourly rate.”

    I think part of the problem is people not taking a good accounting of the hours they work on a project. If you really sit down and do up the hours for a client, its not hard to justify the price point at all (with the exception of the quacks who do the five or six hours on-site and an hour of post and that’s it).

    Once you account for hours of post work, hours of sorting and selecting, and then amortized value of equipment over time and expenses per year divided by jobs/year, you end up with a pretty rational view of what your work costs in sheer wage time.

    Bear in mind, the above is without leaving room for artistic merit, that’s just the contractor pricing for your ‘work’ as a photographer (or any other profession).

  11. Thanks for the comments Michael, so true!


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