How much should I charge for my photography?
(And why most professional photographers will never answer that question…)
How many time have you seen that question asked in a forum? A few? Lots?
How many times have you seen it answered? — and I don’t mean an evasive answer like one of these “helpful” classics that tell you absolutely nothing…
- How much is your time worth?
- As much as you can…
- Whatever they’re worth
In a moment I’m going to give you a detailed work through of my complete pricing strategy but first I’d like to discuss…
Why most photographers will NEVER tell you how to price a project
(BTW, throughout this post I’m assuming the quality of a photographer’s work is commercially acceptable)
Photographers generally fall into one of these four categories: Amateur, Enthusiast, Semi-Pro, Pro. That’s not a hard and fast grouping and the division between them is often blurred so it’s best to think of it as a spectrum rather than a pigeon hole or tightly bounded group.
The most common route is to start as an Amateur. They get bitten by the bug and become an Enthusiast. Then they get asked to photograph something for someone (a wedding, a website, an event, a school etc) and so move into the realm of Semi-Pro. Finally, if they’re successful, great at marketing and earn enough from it they may choose to go fully Professional, giving up the day job.
Now, here’s the bit they won’t generally admit to: there are more photographers out there than there are clients to go around.
By that I mean it’s easy for someone to pick up a camera and declare they’re now a professional photographer. It’s a really fun career (it certainly beats flying a desk in the corporate world — been there, done that, never again) and there are few barriers to entry. You just need a camera, a computer, a website and an email address and you’re good to go.
There are problems to overcome. Big, BIG problems. Let me explain…
Firstly, unless you’re going to do a lot of travelling, you’re restricted to doing business locally.
Secondly, the size of the local market isn’t very big at all. In fact, it’s tiny. Minuscule.
Thirdly, people don’t need (professional) photos that often. Maybe once every 12-18 months maximum. That means whilst repeat business is there it will take several years to build a loyal client base and you’ll find clients will drop off the list just as fast as you keep adding them (children grow up, pets die)
What does this have with how much to charge for your photography?
EVERYTHING! Because once you understand the problems faced by other photographers you’ll understand why there is such a reluctance to share pricing information. At it’s very basic level, helping a colleague to price up a project will take food from their table.
This creates a very interesting situation. If you look at the spectrum of photographers charging for their services, namely the Semi-Pro and Professional groups, there is a huge divide.
At one end you find the super successful photographers who can charge what they like and turn away more jobs than they shoot. These are the famous photographers who always spring to mind, the celebrities whom we all (secretly?) aspire to be.
Down at the bottom end it’s a very different tale altogether. Here you’ll find people in an ever decreasing spiral of price cutting in their mis-guided race to get to the bottom of the barrel. It’s a one way ticket to doom and gloom. Working for peanuts and most likely making enough of a loss that they’ll remove themselves from the equation completely.
Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot. Photographers (be they Professional or Semi-Pro) who get the best clients. They know how to price their work effectively and more importantly know when to say “no.” It’s the best place to be and the only way to operate if you want a profitable business.
No more shoestring jobs. No more running at a loss. No more diving to the bottom of the barrel.
These guys have sorted out their marketing and their pricing. What’s more, it works. And that, my friend, is like gold dust in this industry.
Will they share that knowledge with you? Not bloody likely! They’ve worked hard to get there, they’re not about to give it all away so you can grab a bigger share of the ever-so-elusive market they own. They’d much rather have you working for free, doing “TF” shoots and running around shouting about how wonderful you are on social media while they bring home the bacon.
That’s why a successful photographer is so reluctant to share their pricing knowledge with you – it’s a means for them to protect their market share. Yes, you can ‘copy’ their prices but unless you know the mechanics of how they derive their figures, the assumptions they’ve made and their overall profitability it’s completely and utterly meaningless. That’s where they have an unfair advantage over you – that deep seated, secret knowledge of the numbers within their business. What’s more, if you don’t know yours (even if you’re Semi-Pro because you will have overheads!) they’ll have an even bigger advantage over you every time so it’ll never be a fair fight.
If you’ve ever wondered “How much should I charge…?” then read on…
How to work out your costs for a photo-shoot…
Now you know a little about the psyche of a successful photographer and why they have such a reluctance to share pricing information with you, I thought I’d break with tradition (I may regret this so I’m not sure if this post will be available for long) and share my costing analysis. This is something I do for every job request that comes in, regardless of size. It’s my acid test to make sure that if I book the client and do the work I’m not going to be doing it at a loss.
Why is this important? Because I want a profitable business not a charity.
Photography Pricing — Case Study…
Sharon is a fashion designer with 56 garments in her latest collection that need photographing for her e-commerce website. She needs 3 images of each garment (front, back and side) shot using an invisible mannequin.
So, how much will it cost me to do this job?
(NB These are actual figures and this is a real job with a real client)
Step 1: Look at the number of images needed
56 garments x 3 shots per garment = 168 finished images to be delivered.
Step 2: Calculate studio time required
- ‘Dress mannequin’ is the time to put the next garment on the mannequin. It includes taking the previous one off and repositioning the mannequin as necessary. 4 minutes is a very aggressive target to hit.
- For the photography I’ve allowed just one minute per shot. For this scenario we have a total of three minutes per garment which should be ample. If we can save time here, it makes the ‘Dress mannequin’ target of 4 minutes much more achievable. Estimating to less than 1 minute is non-sensical in my opinion and its far better to err on the side of caution.
- Studio Hire on this project was £20/hour which is very reasonable for a studio in this area. Summing the line items above gives an estimate of 452 minutes for the shoot which works out at 8 hours of studio time. (We always work on whole hours for studio time). You’ll notice that I’ve not included any slack time for the studio. That as a conscious choice in this case as I was confident of the figures I used. For other projects where I’m less comfortable with the estimate or feel there may be an overrun I might choose to add one or two extra hours as necessary. Especially if we hit a more favourable rate with the studio
Step 3: Labour costs
- The photo-shoot time (or session length as some call it) is derived from our studio time calculation from step
- We need 8 hours of studio time so I’ve used 8 hours for the session length. (Your session should always include set-up and tear-down times unless you prefer to run an untidy studio)
Step 4: Direct costs
Direct costs incurred as a result of doing this project. This could include travel expenses, consumable items such as seamless paper, props, styling, etc. It should also include hard copy media if you’ve priced in a deliverable item such as a print or canvas.
Basically, you need to include anything you have to spend money on in order to do this particular job. Everything you leave off the list directly affects your profitability.
In our case there was only one additional expense: the invisible (or ghost) mannequin
Step 5: Calculate your total costs to photograph this project
Is that a surprise?
This particular job will take about 8 days work and cost me £1,885 to do. That’s a lot of money and there’s no profit in there yet either.
This is why when I see photographers offering product shots at £1 to £5 per image I have to wonder how on earth they can earn a reasonable living.
Personally I choose not to compete on price. There is always someone who will do it for free so there’s little point. The client who wants to make just a price based decision is looking for a commodity photographer, the people who are racing to the bottom of their barrel. I’m sorry, but that’s just not me and they’re not my client. It’s a game I choose not to play.
Step 6: Pricing
We now know our costs for this job are £1,885. The next question is how much should we charge for our photos?
First, put yourself in the shoes of your client. What are they looking for? How are they going to make a judgement as to whether yours is a fair price? Are you ripping her off or should she go to El Cheapo Photos down the road?
Don’t forget, she doesn’t care about the cost of the studio hire or how long it’ll take you to do the job. She’s not bothered if you need to buy something in specially or need to drive 1,000 miles to shoot her stuff. She especially doesn’t care about quality (provided your pictures look ok on her website).
No, what she cares about is how much you’re going to charge her per image, whether you can deliver the goods and how quickly she can have them. (Remember, every day she delays in getting the images on her website is another day she’s missed out on sales and that will hurt her bottom line).
I’m going to look at one strategy here, price per image. It’s very simple, you just offer a bundle of images at a fixed price per image which multiplies out to give you your total price.
Baseline price per image
Our baseline price per image, or break even point if you prefer is £1,885/168 = £11.22
What that means is given our costs above, it will cost us £11.22 per image to shoot and deliver the images she’s asked for.
Now do you see why I don’t believe anyone charging £1-£5 per image can be making enough money to live on? I dread to think what their hourly rate is. It’s most likely in the pennies. (Even if I remove the cost of the dummy we still have a break-even price of £8.54)
For this job I quoted £12.50 per image giving a total price of £2,100 and a profit of £215 with a margin of 10.2%. This is much lower than I would price this volume of work at but in Sharon’s case, she’s a friend I’ve been working with for a while and over time my prices have been gradually growing to the point where I’m charging a fairer price whilst simultaneously supporting her and shutting out the competition.
A more comfortable price for this project is £15 per image. This would give a total price to the client of £2,520 and £635 profit at 25.2% margin. It’s still a little low but moving in the right direction.
In Sharon’s case I know she’d struggle to find £15 per image and £12.50 is much more realistic in the short term.
If you’re still wondering “How much should I charge for my photos…?”, try these simple exercises using the methodology I’ve described here
- How much would it cost you so shoot the same job for my friend Sharon?
- Using the figures you’ve just calculated, how much would you charge if you wanted to make a profit?
- Calculate how much it would cost you to shoot a wedding. Your bride wants a full day of cover from 10am until first dance (say 9pm), 60 digital images fully retouched and delivered on a USB pen drive in a presentation case and a wedding album, custom designed, with her 60 images in.
- Again, using your figures from the wedding project, how much would you charge assuming you wanted to make a reasonable project?
- How do your figures compare against your current charges? Are you making a profit or a loss?
Over to you
I’ve been very candid and open with the figures and the calculation I’ve used. These are genuine numbers from a quote I sent out a few days ago. I’d love to hear your thoughts and conclusions on this post if you have any. If not a share on your favourite social media network would be much appreciated 🙂