What should I charge for my part time photography? – Your First Customer Series, Part 3

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on October 24, 2009

in This is Business

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(Click here to visit the summary post for the Your First Customer Series!)

[2014 follow up, here: How to price your photography, Pt. II]

[2012 follow up, here: Pricing for growth versus pricing for profit]

Here’s where a lot of new-to-the-game professional photographers get stuck.

“My friends tell me I take really good photos. I want to start charging and getting customers, but how much do I charge? What if I charge too much? I can’t charge as much as that guy, he’s a lot better than I am. Oh man, what if I charge too much and people realize I don’t know what I’m doing and they’re disappointed and my business is ruined before I ever get started?”

At which point, most people promptly hyperventilate and pass out.

Pricing any product or service is a simple enough theory: you’re worth what people will pay you. The sweet spot is in charging the most money you can while attracting the most customers.

Many photo grognards will tell you that you have to charge $XXX to make any money at all, otherwise you’re not a professional and you’re undermining the industry and you’re going to go straight out of business.

Let’s ask the market, though:

  • Do some people get their photos done at Wal-Mart? Yes.
  • Do some people get their photos done with <insert work-from-home part time photographer here>? Yes.
  • Do some people get their photos done with <insert retail studio here>? Yes.
  • Do some people get their photos done with Annie Liebovitz? Yes.

Point being, there is a market for just about any price range and artistic level of photography. I don’t feel I’m stretching the imagination by saying that people pay less for Wal-Mart than they do for my own work, and less for me than they do for Annie Liebovitz.

Let’s cut to the chase.

What to charge for your part time photography

Here’s the pricing system I suggest to any newly-minted professional photographer:

  • No session fee
  • No minimum order
  • $10 – 4×6 print or hi-res digital file
  • $15 – 5×7 print
  • $20 – 8×10 print or sheet of wallets (8)
  • Then double the price for bigger prints: $40 for 11×14, $80 for 16×20, $160 for 20×30.

Simple as that. (I can hear the collective gasp of horror from across the land of “boutique” photographers.)

Now that I’ve thrown those prices out there, let me issue some clarity:

This pricing system is dead simple and dead easy for you and for your clients. As a fresh-faced professional photographer, most likely with a limited or non-existent portfolio and a yet-developed artistic style, your focus needs to be on practice, building your portfolio, and growing your talent and customer base – and as a professional, you deserve to be paid every step of the way.

When someone asks what you charge and you explain, “I charge no session fee, there’s no minimum order, and prints and files start at just $10 – you just buy what you love,” you will never – I repeat, never – lose a potential client due to pricing. Do you run the risk of someone really only spending $10 with you for all your time and efforts? Yes, but don’t worry about it. Those folks are by far the exception, not the rule, and either way you’ll have added another layer to your portfolio and experience.

This pricing system places the onus of responsibility for maximizing profits on your artistic ability. The more great photos you make of your client, the more they will buy. There is no artificial padding of the profits through session fees or minimum orders. Either you produce photos your client wants to buy, or you don’t.

There is zero fakery involved. You can show people your portfolio, no matter how small or weak, and if they hire you, they know what they are getting. There is no risk for them because they only buy what they love. There’s no risk, and far less pressure, for you because they’re only going to buy what they love. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

This pricing system takes all the BS and salesmanship and upselling out of the equation. Your goal is not to squeeze and squabble as much money as you can out of your client – your goal is to make art they love and want to buy. Yes, you’ll offer guidance when it comes proofing and viewing time, and I’ll talk about that in a future article, but your purpose is to maximize their long-term enjoyment of their purchase – not to make that purchase as big as you possibly can. This is how you build lifelong clients and a successful business.

Talent- (read: results-) based pricing

All of that said, the numbers I’ve thrown out have no knowledge of your artistic ability or your market. I’ve had 10 years to perfect my pricing in my market to make sure I stay as busy as I want and earn an average amount per client that perfectly meets my personal and business goals.

Pricing, by and large, is best used to increase or decrease your total number of bookings, not to affect your bottom line. Assuming you’re marketing yourself properly and your market knows you and what you have to offer (another topic for a future article), you can raise or lower your prices to add to or reduce the number of people booking with you.

When you raise prices, you’ll price yourself out of landing some clients. That’s perfectly fine – you’ll make up their loss with a higher per-client average. If you price yourself too high, you’ll lose more clients than you make up with those that remain. This is also perfectly fine if your goal is to reduce bookings.

Your goal is to shoot as many people as you want, to spend as much time working with clients as you choose, while earning enough money in exchange for your time and talents that you feel more than satisfied having made that trade.

I repeat – the goal is not to always make as much money as you possibly can off of every person you can make it from. That mentality will leave you stressed out and burned out. Some people, however, do play business like they play chess, and the numbers game is one they enjoy playing in its own right. If you’re like me, you would rather focus on growing as an artist and, as a result, getting paid better and better for your work.

This is not to say you should never raise your prices. I am a firm believer in the adage that if nobody’s complaining about your prices, you’re not charging enough. But this assumes you’re booked solid. If you’re just starting out, as an artist and as a business, work on building your portfolio, client base, and artistic ability. When your art and your marketing have people beating a path to your door, then you can start raising prices and maximizing per-client averages and playing the numbers game to your heart’s desire.

But, but, but!

But but, you ask: What about framing? What about coasters and key chains and photocookies and mugs and gallery wraps? What about outsourcing my Photoshop work? What about expenses and Cost of Doing Business calculators and Costs of Goods Sold? The grognards are doubtless red-faced that I’ve spoken of pricing without saying word one about any of these almighty acronyms.

All good questions to be answered in future articles. For now, in this moment of getting your feet wet and landing your first clients, don’t worry about it.

If you have a camera, you can start making money with your photography today. And if you don’t have a camera at all, I’ve even got an article in the works for you.

Remember: Ready, Fire, Aim! Start shooting and making money with your photography today. Call a friend or run into someone on the street and book a shoot. Make photos, let them see them, and let them buy them. Go make some art, get out of the way and let your subject buy what they love.

Next Steps

  • Call a friend or family member and set up a photo shoot! Go over your list of top money-making outdoor photos, take your subject to the nearest park, and have at it. Invite them over later or the next day, after you’ve had the chance to cull and process, and show off your work together. Let them buy what they love. Pocket the cash and revel in astonishment that being a professional photographer is just that easy.
  • Pay a visit to Google and look up your local competition. Check out their web sites and take note of their prices and where you perceive their artistic level to be. If they don’t list their prices (and they probably won’t), call them up and ask what they charge. See how they handle the question and what numbers you get. Don’t forget to ask about session fees, prices for prints and prices for files.
  • If you have the coin, hire one of the photographers for a basic session, even if just to get some headshots. Make sure you budget enough for the session fee and a hi-res file or 8×10 print or two. Enjoy the experience and critically evaluate how the other photographer does business and makes photos. Are they nice on the phone? Do they book shoots on Sundays? What’s their turnaround for proofs? Do they proof online or in person? How do they present their pricing and why they charge what they do? How do they work with you during your shoot to get the best possible photos? How do they work with you during the proofing session? Are they helping you get what you want or trying to sell you something you don’t necessarily want? What’s the final product like? This entire experience will be invaluable for you as a photographer, businessman, and competitor to this and other local photographers.
  • Brainstorm session: Who are the best photographers in your market? Why and how? Who are the worst photographers? Why and how? What do you need to do to move away from the worst and closer to the best? File this in your Brainstorms folder.
  • It’s taken me time to find my groove with posting here on PartTimePhoto.com, but I think I’ve got the hang of this blogging thing now. If you enjoy what you’ve read here and don’t want to miss your daily dish of part time photography goodness, please feel free to click the “Subscribe” link at the top of any page of this web site.
  • What do you charge for your photography services? How do you feel about that? What’s one thing you could do to earn more? Leave a comment below, e-mail me, or call or text me at 830-688-1564.

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{ 110 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt Bamberg October 28, 2009 at 1:16 am

Interesting stuff. I work at photography part-time. It’s hard to get work!

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor September 14, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Amen Matt! It is hard work to get work, and really getting the paid work and staying consistent with bookings is the hardest part (which is why I write so much about marketing here on PTP) – but we’re indeed blessed to have the opportunity.

We photographers no longer have the barrier to entry of high cost of equipment and slow work of practice – with digital, the low price of good gear combined with the speed at which we can practice and get feedback on our art has shifted the barrier to old fashioned hard work; hard work and persistence. We have to do the work to earn the clients – and that’s a game we can win if we truly want it!

Thank you again for your comment and readership Matt! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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LUIS BAZAN February 2, 2010 at 12:53 am

Love the advice, thank you for taking your time to share. It is greatly appreciated!

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor September 14, 2014 at 5:26 pm

So happy to help Luis! Thank you for your comment and readership! Post a comment or e-mail me any time if there’s anything more I can do to help!

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Marketa February 19, 2010 at 10:35 pm

I think this is great advice. The simplicity of pricing is very appealing. Do you think it’s worth charging more for digital files in comparison to prints?

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor February 20, 2010 at 1:22 am

Marketa, thanks for your comment! I think pricing is a lot more intuitive and fluid than most people make it. There is no reason you can’t charge more for digital files, or less if you are still earning as much per hour as you need to feel you traded your time well.

I like to sell digital files, myself; for me they are easier, more immediate, easier to sell more of, never get returned because the lab messed them up, I don’t have to pay for shipping from the lab, and the overhead for a CD and jewel case is almost nothing. So for this reason, I charge as much for my digital files as my smallest print; I want them to buy files over prints. It works for me.

If you want a pricing structure with more opportunity for upsell or profits, try raising the price of your digital files – for example, from $10 to $20 – but also raise the price of your smallest prints to that level as well. So your 4×6, 5×7, 8×10 prints, and your hi-res digital files would all run $20. If you feel your art and market can command a higher price like this (or $40 – or $80! Why the heck not, if there are willing buyers?), give it a try.

You can also structure hi-res files to correlate with print sizes and prices; such as, you can offer a 4×6 print or a 4×6 digital file for $10 – then, a 5×7 print or file for $15 – then 8×10 print or file for $20, on up. It will take a bit more explanation and education from you to your client, but it’s a way to test the waters on improving your profits per client.

If you want to sell prints more than you want to sell digital files, such as because you want to open up the chance of multi-print purchases of the same file or because you want to push the sale of larger prints aka wall art, then just match your digital file price to the print size + price of your choice. So instead of $10 4×6 and hi-res files, go for $80 16x20s or hi-res files. Just raise the entry level for digital files. If you present it to a client as having greater value because they can make as many prints of any size as they want with a digital file, they will follow your logic.

Higher prices are always warranted as the level of your art improves and as your client experience improves, both an end product of practice and experience. Don’t be afraid to raise your prices and see if you make the same or more money with less work – that is always a noble and natural goal. But also don’t be afraid to keep your prices very attractive and affordable until you’ve built your portfolio, developed your art and business, and have a nice foundation of repeat and referral customers.

Keep in mind that as you price yourself out of one market and into another, you then have a whole new target market to build awareness and relationships with that will also be harder and more expensive to reach. Never be afraid to experiment though. Photography, like any business, can be a wonderfully dynamic and fun experience. Enjoy the excitement of trying out new pricing structures as much as trying new artistic styles. You know best when you’re ready to step your business up to the next level of art, service, and income.

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Olimpia August 29, 2013 at 9:40 am

Thank you so much for all this information, it makes so much more sense. I worked for a year as second photographer for someone who did wedding and her system was much more complicated and her business was less steady. This gives me tremendously useful info now that I’m budding off as an independent photographer. Thanks again!

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor May 25, 2014 at 8:27 pm

Olimpia, thank you so much for your kind words! I’m so glad you’re getting benefit from PTP.

I think the Age of Mobile really shows that people want a more streamlined, simple, obvious experience – not everyone, but a big majority. Startup photographers are well-served to take note and take action to make the client experience a smooth one.

Thank you again for your readership, and please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Marketa February 20, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Thanks for your thoughtful response. I’m only just considering part-time photography and this is incredibly helpful.

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor September 14, 2014 at 5:33 pm

You’re so welcome Marketa! I hope since your comment you’ve enjoyed some real success with your business!

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Melissa March 2, 2010 at 11:00 pm

THANK YOU…THANK YOU…THANK YOU for this wonderful article! This was exactly what I was looking for! Your first paragraph described me to a T! I now feel much more confident charging for my work!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 2, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Thank you Melissa, good luck with your new business! Have confidence, patience, and ambition – you’ll do great things.

If there’s any topic you would like to read about here on the site, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I should have another article coming out this week. 🙂

Thank you for reading!

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Mark @ mdmasonphotography.com March 10, 2010 at 3:47 pm

First I like to say. This is great information. This really helps me line things up. One question, who do you send your prints to? Do you have a recommended printer? I live in Ga.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 19, 2010 at 12:52 am

I personally use Miller’s Imaging; their consumer division is at mpix.com. Easy uploading and ordering, drop-shipping, cheap FedEx overnight delivery, boutique packaging options, lots of products, excellent quality. It’s great to find your local labs, usually in your nearest metro, and establish relationships with them. Try to “buy local” when it’s feasible – that extra effort will come back to you every time.

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Mark March 26, 2010 at 10:29 pm

Thx James. I found a local lab called PWDLabs. Also, when will article 9 be published?

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 27, 2010 at 1:21 am

Great timing Mark! Part 9 of the Your First Customer Series should go live this weekend. After a month-long hiatus, I’ve reworked my schedule to allow more time for writing here. Articles should be far more frequent as we head into April.

Glad you found a good local lab! Most of the time Miller’s does everything I need, when and how I need it, but as soon as I need something same-day or a special order, I work with a good lab in the nearby metro.

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Kimberlyah October 9, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Again, great article! Thank you so much!

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor September 14, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Thank you so much for your readership Kimberlyah!

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jeremy November 8, 2010 at 11:09 am

Are your prices just for the prints or do they include some form of frame?

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor November 8, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Hey Jeremy, thanks for your readership! I personally don’t care for selling framing or matting, so all my prices are just for files or prints, nothing else. I don’t sell anything but prints and digital files, but if you have an interest in that line of products and/or your clients show an interest, certainly add it to your product line. Folks will pay for the convenience of not having to go elsewhere. For my few clients who do ask about framing, I refer them to a couple of local shops and a budget one in the nearby metro.

I also offer white glove service for anything outside my direct product line – if they want framing, or canvas, or whatever it may be, I certainly let them know I’m happy to handle that for them, but at an hourly cost. Most clients prefer to go DIY, but I always offer a paid alternative – it’s good service and good for the wallet.

Always have resources available to meet your clients’ needs, whether that’s directly through you or not – happy customers make great cheese. 🙂

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jeremy November 9, 2010 at 6:29 am

thank you so much for your guidance. I’m 38, and am a full time welder, have been for 10yrs now…. And i hate it.. With a passion, sick of getting burnt for a living. then a friend came round with a camera that she’d loaned off the college she was attending. I took an interest and was straight out in the yard with it. some of the pics i took were awsome. So i started thinking, “this could be my tiket out of welding”.Well… I’ve been faffing around with the idea of starting a photography business for about 12 months now, and not having any qualifications or a good sized portfolio, you’re spot on, didn’t have a clue what to charge. So have done a few freebies and have a young lady that love to be photographed and the camera loves her. So she’s modelled for me a few times. So starting to get a portfolio together now. happy days :). I came across this blog about a week ago now, and it really is a godsend. thank you very much for taking the time to go through all this.

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor September 14, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Thank you so much for your kind words and readership Jeremy!

My first jobs were as a dishwasher at a Mexican restaurant and as a bus boy at a cowboy dancehall here in Bandera. I learned very quickly that physical labor was NOT for me. No doubt, there are folks who love it and are built for it, but after spending most of my teen years working on computers (thanks to my uncle who gifted me my first one when I turned 9), I knew that was the direction I wanted to go.

After picking up photography in high school (honestly as a way to break the ice with pretty girls!), I was hooked as well.

I know exactly how you feel with the hatred and resentment you have toward your day job. It’s so hard to love your passion project so much, simultaneously having so much of your time eaten up by a day job you despise. I think you and hundreds of millions of other folk around the world feel the same who aren’t in alignmentment between their passions and their income.

My best advice is to use that hatred of your day job – which is just energy – and redirect it into positive progress. Every day that your day job raises your ire is a blessing, it’s giving you great motivation and powerful energy to direct toward making positive progress toward work you love.

You’re obviously not afraid of work – welding is serious labor! – so take hold of the opportunity to transmute that energy into a positive result.

Photography can be your ticket out of a day job or career you hate – so many others have made it happen, and truly, your people are out there – clients who will love your work and your personality and the experience you create for them. They will be your biggest champions in helping you grow your business into a life and lifestyle you love.

I did a short stint in banking, three months of hell, and the only thing I kept from those miserable days is the key to my file cabinet there. It stays on my keyring as a totem, so I am always reminded of how thankful I am to be doing work I love. I learned to transform that negative experience and energy into powerful fuel for my dreams.

You can do the same.

Your day job is a choice – it’s a tool to enable the life and lifestyle you want. Miserable though it may be in the moment, let that energy and the income from it help you persist with tenacity down the challenging road to your dream. If you can reframe your day job as a powerful enabler of your dream work, you may just be able to enjoy – or at least easier tolerate – it!

Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Robin Wilson November 19, 2010 at 1:10 am

Wow!!! I cannot express enough how thankful I am to have run across your site! I am a newbie and I’m in the process of building my portfolio… I’ve always had a passion for photography but never thought about making it a career until my grandson was born. It all started when I uploaded some pictures to Facebook that I had taken of my grandson. Everyone raved about how professional they looked and suggested I start my own business… so, that’s what I’m doing and I am having a blast! My site is almost finished… the only thing left to do is pricing… Also, I’m doing two sessions this weekend for some family members… It’s family but I am still nervous!! I need help with making everyone feel at ease… do you have any suggestions or a collection of phrases that photographers use to “break the ice” with their clients?

Thanks!

Robin

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor November 20, 2010 at 3:32 am

Robin, thank you for your kind words! I’m so glad the site is helping you out with your new photography adventure.

Every once in a while, when enough people you like and respect tell you something, it’s an act of wisdom to listen. If someone says to you, “You do great work, I would totally pay for what you do,” it does mean something – and when you hear that from a lot of someones, it’s time to measure the opportunity. I’m very excited for you! This is a wonderful industry to be a part of – wholly rewarding, socially, creatively, monetarily.

I break the ice with clients the same way I do with anyone – I just talk to them like new friends. Show a real interest in who they are and what makes them tick, ask lots of questions, and give plenty of encouragement. Even just little things can set the tone for a shoot. I always find something about my client to compliment off the bat – love their hair, love their jewelry, love their outfit – I try to find specific details I can brag on them for. A little confidence can go a long way, both for the photographer and the subject.

I’m very high energy on my shoots, so I try to create a sort of tidal wave of good vibes and progression through the shoot – I ask questions as to what my clients want, and immediately get an impression as to whether they want to have control or they want me to have control. It’s like when I go to an auto mechanic – I don’t want to tell them what I think is wrong, I want them to tell me what is wrong. I want them to have the confidence of knowing what to do, and I’ll show them my confidence in their expertise. That’s how it is with most clients – you’re the photographer, you’re the expert, so beyond their specific requests, take control and do what you feel will give the client the best photos you can.

Feel comfortable in your own skin – you’ve shown your art, you’ve named your price, your clients are already sold by the time they’re in front of your camera – they’ve already gladly bought what you are selling. When it comes time to meet, greet, and shoot, just be yourself and focus on giving the client a great business experience steeped in personal attention and your best artistry.

Whatever level your art is at, you can always go out of your way to treat folks right and show them a good time. Just like a great waiter can make a huge difference in a restaurant meal, the experience you create for your clients can mean as much as (and with some clients, even more than) the art itself.

Best of luck with your shoots this weekend! Please do let me know how they turn out, here on the blog, e-mail me at James@outlawphotography.net, or give me a call at 830-688-1564. I really would love to hear about your experiences. Enjoy the adventure, and thank you for your readership!

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Kari November 19, 2010 at 2:21 pm

I found your blog the other day, and I am SO thankful for it! I could not find good opinions or advice on how to start a photography business and then I found this website. 🙂 Imagine my smile as I read through and tried to glean tons of information at a time. 🙂 I am wanting to move from taking photos for fun to doing it for life. I am young and very naive about business, but I will change that!! 🙂 I started on Flickr (www.flickr.com/karielaine) and decided to make a blog/website. I have taken photos of my siblings and my best friend to get some experience doing actual photoshoots instead of shooting hundreds to get one great photo. Now, I am ready to plan for shooting clients. And I didn’t know where to start!
This article was great! (Along with every other one) I actually decided to use this price structure for now (because I love the fact that it is risk-free). I even put it up on my blog/website already! 🙂

Anyway, just thank you and get it up because it is so helpful!

-Kari

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor November 20, 2010 at 3:46 am

Kari, I’m thrilled you’re getting so much from the blog! I’ve really enjoyed starting and maintaining this project, and I’m truly thankful for your readership.

Photography is a wonderful industry to get into – I’m obviously an advocate, both as a photographer and blogger!

One of the best things about being “young and very naive about business” is that you have no preconceived notions – you’ll have the opportunity to start from a fresh slate and build your own style of art and of business. Some of the absolute worst advice I see online meant for newbie photographers comes from the longest-established grognards in the industry. So consider your youth a real asset – find books, blogs, mentors whom you respect and who compliment your creative spirit, and start down the path of kaizen – small improvements every single day.

I really enjoyed looking at your Flickr portfolio! Lots of great, great work in there of all kinds of subjects. Loved your “in the picture frame” photos the most – very stylish, memorable, a great fashion flavor.

Start lean, make money, get your art and name in front of potential clients, and start growing that customer base. Every repeat client you add to your business is a raise to your salary, a guaranteed paycheck, income insurance, an asset worth hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of your business.

Please do keep me posted on your adventure into professional photography! I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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JuliesPetCare December 12, 2010 at 12:12 am

I too am very happy to have fallen into this blog. I am a petsitter and have been told that I take awesome pictures of my clients pets. They are random photographs, and am looking into taking a photography class and getting as much information I can on my own about photography.
Can you give me some information on southern california prices? Photography classes?
Thank you.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor December 16, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Being told you take awesome pictures is a great way to know you’re on the right track by getting into photography professionally. It’s a sure sign you can make money with your art.

Being in rural Texas, I’d wager Southern California prices are a far cry different from here. Your best bet is to just do a Google search for your area, find photographers that you would say are similar in artistic talent to yourself, and study their prices. If they aren’t posted online, just call and ask. I don’t suggest copying price lists item by item, but it should give you an idea of about what a shoot should go for in your area. Convert this over to a no session fee, no minimum order model, and you’ll have no trouble bringing in your first paying – and hopefully, repeat – clients.

For classes, a quick Google search should help you out. I found the following two links off the bat:

http://ask.metafilter.com/97513/BestCheapest-Photography-training-in-Southern-California

http://www.thephotoforum.com/forum/photography-beginners-forum-photo-gallery/66916-looking-photography-classes-southern-california.html

Best of luck in your new adventure! Please do keep us posted on your progress. If there’s anything more I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to let me know!

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Mike February 7, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Thank you very much for the information. I just found your blog and enjoy reading your posts. I can’t wait to finish reading everything you have written so far. Keep up the great work. Your down to earth and real world outlook is a blessing.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor February 7, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Mike, thank you for your kind words and your readership! Please do keep us posted on your adventure into professional photography!

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Jonathan March 24, 2011 at 9:32 pm

I’ve read a dozen different websites through bing tonight and not one offered simple, to the point, easy to understand reasonable information until I met part time photo. I work a 40 hour week… NOT in photography. My hobby has always been photography. Since the digital age hit, and great deals started popping in ebay (if you’re patient), I’ve taken photography to the next level. I own 2 acres of ground in midwest OZ and there happens to be a mobile home at the rear of the property that I was renting out. Last summer it became vacant. After knocking out a wall and a lot of free labor (myself) it has become a home studio. I never really knew for sure what to charge and, although I did some senior picture shoots last fall on a $45 sitting fee and undercut neighboring professional studios by 50% I still made every customer happy. But that’s just it. Once those customers were happy… well… I’ve had 4 months of silence now to practice my photography skills. I understand the economy is rough, I live in a small (er) town, and everyone is slow right now. But I am totally impressed with your outlook and every word you speak makes perfect sense. Time to spend the weekend redesigning my price sheet for my sales ads and quit worrying about if I am going to make enough and start thinking about how happy the customer is. You make one customer happy, he will tell 10 friends. You overcharge one customer, he will tell 1000. You’re absolutely right. I am now a faithful follower!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 25, 2011 at 12:46 am

Jonathan, I can’t thank you enough for your kind words! I am so very glad that you’ve benefited from reading the blog, I’m truly happy for your successes.

The economy is still in a rough place, but there’s a reason why some folks see a recession as an unfortunate fate and others see it as an opportunity to thrive. Being a part time photographer, you have some of the greatest flexibility any business owner could ask for. You have complete control over your expenses, your investments, and the steady growth of your client base. We can’t all afford to shoot $1,000 clients with $10,000 in camera equipment right now, but I promise you there’s always a market across all income levels for a great, no-risk, affordable, exciting experience – that’s true of any industry, not just photography.

The grognards will try to bury your ambitions and your unique business model, because they don’t understand or agree with it. No session fee? No minimum order? Affordable, scalable pricing?! Earn your pay based on the quality of the art and experience you provide?!?! (I can hear the palpitations from here!) What they don’t know can hurt them, though. They hate their customers, they have no faith in them, they squeeze them for every dime they can wrench from them, they use every method of manipulation to ‘maximize the sale.’ And every one of their failings is your opportunity to succeed by giving your customer a trusting, respectful, cooperative, refreshing experience. A good business IS good business.

I’ll say it again – in today’s market, right now, March 25, 2011, 12:31 a.m. CST, a good business IS good business.

Pick up Gary Vaynerchuk’s new book The Thank You Economy to read more about this seemingly obvious idea – you’ll be very glad you did.

The most important part is to start, to Just Do It, to ‘Ready, Fire!, Aim.’ Once you have momentum, a professional presence, a growing client base, and some experience with your self, your business, and your market, you can then develop down whatever path you see opportunity in, for both financial and personal gains. If you stay lean, practice the 80/20 rule across all aspects of your business (education, practice, time, investments), and hustle, you can’t help but succeed – you’ll be profitable from the start with the freedom to be the artist and business you want to be, earning canary-eating-grin good pay in the process.

Please do keep me posted on your progress Jonathan! I visited your site and really enjoyed your work, you have a great eye for color, composition, and shadow. I can’t wait to hear about your adventures!

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Jonathan March 26, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Well James, I have updated the website (today) and have posted my elimination of sitting fee and all former price quotes on photo packages. I’ve got down to basics as you suggested and already I am breathing easier. I have 2 associates at work (my full time job) wanting to do some photos for Easter… just at the mention of the new prices. Plus one hit in town from someone I do not know. That is 3 definite shoots that I didn’t have yesterday. Everyone can learn from you if they just give it a chance. If we just take your words seriously and make an effort. I will definitely keep you updated!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 27, 2011 at 2:58 pm

That sounds great Jonathan, keep the momentum up! All it takes is a little work, a little betterment every day to make huge gains in time. Early on, you want to concentrate on sharpening your artistic and business talents, your comfort level with being a professional photographer, and building that client base. As you feel your art and your market are ready, you can step up your pricing. I’ve doubled my prices three times in the last three years, and I’m still booked solid – you don’t have to have everything ‘perfect’ from the start – just make progress! Thanks again for your readership!

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Angel July 22, 2011 at 1:58 am

I am very new at the photography business as I am trying to make my hobby a part-time business. I am looking into classes but I have always been great at taking pictures, and people have told be that I should take it up as a small business so I am following the advise of close friends and relatives. I found this site and I am so happy I did!! There are so many wonderful tips and advise for someone like me. I have read where some will have photo partis. I am wondering what is expected at photo-parties? I have a couple folks interested in hosting, but I’m not sure exactly what would be expected of me, besides taking the photos of course. Any advise is appreciated. Thank you so much.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor August 8, 2011 at 12:04 am

Thank you for your kind words and your readership, Angel! Congratulations on taking steps to turn a profit on your photography talents. If you’re even thinking about it, you probably already have what it takes to start making money (back!) with photography.

I am not familiar with photo parties. If you have folks who are interested in hosting such a party, ask them what they had in mind – they’ll probably provide you the best ideas for such an event. You might be doing headshots for aspiring actors and musicians, or multiple-family group portraits, or children’s portraits, or just fun and fashiony type stuff for teens.

The “party” business model seems to be growing in popularity – I can’t log in to Facebook without seeing a friend or three hosting a cooking party, a candle party, or some other manner of “party” where guests are expected to buy products from the host.

Whatever you agree to, try to find a way to cover your hours invested so you earn a minimum happy wage per hour (including post-processing and posting, if necessary, after the shoot) – then any photo sales you get on top will be a bonus. Always aim at that bottom line that makes you grin if you get it, and rejoice in additional gains beyond your expectation.

Thank you again for your comment! Please let me know how your photo party turns out, I’d love to hear of your adventure. And please keep me posted as you grow into the business! I want to hear all about your successes and learning experiences.

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Anthony Schellenberg November 21, 2011 at 1:38 pm

I just booked my first couple of family Christmas photo shoots – never done this before! I did a search and found your website and this series of articles, THANKS! The hardest thing was to figure out pricing, and I’m still working on the prints part. These photo shoots are for friends and the first one came out of nowhere (I didn’t advertise or ask, I was still too nervous putting myself out there) so I hadn’t spent too much time thinking about pricing. What I told them was I’d do the session for free, the CD of images for $50 and I’d let them know what the print prices would be. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure if I made it sound like they had to buy the CD or if it was an option. From your example above it looks like I should make it optional, though it would be nice to guarantee that I make at least the $50. If I go that route I might then use lower pricing for the prints to make those more attractive than doing it themselves. What do you think? I’m all excited about finally doing this!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor November 21, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Thank you for your readership Anthony! I’m glad the series has helped get you rolling in the right direction.

I like simplicity, and it’s paid off over the years for me. What I recommend for new-to-the-profession photographers is no session fee, no minimum order, prints and files starting at just $10. For example, 4×6 for $10, 5×7 for $15, 8×10 for $20, or hi-res file on CD for $10.

I know the temptation is there to ‘guarantee’ a certain income from a shoot, but the selling point of having no risk for the client I’ve found gets folks in the door with great ease, and it’s incredibly rare I suffer a client who buys little to nothing from a shoot. The onus of responsibility is on me to produce art and an experience so good that my clients can’t help but buy what I put in front of them. And the better I do, the more and bigger they buy!

My goal is always to build good will with clients and the community. Relaxed, non-draconian policies like this help really separate an aspiring professional photographer from the typical grognard who won’t even let a client breathe their air for less than $150 or so. It makes breaking into any market far easier, and with no financial risk placed on the client, it lets you worry less about “performing” and more about “producing” results.

I’m also different from many established photographers in that I prefer selling my clients hi-res files on CD instead of prints. I sell toward this end, so my prints cost the same or more than the digital files.

Consider your options, look at what your local competition is doing (forcing session fees, overcharging for prints, not offering digital files, etc.) and see where the opportunity to differentiate yourself exists. Only you know how much your time is worth, how long it takes you to prep, shoot, post-process and deliver your best art, so apply anything you learn here or elsewhere to your own needs and experiences.

And never forget, this is a learning process – it’s okay, even desirable, to make mistakes early on and correct course along the way. Nothing is set in stone or written in blood, just make your best judgment call and see how it turns out – adjust accordingly if you see the need. If you’re spending more time worrying than marketing, shooting and selling, work every day to focus your energy on tangible actions instead of intangible fears.

As always – have fun. You’re doing this by choice, and you’re in charge – you can form and reshape your business any way you want, any time you want.

Please keep me posted on your adventures in professional photography! I’d love to hear of your successes and experiences. 🙂

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Anthony Schellenberg December 4, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Did my first official photoshoot yesterday, thanks for your advice on how to charge. I have one or two additional clients already lined up for the next couple of weeks! After Christmas I might change my pricing a bit, but it was great to have a starting point. I setup a very quick blog today (I’ll improve it when I have a bit more time) http://anthonymarkphotography.blogspot.com/

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor December 11, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Thank you for your readership Anthony! I checked out your blog and loved what I saw, just some beautiful art and a real passion for capturing the best of moments in your images. Your photos from yesterday of the young girl in the tree are darling, I can’t imagine any mom not clamoring to have those printed big enough to hang on the walls of her home. You’re going to know nothing but great success in this field, I’m very excited for you! If there’s anything I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to let me know! And please do keep me posted on your adventures!

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Chris December 12, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Hi James-

Awesome series, really informative and helpful.

What’s your take on offering CDs of entire shoots? Many clients these days pretty much expect a CD with the all of the images. If I’m charging $10 per file and quoting a client $400 for a disc containing 40 keepers they will surely go running for the door.

Thanks!

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Anthony Schellenberg December 12, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Hey Chris, you could place a cap on the price, which is what I’m doing at least until after Christmas. Since I’ve just started, I decided to have a “Christmas Special” where after 5 digital files the rest come included – pretty much guarantees I’ll get $50 for the shoot – which is very minimal but it gets me started on building my blog/portfolio/experience, gets me used to charging etc. You could put on a cap after 10 files for $100 or any amount that you think won’t scare away your type of clients. I still wouldn’t give them all of the files especially if there are a bunch of the same basic pose. You still want them to look at all the photos and think “what a great photographer”, if you put in too many so-so or poor ones it could change their opinion.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor January 3, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Great points Anthony – I enjoyed looking at your web site, you take great photos! I think you’re worth a great deal more than $50 a shoot, but you’re right on track – build that portfolio up, then you can charge more and ride you’re existing momentum to some great profits.

I took in a workshop with Doug Box many years ago, and he was very much of the “buy more, get more” mindset – the most expensive print you could buy was the first one. Everything got cheaper the more you spent.

I felt his pricing schedules were wildly complicated and leaned too far into the not-customer-friendly realm, which is why I like a la carte and flat-rate options. As I’ve written here, I like to keep the onus on myself to produce enough variety and quality of art to earn the client’s dollars. If I do better work, they’ll spend more money.

Certainly, I’m partial to a tight cull – I’d rather show a client 10 great photos than 10 great and 20 mediocre ones. One benefit of practicing new setups with each shoot is you can grow out your repertoire until you’re nailing 10, 20, 30 different interesting, unique and salable sets of images per shoot. I do my best to get as much variety in with each shoot, and from a typical hour-long shoot I’ll show a client 30-50 proofs. The better your variety, and of course overall quality, the easier it is to sell more – including that full CD of images at a tidy profit.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor January 3, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Thank you Chris! I really enjoyed checking out your Flickr this evening – the time lapse video was awesome! Doing something fun photographically would probably be the only way to get my desk at work clean!

I always offer CDs of all (keeper) photos from a photo shoot. I try to go with a price around 20 to 25 times my base print / file price. If I know that I average a sale of $300 per client, I’ll offer an all-photos-on-CD package for $400 for example. Anything that beats my average per-client sale provides a boost to my bottom line. If I sell “too many” CDs this way, it shifts my per-client averages, so I raise my price for the CD anyway. Pricing is very much a learn-as-you-go sort of thing.

Try adding up all of your typical client sales (ignore the really high or low ones), get an average, and charge $100 or so more than that for a CD of all photos. See if it sells. I’d say about one in four clients will buy the full CD option. It does add quite a bit to my total processing time (I do complete processing and touch-ups on all purchased images), but I always make sure that my desired per-hour income is met. If it’s not, I raise prices, of course.

Like infomercial king Ron Popeil would say, “Set it and forget it!” Pick a price you like the looks of that makes sense in some way, throw it out there, and adjust as you go as you see the need. Trust your gut.

Let me know what you decide on, and how it turns out for you!

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Anthony Schellenberg March 11, 2012 at 8:02 am

Do you think it might be easier for clients to think in terms of packages? I’ve been advertising pretty much the basic pricing you have above in your article, but I keep wondering what the perception is when people see it’s only $10 for a print/digital image. Do people actually get out the calculator and see that 20 images will cost $200, or do they just think “$10 seems like cheap photography, I’m looking for quality”? I know it’s not hard to do that math in your head, I’m just wondering about immediate quality perception of this versus a package model which seems to be the very strong norm in my area (ie I’ve never seen anything else than package pricing). Just tossing this around in my head as it still seems very hard to get clients so far even with the no session/minimum fee. I probably need to read your marketing articles again 🙂

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 25, 2012 at 11:44 pm

Anthony, thank you for your comment and your readership! I really enjoyed looking at your blog tonight, your subjects’ eyes in all your photos are just magical!

Truly, there is no one pricing style that works for everyone – every photographer and market is different. That said, I am a big fan of simplicity, and a big fan of customer-friendly practices. I’ve experimented with all manner of pricing styles over the past 13 years – session fees of $0 to $300, packages and a la carte, turn-key style setups of a session fee that includes a full CD of hi-res files, charging for touch-ups and sepia tones and black and whites, and so on.

What I’ve found to be ultimately simple and attractive to clients, while still offering a great return on my investment of time, is the no session fee, no minimum order, flat base rate for prints and files setup. Having the elevator pitch of, “I charge no session fee, and have no minimum order – you just buy what you love. Prints and files start at just $10,” I can’t recall a potential client who turned me down because of price. It’s really just an imitation of the Walmart style of pricing – folks come in for the $8, 40-print special, and walk out having bought $200 or $300 worth of photos. Except with the system I follow, instead of using up-selling techniques to improve my sales, I rely on putting together the best art and experience I can for my clients.

Regarding having the impression of being a ‘cheap’ photographer, I try to let my art do the selling for me. My pricing is just a hook once the bait, my art, has done its job and piqued interest in a potential client. I don’t advertise my prices, they aren’t published anywhere – potential clients see my art, contact me to visit, and then learn my pricing style – which is almost always immediately followed by booking.

If you’re not scoring the number of shoots you would like, consider a few possibilities:

Exposure – Are enough people seeing your art, and seeing it in a way that inspires and enables them to contact you to book? How are you marketing your services? Are you including a Call to Action so your potential clients know what to do once they’ve seen your art? Is it obvious what you do, who you do it for, and how to contact you?

Impression – If exposure is the number of people seeing your marketing, impression is what people who see your marketing (in whatever form it may take) think when they walk away. You have obvious artistic talents, but does your marketing show off your personality as well? Does it show how fun, or sophisticated, or down to earth you may be? Does it leave people wanting to see or know more? Does it stop them in their tracks as they say, “Whoa, wait, what’s this?” Basically, if you’re getting eyeballs on your art, what are you doing with those eyeballs?

Targeting – Making a great impression through extensive exposure within a market that has no interest in what you have to sell is worth jack diddly. There’s always some crossover (baby photos turn into children’s photos which turn into family portraits which turn into senior photos, etc.), but if you’re primarily a children’s photographer, are you maximizing your exposure where children (and more importantly, their parents) are? Are you doing any co-op marketing with your local children’s resale shops? The maternity ward of your local hospital? Your pediatrician’s office? School PTO? Sunday School? Be Where Your Clients Are.

Niche – You always have to scratch a niche, especially early on. Looking at your blog tonight, all your art is just lovely (again, those eyes!), but I see pet portraits, landscape photos, children’s photos, baby photos, commercial/editorial style work, still life…in that order. It’s often hard for photographers early in their careers to ‘let go’ of everything but what they are best at or love shooting the most, but I feel it makes it vastly easier to break into a market when you focus your work and marketing on that specific niche. Be the best Baby Photographer, or Children’s Photographer, or Family Photographer, or whatever you love, in your market – but don’t try to be the best at everything. As they say, trying to be everything to everyone makes you nothing to anyone.

Going back to pricing, I honestly would say if you’ve never seen anything but package pricing in your area, then that tells you precisely why you need to use a different pricing style. Stay one step ahead of your competition, be innovative, so long as that innovation is in the benefit of your clientele. Make the competitive battle You versus Everyone Else, not you versus each individual competitor – change the game.

I’d wager it’s not your art or your pricing that is causing you to come up short on clients, but more likely your marketing. If you can improve your marketing message and get it in front of the right potential clients, I think you’ll see a serious uptick in the number and quality of your clients. Without knowing your market, competitors, personality, shooting style, etc., I can’t give very good specific advice, but the above ideas are transferable to just about any photographer’s situation. Please don’t hesitate to comment here or e-mail me at James@banderaoutlaw.com if you would like to discuss specific ideas at greater length!

And please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures! Thank you again for your readership!

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John Liu March 14, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Thanks for your well-written article and excellent advice. It feels a bit strange to charge for something that you’ve been giving away for years. While one can wing it and adjust prices and tactics on the fly, it’s nice to have the guidelines you’ve provided. Kudos!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 25, 2012 at 11:07 pm

John, thank you so much for your kind words!

I really enjoyed visiting your portfolio tonight, you have an amazing way with color in your photographs. You are more than capable of charging for your work, and in fact I look forward to hearing from you about your successes when you do start charging and marketing your talent.

Charging is a huge step – it’s really hanging your shingle and saying, “I am a professional.” Your art is there, though, John – truly. Put yourself out there and allow yourself to enjoy the rewards of your work, and allow your community to be blessed in having you to hire.

Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Graziella March 20, 2012 at 11:52 am

What’s your perspective on charging a session fee + a specific number of images on CD? Seems real turn-key.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 25, 2012 at 10:52 pm

In all truth, there’s no silver bullet pricing style that works for everyone, of course. Every photographer and market is different.

What’s worked for me and has grown to be my philosophy, is that no client should have to put a dime on the table until they see the art created from their photo shoot. And when they do spend their money, it should be in the purchasing of that art. I feel like session fees and minimum orders only exist to place the onus of risk on the client instead of the photographer.

Not to say there’s any sin in it – especially once you’re established and have a solid client base, charging a session fee does give you a level of protection for your time. But in the early stages when you’re trying to build that base of repeat and referral clients, I think it’s vastly easier to just accept the risk yourself and give the client an unbeatable offer to get them in the door. “I charge no session fee, have no minimum order – you just buy what you love. Prints and files start at just $10.”

Will some clients make a minimal purchase and leave you with little pay for your time? Yes. Will most clients beat your desired minimum and more than make up for the cheap folk? Yes – in my experience, you win far more than you lose for your time. And again, early on, you’re also enjoying the invaluable benefits of growing experience, developing your artistic talents, practicing your skills, refining your business acumen, building your portfolio and base of clients, earning great referrals, etc.

Eventually the time does come to raise prices, maybe set up a session fee or minimum order, to maximize your profits while protecting your time. But early on, and/or in a competitive market, having no session fee breaks the system – instead of it being You against John Doe Photography and Jane Doe Photography and Kiddie Kandids and JC Penney Portrait Studio and Portrait People, it becomes You versus Everyone Else. It evens the playing field in one move.

Thank you again for your comment! Please do keep me posted on your choices, and how they play out in your market. I’d love to hear of your successes and adventures!

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jamie dunlap April 21, 2012 at 11:42 pm

Just ran across your site..love love love it.been pondering this idea of becoming a phitographer for quite sometime…im kinda shy and lack confidence but after reading your articles i realized im not alone and its just part of becoming a new photographer. I feel more confident and knowledgable. Pricing really helped a lot as well..i will keep coming back and recommend your site to all i know in photography…which is several and know they will use n love it too…thanks soo much for your time n helpfulness with your site.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor April 29, 2012 at 8:01 pm

You are most welcome Jamie, thank you for your kind words! Portraiture photography is a wonderful business to get into, you have real opportunities to both bless and be blessed in the creation of your art. Approach your business and clients with confidence, knowing that what you do benefits you as an artist, and your clients as beneficiaries of your art. They wouldn’t hire you if they didn’t want to. Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures this year!

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Lisa April 22, 2012 at 9:18 pm

I’ve been told by many professional photographers that selling digital files basically ruins the potential repeat business of clients coming back for prints, and also gives clients the ability to “tamper” with the processing you’ve done in their own editing software. Professionals also worry about clients printing at lower end places (i.e., Walmart) and ending up with crappy quality to present to their friends (other potential clients). Personally, I like the idea of selling files over prints (except for my fine art work). And I believe people have the right to their images. Having been a photography client myself (for my wedding), I’d be very upset to have my images “held hostage” by the photographer (I was happy to pay for the files, but insistent that I have them). But I keep second guessing myself on this issue. I see that you are okay with selling digital files. Do you really think no money is lost by doing that? Do you worry about clients re-working the images (lots of people like to play with editing software) and how the edits they might make affect your presentation of your work? Do you worry about them printing low quality prints to show their friends? (I’m still reading through your blog, so I hope I haven’t asked something that’s already been addressed elsewhere).

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor April 29, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Thank you for your comment Lisa!

I switched to an almost completely digital sales model years ago, and I’ve not looked back since. I learned that for me in my market, my stress level was minimal and my clients were most happy (and profitable!) as I walked away from conventional practices and did what I thought was right, what made sense to me as both an artist and a consumer.

There are so many things one can worry about in life – about life, about business, about art. My best advice is to simply let go of the worry and focus on what’s actually important: your art, and marketing it to an interested clientele. You will get some bad clients, some may even do horrible things to your photos, but the vast majority will be great subjects, make for great art, buy well, and treat your work with respect, while being your biggest fans and cheerleaders in their social circles. It’s vastly easier to win over people in this way when you don’t treat them like criminals, but as respected, appreciated clients.

Education helps: when I hand over a CD to a client, I also make a recommendation of my favorite local and online labs to have prints made, and encourage them to pay the extra dollar or so to get much better quality than the one-hour shops.

In my experience, my photo shoots are both more profitable and my average sales are larger than they were when I primarily (or only) pushed prints. I used to do it all – frames, canvas, add-ons, upgrades, up-sells, packages, volume discounts, the whole kit and caboodle of “tricks” photographers (and many other industries) use to squeeze clients for more dollars. It was like trying to teach a pig to sing – it just frustrates you and annoys the pig.

Honestly, I think the whole “what will they do to my art!” argument is a paranoid one instilled by artists who like to call themselves such with a capital A – focus on the art and experience you’re creating for your client, and don’t worry about those things which are wholly beyond your control (if you don’t sell digital, they’ll just scan the print, etc.) – improve your art, improve the experience you create for clients, adjust your prices and policies as you go along and adapt your business to best serve your market. If you do this, you will be so busy with the fruits of your success that you will have neither time nor interest in worrying about what a few squirrely clients do with your digital files after they’ve bought them.

I hope this helps! Thank you again for your readership! Let me know which path you choose, and how it serves you this year. 🙂

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Elle May 1, 2012 at 4:36 am

After many years of contemplating what I should do career wise, I have finally decided I would take my passion for photography and turn it into a career for myself. I can’t help but thank you for all of this advice you have given. I found part time photo a few days ago and haven’t been able to stop reading. This particular entry has helped me decide on my pricing. I have an engagement photo-shoot coming up, and it may be my first paid session. So nervous but excited at the same time. I am so grateful that I found this site during my journey. I hope you continue to grace us with your wonderful advice!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor May 1, 2012 at 10:55 am

Thank you for your kind words Elle, and congratulations on making the decision to move forward with your professional photography! Part time, full time, or part time eventually turning to full time, it’s a wonderful business to get into full of good people, and good times. Almost 100% of the time, it’s only we photographers who make it more complicated and fearsome than it needs to be.

Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures! I truly look forward to hearing how your engagement shoot (and hopefully sales!) turns out. Trust me when I say, it’s a lot like getting a flu shot – thinking about it hurts more than the moment itself.

The path you’re on is indeed a journey, and it will be as enjoyable, fun, and fulfilling a journey as you let it be. Again, we are always our harshest critic – while we need to continually recognize where we can make the most important improvements, we need to forgive and accept and encourage ourselves in equal measure. If you screw up – and we all do on a regular basis – recognize the mistake and use that powerful energy to plan and practice improvements.

Thank you again for your readership, and please keep in touch!

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Vianna May 5, 2012 at 8:44 pm

HI James, Me again!
I am using your guide, and it is working a treat, Im getting clients, I’m loving the work, the clients are loving the final images, but I feel as though I am putting a great deal of time and effort into getting the perfect image only to have the client want to pay $10 for ONE 4×6 print…I feel a bit used and abused!!!
I am struggling (mentally) with the whole digital file part too. I know it works well for you, and I commend you, for being able to keep your prices low after so many years. but I have a couple of questions for you…
I believe that digital files are a premium product, am I being too precious?
Do you not worry that when the client prints the image with another supplier, the colour and quality may not be to their satisfaction.
And, are you not worried that an inferior product could bring your talent down?
Just a couple of things that worry me…If I offer the digital files, at a lower price, the client WILL go and get them printed, not only do I loose money , but the image will definatly be of lesser quality and not colour correct…Im not sure how I feel about this.
If I offer the files at a higher price, I loose out and look like Im trying to make money out of doing nothing…
Any Ideas how to tackle this…or am I just being a control freak…give in and sell the files cheap and let the client deal with the repercussions?????
Sorry… staring to ramble now!!!!
Thanks again James, your blog has been a wonderful help to me!
Cheers, Vianna

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor May 14, 2012 at 12:53 am

Thank you for your comment Vianna! I’ve surely had many clients over the years who have bought little or nothing, but I’ve been blessed in that they have made up the vast minority of my clientele. They cheapies do exist, and it’s inevitable you’ll run into them, especially with such a great offer as no session fee and very affordable products.

What I’ve learned over the years is that cheap clients usually come as a result of cheap marketing. If I’m running around town shouting from the rooftops that I’m doing free shoots with only $10 prints, I’m begging to end up with a bunch of clients that just want to spend $10 or $20.

As in all things, there is a balance to be achieved.

My goal is always to stay booked to my personal desired capacity. Whether for you that’s five shoots a week or one, you know about how often you like to or want to shoot.

In the early stages of your business, any client is a good client. Every single one lets you grow as an artist and business owner. They allow you to experiment, fail, and grow using live guinea pigs for fodder. They let you poke at this price, prod at that policy, and begin to really define and refine your work. All the while, improving your artistic talents.

That said, if you’re booked solid with cheapie clients, don’t be afraid to raise your prices, or likely better, stop marketing yourself on price and start marketing yourself solely on art and the experience you create for your clients. This was a big step I took once my art was good enough to keep me booked solid for a month or two in advance – and when you stop advertising price, you start getting clients whose primary concern is your great art, not your great prices. When they find out how low risk your pricing schedule is, they don’t hesitate to book.

Early on, it takes very little stress or worry to offer no session fee, no minimum order, and prints/files starting at just $xx. When your art and experience mature, it takes a lot of confidence to sell on the same platform – the onus truly is on you to create art so excellent and varied that your clients can’t keep from buying it.

There’s certainly an argument that digital files are premium products (maximum size, unlimited number of reproductions, kills potential for follow-up sales). There’s also an argument that digital files are virtually free (can be reproduced infinitely without cost, a CD full to the brim costs a fraction of even the smallest print). When you’re setting prices for any product, have a reason – a real, arguable, logical reason for why you charge what you charge, for any product.

I love selling digital files – I love the ease, I love the simplicity, I love educating my clients on what cool things they can do with those images, I love seeing my images all over Facebook, I love empowering clients, I love just handing over a CD and not having to stress about what the lab will or will not have done to my image upon its printer, I love that what I hand my client is a pure and perfect copy of what I showed them when they made their purchase.

There are many, many photographers who love prints and wall art for a completely different set of reasons, and for those photogs, it makes sense that they price digital much more expensively, or don’t sell digital at all – it’s not what they or their clients love. Every photographer, and every market, has its own personality.

To directly answer your questions:

– When I hand over digital files to a client, I always educate them as to where to get the best prints, what will happen if they print at a one-hour shop or drugstore, what cool stuff they can do with the files, how they may look different on different computers because of monitor calibration, etc. A little education goes a long way to ensure the client knows how to get the most out of their images.

– I have never feared what my clients might do to my art. I’m too busy photographing more clients. If one out of a hundred load up my images into Paint Shop Pro and make them look like a dog threw up a cat, and then post their artistic interpretation to Facebook or their wall or wherever, it’s still just one client out of a hundred. The breadth and depth of my portfolio, online and in print, the art I show in my marketing pieces and advertising, on social media, and what my other 99 clients share in pure form with their friends and family, creates a tidal wave of good impressions that reduce any lesser examples to impotence.

– If you worry about your clients buying digital files and printing them too low of quality, educate your client as to where they can get best quality work done. Hand them the keys to the kingdom. The professional lab I use has a consumer division that produces prints and products of near-indistinguishable quality from what I sell for much, much more. And I tell my clients as much. I give them the web address, and tell them how easy it is to just upload and order “for just a few dollars more than what you’ll pay for fuzzy, off-color prints from Walmart.”

– If you do offer files at a higher price, you just shift your place in the market more toward prints. You’ll market to and earn more clients who want prints, desktop framed images, wallets, and hopefully, nice wall art to enjoy for generations. I only recommend photographers push a more digital-friendly offering because it’s what the majority of the market wants, it’s very low-risk and low-cost to the photographer, it breaks the mold of what most other professional photographers do, and most importantly and true of anything I recommend here on PTP, it works very well for me. When a client buys a full CD of images from me, even at a highly discounted price, I look at my per-hour earnings (in pocket, after all expenses), and grin like a Cheshire cat.

Your questions are fully valid, indeed I should write an article on the “letting go” aspect of selling digital files, and I thank you for the inspiration. If you focus on ever-improving your value to clients, through better art and a better experience, you’ll quickly grow beyond pricing and soon be able to book yourself solid on the merits of your good work alone – which leads to an equally better quality of client, as well.

Please do keep me posted on your progress, how you decide to handle and price your files and prints, and what the results are for you this year! Don’t be afraid to experiment for a few months, then change things up and see how your business changes with it. Nothing is ever set in stone – never forget, you’re the boss, you’re in charge. Look at it as an adventure, a grand and profitable experiment, which only grows more profitable over time. It’s a wonderful profession to enjoy!

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Gemma August 11, 2012 at 6:44 pm

Hi, I’ve only just stubled on your site and safe to say i’ll be coming back again; it’s so helpful!! I’m in the same boat as many other people who have commented and have been asked a few times to do a paid photoshoot, even a wedding, but shamed to say i’ve chickened out most times (especially on the wedding; that was way too much too soon). But I did my first paid shoot last week (I mainly do theatre & dance photography) and have been asked to do a few other things in the next few months, and even a couple of things in the new year.
The way i’ve done photos so far can be quite long winded and extensive due to the nature of rehearsals, backstage & on stage shots, so I can end up with near 500 shots by the end; last week’s shoot was 484 images. Now I just put all these onto cd for the clients and job done, put a few on facebook to show the work and give a sneak peek.
To be honest I’m not sure what i’m asking haha, I think i’m curious really if you have just done a batch of photos, or have you always done them per image chosen by the client? I think when I first started looking at photography work i thought it was just charge per shoot, but now things are a lot different!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor August 12, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Thank you for your readership Gemma!

Congratulations on doing your first paid shoot! It’s a big step, but one you have to get out of the way to get over that mental force that presses back against your progress saying, “No, don’t do it, there’s no going back!” After a few paid shoots under your belt, you’ll realize any stress you had going into this new stage of your business was ill-placed. It’s not easy, it’s worthy of focus and effort, but you are more than capable – go forth and make beautiful photos (for money!).

I would definitely hold off on weddings until you are extremely comfortable with them, and have all the experience and gear that you need to operate under those kinds of pressures and lighting situations. Weddings, where you have little control, are a whole ‘nother beast than portraits, where you have almost complete control.

To answer your question about how to structure your pricing, let me state up front there is no perfect system. You can charge a session fee, or not; you can charge by the image or by the CD, or not; there is unlimited freedom. Your goal should always be to A) give more value than you ask in compensation, and B) earn as much or more per hour than you feel your time is worth. Keep in mind that ‘value’ and ‘worth’ are unique to every client and photographer, respectively – the ‘secret sauce’ is in finding the right balance. It just takes time, but you have to start somewhere.

For event-type work, for the sake of simplicity (and what sells) I just bid a flat rate for the coverage and photos on CD. I talk with the client to find out what they want to end up with, and what I’ll need to photograph to get that result. I then figure up my time for taking the photos, travel, prep, and then for processing and delivery, and multiply those hours times the per-hour rate I like to get that leaves a big grin on my face. If what I need to do my best work on the job is more than they are willing to pay, I refer the client to more budget-friendly photographers that I trust; if the client needs a level of style of art I’m not capable of doing, I refer them to a photographer better suited for the project. And if we match up just right, then I’m thrilled to take the job and put my heart into the work.

Sit down with a pad and pencil and sketch out a few pricing models that you like, discuss them with a friend or two to get another perspective on how they view your offerings, and then pick a model to go with. Try it for a while, then modify to your heart’s content. You’re never stuck with anything – always keep in mind, you’re the boss, you’re in charge, and you can change anything you want, any time you want. Approach your business and art from an attitude of empowerment and ownership, and work confidently with the decisions you make, even if you choose to change them completely weeks or months later.

I hope this helps! Thank you again for your readership, and if there’s anything more I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

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Jess August 13, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Hi! I’m a teenage photographer looking to make my hobby into a business. I know lots of experienced photographers tend to have bad feelings about teenagers starting their own businesses, but I’ve gotten lots of great feedback, so I’m ready to try it. I want to start out by doing hs senior pictures and maybe children. I like the simplicity of your pricing, but I’m worried that if most of my clients are teens, then they will all spend low amounts of money and I won’t get my money’s worth. Before I found this article, I was thinking of charging a session fee and give them 20 or 30 edited images, but now I don’t know which path to choose:) any advice? If I choose to do a session fee, should I start out low because I’m new to this? Or should I compare my work to other people in my area and price myself accordingly? I’m hopelessly confused…

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor October 8, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Hey there Jess, thank you for your comment and readership!

Art and business are no respecters of age – if you can create value, in the art and experience you provide for your clients, there is nothing about your age to hold you back from being successful.

If you worry that your clientele will spend too little money, adjust your shooting style accordingly – if you want to make $10/hour before taxes, and your per-client average sale is – say – just $30, and you’re spending about three hours per shoot between prep, shooting, processing, sales, and follow-up – then you’re actually right on track. Don’t get distracted from your personal financial goal with your business by what other photographers are earning, or tell you you should be earning. Don’t sell yourself short (especially to senior parents, who will gladly drop $100, $200, $500, and more for great senior portraits), but at the same time, don’t price yourself out of business.

As I’ve written, pricing is more a tool for managing how many shoots you’re doing, rather than how much money you’re making. Surely, there’s a sweet spot that is perfect for your market to give you the most profit for your time invested, but it will take years to find that sweet spot. Start humble, start low, and build both your bank account and portfolio steadily.

Try to market to the people with the money – you’re not shooting seniors for seniors, you’re shooting seniors for their parents, and their parents are far more likely to buy in the hundreds of dollars than your fellow teenagers.

I do suggest starting low – more so, humbly. Price should almost always be irrelevant – your art, marketing, client testimonials, reputation, the experience you create for your clients, that’s what people are buying. The better you are at these things, the more money you will make, and the higher prices your clients will tolerate – and expect. That comes with time, practice, focused growth.

Grow your talent set in equal parts – art, business, marketing. For every book or blog you read on one, study the same in the others. Be holistic in your proactive learning and practice.

Ignore your competition – do what you think is right, do what you feel is right. If you’re not booking enough shoots, shoot for less – all the way down to free if you have to, so you can keep practicing your art and business talents, and building your portfolio. You’ll learn and earn your way into ever-higher pricing brackets. Don’t be too proud to work for reasonable rates – if you couldn’t go out and get a job making $50 an hour in your community, why would you expect or demand your photography income to be on this level – yet? All in due time.

I hope this helps! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures – I’d love to hear how you grow your business this year!

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gilbert August 27, 2012 at 7:38 pm

hi James,

When you talk about files, what are you basically saying? Is it one image per file (CD)? and how many images should I store on one CD to sell to my client.

Thx

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor October 8, 2012 at 10:26 pm

Thank you for your comment, Gilbert!

When I talk about files, I’m talking about one image per file, multiple files on a CD – each paid for individually.

For example, if I show a client 20 proofs from a shoot and they buy 10 of them, I charge per image, and put those 10 images onto the CD for them to print and share as they see fit. With my recommendations for a good lab, of course!

So if I charge $20 per image, and the client buys 10 files, they pay me $200 (plus sales tax here in Texas). If I charge $5 per image, they pay me $50 plus sales tax.

I hope this helps! If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

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Michael Neal December 5, 2012 at 11:59 am

Great article, I am going to experiment with your pricing advice as I have been getting no clients so far. I just started a couple of months ago and it will take time to get established but it is discouraging. However, I do need to do more advertising other than google and facebook. I will read up on your other articles, they look interesting as well.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor December 31, 2012 at 12:01 am

Thank you for your comment and readership Michael!

I greatly enjoyed visiting your portfolio tonight, you have an awesome style!

There are a million ways to market your business, but this is where so many photographers fall short – after all, we’re artists, not marketing majors! Grab what ideas inspire you here on PTP, but also check out books like John Jantsch’s Duct Tape Marketing, and Michael Port’s Book Yourself Solid. These two books will give you a fantastic kick start in marketing your business and bringing in clients.

Don’t let a slow response from your market get you down – it’s a snowball that has to start very, very small, to build up momentum. Keep rocking the free / portfolio building shoots, keep getting yourself and your work out there in your target market, and give yourself time to success. Small daily improvements lead to amazing change over time – kaizen.

Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures in 2013!

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Lisa January 2, 2013 at 6:01 pm

I have another question. With no session fee or deposit, how have you managed to avoid too many “no-shows”? I would think no-shows would be a big problem when people haven’t invested any money yet, but you don’t seem too concerned? Do you call them if they don’t show up? Do you reschedule them? I worry I’ll get bitter if, over and over, I leave my kids at home with a sitter to go to a location shoot and then the client doesn’t show up (it’s happened). What strategies would you recommend I employ to make sure the clients are as invested as possible in being there when it’s time for their session?

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor January 6, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Thank you for your comment Lisa!

I address these concerns in-depth here:

http://parttimephoto.com/youre-going-to-get-screwed-doing-part-time-photography/

It is very rare that I have a no-show for a shoot. But setting clear expectations (and offering a friendly reminder) takes care of many of these potential problems.

For example, when you book the shoot, you and your client agree on a certain date, time, and place to meet. First thing you can do is e-mail them a “save the date” note, reminding them to add it to their calendar, and perhaps linking to some good preparatory information on your blog or web site (such as a good Client Prep Cheat Sheet: http://bit.ly/kfU6Tj). If you asked permission to add them to your e-mail newsletter list, you can send them a copy of your latest newsletter as well.

You can add a touch-point between the booking and shooting with a follow-up e-mail. A reminder, with maybe some more prep tips, and some information about your inclement weather and rescheduling information, tips, and policies.

Add another touch-point a day or two before your shoot, a friendly phone call this time to confirm the date, time, and location where you’re first meeting for the shoot. This is where you’ll really eliminate most of the no-shows – but for weather, car, or medical issues, I’ve never touched base with someone the day before the shoot then had them not show up.

The onus of responsibility is on us to help guide our clients through their experience with us, from the first time they experience our marketing, to booking, to follow-up, to shooting, to selling, to delivering, to following up again and staying in touch in the future. People have enough on their plates – if you can help and encourage them along the path for a great professional photography experience with you, you will make an impression far better than all the “set it and forget it” experiences other photographers provide.

Think like Disney – make every touch-point as clear, perfect, magical, and remark-able (http://amex.co/Xc9W6T, http://dai.ly/VIkrxn) as you can. Often this costs nothing whatsoever but attentiveness and a little bit of time. We get so caught up in camera bodies, lenses, megapixels, strobes, filters, Photoshop and the like – then we come up short in delivering on a remark-able experience for our clients.

Now all that said, the few times folks have straight up “forgotten” a shoot – I ask a simple question of myself. Did I everything within reason that I could to help this client show up and get a great shoot? If not, I work them on a rescheduled date. If I did my very best, and they dropped the ball out of pure neglect, I will often tell them that I’m booked solid for the coming months and I’ll refer them to some other local photographers. It’s perfectly reasonable, even recommended, to fire bad clients – gently of course, but send them elsewhere. The time and attention they suck away from you comes out of a finite pool that you could be investing in other, better, ideal clients.

Consider having a back-up plan, too – have a list of folks and phone numbers who might like to shoot on a moment’s notice. The one hour you set aside for a paid client may turn into a half-hour portfolio shoot with a friend or a friend’s kids, but never devalue a good practice shoot. With no money on the table or skin in the game, you can experiment and be bolder in your shooting than you may otherwise normally be with a paid client (although I encourage some end-of-shoot experimental practice at the end of every shoot). Practice the most recent concepts, ideas and methods you’ve read about in your photography books. Make the absolute most of your time.

On the subject of a deposit (sorry, my mind is all over the place today, you bring up a lot of good points and questions), if you’re making your session fee or “deposit” non-refundable, be sure to word it as a non-refundable retainer – there’s some legal reasons for this, particularly that deposits (at least in Texas) must be refunded, where as a retainer does not. I Am Not A Lawyer, however, so consult an expert before you try to lay the legal smack-down on a bad client.

Even when I did take a session fee / retainer for shoots, I always refunded without pause if a shoot didn’t go well, or didn’t happen at all, even if it was the client’s negligence. I have never found the fight worth the trouble. The grognards say you set a standard like this, but dealing with clients isn’t like dealing with kids – you can’t discipline clients into good behavior. When you’re booked solid months in advance, you can afford to have more strict policies that aren’t so customer friendly if you choose – you may have to do so to make the most of your shooting time, if no-shows become a big problem. Often bad fish come from bad fishing holes – so if no-shows become a big problem, consider where you’re marketing to and fishing for clients, and the message you’re sending with your marketing. If you come off as cheap and your time expendable, you may well be treated that way.

I hope this helps! Thank you for your comment and readership Lisa! And please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures in 2013!

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Jessica Hicks March 3, 2013 at 8:45 pm

This article eased my fears of how to price so thank you for that!! My problem is now that when I tell potential clients what I charge, they look at me all confused as if I am speaking another language. They can’t seem to understand the price per digital file and think I am just charging $10 for as many files they like on a CD. I try to explain it clearly but still have puzzled them all. How do you word your pricing list in client language that would be a clear cut list? I thought for sure just stating $10 per digital file on a CD was self explanatory but I am finding that it is not! Thanks for your great website, I use it to its full advantage!!

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Andrew March 5, 2013 at 2:24 pm

From what I gather, ‘digital file’=’picture’, correct? I was at first having a little problem understanding this, because I’m just starting out in the whole photography world. I would explain to the customer that digital file=picture.

And I, too, just love this website…it has been so informative and inspirational at the same time!

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Jessica Hicks March 5, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Yes that is what I mean. I took the term “digital file” from above. I’ve also the word “photo/picture” but they interpret that as an actual print. It just came to me though that maybe I could use the wording “digital image” to relay the image itself on a CD rather than the print. I want something that is easily understood that doesn’t leave clients puzzled. Thanks for your suggestion!

Without this website, I would still be doing free sessions and cd’s for everyone! Still, I’ve only had 3 paying clients but I am getting the confidence to be paid!

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Andrew March 6, 2013 at 8:12 am

Thanks! And, Congrats! Three paying customers is better than none-and confidence is priceless!
To tell the truth, I don’t even own a decent camera at this point, but reading up and borrowing a friends Canon T3 for a bit to apply some of the things I’ve learned, I can’t wait to purchase a DSLR. I have always been interested in photography, but have never pulled the trigger on trying it. The more I realize that its something that I have a passion for, the more I really want to do it-and in time, I will. I would love to have a stuido one day!

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Jessica Hicks March 6, 2013 at 11:38 am

I was blessed to receive my Canon Rebel T1i as a gift a few years back and only really used it for personal photos until people starting approaching me wanting family shots. I discovered a love for it and began getting many encouraging compliments that lead me up to today. So what started out as family and friends turned into church friends and then I was getting calls from friends of friends. I am very critical of myself but love seeing client’s faces when they see themselves on screen. Although I still don’t know too much about my camera or editing, the love of doing it surpasses my little education of it. I’m a stay at home mom so I am not looking to get rich but nothing beats the feeling of sticking my card into my computer and seeing what I’ve captured! Keep at it and you will have that studio one day!!

Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 11, 2013 at 11:55 pm

Thank you for your comment, Andrew!

One digital file does equal one image. You can also call it a digital negative, an image on CD, and so on. Most folks are familiar with some form of this, as Kodak started doing it back when you could drop off your 35mm film at the grocery store and get back the scanned images on CD.

Thank you again, and please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 11, 2013 at 11:53 pm

Thank you for your comment and kind words, Jessica!

When folks ask what I charge, I tell them: “I charge no session fee, have no minimum order – you just buy what you love. Prints and files start at just $XX.”

This makes sense for about 90% of my clients. Those who don’t understand ask, and I can clarify that the cost is $XX each image on CD, or each print up to a certain size. “Such as, if you pick out five favorites from our shoot and want them on CD so you can share on Facebook or make your own prints, the total would come to $XXX plus sales tax.”

Giving an example usually provides the clarity they need. If not…

“Each file is $XX. So one costs $XX, two costs $XX, three costs $XX, and so on. It just depends on how many photos I show you that you love, and can’t live without. If I do my job, then it will be hard to turn any of them down!”

If folks aren’t understanding how you’re pricing your digital files, or what those digital files “mean,” you may be in a unique market (or more specifically, marketing yourself to a unique market) that is more print than digital friendly. It may be worthwhile to rephrase your elevator pitch accordingly.

“I charge no session fee, have no minimum order – you just buy what you love. Prints start at just $XX, and I also sell digital negatives on CD if you want to make your own prints!”

Then you go into a deeper discussion if the client inquires.

I hope this helps! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Andrew March 8, 2013 at 8:12 am

Jessica-
That is a blessing!! And, I’m not looking to get ‘rich’ either-I’m just tired of being in the corporate world. I would love to be able to raise my children and make my own schedule-and it would be a plus to make enough to support the way I would like to.

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Melinda Edenfield April 1, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Any advise on choosing who to use for printing? How do you choose who to outsource this to? Thank you!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor April 27, 2013 at 11:08 pm

Thank you for your comment Melinda!

I use Miller’s Imaging – their consumer division is Mpix.com, and is an easy way to test out their products. I mostly sell digital files on CD, but I send all my clients to Mpix for prints. Their web site is great, and I love both their overnight delivery and boutique packaging.

You can usually sign up for accounts with any lab and they’ll send you examples of their various prints and products. Miller’s, White House Custom Color, and so on – find a printer whose upload and management system you love, whose personality you really like, and enjoy the experience. I’ve had nothing but good experiences with Miller’s, so they’re the first I recommend.

I also suggest learning about and testing out local pro labs in your nearest metro area. These are great to refer clients to for top-quality prints, and you may find some folks you love working with locally even better than the big boy printers – fostering those local relationships and create some great networking and referral opportunities you might not otherwise enjoy.

Thank you again for your readership, and please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Dan Henzell April 22, 2013 at 10:21 am

Fantastic advice! I feel less worried about what to charge for portraits amongst other shoots. I was also worried about naming my business after myself as I was told this would be a bad idea but after reading your post about business names i feel more comfortable naming it now. Thankyou.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor May 28, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Thank you for your comment and kind words, Dan!

Keep up the momentum – sounds like you’re making sound decisions, which will let you keep moving forward to the next step. You can always change things up later if you want, but focus on making that progress – however small it may be – and you’ll be amazed how far you’ve come in the next few months!

Thank you for your readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures.

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Corrie May 15, 2013 at 5:00 pm

I love this advice.

To be honest, I love your entire site, but I’ve come back to this page more often than the others. I’ve been playing around with it for a while, and am now ready to launch as a business… nerve-wracking, to say the least. Your simple, down-to-earth guidance is what I needed to hear. Read. See. You know what I mean.

I appreciate all that you do. Thank you.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor July 20, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Corrie, thank you so much for your kind words! I’m so glad you’re enjoying PTP.

Congratulations on taking the big step of launching! I’ve enjoyed the rewards for professional photographer for 14 years now, and it’s been an incredible blessing in my life.

If you’re reading these words, you’re ready to go pro – you’re curious, invested, and ready to make your dreams a reality.

Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures! Thank you again for your readership!

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Emylee May 17, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Hi there,

Great information, thank you so much! I am just venturing into the ‘making-money-as-part-time-photog” thing and I’ve come to a tricky time in ‘business’. I started shooting my little cousin’s monthly photo shoots (newborn to one year) for free…wasn’t planning on turning it into ‘something’ at the time. Those turned out great (yay!) and have gotten me clients straight from the mom (some family shoots, a prom shoot, but mostly children shoots) and I’ve done those for free because I thought since it was my first time doing x-type of shoot then I shouldn’t charge, because I “wasn’t that good”. And my husband and I are ready for me to slowly start moving this into my potential full time job.

WELL, they have all had great responses and want to book for other events (xmas, friend of a friend, maternity, etc). They tell me to set up a FB page. They ask for business cards. How do I say now…ok, I charge? When literally last month the first prom shoot was done for free and now the sister wants me to do her maternity shoot in a couple months. And then there’s my little cousin! The mom wants me to shoot at his first birthday and of course I said yes…but for what?? Ugh. I am overwhelmed.

I did look at your pricing suggestions, but I do feel like I want to just do digital files (flash drives) and maybe photo books that I put together but send them to mpix for their prints on their own. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor July 20, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Emylee, thank you for your comment and your readership!

Don’t worry, you’re in good company – everybody has to start somewhere, and most of us start with free, portfolio-building and practice shoots.

Eventually, and obviously if you’re reading this site, you’re ready to make the transition from free to paid, to present yourself as and enjoy the blessings of being a professional.

Making the transition is far less painful than most people think. It’s kinda one of those “If your friends don’t like you for who you are, they aren’t really your friends type thing.” There’s no shame in doing free work for practice, for your portfolio, with some people, not with others, and moving free clients to paid and paid clients to free. I try to hammer this home as often as I can – it’s your business, you’re the boss, and you call the shots.

You have a right to be compensated fairly for your time. As you grow in art and business, your value grows and your compensation with it. Your work is obviously salable and desirable – you deserve no less.

It’s a matter of perceived value – either the folks you’ve given free shoots to think you’re worth what you want to ask, or they don’t – they’ll hire you, or they won’t. They have a right to pick someone else, or nobody at all – there’s no shame or offence in that. Don’t stress over anyone who doesn’t fit your new pricing – they aren’t your ideal client (who appreciates and agrees with your value), and you aren’t their ideal photographer. Let those fish go.

Just introducce the change directly, and warmly: “I’ve decidedd to go professional with my photography, and I charge X, Y, Z. Is that a good fit for you guys?” They’ll say yes or no. And either answer is fine – truly, it’s either a good fit or it’s not. If they say no, it’s a budget thing and they truly can’t aford you – that’s okay, let them find another photographer. Heck, make some suggestions – I have a list of local photographers, both more and less expensive than I am, to share with clients who aren’t a good fit for me.

Anyone who balks or gets offended, bless their hearts, but they’re just not “your people.” You are a professional, you are what you are, and it’s your choice to work for pay because you’re worth it or for free because you believe the shoot brings you as much or more value (in practice, portfolio, referrals, or other reasons) than your investment of time and talent.

That said, I’m on Michael Hyatt’s wavelength that if you’ve already made a commitment, make good on your promises – anything you’ve agreed to do for free, fulfill that commitment. But if it’s your desire, phase the free work out. Who you shoot with for fee or for free is your choice and nobody else’s business. It’s – literally – your business.

Touching briefly on your digital vs. print question, it’s actually the same answer – you’re the boss, set up your business however you want. I’m very digital-friendly, but I do try to always have options for my clients. I tell them that it’s much less expensive to buy digital and then print (and I make lab recommendations for the best prints), but I also offer white glove options where I handle the print for them, and I charge a premium for it. Again, it’s all about fair compensation, and working hard to give my clients an exceptional experience.

You’re asking the right questions, and I hope this helps! Please do let me know how you choose to proceed, and keep me posted on your successes and adventures! Thank you again for your readership!

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Yvette May 30, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Hiya,
Firstly, I found this article really helpful when I needed help with pricing. The simplicity and no-nonsense explanations have been a breath of fresh air. So, thank you for that.

I have a question about file formats (If I can word it so it makes sense…And I apologise if this I sound rather stupid and it’s actually very obvious)

I have shot some of my photos in RAW because that was apparently the best setting to shoot on for quality images. I use a free editing software called Zoner which I have found very efficient for an amateur anyway. They were still in their RAW formats while editing, but when I tried saving them, it saved them as JPEGS.

In order to get the best quality images for clients, do you get your images developed in RAW or JPEG or anything else? If so, how do you get them not to compress and save as a JPEG file. OR is JPEG perfectly fine to get developed even for large prints?

Apologies again, if I sound like a complete amateur!

(Also, if you can, could you check out my very basic, new website I’ve tried to set up. It is still a working progress and I am nowhere near ready to start putting prices up on it. But some of my work is up, under gallery and Equine – if you have the time have a little gander and let me know what you think or if you have any suggestions to help me improve it. Any feedback I can get it welcomed)
Thank so much!

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Oniel July 3, 2013 at 6:16 am

Hi Yvette.
You would want to give them the photo in High Quality Jpeg or .Png (.Png has higher quality then jpeg but both are about the same). The reason you wouldn’t want to give them a Raw photo is exactly that. The photos are Raw, they wouldn’t know what to do with the file. You need a special codec in order to view a Raw photo on a normal computer.
I am going to assume that your customers aren’t tech savvy nor photography savvy and don’t want to go through the hassle of downloading something in order to see their beautiful photos. So it makes it much more easier for them if you just give them a Jpeg or Png and it looks better for you because they will have had a hassle free experience.
Not to mention that most photo processing stores that i’ve seen don’t process Raw photos.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor July 20, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Yvette, thank you for your comment and kind words!

Think of RAW as negative film, and JPEG as a print.

It’s rare you’ll find a client who wants the ‘negative’, the RAW file, the bare original file – they probably don’t have the software to open it anyway.

RAW is best to shoot in because it gives you leeway to work with the image on the computer – more control over sharpness, color balance, exposure, recovering shadows and highlights, etc.

But when you’ve got your photo looking how you want it, exporting to a JPEG is best for your clients or for the web – that’s the ‘print,’ the final product, your clients are waiting for.

I like to shoot in RAW then save files for clients as JPEGs with a quality of ’10’ in Photoshop – so around 80-85 percent of potential quality. Your software may have other options. Top quality makes for files that are too big, but going too low on quality of course…affects the quality!

A high-quality JPEG is perfect for large prints, no worries at all.

No need to apologize at all! Any time you have a question, ask – odds are good there are plenty of other people with the same question but too afraid to ask it.

I enjoyed visiting your web site tonight! It’s a good, basic start – just like any part of a business, you start basic and grow from there. Any portfolio (within reason) is better than none! Try to always put your best work out there, even if it’s just a dozen photos. Show what you can do with consistency, and the folks who hire you will know what they can expect. As you learn and practice and grow, your portfolio (and sales!) will only get better.

Thank you again, I hope this helps! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Jessica Turner June 4, 2013 at 2:26 pm

I have a Question. I’m just starting my Business and I was trying to add a watermark to my photos for some reason I can’t find anything. I know how to add a watermark on word but not on my photos… PLEASE HELP!!
Thanks

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Rich June 9, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Hi Jessica

Are you using photoshop? Lightroom? There are many ways to do it.
I set up a preset for exporting in Lightroom.
I also made a brush in photoshop (this doesn’t include colour branding however)
Let us know what tools you use so we can help you.
Cheers
Rich

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor July 20, 2013 at 10:02 pm

Jessica, thank you for your comment!

You can find my article on watermarking here: http://parttimephoto.com/how-to-watermark-your-photography-proofs-for-the-web/

There are other, easier ways to do so: just give Google a whirl for “easy photo watermark” and that should set you up!

Thank you for your readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Sasha C July 21, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Photomonkey.com is an easy website that you can use to watermark the photos. I don’t know if it looses quality after you load the photo to their website and save it with the watermark.

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor May 25, 2014 at 7:43 pm

That’s a great resource, thank you Sasha for sharing it!

Enjoyed visiting your Facebook and viewing your art! You’re doing great work!

Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Graham June 10, 2013 at 7:39 am

Excellent series of articles James. I’ve read them avidly as I am just about to do my first paid shoot – and would love to consider myself a ‘part-time professional’.
This business of what to charge is a thorny matter, and while I admire the simplicity of your mantra, I wonder what you say to clients that want x copies of a single image, all printed at the same size. Do you still charge them (e.g.) $10 PER COPY, or is the philosophy of your pricing based on clients only wanting a single copy of any given image?
The shoot I am about to do is for a couple and their new baby – I suspect that they will want several copies of each image they choose, to send to family and friends. Would it be fair to say something like $10 for the FIRST print of any given image, and then whatever the lab printing cost is (plus my markup) for each additional print?
Cheers
Graham

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor July 20, 2013 at 10:19 pm

Graham, thank you for your comment and kind words!

First of all, how did your first paid shoot go?

When a client asks about buying multiple copies of the same image, I tell them the truth – that it’s less expensive to buy the digital file and make their own prints. I educate them as to why a pro lab (like Mpix.com, or WHCC, or many others) is a far better option than Walmart or Walgreens.

Surely, if they want to buy the prints directly from me, I’ll help make that happen – but I do charge $10 per print. That’s the convenience cost of having me handle the printing for them, and it’s my pleasure to do so – for a fair price.

Most of my clients are digital friendly, so I don’t run into this often, but I do ensure my time and efforts are well compensated. I try to help my clients with any need they have – I just happen to charge more for those activities I’m less excited about, like ordering prints on their behalf.

I hope this helps! Thank you again for your readership, and please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Davor Pavlic June 13, 2013 at 5:07 pm

I can’t agree with you with charging a certain number and such a low one. And I’m not a boutique photographer.
Somewhere $10 is change, somewehere it’s a fortune etc. Much comes into play. And there’s not only the shooting, there is postprocessing, etc.
If you’re interested, leave some toughts on the formula I’ve been working on.
http://www.davorpavlic.com/how-to-charge-for-your-photography-formula/#.Ubo-zvk3D-Y

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor September 14, 2014 at 6:08 pm

Thank you for your comment and readership Davor!

I respect your input and thank you for sharing another perspective!

There is no right pricing. There is no wrong pricing. The best pricing is a perfect balance between value given and received, so both the photographer and their client walk away thrilled – where that perfect balance exists is different for every single artist and their clientele.

How you get there is up to you – with or without session fee, etc.

My suggested pricing works perfectly for me – it’s the best pricing structure I’ve tested over the last 15 years. In a different market or with a different photographer – or even myself years ago versus today – it may not work well at all.

But it’s a starting point.

And that’s what most amateurs looking to go pro need: a working starting point from which to experiment, learn, and grow.

This pricing structure removes price as a barrier between the photographer and their potential clients, and gives a startup photographer the opportunity to earn while they learn, even if it’s a modest wage. At the startup end of the industry, experience with paying clients is worth as much as – if not more than – the cash in hand.

Thank you again for your readership and bringing your perspective to the discussion! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Sasha C July 12, 2013 at 1:24 am

I have been doing personal street photography, sharing it on Instagram and sometimes on facebook. People kept telling me I needed to take photos of people, of them. That was a big leap from pictures of parking lot wood stumps, stairs, and other weird things I like to make pretty.

The requests didn’t die down so I went for it. I took photos of my brothers girlfriend for her senior class photos at an abandoned house I like to photograph. I was able to mix my street photography with people photography. I didn’t charge, I just asked her if I could share some of the photos online.

From there my like page has grown so much in just two months. I have been taking photos every Saturday now. I have future shoots in the works.

I started to look online for ways to make enough of a profit that you aren’t going in the hole to take the photos. Drive distance to the location, time editing that you could be doing something else, time taking the photos, etc.

I found a pile of blogs that were a little discouraging. There are a lot of shoot and burn rants. Rants about newbies stealing business by charging less, and many other random rants.

I dismissed a lot of it, because if someone wants to hire me those people aren’t loosing a client. A person who crosses my path might never cross yours, if that makes any sense.

The part I am not sure about and feel a little uncomfortable with is the shoot and burn label. What exactly does it mean and is it bad?

I kind of think if someone wants prints I could print them and charge them what it costs to print plus some for my part in that. Or in this day in age everyone wants to share their photos online, maybe a burned disc fits their needs. Does this make me a shoot and burn photographer? Does this make me any less of a photographer than someone who always prints?

There is a side of me that says who cares if your client likes what they got then you have accomplished what you set out to accomplish.

Then there is a part of me that feels weird about it because I don’t fully get why people are blogging their anger about shoot and burn photographers, and people who say they have a hobby and it turns into them saying they are a “photographer”.

Reading through your posts has helped me feel secure and confident in my choice to continue doing what i am doing. I feel confident charging, and that is a weight off of my shoulders.

Sorry I didn’t take much time to proof read. I hope my post makes sense.

-Sasha C.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor November 28, 2013 at 4:40 am

Thank you so much for your comment and readership Sasha! I greatly enjoyed viewing your portfolio on Facebook tonight, you make beautiful photos!

Your journey into professional portraiture sounds similar to mine – I started out taking ‘pretty’ pictures of objects, nature, insects, patterns, textures, shadows, and so on. I really started sharing my photography when I posted hi-res photos online for folks to download and use as desktop wallpapers. Eventually I ended up working as a photographer for my local newspaper, and from there I was asked by readers if I did family photos or senior photos or children’s photos on the side for pay – and from there, it’s been a wonderful journey!

Congratulations on staying booked several weeks in advance! It feels great when you hit those milestones – first booking, first week’s booking, first month’s booking. Keep it up!

“A person who crosses my path might never cross yours” is a perfect way to put the cold war that exists between startup photographers and the establishment (I call the ornery ones grognards).

The photographers who argue that startup photogs are ruining the industry is as absurd as a Mercedes Benz dealership general manager walking into the Hyundai dealership and yelling at their general manager that Sonatas are killing the automotive industry.

Has the competitive landscape changed? It sure has. Who’s thriving? Those photographers with the hustle, energy, and passion to change with the times.

Whereas established photographers are having to change from a well-rooted position, startup photographers are being born into this new landscape by the day – and are, in fact, shaping it. The old barriers of entry into professional photography are greatly diminished: complexity and cost of tools.

If you are growing as an artist and business owner and marketer; if you are getting better every day at providing more and more value to your clients; if you are pricing yourself at a level that attracts bookings with good clients while putting enough money in your pocket to make you grin (even if just a little, sly grin), then it doesn’t matter one iota what anyone else in this world thinks. Are your clients happy? Are you happy? Then carry on with confidence.

You’ll find mountains of discouragement online – it’s what almost every startup photographer experiences when they first seek out guidance from other, successful photographers. The only ones eager to help, in most cases, are those with $500 DVD seminars to sell. No disrespect to their business model, but between the high-priced gurus and the discouraging grognards, it’s hard to find an encouraging, true voice in the wilderness. That is the very reason I started PTP – I spent (wasted!) years letting guidance from poisoned sources guide, discourage, demotivate, and stagnate my growth as an artist and business owner. This site is my humble attempt to tip the scales back where they belong.

Shake the haters off, my friend.

The danger of under-pricing yourself is that you end up working for less than minimum wage, or worse, when a shutter goes out or a client falls during your shoot, hurts themselves, and hands you the medical bill, you end up losing money. Sometimes through ignorance or hubris, these are things some startup photographers don’t plan for. It’s nowhere near the life-destroying melodramatic crisis the grognards tell stories about to scare you out of your dreams, but these and startup topics like this are the first and best ones to address before you burn out and cut your potentially amazing professional photography career short for lack of planning. You deserve better. Your clients deserve better. Your dream deserves better.

Grognards are the way they are (discouraging, fear mongering, cliquish) out of fear. The digital revolution has completely changed their industry, their competitive landscape, and their clientele. Imagine what an affect the visual social medium of Facebook alone has done to print-only photographers’ business – whereas folks used to share photos of their families through big wall hangings and 8×10’s and pages of wallets, they’re now sharing those photos in limitless number via social media. Fewer wall hangings. Fewer small prints in bulk. Fewer residual print sales. And with startup photographers absorbing the budget end of the portrait industry, giving clients exactly what they want for prices more affordable than they’ve seen in the history of the medium – you have to acknowledge the fear and the challenges established photographers face.

That fear translates to frustration, anger, and lashing out at people like you and me and anyone who doesn’t do things the way they think they should be done. They’ve held on with a white-knuckled grip to the “good old days” when they could charge boutique prices for mediocre art and a bare, draconian experience – it was a seller’s market. The industry changed and they didn’t change with it and it’s a lot easier to blame the ‘shoot and burn newbies’ than to take responsibility, pull up their bootstraps, and do what it takes reinvent their art and business to be successful in this new age.

No matter what level of photography client you serve, from budget to boutique and everything between, you have to create and communicate more value than the price you ask; as simple and true of any product or services in any industry.

You Create value with your art and the experience you provide your clients – you Communicate it with your marketing. They’re two sides of the same coin, and to be successful, you have to balance your growth, time, and effort between them.

Top photographers still get paid top dollar. Startup photographers still get paid startup dollars.

The grognards are almost universally men and women who fall short in either Creating value or Communicating it – if they did both well and worked to consistently and continually better themselves (just like you and me), they wouldn’t be complaining about the digital revolution – they would be too busy creating must-have art, serving superfan clients, and making money…lots of it.

Forgive my rant Sasha – this topic touches at the very core of why PTP exists, and it’s why I’m sitting here in Texas at 3:40 a.m. responding to your comment! It’s absolutely my pleasure to visit with photographers like yourself and help in any way I’m able.

I hope this helps! Thank you again for your readership, and please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Brenda July 19, 2013 at 3:38 pm

I just jumped into the pool using this structure and like it quite well. I am not a salesperson either. In fact, i was fired from my only sales job. lol Anyway, I have been just asked to do a shoot with a group of 13 individuals. Cool…but…I don’t exactly want to do the shoot for one sale of a $10 digital file. Technically, the digital file is only sold to one person. What is the wisest way to proceed with this? Just not offer digital files in this case?

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor September 14, 2014 at 6:36 pm

Thank you so much for your comment and readership Brenda!

Most sales jobs are not like the sales we do as professional photographers – in the latter, our role is not as a convincer, but as an experienced guide connecting our clients with the products we offer that will best maximize their long-term enjoyment from their investment.

You can certainly do custom pricing for situations like this – such as if a real estate office wanted headshots of all their agents. For just about anything that isn’t portraiture, I charge a per-hour rate which covers my shooting and processing time, and include all the good images on CD. It’s simple, easy, a flat rate that a business or event coordinator can budget for. I tend to figure an hour of processing for every hour of shooting, so if I figure it’ll take me an hour to do quick headshots for 13 real estate agents, I’ll figure on another hour of processing in post – adding in an hour of pre-shoot consultation and hour of post-shoot service and follow up, I’d bill for four hours work. The onus is on the photographer to accurately estimate jobs like this, bid accordingly, and manage expectations so the client knows for additional work – like extensive retouching – there will be an additional charge.

I try to always have a “Yes” in my pocket – whatever a client may ask, I want to have a Yes so I can help them solve whatever problem they may need help with. Every Yes has a time cost for me, so it has a dollar cost for the client. That’s okay – that’s commerce.

I hope this helps! Thank you again for your readership, and please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Christopher February 15, 2014 at 10:07 am

Hi,

I am new to the idea of photography as a business. Is tarted out with offering my sister’s senior pics as her grad gift, and my mother received so many outstanding compliments she said I should start doing it on the side.

That being said I have been using Shutterfly for my printing, my question here-in is two-fold. Can you charge a per print price to make a profit off of a companies printing price without looking at trouble. For instance, Shutterfly sells 4×6’s for $0.15/print, and if I seek for $10 as you recommend, do I run into some type of legal trouble? Second do you feel that a company like Shutterfly is adequate or would you recommend finding a new printer?

By the way your blog has become a huge inspiration to me, and I have learned a lot in the last couple hours I have been reading it. Other blogs seem to be shock and awe, and saying what you are supposed to do, whereas you have a nice approach to what works for you, and present a great starting point to be successful for yourself.

Thanks, and you have definitely created a follower out of me.

-Chris

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor February 17, 2014 at 9:50 am

Christopher,

Thank you so much for your e-mail and your kind words! I’m so glad you’re enjoying PTP and gaining from it!

Your first paragraph is absolutely the No. 1 thing I hear from PTP readers – that they had a habit interest in photography, then received clear and honest compliments about how professional their work is. It’s how I started as a pro and so many others.

I Am Not a Lawyer, but no, I’ve never heard of anyone getting in trouble for buying prints at one price and selling them at another (if I understand your questions properly). Shutterfly is selling you a piece of paper and some chemicals, to your client, you are selling your art.

The bigger ‘legal’ issues for start-up photographers are sales taxes, business permits, insurance, tax records, and model releases – all of which takes time to research and reach out to the right local people to learn from (start with your local business association, chamber of commerce, County Clerk’s office, City Hall, and/or another local photographer), but is well-worth the up-front education and the confidence that comes with it. (I’m also working on a little something for all you awesome PTP readers on these very topics! Shh, keep it between us!)

I have no personal experience with Shutterfly. I’d definitely recommend finding a good local printer, shopping around, having prints made, comparing them with your own eye, testing out their customer service, and don’t let price be your biggest concern – almost all printers have the same prices. I’d aim at a pro lab, better than Walgreens or Walmart, of course.

I use Miller’s Imaging, which you can test drive at their consumer site, Mpix.com. I know White House Custom Color also has a big following, and I love their style. I love with Mpix how fast the printing and shipping is, the inexpensive overnight shipping, the drop shipping option, back-of-print printing option, and boutique packaging option. They redesigned their site/interface in recent years and it’s made it a lot easier site to use. Whenever I’ve had a problem with missing or messed up orders, they are super quick and happy to help make it right.

Thank you again for your kind words and readership sir! I truly appreciate your input and perspective on PTP, I’m always trying to grow it in the best direction to help awesome artists like yourself. Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures, and if there’s anything more I can do, please don’t hesitate to let me know!

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Marcia Grover May 4, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have been trying to wrap my mind around pricing for months now which in turn has not allowed me to actually get my business going! I now feel confident in both my photography skills and now my pricing to get my name out and start living the dream that I’ve had for a long time now. Thank you again for such an inspiring and educational website that you provide! Please let me know what you think of my proofing site, any suggestions or tips? You are such inspiration to many new photographers!

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor September 7, 2014 at 6:47 pm

Thank you so much for your kind words and readership!

I’m so glad to hear this article was able to get you over the pricing hump. It’s so easy to get caught up in the devilish details and never turn those details into a working, living, thriving business.

I love your mermaid logo, it’s so wonderfully unique!

You make beautiful photos! Your clients are blessed by your work. I especially like your photos of young Grayson! What a character!

Your style is very bright and colorful; I’d love to see your web site reflect that same bright personality. I’m sure New Orleans offers innumerable beautiful scenes to shoot!

You’re rocking it! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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jose ceja August 5, 2014 at 2:11 pm

Hi. I’m a 19 year old kid from California. I like taking pictures I been taking pictures of some friends during there soccer games and they say that I really take nice pictures so now I’m just trying to step it up a bit and maybe start charging to take pictures for soccer games, but I’m just not sure how much to charge should I charge per picture or per package I’m just not sure i wanna give them a decent price so they will come back and tell there friends and family that his prices are desent and that hes pictures come out good..

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor August 17, 2014 at 10:42 pm

Thank you for your readership and comment Jose!

No need to qualify yourself as a ‘kid’ – if you’ve got a camera and the ambition to do great things with it, you’re going to make it happen, no matter your age or experience.

The easiest way I’ve found to make money in photography is through portraiture – high school senior photography, families, children, babies.

I’ve used my photojournalism, specifically sports photography, since the very beginning (15 years ago for me) to get publicity and leverage that exposure into paid photo shoots.

I tried for many years to sell my sports photography directly to parents and/or players, but it never added up to much. I could do one portraiture photo shoot over the course of one hour in the city park and make more than I’d make in months trying to sell sports photos.

Now, there is the hybrid of Team and Individual portraiture, where you do the official team and player photos, usually for youth sports through high school. This can be fairly boring and technical, with some needs for good portable lighting equipment, risers, and more if you want to ‘do it right’ and do it well.

I always advise folks to consider that, in business, you almost always have to pay to play – you have to shoot way pays so you can afford your play, your art, your personal photography interests and work.

So if you really enjoy doing sports photography, specifically soccer photography, one business model might look like:

– Be THE soccer photographer in your community: Own Your Zip Code. Start with being the best soccer photographer for your team, or your high school, or your younger sibling’s youth team, whatever the case may be. Start ‘in your own back yard’ and find out what it will take to be the absolute best soccer photographer that team has ever experienced.

– Practice, study, practice, study, learn from others, earn the mentorship of higher-level soccer photographers in your area (newspaper photographers, maybe not in your town but in a nearby metro with a weekly, twice-weekly, or daily newspaper). Read http://www.sportsshooter.com/ – I learned so, so much there early in my career. First Priority: Get damn good as fast as possible.

– Once you’ve earned the respect of your team, make a connection between your team and the media. There’s always at least a blog or newspaper or even TV station that covers your area, team, school, etc. Introduce yourself and your work to them. Pitch paid work, but be ready to shoot for a byline – this is sacrilege to most photojournalists, but this is part of a larger plan. You’re going to leverage that byline, that name recognition in your market / community, to grow your portraiture business.

– Start a simple blog for your sports work, start a Facebook fan page for your photography (Jose Ceja Photography, doesn’t have to be fancy), get on Instagram if you’re not already there. Start posting your best work there consistently – once a week, once a day, twice a day.

– Look at what teams could be your ‘next level’ for coverage: if you’re shooting little kids, look at middle and high school teams. If there’s a college in your area, look at them. Even a professional or semi-pro team. Adult amateur league. Start the process of connecting with contacts, take some folks out for coffee or lunch, introduce them to your work and show that you don’t want a free pass, but you want to earn your way into shooting their teams for your portfolio, for their organization, and for the media.

– Always ask your contacts what you can do to make their lives easier and better. I guarantee, if you ask a sports editor at your local paper what you can do to make his life better through your camera, and then you deliver, you’re going to earn references and help in your photography journey. Be amazingly useful, show your friendship first – this will pay off down the road when you want to leverage everything you’ve built into a portraiture business or otherwise.

– Begin asking the youth teams you cover for their Team and Individual contracts if you feel you can do as well or better than the existing photographer. Don’t pitch anything you can’t outperform the current contract on. Don’t feel you have to undercut on price – just show how you can do better work, which pleases parents, which pleases the boards who serve these youth organizations.

– Launch the business side of your photography – I’d say it’s a natural path to focus on high school senior photography. You’re the same age as your subjects, you’re probably a senior in high school or fresh out, you’ve grown up in the same culture and with the same pop culture references, you’re probably where your subjects are (twitter, instagram, snapchat), so you’ve got a natural “in” with that crowd. And HS senior photography is very lucrative – this is one of the biggest life events after being born that most parents are ready to drop a lot of money on for photos.

– If you’ve got an in with your high school through your soccer photos, start competing for their other photography contracts, such as Team and Individual (if you feel you have the equipment and skill to coordinate and execute well), and their graduation ceremony photos. I make about a wedding’s worth of income each year by shooting the graduation ceremony of my hometown high school.

– Whatever niche you point your business at (high school seniors, sportraits – like senior photos for athletes – children, babies, families, etc.), focus on being THE BEST in your market for that work. Again, Own Your Zip Code: whatever it takes, study, practice, get mentored, shadow, second shoot, until you are the default go-to photographer in your ‘backyard’.

– From this point forward, it’s just a matter of expansion: use your sports photography to get in with bigger and more lucrative markets in your area, then use your name recognition through that exposure to leverage into your chosen niche. Keep taking over markets until you’re booked solid with paid work, and are achieving your definition of success.

It’s a long road. But I have a special heart for this road, because it’s the exact road I went down to get where I am today. My sports photography for the local paper turned into paid work for my photography business, and it’s been a blessed symbiotic relationship for over 15 years.

I hope this helps Jose! Your dream absolutely can come true, and you’re already making great progress down that road by participating with this web site and studying how to bless your community with your art.

Thank you again for your readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Ashley August 9, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Hi i am pretty young i’m only 14 and i have been wondering what to do with my life and i hate being bossed around and i love taking pictures sing filters and i was wondering if i could ever live off of doing photo shoots and sessions with families and stuff and i kept thinking what if photographers sit around doing nothing but taking photos and then i realized that they have a pretty cool life so to sum this all up i want to start doing photography but i am not sure how to start doing anything yet i am still so young and people might think i think of it as a game but i want to make this a job and a career and a hobby do you know how i might be able to do this.

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor August 17, 2014 at 11:06 pm

Ashley, thank you so much for your readership and comment!

First of all, never let your age (or what people think of your professionalism because of your age, or more importantly, your impression of what people think of you because of your age) slow you down from chasing your dream and your passion!

Age has no bearing on art. In fact, you actually have some wonderful things in your favor:

– A relative freedom of time, outside of school, to focus on your art, growing your talents, study and practice, without a lot of the time constraints adults face.

– You have a plentiful peer base from which to draw subjects for your practice!

– You’re going to age right into the perfect situation to be an awesome high school senior photographer. One of the biggest things I teach is to Own Your Zip Code, to be where your people are, and you’re right in the middle of that culture and environment. You probably already know enough people to book yourself solid for a year, with more classes behind them ready to buy into your services.

– Your parents, or a supportive family member, or a part time job can get you all the money you need for good camera gear.

Being a professional photographer is a great life! It’s very challenging to leverage professional photography into a full time job, or at least doing primarily or only work that you love (as opposed to less glamorous but more salable work which pays the bills), but guess what? You can design your lifestyle any way you want: if you want to live a humble life and live off humble photography wages, there’s no reason that isn’t a happy life – you’ll bless your clients and community with your art, and bless yourself with a lifestyle that gives you the freedom and creativity you hunger for.

If you take your dreams and your goals and your business seriously, so will other folks. Business is all about creating value – if you create value for other folks, they will trade value ($$$) for it. This is commerce at its most basic form.

You can do this Ashley!

As for where to start, I have plentiful articles here on PTP to help guide you: get yourself a simple portfolio web site, a Facebook fan page, some business cards, and just start shooting and putting yourself and your work in front of your people, your potential clients. If senior portraiture is what you want to start with, make that your niche – make it your goal to be THE BEST senior portrait photographer that serves your school district. That’ll come through a lot of study and practice to make your art must-have, but you’ll already have a huge in through your presence at the school and relationships with folks there.

There are a million ways to grow and market your business, and you have tons of potential with your situation and your passion about your art.

Ashley, that you’re even writing here on PTP and asking smart questions shows you are leagues beyond most adults in making your dream a reality. Congratulations!

I hope this helps!

Thank you again for your readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Sabrina October 12, 2015 at 9:25 pm

This was extremely helpful. What would you charge for hi-res shots in digital format on a usb or cd? As a new photographer I’m just charging for the cd or usb of pics. My question is how much to charge for 20, 50, or 80 photos?

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor October 12, 2015 at 10:07 pm

Sabrina, thank you for your kind words and comment!

My pricing model is to charge $XX per image, or $XXX for the full CD or USB of hi-res, fully processed images. Your “XX” will be different than mine or anyone else’s, depending on how good your art and marketing are. As a multiplier, my CD is around 15 times the cost of one image. What I charge for a CD/USB changes depending on the size and scope of the shoot, and what my current per-client average sale is – my CD is always at least one step up from my average sale. Most of my clients buy the CD, which constantly pushes my per-client average up, and thus the price of the CD – this creates a natural, market-driven upward pressure on my prices. I could probably go nuts (like I used to) pining over and testing dozens of pricing schedules, but I’d much rather be making art and serving clients.

Look at it another way: whatever stage you’re in with your art, how much variety of salable images are you showing clients in your proofing and sales session? If you’re showing them five must-have images, price your CD at five times your per-image price. “If you’d like to just get the full CD, you’ll get those five images you said you want, plus all the extras and outtakes, which are so much fun to look back on years and generations down the road.” This doesn’t scale infinitely, unless your market will bear it; if you show 20-must have images, price at 10 or 15 times your single-image price; if you show 50 must-have images, price at 20 or 25 times.

By the time you’re making that many unique, varied, highly salable, highly desirable, must-have images per photo shoot, you can probably price your work any way you want! It’s a wonderful problem to have, and what’s awesome is that so long as you keep hustling and learning and practicing and growing, it’s inevitable that you’ll get to that point.

I hope this helps Sabrina! Do you have any other questions I can answer? Is there any other way I can help in your journey?

If you haven’t already, please do subscribe to my free e-mail newsletter at the top-right of any page of this site. And please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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