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How Much You Should Charge for Photography

By Tanya Goodall Smith on August 2nd 2016

Take a Time Out with Tanya, art director & graphic designer turned commercial photographer who really just wants a break from her three kids. Sign up for her weekly email here so you’ll never miss a Time Out.

One of the most frequently asked questions I hear from aspiring photographers is “How much should I charge for my photography?” This is a question I’m constantly asking myself, even after I’ve worked through multiple formulas, watched countless CreativeLive courses and tried several different pricing strategies. The fact is, there’s no simple answer to this frustrating question. Through the years I’ve gathered several resources that may help you figure it out though.

For Beginning Portrait Photographers

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The simplest formula for figuring out how much you should charge is to calculate your expenses, add your desired income and divide that sum by the number of sessions you want to do in a year. Sounds simple, right? If math is not your thing, grab this free 5 Minute Pricing Calculator from Photo Bacon. Simply enter in your expenses from last year and your desired yearly income and the formula in the spreadsheet will do the rest. The number it comes up with should be your middle package or average sale – and of course, this is a guideline.

But what if you’re just starting out and don’t know what your expenses will be? You can guesstimate with a little research and go from there. Here’s a great free expense calculator from NPPA with a list of typical expenses a photographer will have. Fill it in based on your projected expenses and it will calculate your costs for the year.

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I’ll warn you, if you’re honest with yourself about this, the results will shock you. I know it did for me when I figured out my projected monthly expenses for WorkStory are $6000+ per month. Crazy, right? And I need to make a profit on top of that. So, after figuring out how much you need to bring in every month and you’ve decided you still want to be a photographer, you can start to create your packages and figure out how to market yourself [Gulp]. You’ll quickly realize selling a disk of 100 images for $50 is a bad idea and that it’s a good idea to offer tangible products and use perhaps an in-person sales strategy especially at the start.

RELATED ARTICLE: MARKET YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS & BOOST SEO WITH GUEST BLOG POSTS

For Wedding Photographers

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Pricing for wedding photographers is somewhat different than for portrait photographers, and there are several different schools of thought on the subject. Those I know who are most successful have a full coverage rate and then add-ons for albums, wall art, etc. You’ll use a similar strategy for calculating your rate, just consider you’ll likely only be able to shoot 1, maybe 2 weddings per week and sometimes only in warmer months, so your price per wedding would obviously be higher than for a portrait session.

Check out the wedding workshop available with your SLR Lounge Premium Membership for specifics on how to price yourself as a wedding photographer, and how a profitable and high-performing wedding business operates. Coming from Lin & Jirsa, one of the most exclusive and successful wedding photography studios in the United States, you know they are offering you solid advice and education.

Related article: WHEN ARE YOU READY TO RAISE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY PRICING?

For Commercial Photographers

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Pricing for commercial photography is a totally different ball game. You can choose to charge per hour, which I did at first, but after some trial and error I have chose to charge per image. You’ll want to take usage of the image into account as well; If a mom and pop store is using your image on 1000 brochures you’ll price it differently than if a large corporation is going to use it on 500,000 promotional flyers, a billboard, their website and magazine ad. Giving a royalty free usage license is also worth more, since the company will have unlimited usage rights.

The best explanation and argument I’ve found for pricing per image is on Rosh Sillars blog. He explains  why pricing per image rewards you for doing your job well, offers a low-risk service to your clients and ultimately makes your work more valuable. He offers a free calculator for figuring out how much to charge per image based on various factors, including the end usage. Check it out by clicking here.

RELATED ARTICLE: WHAT SHOULD YOU CHARGE PER HOUR AS A FREELANCER? | INFOGRAPHIC

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Were these tips helpful? If you’ve already got a solid pricing plan that works for you, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. If not, what have you tried that didn’t work? How could you change it up, based on what you read in this article?

Photographs by Tanya Smith are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.

Tanya Goodall Smith is the owner, brand strategist and commercial photographer at WorkStory Corporate Photography in Spokane, Washington. WorkStory creates visual communications that make your brand irresistible to your target market. Join the stock photo rebellion at workstoryphotography.com.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Brian Burke

    Maybe I’m just a loose cannon and a zen buddhist, but I almost always do in-person sales or get word-of-mouth referrals, and I don’t have any printed or pre-determined pricing at all. I simply size up each client, from the first moment, and figure out what I think they’ll pay for what they want, as long as it’s above a certain minimum I’m willing to work for. You can just tell some people are going to book you no matter what, and for those people I quote a high price. If someone seems on the fence (or they’re a good person who is poor) I quote them a lower rate. That way I always make the sale, no matter what, or at least most of the time. And no matter if I give someone a deal or my highest price, I ALWAYS say, “I usually charge more, but I want to work with you.” Is that dishonest? Who knows? But the client gets a sense of getting value, and they’re happy.

    If I always have work, then whether or not I’m getting the most I can each time, or a little less each time, I find that I make enough overall, and I’m much less stressed out because I’m always having good relations with my clients. Of course, there are some total cheapskates out there who will really try to beat me up on price – those people don’t become my clients. Let them book the cheap-o down the street and they’ll get what they pay for. I spend the time I would have been shooting them doing business development instead, so I can charge more in the future. 

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  2. Simon Johannssen

    Interesting topic.. I don’t get paid for my photography but I’m looking forward to be paid, so this is just an awesome article :) Thank you!

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  3. Liz Pekler

    Good read! This is really an interesting topic. we don’t get paid because of the hard work. We are paid because of the art we capture in every moment.

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  4. Richard Bremer

    Excellent article. I think pricing is a difficult subject. Not only because we want to place great value on our work, but also because many people have trouble to see their work as valuable as what they should charge. I know I do, yet my customers have still to disagree with any of my increases in my pricepoint. Strange thing, value.

    On a sidenote, thanks for the tip on pricing business images per image instead of per hour. I like the different view. My strategy up untill now was charging an hourly fee and on top of that asking a (lower) price per image/license. What I do wonder about with your strategy, how do you handle a client that wants, say, 10 images, but is constantly asking for modifications of the images you provide. So, with a product, he first wants it photographed head on, then decides he wants a sliht angle, then wants a brown backdrop instead of white, then wants it head on with the brown… you catch my meaning. How do you handle such a client?

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    • Tanya Goodall Smith

      We discuss this in detail before the session and outline everything they ask for in the contract. If they want additional shots after the fact we schedule another shoot. I do charge a small session fee that covers the cost of my assistant, childcare, etc. for each shoot. You could also require they buy a minimum amount of images to cover your cost and make sure that is in the contract.

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  5. Lenzy Ruffin

    The book “Best Business Practices for Photography” by John Harrington is extremely helpful with this topic. He references the cost-of-doing-business calculators as well as explains different subjective considerations that should be factored into the price. The book has sample contracts, real life email negotiations with only the names redacted, and tons of other stuff. It really is a must-read for photographers thinking about selling their services. There’s so much stuff you don’t know to incorporate into the price that you’ll likely end up paying more for any given paid job than your client because you didn’t come close to charging enough to cover your expenses.

    There’s also a great Creative Live class by Sue Bryce called “Make More Money and Discover Your Worth” that is all about adopting the proper mindset to price yourself correctly. I can’t recommend that class highly enough.

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    • Tanya Goodall Smith

      Thanks for the tips! I did watch that CreativeLive class with Sue and it was great. The Business Side of Creativity is another book I’ve referenced.

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  6. Warren Senewiratne

    I just received my first (yes!) wedding assignment. The NPPA expense calculator was very helpful to place my feet on a realistic foundation to begin with as I have this weakness to quote too low. Thank you Tanya.

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  7. Michael Giordano

    I think pricing is one of the hardest things to figure out. It’s too bad there isn’t a group of experienced photographers in the business that could help you get started. An estimate panel if you will. You could submit your photos, tell them what kind of work you want to do, and they could help you ball park it. Something like, well, for this style of photography, in the location you are at, and your current quality of work… your range should be this. I’m sure it would be humbling but helpful. I know there are a lot of calculators out there to determine things, but sometimes it’s hard to objectively judge your own work. I’d probably even pay a fee for an evaluation like that.

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    • Lenzy Ruffin

      Check out fotoQuote. It’s not the panel review you’re speaking of, but it may be the closest thing you can get to something like that. I haven’t signed up for it yet, but it’s been around forever and they have a free trial.

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    • Tanya Goodall Smith

      Yes, I wish this existed!

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  8. Paul Wynn

    Thanks Tanya, these are really useful references. Pricing is one of the most difficult areas in business to get right, particularly when starting out. After many years in the corporate world and then working for myself, I came to understand the value I add to my clients and that price is not usually the determining factor in gaining new business.

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    • Tanya Goodall Smith

      It’s tough unless you get a client that really unstands the value of good photography and the unique perspective and talent a certain artist brings.

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  9. Tom Blair

    Good reading

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