How much should you charge for photography? It's complicated.
How much should I charge for my photography?
This question has been a stumbling block for photographers for ages, and there are a million different ways to answer this question. Unfortunately, the right answer is both simpler and more complicated than it seems.
A common piece of advice is to structure your pricing model like your top competitors, or the people you want to emulate in your local market. While knowledge of your market price range is important, and that will be covered later, there are too many variables to make copying a pricing structure a good idea. Your competitor’s circumstances probably aren’t the same as yours.
Any advice that doesn’t take your personal situation into account should be taken lightly. With so many variables, how are photographers supposed to know what to charge?
LEARNING WHAT TO CHARGE
There are several factors to consider when pricing your photography, from fixed expenses to hourly rates, and most of them will require a little research.
You can start by asking yourself questions like:
- What market am I in?
- What kind of work do I want to create and how well does it sell?
- How often can I work?
- Who is my ideal client?
- What kind of business do I want to run?
- What products and services do I want to offer?
But the biggest consideration of all is something we don’t often talk about, and that’s how much money you need to earn to survive.
Everyone has bills to pay, so step one is figuring out how much you need to earn to make a living. Tally up your bills and find out what you have to earn each year to have a standard of living you’re happy with. For the sake of this exercise, let’s say you need to earn $50,000 per year to pay your bills and put food on your table.
The next step is figuring out what your CODB, or cost of doing business, is. Here are just a few things you’ll want to include in that estimate:
- Space rental
- Internet Service
- Phone Service
- Gear purchase and upkeep (cleaning, etc.)
- Marketing and Advertising
- Product-related costs
- Printing, matting, framing, albums, shipping, etc.
- Lawyer fees
- Contracts, licensing, etc.
Once you’ve got this number, add it to the amount you need to earn yearly to live comfortably. Now you’re close to an approximate, but you still have to put money away for a safety net when unexpected expenses arise that could cripple your business.
Let’s say that leaves you at $120,000 a year for your personal income plus your business income requirements.
Now that you’ve got an approximate yearly number, divide that by how many days you can work in a year. Keep this in mind: you probably won’t be shooting every day.
Let’s say you shoot 3 days a week, and the other 2 days are editing, customer service, marketing, sales meetings, etc. You’ll need to earn enough from those 3 days to pay for the time you’ve spent running your business. So, you may be working 5 or 6 days a week, but you may be shooting only 3 days a week.
For the sake of this exercise, let’s pretend you work 250 days a year. $120,000 divided by 250 days a week is $480 per day. But remember, you won’t actually be bringing money in 5 days a week. You’ll only earn money for every sale.
If you make sales 3 days a week, that’s 168 days a year. You’ll need to earn just about $714.30 dollars per sale to make $50,000 a year for yourself and $70,000 to run your business.
You need to know both of these numbers because each sale has to cover your expenses on the days you aren’t selling.
It’s time to compare that number to the average income for your market so you have a measuring stick to find out if what you need to earn falls within your market. After all, a photographer working in Phoenix, AZ will have a different set of market circumstances than a photographer in Castle Rock, WA.
If you need to earn $75,000 in order to survive but the average photographer in your area earns $30,000, it may take more time to climb that ladder than you’re willing to invest, and it may be a few years before you hit your minimum threshold.
That doesn’t mean you cannot earn more than the market average. With the right customer experience and service, chances are you can charge significantly more, but it will often take time to establish yourself before you can reach that price point. Whether you choose to go high or low, knowing where you fall in the market will help you make better choices.
WHAT KIND OF BUSINESS WILL YOU RUN?
Great, now you have your personal income, plus your business income, and you can weigh that against what the average income is for photographers in your area. The next step is to decide what kind of business you’re running.
Are you going for luxury or high volume? Will you be a sole proprietor or an LLC? Run a small business or a huge studio? Are you going to hire employees or outsource work to retouchers?
You may be thinking, “I just wanted to know how much to charge for a print, why do I need to know all this extra information?”
Well, if prints are the baseline of your income stream, then you need to know what costs are associated with making them, and how much they have to pay for. If you price your prints for mass sales and try to run a luxury business, you’re going to run out of money quickly.
Some questions you might ask yourself about your business:
- Do I want to provide a luxury service or shoot for high volume?
- Will I hire employees or contractors like retouchers?
- Will I be a Sole Proprietor, or run an LLC?
- Do I want to make money from print sales, stock photography, or licensing and usage?
- Who is my ideal client and what products and services would they expect?
Let's compare two different businesses so we get a taste of what this actually looks like.
Travis is running a portrait business based on volume, so his pricing reflects a lower minimum sale than Keyana, who is banking on higher sales for lower volume. Travis may offer his clients digital files, while Keyana offers physical products. Their structure differs, their products differ, and their prices differ.
Keep in mind that this example doesn’t include things like health insurance, investments, savings, vacations.
Let’s stay with Keyana for one more example: how to price your products.
We know Keyana needs to earn about $1898 per sale. How does that break down into individual products?
To figure this out, we need to know another number: Cost of Goods. This tells you how much money goes into producing a product. Once you know what your production cost is, you know how much profit you make from each product you sell.
Keyana sells prints, wall art, and albums. It costs her $5 in product to print and matte an 8x10 photograph. The display box costs $25 and holds 25 prints.
For Keyana to earn $1898 for 25 prints, she has to pay $150 in COGs. That means her actual earnings from a minimum sale are $1748.
So how does Keyana take 25 prints and turn them into $1898 in profit?
If she sells prints individually she’d need to price each print at about $76 per print to earn her minimum.
- She could create a minimum package of $1898
- She could create a minimum package of $1000 and add an $898 sitting fee.
- She could sell 10 prints for $760 and include an album for $1,138
- She could sell 10 prints for $760, an album for $1000, and a piece of wall art for $138
There are many ways Keyana can ensure her products are priced to meet her minimum sale, but she still has to factor in the COGs.
Remember, if Keyana needs to make $1898 in profit from every sale, she must add her COGs to each price to arrive at a total cost. That means matted prints don’t cost $76 each, they cost $76 + printing costs ($2) + matte ($3) = $81. And she’ll need to add the Cost of Goods to every price, from wall art to albums.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
As you can see, there are a huge number of variables that go into deciding how much to charge for your work and those variables will determine how much you need to earn per sale.
While this example is geared towards portrait photographers it applies to all genres from landscape photographers and fine art photographers. Even in commercial photography, photographers must consider the same concepts when calculating their day rates: how much does it cost to make a photograph? How many hours taking, editing, marketing, and selling need to go into the cost of that photo so you can earn enough to pay your bills?
It can be daunting to look at numbers like this and feel the pressure of an entire year's worth of bills weighing on you, but the truth is that doing this important work early on will set you up for future success.
The good news is that there is no cap on how much you can earn. If these numbers seem low to you, that’s amazing! Keep pushing, keep raising your prices, and keep finding better ways to serve your customers.
Don't worry if these numbers seem high. This is doable, especially if you do the hard work of setting your prices based on real-world numbers.
It may take you a while to establish yourself in the market, and that may mean earning a bit less than you’d like to initially, but you’ll know what goals you need to hit and you’ll enter the market from a place that’s healthy for you and the industry.
And if you just want to sell a few prints every now and then, this exercise is still valuable, because it will help you remember that your market includes people who sell prints to put food on the table.
- Figure out your personal base pay
- Include your bills, savings, vacation, sick days, etc.
- Decide what kind of business you want to run
- Sole proprietorship and LLC are the most common
- Find out what your business would need to charge to stay afloat and pay you
- Include every expense you can think of and make sure to do your research
- Do market research
- Find out what your competitors charge for the kind of work you do
- Compare the numbers to see if you fit within the market,
- If your estimates are higher than market average, that’s fine! Just make sure you’re willing to put in the work, sacrifice, and time to earn those numbers.
- Figure out a pricing strategy that covers your costs. Remember that these can be combined to reach a minimum sale.
- A la carte
So, how much should you charge? The answer is: it varies.
But the good news is that the range of what photographers can charge is wide enough to cover every lifestyle, and this article should give you a framework to use to find out what will work best for you.
When you build your structure from the ground up, your prices will fit your life, your business, the people you want to work with, and the products you want to offer. You see, the perfect photography pricing structure will be custom and one of a kind, just like the work you create.The NPPA has a fantastic calculator you can use if you want to get a good baseline for your CODB without writing everything out yourself. Find it here: NPPA CALCULATOR. We also have wonderful, in-depth tutorials like Pricing for Profits, and the soon-to-be released Luxe Portraiture with Jai Mayhew.