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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