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Insights & Thoughts

Wedding Photography Pricing Tip – New Photogs, Are You Overpricing Yourself?

By Chris Nachtwey on November 5th 2014

This is a un-sugarcoated look into what life is really like when you walk away from the steady paycheck and enter the world of being self employed. I will be sharing my experiences, thoughts, and anything else that comes my way as I navigate the waters of being a full-time photographer. I also hope to interview other full-time photographers to share their experiences with you as well. To see the rest of the articles in the series, click here.

Anyone who has followed my Quitting Your Day Job series knows I’m not afraid to make some bold statements and share my personal experiences since I went full-time earlier this year. I’m about to make a statement that most likely will enrage seasoned wedding photographers, surprise some new wedding photographers, and make some of you cry foul! Here goes: if you’re just starting out in the wedding industry, don’t overprice yourself.

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Pricing is an ugly topic photographers just don’t tend to talk about. I don’t know if we’re afraid of it, or just nervous about what other photographers will think when we tell them our prices, but money is a taboo subject in the photographer world. Now, I’m not going to be sharing my pricing with you because what I charge is completely irrelevant to you. I know my numbers, and what I charge is what I need to charge to run my business. This article was written to give you some insight into why I believe that if you’re just starting out, it might not hurt to charge less than you think you should.

Three Reasons To Not Overprice Yourself

Gaining Experience

So, you’re brand new to wedding photography. Maybe you have second shot a wedding or two and love it, or have done some assisting and are ready to start shooting your own weddings. You’re going to need to get some lead shooting experience under your belt before you can start to think about commanding a higher price for your services. That’s why I believe it does not hurt to charge very little and book as many weddings as possible while you still have your day job.

Personally, I wanted to shoot as many weddings as I could my first two seasons and that’s exactly why I underpriced myself. Now, as I enter my third season as a wedding photographer, I’ve increased my prices and have the experience needed in my market to command a higher price. Shooting for less money is not a sin; you’re new, you need to be shooting as much as you can. Second shooting is great and all, but it’s a different game being the lead shooter. Give yourself a fighting chance to become a lead shooter; keep your prices low and book as much as you can.

[REWIND: QUITTING YOUR DAY JOB PART 4: BOOKING MY FIRST WEDDING AND BEYOND]

Now, please be honest with your couples and explain to them you are new, but confidant. There are a lot of couples out there with many different budgets – high and low. You will be surprised with how many clients you might book by keeping your prices lower when you’re starting out.

Building A Solid Portfolio

As a wedding photographer, it helps to have a robust portfolio. I can speak from experience. When I had two weddings in my portfolio, couples could see quickly that I was new to the market and though I had a decent portfolio, I didn’t have a ton of weddings under my belt. It didn’t hurt me per se, because I was open and honest with my couples, and I also didn’t charge a whole lot for my services. I knew I needed to make more portfolio images and that meant shooting more weddings. So, to book more, I charged less and because of that, my portfolio has blossomed over the past two years and looks much more appealing to potential clients.

Think about it this way: why would a couple book a photographer with less experience and that is charging the same as the experienced photographers in the same market? It makes completely no sense. Yes, they should be booking you based on how they feel about you, and all that jazz, but money does play a part in who a couple books. That’s just the truth.

[RELATED: 3 PRICING STRATEGIES THAT SELL]

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Building A Referral Base

Word of mouth is the reigning champion when it comes to marketing, and tends to lead to more couples that fit your style and personality. If you’re overpriced when you are new to the game, you will not be connecting and working with many couples. Sure, you might be making a good amount of money shooting a wedding, but maybe you only shoot four weddings that season. That’s only four couples to sing your praises. If you charged less, you might have photographed maybe ten weddings, meaning you are gaining more couples to rave about how great you are and refer you future business. This is important when no one knows who you are yet. This also goes beyond referrals from your clients – every wedding you shoot is an opportunity to meet new vendors and build relationships with them as well.

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Conclusion

I’m all about keeping the market healthy with competitive pricing that does not completely undercut your peers, or make you look like a cheap Craigslist photographer. I’m also not telling you to charge almost nothing for your time and talent. You are free to charge what you feel you are worth, or need to charge to pay your bills and run your business. I just want you to know that if you’re starting out, don’t feel bad about charging less to build up your business. Don’t get wrapped up in thinking you need to charge all this money if you’re new because that’s what experienced wedding photographers are telling you. You need to do what feels right to you and when the time comes, you can up your prices to compete with the big fish and bring in more income.

Till next time, keep shooting, building your business, and embrace the hustle!

Chris Nachtwey is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer based in Connecticut. He is the founder and creator of 35to220 a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world. Chris loves to hear from readers, feel free to drop him a line via the contact page on his website! You can see his work here: Chris Nachtwey Photography

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Surya Chataut

    Hi Chris – it would be good if you talked in dollar amount as well. I read plenty of article about pricing however most of them do not discuss dollar amount (based on their experience). Of course its all subjective however some idea with actual number would help out a lot. And I do agree with your article. Thanks.

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    • Brandon Perron

      It’s pretty much impossible to put a dollar amount, as markets vary drastically…cost of living is different, median salaries, current photography prices in a given a market. That’s why dollar amounts never seem to be listed.

      What would be considered an ok start in in ohio, would probably not even liveable in a place like newport beach, cali…

      You have to consider all costs involved your time from start to finish (intial meeting of the couple to final delivery of images), actual cost of goods, costs involved for bills to run your business, your gear and equipment cost…etc… Rent/mortgage in Montana is probably considerably less than beverly hills. :-)

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    • Chet Meyerson

      Yes, I agree! And the comment about geographic areas being why is impossible holds little water for me! Any photographer knows the NYC/LA markets are higher than say Lincoln Nebraska, but it does give an idea, in general, and that would be valuable.

      Peter Hurley states his rates, you can market adjust from there to know if your under/over/right on. He is about the ONLY photographer that does, at least that I’m aware of.

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    • Chris Nachtwey

      Hi Surya-The reason I don’t state dollar amounts is because what everyone needs, or is comfortable charging changes from photographer to photographer. With that said I can tell you I charged $500 for my first wedding, $1000 for my next one, then around $1,200-$1,800 for a good while, and my shooting prices are not that high still, I tend to build my collections with value items like prints and albums which help to bring in more profit. If you have a day job (one that pays all your bills) then what you charge starting out in wedding photography is really just extra cash to save away for when you consider going full-time or use to buy gear you need, not want. Hopefully that helps, if you can in your market try to ask around and see what other photographers are charging to get a feel, and go from there.

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  2. Aaron Cheney

    Very well written article and I strongly agree with it. I have shot a handful of weddings as a lead and a dozen handfuls as a second and like you said it is a world of a difference. Unfortunately, the studios I shot second with won’t let me showcase what I have captured so my personal portfolio is kinda lacking variety. With that, I am currently trying to figure out how to price myself to build work but not to undercut myself so much that I can’t live off of it as well. It is tricky but satisfying building a strong portfolio.

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    • Chris Nachtwey

      Hi Aaron-One thing you could try is creating some collections that have high value items such as prints or albums. You could keep your base fee which might just be shooting, editing, and delivering the images lower. Then have collections that include albums, prints, whatever you want that can help you bring in more profit. There is no saying even when you are new you can’t offer items like that, shooting experience plays no role in increased collections prices because the prices increase due to products.

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  3. Matt Shouse

    Hey Chris,

    I’ve shot about 10 or 12 weddings so far. Sometimes I work with couples a little on the money, I recently shot a wedding for a few hundred cheaper than normal. The couple then referred me to another couple and the other couple immediately wanted to pay what I charged the other couple. Could you discuss how to deal with something like that? I’m new to the business and looking for guidance. Thanks a lot!

    Matt

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    • Brandon Perron

      It’s the gamble you take when you offer discounts and the referrals come from them. I am of the school of thought…to NEVER discount…because where do you draw the line becomes very much a grey area. I do understand that you might need to book a job, so will do it. In those cases…it is written in my contr as a discount is given…i also, ask the couple to keep the pricr confidential. While that doesn’t always happen and i have had similar situations, i explain that it was a special promotion i was running and unfortunately that is no longer available. If they insist on it, i comprise i will make up the difference with extra photo credit or pages in an album. So they still pay my asking price, but get extra products for paying the higher price and it usually doesn’t cost me much more in actual physical products.

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    • Chris Nachtwey

      Hi Matt-Brandon summed it up pretty well. I do offer discounts for off season and Thursday Friday weddings during the season and it’s clearly stated I do that on my website. For me I’m all for giving a couple a little off if it means I can consider taking the weekend off because I shot on Thursday or Friday during the season. In the off season I know couples are paying less for the most part for everything so I don’t mind taking a little off to work with a new couple, do what I love to do everyday, and expand my referral base. The best way to deal with this is to stick to your guns, but as Brandon said add some value items that don’t hurt your bottom line. Worst case you lose the lead, and at that point they were not your client anyway. I know that’s hard to swallow when you’re trying to book everyone being new, but the more you meet with leads the more you will start to realize that you just won’t book everyone and not every lead is a good fit for you.

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  4. Jamie Hosmer

    Chris, I like your thoughts about building a portfolio with a modest price to gain experience. How would you suggest gauging when it is time to raise one’s prices? Would you raise prices after you are booked solid or would you raise prices after you feel your portfolio is solid enough to demand a higher fee?

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    • Chris Nachtwey

      I think it’s a little of both. I personally raised my prices when I felt my experience and portfolio were stronger after about 2 years. Now I raise my prices a little every few weddings I book. Its really all personal choice, you can stay where you are price wise if you’re booking and are comfortable with what you’re making or raise your rates. If you’re in demand don’t be afraid to go up, you can always pull back if your not booking enough after a increase. Don’t ever feel locked into your rates, adjust them if needed.

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