Money Matters: Learning How to Price Your Photos to Sell
Determining a feasible pricing structure is one of the most daunting tasks a new photography entrepreneur faces. There’s not a magic formula when deciding how much to charge for your work, but there are some helpful guidelines you can follow.
The proliferation of digital media has made it much harder for photographers to charge for prints in the traditional way. So rather than adopt a “nickel and dime” pricing strategy where you charge for each print of an image (or photo shoot, proofs, photo album, and/or prints), consider charging only for what clients really value — your ability to capture moments.
One way you can capitalize on that is by offering specials on your social media accounts. For example, many family photographers offer “mini sessions” themed to various holidays or times of year via their social media channels. Sign-up is available to social followers only, and the price is a set one — usually a basic sitting fee for a small package of photos.
A photographer’s estimate is usually based on two elements: creative fees and expenses. On the creative side, you need to think about the quality of the image and what value you place on it. Photographer Jerry Clement says his formula for gallery prints includes the cost of production and what he calls an “intrinsic, artistic value,” with some profit margin on top of that. “You also have to take into account the gallery’s commission,” Clement says, “which usually averages 30 to 40 percent.”
You might also want to charge a sitting fee when working with clients. The sitting fee should cover your time as the photographer, editing of images, and, if you offer one, an online gallery of the client’s photos they can share with family and friends.
As part of your fees, factor in labor, supplies, and materials. Will the images be shot on location or in a studio? If you’re operating a studio, take a long, hard look at your local competitors to see what they’re charging for similar services, then start your pricing somewhere in the middle.
Wedding, portrait, and event photographers have an easier time scoping out the competition because it’s easy to stop by and pick up a price list and other information from competitors or simply visit their respective websites. Although it’s simple enough to pick up the phone and call a commercial photographer about their fees, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get a standard rate because fees are usually developed on a project-by-project basis. To cover yourself, be sure to pad your fee a bit to include unexpected issues.
Location shoots are more complex and involve considerations like site logistics, travel, special equipment, lighting equipment, props and additional personnel (e.g., models, assistants, technicians). In addition to the complexity of the project, you also need to consider the number of finished images needed, scheduling and pre- and post-production time.
Pre-production responsibilities may include client meetings, site location and/or visits, and set arrangements. After the shoot is over, post-production tasks may consist of restoring a site to its original state, returning props and equipment, and more client meetings — along with image editing, selecting and finalizing the images.
Many commercial or location photographers charge day or half-day rates, with fees adjusted to weekly for long-term shoots or hourly for shorter projects. Don’t forget to add overtime (hourly rate plus 50 percent) for days that go longer than eight hours or for weekend assignments.
Whenever in doubt, use the industry standards found through different photography associations and organizations, like American Society for Media Photographers (ASMP) or Professional Photographers of America (PPA). Local chapters have monthly meetings where members can network and learn a wealth of information, including local marketing and industry standards.
The other part of the pricing equation is expenses. Many photographers — especially in the beginning — try to absorb minor expenses, like supplies, postage and basic camera gear. But these little things quickly add up and chip away at your profits. Your fee structure should cover these incidentals. For example, if you decide $50 is a fair hourly rate, charge $75. Then use the hourly charge to calculate daily and weekly rates.
Overhead should also be a calculated expense that includes rent, utilities, insurance, gas, mileage, and anything else that you’re not billing clients separately for. Big ticket expenses for individual assignments, like travel, equipment, or personnel, should be billed separately, depending on your — or the client’s — preferences.
And don’t forget to include your own salary in your cost of doing business — if you do, then you’ve made a grave business error. Pay yourself first, then consider the rest of your costs as overhead. Ultimately, if your business can’t cover its payroll and expenses, you’ll need to charge more for your work, find other ways to increase revenue and/or cut costs.
After factoring your costs into your pricing structure, find ways to reduce those costs and increase profits. Monitor your progress each month by using profit and loss reports, which your bookkeeping or accounting software should allow you to generate with ease if you’re using it correctly.
If you want to become successful and grow your business, you’re going to have to handle tasks you don’t like, including bookkeeping and accounting. Many photographers think of themselves as “creative types” who don’t deal with numbers. However, if you don’t understand the finances related to your business and maintain proper records using accounting or bookkeeping software, you’ll quickly find yourself in financial crisis.