One of the most common questions I’m asked from my advanced students is “When can I start charging for my photography? And how much should I charge?”
You may have already come across THIS ARTICLE as of late. It has set off a firey storm of emotion among photographers and reached the top 100 posts for wordpress the day it was released. He’s received threats from many angry photogs who apparently disagree 🙂
My fabulous photography teacher from a few years ago wrote THIS REBUTTLE. I thought he made some valid points and provided a good balance.
While I don’t have time today to write an entire post on pricing, I would love to hear your thoughts on this and would be happy to leave mine in the comments section today for those interested! I always do love a good discussion on pricing 🙂
I will leave you with one thought… I had a fabulous experience on Saturday shooting this lovely family in their home (the image above is from that session…more to come soon!). I distinctly thought to myself as I was making all the technical adjustments necessary to battle the overcast light outside the window and low light of shooting indoors without flash, “I’m so glad that I understand all the elements that I’m working with to still be able to confidently capture great images.” There is something to be said for knowing your stuff in relation to your pricing. And no, I have NOT always known my stuff (and still have more to learn), and I have NOT always charged my current rates.
What’s your take?
Brooke Snow is a Lifestyle photographer in Cache Valley, Utah. Brooke specializes as a Utah Senior photographer, Logan Senior photographer, Utah Family Photographer, Logan Family Photographer, Logan childrens photographer , Utah Childrens Photographer and is a photography teacher who enjoys teaching private photography lessons as well as monthly photography classes in Logan, Utah.
Thanks so much for sharing the posting about pricing! I am a newbie and needed to hear the balanced posting on pricing!
Hi Heather! I definitely agree that there needs to be a balance! People need to start somewhere, and oft times the lower price helps you get the practice you need in the beginning.
oh I just never know about this. I have such mixed feelings!!! I understand the need to increase prices since it is ART and since it takes time and skill that should be paid for. (never mind the equipment) AND I see the other side. I grew up in a family with VERY little money and we have about 5 family photos – all from Sears. My parents could have NEVER paid for photos. And I want people to be able to get pictures – not just the ones with lots of cash. Add in I always doubt my own talent and skills so should I really be pricing higher when I have SO much room for improvement….. who knows! SEE mixed feelings! 🙂
I have excited butterflies.
Isn’t she adorable?
Thanks again, you are amazing, and it was so amazing to watch you on Saturday. You most definetly know your stuff!
I understand your mixed feelings Rhonda! Thats why I posted both articles 😉 I’ll throw another thought out there… do people value that which they don’t have to pay for? Or that which doesn’t make them stretch somewhat? One part of me really believes that many times people can afford what they value (if that is a fabulous wide screen t.v. for $$$$ then they figure out how to get it…) My family never had the latest and greatest gadgets of any kind, but my mom valued custom photography enough to set aside money to save for it, though we didn’t get it every year.
That being said, I think its good to take things case by case as well sometimes. I had a bride last year that couldn’t afford me, but told me what she could pay, and offered to come work for me to pay for the difference… basically volunteering her time with an eagerness and willingness to do whatever it took to make sure we both felt compensated. Some people do value it but can’t afford it and others are just looking for something cheap.
I like to price higher to put a value with my work, but I’m also open to trades and other creative solutions to work with those that need another alternative.
Oh Hayley! You are going to melt when you see the rest!
I really liked the rebuttal actually. I think it’s smart to start out telling people your rates are discounted prices due to the fact that us new photogs are still portfolio building and learning all there is to learn. I just get depressed when I feel people don’t appreciate what work it does take to be a photographer. They are some of the most under appreciated people out there. ps this picture looks like it was a nice sunny day and you had a ton of sunshine just pouring through a window so your amazing. and that adorable lil blonde & that quilt are both super cute!
Pricing is very difficult. Especially when you feel that you need a lot of improvement. But with that said I was given very good advice once. Charge what you will eventually want to charge and then run specials. Every body loves a sale.
I know how much time and money (equipment) that I have put into my business and it gets discouraging when you have to compete with those that don’t. But, people can tell the difference and will pay for quality. No one wants to invest thousands of dollars just to earn $5.00 an hour.
Leah… indeed, it is hard when people don’t appreciate the work of photography! That’s actually been one of my favorite things about teaching photography classes. The moment that the student has the realization that “wow… there is a lot more too this than I ever thought!” Although its something that anyone can technically learn (and should), there is so much more beyond that!
And Laura, I agree… charging what you want to eventually charge helps people get used to seeing those prices 🙂
I really appreciated the second article. I had read the first article earlier in the week and was feeling conflicted — since I am currently a “cheap” photographer 🙂 I know that my work is currently not at the level of a professional photographer, but I DO know that I have a lot to offer and would like to be compensated for my time and talent — be it less than perfect. As I am growing in my knowledge and skills (and really, it’s amazing to me how much I’m still learning even once you know how to shoot in manual)I am struggling with how much to raise prices, how often, and the problem that all my referrals are coming from a “cheap” price group. That makes it a bit harder I feel to keep steady business — because I don’t know how to attract the higher paying clients as my prices become higher. That’s probably a whole different topic though! Thanks for sharing the articles.
I really liked the second article. I read the first article and I see where they are coming from but at the same time I think it’s so important to feel comfortable with what you charge. I don’t think there’s any point to charge a lot just to appear elite…especially when you know you’re not! I know I’m no Tara Whitney!! I have a LOT to learn and as I learn more and gain my confidence I will continue to raise my prices accordingly and not just for the heck of it!
Initially, when I read the first article, I kept saying to myself, “Yeah I agree with him.” But then I read the second one and saw the difference when it came to the train of thoughts and agreed with Dustin way more. I started out that way. I had to charge cheap so I could get the experience. But I think that once someone gets the experience they need and the training, they should raise their prices fairly according to the competition around them. However, I think it’s important not to pretend you’re more than you are, but I’m not sure what the solution is for figuring that out (I’m still working on that too! Haha!)
I know it’s hard to start out cheap and get all these clients, and then once you start raising your prices to match the experience you’ve gained, sometimes you start loosing that clientel who went to you because you were “cheap.” and sometimes it’s hard explaining why that is to them. So I’m not sure where I’m going with this. It’s just tough, but I do like the points that Dustin made even though I can see the other side of it too.
Angela! I had the same reaction reading both articles! I like that Dustin seems to find a great balance in providing a place for both the cheap photographer and the expensive ones. I shot my first wedding for $180! (Thats what happens when someone asks you and you have no pricing for weddings and you just rattle off your current portrait pricing! Bad idea. You should always be prepared!) I learned a major lesson in that experience, especially since after all my time and travel expenses I basically ended up paying her to shoot her wedding! But, indeed, I was able to pay cash for all my gear because I was cheap, I was getting a lot of experience, and was able to build my business and experience without any debt. I also had another job that brought in consistent money and my husband was working as well. Photography was indeed a “side hobby”. Fast forward to now, where my husband is in grad school and now my photography business is THE ONLY SOURCE OF INCOME for our family… you begin to look at things a bit differently. I can’t afford to be cheap 🙂 And I think I’m worth more anyways! But increasing my worth came through increasing my experience which in the long run was achieved through starting out charging much less!
Marcie, you bring up a great point. When you are a cheap photographer, your referrals are cheap too 🙂 You definitely appeal to a certain market, who often are price hunters or “tire kickers” rather than those that really value your work. It is difficult to raise prices later and keep the same clientele. One idea that works sometimes, is to raise your prices to where you want to be, but offer discounts. That way people are used to seeing your higher price as the “regular” price, but feel like they are getting a deal. Gradually decrease the discount percent to be at those prices. I believe that as you become a better photographer, as you gain more experience, as you learn more, you SHOULD raise your prices because you have become worth more 🙂 YOUR value is increasing! For anyone looking for a fabulous guide to pricing I highly recommend “EASY AS PIE” pricing guide. It teaches you how to price yourself for profit and is absolutely brilliant.
Thanks for posting about this. I think this is SO hard for amateur photographers. We’re not pro’s but we’ve got people asking for us to take their pictures. We want to gain experience and if we’re attracting “business” obviously people are interested in our budding talent. So, what are we suppose to do?? Charge a flat rate and chalk it up to experience?? This one is getting harder and harder for me. I can’t keep taking pictures for the experience alone because it takes TIME and I need to be compensated somehow. BUT, when you don’t feel like a pro, how are you suppose to price? What’s fair? Do you charge hourly? Do you charge for the number of pic’s? These are all questions I keep asking myself. I am getting more and more phone calls and need to get my ducks in a row before I keep going forward with this. *sigh* What to do, what to do? Keep your good advice coming. I need it.
(can’t wait to see Hayley’s pic’s!)
Kylene! Your questions are all great! There comes a point when you have to ask yourself what your time away from your family is worth. Indeed, experience is one thing, but time is another. When you start to add up the hours of shooting, plus editing, and whatever else goes into taking someones pictures, the hours add up, and if you break it down, small rates can actually end up paying you less than minimum wage, which–lets be honest–isn’t worth the time away from your kids if you don’t absolutely NEED the experience.
One of the most frustrating things I ran into a few years ago, was that I was charging lower rates, and attracting clients who wanted pictures in a style that was so very much NOT MY STYLE. (i.e. they all show up in matching polo shirts and khaki pants wanting a lovely centered formation of everyone smiling at the camera.) In those moments I began to sort of resent my work. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t creative… and by golly, I sure wasn’t being paid enough to shoot those shots that didn’t make me happy! I knew how to work my camera, so what in the world was I sticking around for?
I became a lot more selective in the work I accepted. I determined the minimum amount of money that I wanted to make per shoot that would make me feel my time and talent was justified, and found a pricing structure that guaranteed that amount, plus an opportunity for more if they were willing to buy more.
Seriously, I can’t recommend highly enough EASY AS PIE. I know it costs $150, but the principles are sound and it pays for itself immediately since you actually start to price yourself fairly. It gives a great formula to determine what is the right place for you and why.
I do recommend sitting down and figuring out pricing, regardless if you consider yourself a professional or not, because yes, your time is valuable. Thats how i got trapped into shooting my first wedding for $180. I wasn’t prepared. My did I learn my lesson 🙂 And its so much better to have it determined beforehand, so when someone calls you don’t dance around the price and even worse, let them talk you down into practically nothing.
Many of you may have also found that many friends and “friends” will begin to feel entitled to your services as well 🙂 One more area that is absolutely crucial that you’re prepared with beforehand or resentment can begin to build! (What determines who gets shot for free or a sweet deal?) If you lay out the qualifications beforehand it is much easier to execute!
Someone remind me sometime to talk about my personal friends/family method.
Thanks again for such good advice Brooke!
Hi Brooke, thanks so much for those links and the interesting discussion on pricing. I am one of the recipients of the Me Ra Koh Soar scholarship and am exactly at that stage of trying to figure out this issue. I’ve posted links to your blog and these articles on our forum. Thanks again!