Pricing Your Photographs

Photography and Text By Sal Feliciano  © All rights reserved.

One of the major concerns novice photographers have is in pricing their photographic work. Prices vary widely from type of work produced to the reputation of the photographer.
There is a way to come up with a base price for photographic work. It's actually quite simple, yet will take some time to come to an accurate figure. Keep in mind that the base price varies considerably depending on the particular photographer's situation, not what the market will actually bear, although that does factor somewhat into the equation.
Step #1 - Minimum Living Expenses
This step is absolutely essential. No matter what the reasons may be for choosing photography, you are a human and must eat. Not only that, you have expenses and obligations which must be met. House payments, insurance, gas, clothing and even entertainment need to be factored into the equation.
Take a serious and realistic look at what your actual expenses are. Everything and anything goes into the equation. Let's use the following example for a wedding / event photographer.

Per month debits based on single person
  • Rent - $800.00
  • Car Payment - $350.00
  • Car Insurance - $250.00
  • Food - $450.00
  • Clothing - $175.00
  • Medical plan - $450.00
  • Dental Plan - $250.00
  • Cable TV - $65.00
  • Heating - $75.00
  • Electric - $95.00
  • Telephone - $49.00
  • Water - $25.00
  • Personal - $125.00
  • Entertainment - $75.00
  • Total: $3,234

Of course, these numbers do not reflect everyone. Ask any college student if they eat $450 worth a month and they'll tell you that they can stretch a pizza out for days. On the other hand, ask a photographer with a spouse and four kids and the $450.00 food bill can double. Thus far, you need a minimum of $3, 234 just to pay everyday expenses. These are expenses incurred just for breathing, regardless if money comes in or not. Yes, you can cut some of them out by taking the bus or seeing Doctor Mom, but you get the basic idea.
Step #2 - Professional Expenses
This one gets a bit complicated but is essential that it gets done. Remember that you have to set a base price for your services. Expenses have to be calculated based not only on actual costs but projected costs as well.
To simplify matters, let's say you are working out of your home. You are just starting out and do not yet have a studio. These will be expenses that you may incur on a monthly basis.

  • Film - $75.00
  • Developing - $225.00
  • Business cards - $25.00
  • Gas and car maintenance - $125.00
  • Equipment maintenance - $75.00
  • Equipment replacement - $250.00
  • Equipment purchases - $250.00
  • Brochures - $50.00
  • Total: $825.00

This list is only a guide. Obviously, if you have a digital camera, you will not be buying film. But with that in mind, you will need a computer, CDs to store your images on, programs, Internet service etc. Every situation is different which is why pricing for services varies widely.
Step #3 - Put It All Together
Using the examples above, our imaginary photographer needs a minimum of $4,059.00 per month. These are just expenses and must be factored in. You will be needing batteries, storage cards, new equipment, upgrades you may not need it for several months or even years, but it still has to be factored in. The day will come when you will need medical, a new camera or flash, new tires etc. Factor those costs into your pricing now, not later when the expense occurs.
Step #4 - Profit
This is the fun part but probably the most difficult to come up with since it is subject on how much you feel you are worth. You need to make a profit beyond the expenses listed above. The profit will be divided into two categories.
Your salary - You have already factored for your recurring expenses, now you need to factor for other goodies such as vacation, savings and that new wide screen television you've been craving.
Business expenses - This has pretty much been factored in as well, but you need to have a business cushion for those nasty and unexpected expenses that crop up, like hiring an assistant., or break a leg and can't work for two months. Keep in mind that your salary comes from the business expenses.
And now that I am on that subject, you need to keep separate accounts, one personal and the other for business. If at the end of the year you decide you have made so much money that you want to give yourself a bonus, that's fine. Deduct the bonus from your business account and transfer it to your personal account. But never ever keep dipping into your business account as if it was your personal account. That action will eventually bite you in the rump one day.
So, what are you worth? Only you and the market can say for sure. Do you give yourself a 10% profit margin or go for 150% percent? What do you want? How much do you need? How much in demand are you? Who are your competitors? How many competitors do you have? These are all answers you must ask yourself and do research on to come up with a number which will accommodate your style of living and necessities.
Step #5 - Putting It All Together
You have a base figure of $4,059.00. You want a profit margin of say, $1,000. You now have a figure of $5,059 you need to make per month. Is that feasible? Of course it is. So, let's apply that to the example of the wedding / event photographer.
For those of you that wonder why these photographers charge such high prices, the answer is now within your grasp.
First, you have to figure out how many jobs you will get per month. OK. When do people get married? On Monday, Tuesday? That's right! Those days are rare. Weddings usually take place on Fridays and Saturdays, with a few on Sundays. What you are facing is the possibility of working one day a week, two if you are lucky. Let's say you are in demand and work two days a week. That's eight times a month.
Divide the $5,059.00 figure which we came up with by 8. That gives you a total of $632.37, which is what you will be charging per job. Simple, Right? Wrong!
Here's the kicker. You can't depend on having eight jobs per month. Just like there are popular days to get married, there are also popular months. Not many people get married between October and January. Face it; these months are lean for just about any photography. But you still have expenses and may only get two or six jobs per month.
You now have to factor this into your pricing. Say you expect to get only four weddings a month. Then you literally have to double the price of your services. That price of $632.37 just doubled to $1,264.74. In the examples used, this would be the actual price you charge per job. Now you know why wedding photographers charge such "high" prices for their services.
However, many customers feel that they are being gouged. If you feel bad about pricing yourself fairly, then ask yourself the following questions. If a customer did the jobs themselves, what would it take for them to get the same quality as if they hired you?
First, they would need to buy the same professional equipment that you have. But that can get expensive, right? The next option would then be to rent the equipment. You have to keep in mind that when a customer hires you, they are not only paying for your time, they are also paying for the RENT of your equipment. Then, they need to have the experience and know how on how to use the equipment. How long did it take you to master the relationship between the shutter, aperture and flash? Did the rules of composition just materialize in your head, or did it take practice for it to finally come naturally?
Do you subscribe to photography publications? Are you a member of a photography organization? Did you go to college to learn photography? All these increase your value and are what customers pay for. Many just don't realize it.
Having taken pictures themselves, many customers feel that there is nothing to photography and will not want to pay your worth. All I can say is that pressing the accelerator on your car does not qualify you to drive in the Indy 500.
The wedding / event photographer example is pretty much used for other photography. If you are an outdoor photographer, then you factor in travel and accommodations, tips etc. to come up with a number. Are you a portrait photographer? Then factor in studio rent, lighting and extra electricity, promotion etc.
You now have the basics on how to charge for your services. The more in demand you are, the more you can add to your profit. Demand takes into account many factors. Type of product you produce is one. If you take scenic shots, then the number of magazines, books, calendar and postcard companies looking for your type of images will factor in the equation. Other photographers doing the same work will keep you on your toes producing fresh and distinctive work.
Are you in a small town with only one wedding photographer, you? Or are you in a town over saturated with wedding photographers? These are all questions which you need to take a hard look at.
Remember, you have to live. The only starving artists out there are those that do not price accordingly.

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