“What should I charge? How much is my time worth? Can I make a living doing what I love?” We tackle these photography pricing questions and MORE! (Featuring: KRISTY DICKERSON | Photographs by TURNQUIST PHOTOGRAPHY)
Photography Pricing: Advice from an Expert Entrepreneur
No matter how skilled they are with a camera, photographers everywhere agree with one thing: photography pricing is complicated. So we reached out to Kristy Dickerson, an expert entrepreneur who developed her thriving photography business into a full-time career as a motivational speaker and CEO of START brands.
Kristy is deeply familiar with the challenges and rewards of entrepreneurship. Here, she shares her hard-won insights on how to establish your value, set your pricing, and gain the courage to charge what you’re worth.
Pricing: Photographers’ Biggest Challenge
ShootProof: What business aspect do you see photographers struggle with the most?
KRISTY: The biggest challenge in running a photography business is pricing. I know so many photographers who are having a really hard time running a profitable small business.
I asked my Facebook community what their number one struggle is, and pricing is what I heard over and over. For example:
- “I have been photographing for several years, but I can’t seem to make any money.”
- “Figuring out my photography pricing and marketing really overwhelm me.”
- “I can’t seem to find my ideal clients.”
#ShootProofPRO TIP: Identify Your Target Market
ShootProof: What do you say to the people struggling with their photography pricing? Especially when they have great work; their photographs clearly aren’t the problem!
KRISTY: Everyone’s photography pricing will be different depending on their location, genre, scaleability, etc. Also, a person making their booking decision solely on price is NOT your ideal client. You have to structure your business to have a few key competitive advantages in your market.
#ShootProofPRO TIP: Develop Your Competitive Advantage
Your competitive advantage is something your competitors don’t have. This can be a unique product or service you offer, an outstanding brand voice you’ve developed, a style or genre in which you specialize… See how photographer Olli Sansom is has developed his competitive advantage, then learn how to identify your own!
ShootProof: What about all the new photographers who show up offering really cheap sessions? Aren’t they to blame?
KRISTY: There is a myth that this flood of new photographers is hurting our industry and our businesses. I say NO. The only person who can hurt your business is you.
There will always be cheaper options for any product or service. Photographers who try to price-compete are spinning their wheels, and I guarantee you they are not running a profitable photography business. They will never be able to take their photography business full-time, and they may even give up completely.
When purchasing photography, customers sometimes think “Uncle Bob” could shoot their wedding or take that quick family photo. I mean, a camera is a camera, right? If your options, as the photographer, come down to losing the client or reducing your rates, I say: let Uncle Bob take the photos. That customer will quickly see the difference. They will get what they pay for in talent, quality of gear, editing, customer service, and so much more.
ShootProof: Many photographers feel like folks just don’t care. They get bad photos from “Uncle Bob,” and they’re totally fine with them.
KRISTY: It’s true. People allocate funds to what they feel is important. Photography is not important to everyone – and that’s okay. Vacations, clothing, home decor… these are all luxuries to which people allocate their disposable income. You want clients who believe photography is important, and that an investment in quality photography is important.
Quit Thinking with Your Own Wallet
ShootProof: We hear a LOT of photographers say, “Oh, I can’t charge that much. It’s too expensive!” How do you convince a photographer to charge more when they, personally, feel like their rates are already too high?
KRISTY: When you’re running a business, you have to separate yourself from your business. This is not always easy! I sometimes have a hard time separating myself from my own brand.
If it was up to me. I would charge nothing and just walk around taking pictures for free! But my business couldn’t sustain itself that way, could it?
ShootProof: But there are so many cheap photographers out there. How do you know those cheap photographers aren’t thriving?
KRISTY: I took my son to get his hair cut one time, and there was a flyer on the counter advertising, “Mini Sessions, All Images, 20 Minutes, $80.” My first thought was, “That photographer’s rates are going to kill me!”
But here’s the thing: this photographer was NOT in the same market as me.
Out of curiosity, I went to that photographer’s Facebook page; they didn’t even have a website. I could tell they were shooting with a consumer-level camera – still learning and growing. There was no way could they were running an actual business: filing taxes, paying for insurance, investing in the latest editing software, etc.
Honestly, I wanted to email this person and give them a free coaching session, but the last thing I would want to do is hurt someone’s feelings.
I want to help move the photo industry forward. My goal is for you to be able to do what you love with people who value your work, and still be present for the most important things in your life.
Photography Pricing 101: A Deep Dive
ShootProof: Okay, we get it. If you’re not charging enough, you can’t sustain your business. But how does a photographer get from the “learning-and-growing” stage to the “sustainable business” stage?
KRISTY: I’m going to back up a bit, first.
I shot my first wedding for $500, which included all-day coverage and the rights to all the digital images; and my first photography website was hideous – I mean, why didn’t anyone tell me it was ugly?!
What I’m saying is this: we ALL start with the figurative $80 mini session and no idea of how to pay taxes. But let’s talk about how we move from spinning our wheels to running a successful small business, because that is the goal. Taking a passion and turning it into a career is the goal.
#ShootProofPRO TIP: Successful Photography Pricing for Mini Sessions
Read our guide to planning, pricing, and photographing mini sessions the right way!
KRISTY: I’m going to break down the cost of an example mini session since that’s what we discussed earlier.
First of all, from your client’s perspective, a mini session has to have value. So let’s say your regular session fee is $200/hour, and you charge $65 per digital download.
If you offer a 20 minute mini session with 15 digital downloads for $425, that’s a huge value for your clients. They’re getting 1/3 of the time of a full session (valued at $66.67), plus 15 digital images (valued at $975), making the retail value of a mini session $1042.
You can offer mini sessions at this reduced price, however, because you’re booking back-to-back sessions at the same location. (And for families, 20 minutes is usually plenty of time to get great photos of energetic kids.)
ShootProof: So what are you actually earning from this hypothetical $425 mini session?
- ($140.25) – Say goodbye to a third for taxes.
- ($25) – Account for this shoot’s hard costs (fuel, props, assistant, ShootProof, etc.)
- ($60) – Remember: you have to pay yourself! You’ll invest at least two to three hours of work per mini session between booking, emailing, shooting, editing, and delivery, at $20/hour.
This is a step most people skip when running their numbers. Photographers forget to pay themselves!
Now you have $199.75 in potential profit for your photography business.
But wait: you have to allocate funds to marketing, equipment, insurance, software, website and email hosting, your phone… Of course, these expenses are fixed expenses, so their costs are distributed over all the sessions you do throughout the year.
#ShootProofPRO TIP: Speaking of Insurance…
Kristy recommends Hill & Usher for both liability and equipment insurance. “Insurance is something I think EVERY photographer should have before accepting money for photography services,” she says. We couldn’t agree more!
ShootProof: How does a photographer calculate their fixed expenses?
KRISTY: This is the gear I have in my bag during a typical mini session, along with just a few of the operating expenses necessary for running a small business:
- Canon 5D Mark III – $3399
- 24-70 f/2.8 II Lens – $2299
- 85 f/1.2 Lens – $2199
- 35 f/1.4 Lens – $1479
- 50 f/1.2 Lens – $1619
- Insurance (per year) – $600
- Software (per year) – $300
- Hosting, Licenses, etc. (per year) – $700
Now let’s say that you plan to photograph 75 mini sessions this year (which is a LOT!) If you were to purchase and pay all of these expenses during this calendar year, you’d need to deduct an additional $167.93 from each mini session.
I know most photographers do not acquire this much gear in one year, so this allocation could be greatly reduced (though you should always be saving for gear replacement and repair.) But we haven’t even discussed:
- education and training expenses
- travel costs
- hiring a branding strategist and designer
- marketing and advertising costs
Even without these unaddressed expenses, we now have $31.82 remaining from our $425 mini session.Your business has made a PROFIT of only $31.82 per session.
#ShootProofPRO TIP: How to Sell Prints and Products
The mini session example Kristy shares above is a digital package, but you may prefer to charge a booking fee, then sell digital images separately along with prints and other products. “Show print samples so your clients can see the difference between an image from Walmart versus a hand-retouched print crafted by your professional lab,” Kristy advises. “Clients have to be educated, and your selling process should provide that education.”
You CAN Become a Profitable Photographer
ShootProof: Numbers like these are probably overwhelming to a lot of photographers. Can you share anything, well, hopeful?
KRISTY: Being a profitable photographer is not easy. But you can do it!
Gear is expensive, time is limited, and training is not cheap. You see that my example photographer is going to have a hard time growing her business if she never adjusts her photography pricing, because there are no leftover funds for growth.
If the person above sounds like you, or if “marketing” sounds like a foreign term, invest in a couple of business books! If someone said to me, “I want to be a photographer when I grow up,” I would advise them to get their degree in business – not photography.
#ShootProofPRO TIP: Stay Focused
Photography is an art form, but your photography business is a business. Take responsibility for learning how to brand, market, and grow your business, as well as your artistic skills. If you plan to retire one day, you’ll be glad you took the time to build a healthy, sustainable business!
ShootProof: How do you know when it’s time to increase your photography pricing?
KRISTY: Over time, I honed my prices due to the simple reality of supply and demand. As demand went up, I increased my pricing.
Eventually, I reached the point where I wasn’t adjusting my prices by much. But I made sure I was running a profitable business by providing services and products that exceeded my clients’ expectations.
This process didn’t happen overnight. It happened over time: learning and growing as a photographer, acquiring gear, establishing my business workflows, and – most importantly – investing in my own brand and marketing.
Seriously: YOU CAN DO IT!
What photography pricing questions do YOU have? Leave them in the comments below!
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