Last modified: December 29, 2016
Pricing can be a complicated decision in any field.
But photography is an even tougher business.
You work with sophisticated, expensive technical equipment. You also put in a lot of hard work, devotion and passion.
Even when you barely feel how time flies, at the end of the day, you still work for money.
And it’s the money that keeps you in business.
That’s why you probably often find yourself consumed by the actual need of raising your prices and the fear that you might scare customers away.
If you’re wondering how much to charge and how to find the right price for both you and your clients, this guide to photography pricing for beginners should clear things out a little bit.
The essential steps of setting a pricing strategy
People will always need to preserve memories and you’re there to help them take those stories further. You communicate important life events and decorate their homes and offices with your work.
How much is it worth building these priceless memories?
Putting a price tag on such a contribution is simpler than it looks. The process should only take 3 basic aspects into account: invested time, personal effort, and market value.
After all, your photography pricing should cover:
- All the hard costs involved;
- The time you invest in creating that perfect final product;
- The overhead expenses that might occur;
- And, of course, your profit.
The part that will probably cause you the strongest remorse is determining how much profit you “deserve”. For this conundrum, you should take into account:
- The quality of your work;
- Your own confidence in the skills you possess;
- The way you are perceived on the market, meaning the value that people tend to grant you.
Long story short, you will need to have both an overall and an in-depth image of everything that your business implies. So let us take them one by one:
Divide expenses by fixed and variable
Just like in any other business, not all your expenses are completely predictable or invariable. The list of fixed expenses might include equipment costs, marketing, communication, rent & maintenance bills for a studio if you decide to have a permanent office, and also the amount of profit you would like to make.
The variable expenses depend on the specifics of your niche. For instance, if you are a wedding photographer, you might have to travel often. So aside from getting from one place to another, you will have to spend on accommodation, booking an assistant for several days or hours if the project requires it, rent gear and so on.
For a fashion photographer, renting a location by the hour or having your own studio space, make-up products and proper lighting instruments, styling and casting are all variable expenses.
Listing all your possible expenses is essential in making sure that you know the exact costs. When this aspect is fuzzy, you risk not even covering your production costs, which means you’ll be at a loss all the time!
Divide expenses by materials, labor, and overhead
As suggested, these are the 3 main categories that will dictate your pricing model.
Materials are all the supplies that you use from the moment you meet your client for the first time until the moment you hand the final product. Statistics indicate that about 75% of photographers offer their customers either physical or virtual products. Whether you are planning to do the same or prefer to focus on a single type of final product, consider that:
- With printed photographs, you have packaging and shipping costs.
- With digital photographs, you have cloud storage, hard drives or client gallery hosting expenses.
None of these should come out of your pocket.
One way to cut costs is to find creative saving solutions for these materials. Whether you buy in bulk products that you really need or partner with a particular supplier and enjoy discounts, they all add up on the plus side.
Also, you should consider counseling your clients on what to opt for, so that their order will cost them less. Making such recommendations is a very powerful relationship building tool. Their gratitude can, therefore, translate into referring your business.
Labor refers to all that time you spend on a project. Sometimes it’s an actual photo shooting. Often it’s also the afterward photo editing and retouching. And in between all these, it’s the time you spend with your clients to educate and counsel them on how to make the best of your services.
Just like with the materials, you need to be very careful in anticipating how much time you need to deliver a product, with every piece of work that you handle.
- Pre-production time involves arriving at the scene and setting up the equipment;
- Production time is about the actual shooting and all the time you spend on the job with the client on your side;
- Post-production extends to editing and processing photographs, printing and framing them and so on.
When you put on paper all the hours you’ve worked and all the materials you used, sum up the costs and divide them by the number of worked hours, you might have a shock.
If the result doesn’t even cover your current expenses, you really need to adjust your price.
Overhead encompasses the unforeseeable. No matter how much you’re planning, things won’t always go by the book. When that happens, you need to be prepared and have a budget.
The client won’t stand and listen to you complaining or trying to explain how some equipment got broken and getting their photos done takes longer than they expected.
Expenses that you anticipate you will have at some point, without knowing exactly when and how, enter to this category. Updating or maintaining software, paying subscriptions or licenses, backdrops, lighting, new camera lenses, replacing equipment that wears and tears – they will all pile up on your overhead expenses, sooner or later.
As a beginner, you can keep your overall expenses to a lower level by lowering these overhead costs. Decide what you really need in order to do a good job, stick to the basics, and don’t spend a dime more than you need. When your budget is not that stretched, it should be a bit easier to offer lower prices.
The best way to proceed would be to estimate your overhead expenses for a year (it’s much easier this way) and divide the total number by an approximate number of projects that you anticipate for that year. Add the resulted percentage to every new project and you’ll start covering your total overhead, step by step.
Include your marketing strategy into the budget
Advertising your business can take various forms, from the basics of printing business cards to a small, less costly marketing strategy. And while it can literally help your business, it might as well sink it, if it’s not covered by a budget.
That’s why you’ll need to measure the return on investment with all your marketing efforts.
This return, also known as ROI, is all about:
- Evaluating the efficiency of a particular investment or
- Comparing the efficiency of several different types of investment
The result is a percentage, calculated as it follows:
ROI = (Gain from investment – Cost of investment) / Cost of investment
By closely looking into your advertising channels, how much you spend with each of them, and which ones bring you the most customers, you should be able to adjust your pricing strategy accordingly.
Include profit on the list of your expenses
I’ve mentioned it before, but I find this to be so important that it really needs to have a special place in this guide to pricing photography services.
It sounds weird to label profit as an expense, but it’s rather intended to help you better calculate how much you want to take (from what your business produces) and put directly into your pocket. Think of it as an expense that you need to cover every month, and you will be more motivated to reach that goal.
After all, you’re not after breaking even, you’re after making a profit!
Research your competitors and the market prices
That’s what your clients do and whatever they see out there when looking for photography services and pricing, you need to see as well.
Make no mistake; you do not have to adopt the rates of your competitors!
In some instances, you might discover that their choices come close to the best practices and getting some inspiration from them won’t hurt.
In other cases, you might totally disagree with them, and still be able to take a pattern and develop it into something better.
Being fully aware of what the local market has to offer will only put you in the position of knowing how to convince your clients that your work is valuable enough to worth the price you are asking for.
Offering lower prices than your competitors just to win more business shouldn’t be an option. Instead, focus on showing people that you are worth more than your competitors. Or work on improving the overall perceived value through your brand, marketing, and talent. Anything else is better than lowering prices, working for peanuts, and heading to a burnout.
That is precisely why you should know what others offer and for what charges, so you will be able to hone your speech, better position yourself on the market, and keep up the sleeve all the right arguments: what you offer extra by comparison, why are you better than them, why does your higher price worth the effort.
Set up a cost-plus pricing model
As a beginner, your main goal would be to cover your production costs with a minimum of profit. But covering those costs means taking absolutely all the expenses into account: production costs, shipping fees, plus overhead.
Say you know them perfectly. These will total your expenses so decide for the desired profit, add it to the total cost, and you’ve got your final sale price.
It’s called a two-step pricing formula because it relies on:
- Calculating costs
- Adding the profit
Without knowing exactly how much you need in order to stay in business, you risk taking more as profit and finding yourself financially at risk when an overlooked cost shows up.
Dealing with broken equipment, receiving an order that requires expensive printing for which you do not have a budget, or discovering that you cannot afford to pay an assistant for work already provided are all very unpleasant circumstances to find yourself in.
Luckily, with this cost-plus pricing model, you have all the instruments to establish a fair retail price.
BUT that retail price shouldn’t be unshakeable.
Be prepared to adjust it depending on the particularities of the project or have a few packages in place that will cater the basic requests for different types of customers.
Work on your self-confidence
Ultimately, the fear of raising prices comes from lack of confidence. Many beginners are reluctant to adjusting their fees because they fear that customers won’t agree to pay that much.
Why won’t they agree? Because it’s too expensive? Or because it’s too expensive compared to the quality of the final product?
Right there is one of the biggest problems of the photographers who are just starting out: a poor self-confidence.
While this may be a very subjective issue, you can always motivate yourself by remembering the importance of the service that you are offering: photography and video processing are in high demand. And they will continue to be.
People need these services that you are offering. And if you trust yourself, if you work hard, if you don’t take any step back from improving yourself and working in the best interest of your client, your value will not even need to be sustained. It will show off as the most natural thing.
And once that happens, you can start to gradually increase your prices with the right confidence!
Final piece of advice: Learn How To Say NO
I’m obviously talking about the less lucrative projects.
The temptation to accept every client or gig, no matter how small it would be, is huge when you are just starting out and you are trying to make a pool of clients.
But remember: when you keep yourself busy with jobs that pay peanuts:
- You’re risking a serious burnout;
- And, at some point, you might be too busy to actually be available when a bigger project comes along;
Last but not least, accepting jobs that are well beneath your qualifications and skills brings an even bigger threat to your photography career: through time, you might end up becoming well-known for work you’d rather not do, at a price point you don’t feel comfortable with.
With the right pricing model in mind, however, you should be able to spot these unprofitable projects much easier. When that happens, just say No.