Your Photography Business: Pricing

Pricing is one of the most talked about topics amongst photography professionals: How much do I charge? How much is my time worth? Can I make a living doing what I love?


We’re proud to share a post by Kristy Dickerson, a ShootProof user who loves to share her knowledge and expertise of the business-side of the photography profession.  Here are her thoughts for other photographers regarding setting their prices:

“To me the hardest thing about running a small business is pricing. Pricing is a simple economics of supply/demand and also business principles. I know so many business owners that are having a really hard time of running a profitable small business. Entrepreneurship is HARD. I asked on Facebook what is the number one thing you struggle with. Pricing is what I heard over and over.

• I have been doing photography for X number of years but I can seem to make any money.
• I can’t seem to find the right clients.
• I struggle with the pricing and marketing of my photography business.
• I can’t seem to find the right clients
Here is my response… First, everyone’s business is different depending on the commitments and contracts coming in, location, and type of photography, etc., so please keep that in mind. Second, a person that is not booking you for your price is NOT your client. You have to set up your business so that your business has key competitive advantages in your market. There is this huge negative connotation in our industry that this flood of new photographers is hurting our industry and your business. I say no. The only person that can hurt your business is you. There will always be cheaper options with any product or service. These photographers are spinning their wheels and I can guarantee you they are not running a profitable business and will either eventually stop or never be able to go part or full time. One of those people might even be you (I was there as well) and it’s time to make some changes. With photography, people can sometimes just think “Uncle Sam” could shoot their wedding or take that quick Christmas card picture…  I mean, a camera is a camera, right? I say let Uncle Sam [do it]… they will quickly see the difference.

You get what you pay for both in talent, quality of gear, editing, and the list goes on and on. People also allocate funds to what they feel is important. Photography is not important to everyone and that is okay. Another trip, a new outfit, a new rug, a new purse, these are all [items] that can be allocated to disposable income. Again, you want the clients that [think] photography is important and an investment in quality photography is important.

When you are running a business you have to first separate you from your business and this is not always easy. For me, I sometimes have a hard time separating me from my brand. If it was up to me. I would charge nothing and just walk around taking pictures for free, but my business couldn’t operate that way, now could it? If you want to see how I present my pricing and how it is setup you can see it here to implement it into your own business. Literally change names, urls, and I also recommend to get a local lawyer to review because your business could be setup differently.

I went to get my son’s hair cut last week and there was a flyer sitting on the counter that said, “mini sessions, all images, 20 minutes, and 80 dollars.” I showed my husband and he said, “Dang, that is going to kill you!”  But you see, here is the thing:  this photographer is not even in the same market as me. Out of curiosity I went to that photographer’s Facebook page (there was no website).   I could tell she/he was shooting with a consumer camera, she/he was still learning and growing;  no way could she/he be running an actual business and filing taxes, insurance, investing in the latest editing software, and the list goes on and on. Honestly, I wanted to email this person and give her/him a free coaching session, but there are two ways they could take the email and the last thing I am intending to do is hurt anyone. I really want to help and to keep moving our industry forward. I want you to be able to do what you love, with people that value your work, and still be present for the most important things in life.

I am going to back up a bit…  I shot my first wedding for $500, which included all day coverage and the rights to all the digital images! My first photography website was hideous–  I mean, why did someone not tell me it was ugly?! So what I am saying is, we ALL start with the 80-dollar mini session discussed above, but let’s talk about how we move from shooting and turning our wheels to start running a small business because that is the goal. Taking a passion and turning it into a job is the goal.

I am going to break down the cost of a mini session since that is what we discussed earlier. Cost of a 20 minute Mini Session with 15 digital Images. $425. First of all from the client’s perspective a mini has to have value, to book a session it is $200 per hour session and cost per digital image rights are $65 per image. So, for my clients, mini sessions are a huge value. A third of $200 is 66.67 and ($65 x 15 = 975). So retail on a mini session is $1042. I am able to offer mini sessions at a lower price because I am booking back-to-back sessions at the same location. I love mini sessions! And for families a lot of time after 20 minutes the kids are getting done anyways and it is plenty of time to capture the necessities.

$425 cost of mini session
– 140.25 Say goodbye to a third going to uncle Sam for taxes
– 25.00 hard costs associated (digital delivery whether you use digital download, disk, or USB)
– 60.00 remember you have to pay yourself. Two-three hours of working between emailing, shooting, and editing at $20 an hour. This is what I hardly see any of, everyone forgets to pay himself or herself. And 3 hours is conservative.

$199.75 is what we are now for potential profit for the business. But wait;  you have to allocate funds to marketing, to equipment, to insurance, to software, to website and email hosting, to phone… And yes, of course all of these expenses are fixed expenses, so allocated over all the sessions you do per year.

But just for arguments’ sake: on a typical mini session this is the gear I have in my bag (not all the gear I have, just what I have with me). And do I need all that gear? Probably not, but this is what I use to get the look and end results I achieve. And below is not even close to all the operating expenses it takes to run a small business!
Canon 5 D Mark III 3399
Canon 24-70 f2.8 II 2299
Canon 85 f1.2 2199
Canon 35 f1.4 1479
Canon 50 f1.2 1619
Insurance per year 600
Software per year 300
Hosting, License etc 700
Total $12,595

Estimate that you do 75 shoots a year (which is A LOT!), and that comes to 167.93. Now, I know this gear is not acquired in one year and is acquired over time, so that allocation wouldn’t be as high. But we didn’t even mention education/training expense, travel, branding, and marketing in our scenario and so far from the $425 mini session we have 199.75 – 167.93= 31.82 left for business growth and development.

What I am saying is this:  being a profitable photographer is not easy. Gear is expensive, time is limited, and training is not cheap. You see in my own scenario that that other photographer is going to have a hard time growing her business if she stays where she/he is because there are no leftover funds for growth.

If you are just starting out, if that person above sounds like you, or if marketing seems like a foreign term. I would say invest in a couple business books. If someone came to me and said,  “I want to be a photographer when I grow up,” I would actually tell them to go to business school and get their degree in business not photography. Over time my pricing has been established by a simple formula of supply and demand. As demand went up, I moved my pricing. Now I don’t move my prices much, but I do make sure I am running a profitable business by providing a service/product to my clients that exceeds their expectations. It didn’t happen overnight. It happened over time learning and growing as a photographer, being able to acquire gear, and establishing my business through workflows, and most important investing in my own brand and marketing. YOU CAN DO IT!

Lastly, these posts are not intended to act like I know it all and have it all together. Because by all means, I don’t! I have the same fears as a small business owner that you do. This is simply how I have grown and built my business and I realize it might not work for everyone but if it helps one person this makes me happy. If this is a post you like and want to see more questions answered give me some feedback. I want to help other be able to follow their dreams and turn their goals into reality.
Here are answers to some of the emails and questions I am getting:
– Katie asked, ” How do you sell prints?” Shootproof! More on this to come but they have clean galleries that show and display my work and also seamlessly works with my business and workflow.
– Jessica asked, ” Do you sell prints or only do digital packages?” This mini session is a digital package but typically I have a booking fee and they can purchase digital images separate. I also sell prints/products. I show and they can see the difference when ordering an image from walmart of mine(yuck I know) or when they order through me and I properly hand touch up and it prints with a professional lab. Clients have to be educated and your selling process should educate them so they are getting the best of that. I use Black River Imaging which integrates with Shootproof.

– Dyell Photography asked, ” Insurance: can you help?” I use Hill and Usher for both my liability and equipment. They are way smarter than me so give them a call if you are interested in photography insurance. Insurance is something that I think EVERYONE should have if you are taking money for photography services.”

We’re excited to share more from Kristy over the upcoming months, so check back here on our blog often.  You can stop by and show her some love here.  And don’t forget to leave a comment below with your thoughts on the pricing topic!