This is the eternal question for people starting their career in photography. Someone asks for a quote and you have no idea what to say… don’t worry, we’ve got your back. Read on.
The short answer to this is – charge what you want to get paid as a photographer.
If you’re happy to shoot all day for $50, then do it. If you’re not prepared to get out of bed for less than $500 per hour, then charge that.
I can tell you now, there’s nothing worse than working your ass off as a professional photographer and knowing all along that you’re going to be unhappy with how much you’re being paid at the end of it.
Now we’ve got those basics out of the way, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of how to actually price a photography job.
We’ll start with the basics, then further down this article we explain the various payment models in photography, and at the bottom of the article we’ll give you a sample photography quote calculator. We’ll even give you an example of a Havelock Photography quote we’ve done for someone.
The best thing you can do to get started is decide on an hourly rate for yourself that you are happy to get paid.
I would suggest that this is actually the rate that you want to get paid for two hours, or potentially three.
To the clients, you want to be able to offer them an hourly on-site rate. It’s an easy figure to understand and they can easily work out a ball park for how much their event might cost them.
But if you say to the client that you charge $20 per hour, then they are going to expect three hours of your time to cost $60. In reality each hour on location is actually an hour of prep time, PLUS an hour on location, PLUS an hour of editing. Three hours work, at least.
So you need to factor all that extra time for yourself into that hourly rate.If you would be happy working for $20 per hour, then your hourly rate to the client should be $60 per hour, to allow for all the extra work around the hours spent on site.
You will also want to factor into that hourly rates some costs for your kit. Again, this is something that people expect to be included in the price, unless they’re asking for very specialist equipment.
Specialist equipment you can tag on as an additional cost. But no one expects a photographer’s camera to be additional, they expect that to be part of the original package.
Personally, I don’t much like fiddling around with the expenses. By expenses I mean travel, coffee, water etc. I don’t mean hiring specialist lights or lenses, or the cost of an assistant (these you charge for). I just mean the bits and bobs, the stuff that it would be kind of petty to put in to an invoice.
The way I get around this is by charging slightly more per hour for the first two hours. So, my rate card runs roughly like this – (in pounds because we’re based in the UK) £200 for the first hour, £150 for the second hour, £75 per hour thereafter.
I can then state clearly on any quote that this is a final cost, all in, expenses included, no hidden extras!
So, what should your hourly rate be?
After 10 years of doing this, I have settled on a fairly standard rate card. This doesn’t change much. But… it does change.
Although I would never ever tell this to the clients, I significantly price up jobs that I am not really interested in doing!
So, if a job sounds boring, or it’s far away, or I find myself at the quote stage thinking “I wouldn’t mind if this just went away”, then I crank the price right up. That way, if they go for the big quote, I’ll be very happy doing the job because I’m getting paid a fortune! If they don’t, then the job has gone away, just like I’d hoped!
Similarly, I have dropped the price on a few jobs, for exactly the opposite reasons. I will often quote low on a job that will look great in my portfolio.
Quoting low doesn’t equal business wins
This brings us on to a very important point. Low prices do not necessarily mean more business. Far from it in fact. Clients often won’t go for the low quotes, believing that somehow they won’t get the same quality because the price is too low.
On the flip side of that, high prices also do not guarantee business.
The correct price for a job that you want to do is the top end of what the client was hoping to spend. In a hypothetical situation, you would be able to get inside the client’s head, learn that they had a figure of, say, $500-$700 in mind, and pitch your work at $700. But how can you possibly know that figure? If you ask that client who has $500-$700 in their head, they will tell you that they have budgeted $300, and then any price above that they will reject. So how do you find out what they are hoping to hear?
My best advice to you when you’re deciding how to price a job, is to PROJECT!
Project yourself into the shoes of that client. How much are they hoping to spend? Have they budgeted for this job? How much will they realistically have set aside?
Putting yourself in their shoes
Clearly it is impossible to accurately guess exactly what the potential client may have allocated for photography work, but you can take various factors into account and make a good guess.
Take a look at their website. Have they used professional photographers before? Is their website populated with bespoke photography, or stock photography? How good is the design of their website? Does it look like they’ve spent significant money on making their Internet shop front look good? Can you therefore assume that they put value on the outward appearance of their brand, and will correspondingly allocate funds to photography?
What we are trying to ascertain is whether or not this client has an idea of how much good photography costs and if they’re willing to pay that.
Take a look at their products. What are they selling? And how many are they selling?
Let’s say the client is a café. Pop down, have a look around and make note, not just of what the lighting is like for your photographs, but also how many people are there. How many tables are full, how long are people staying, are there more people on their way in, does it look busy and thriving?
You don’t have to accurately calculate the café’s annual turnover, you just need to get a sense of what sort of ballpark figures there talking about if the café has eight tables, and are selling breakfasts for $2.99 each, and the not all that busy… You could have a guess that perhaps they will sell 30 to 40 breakfasts in the morning perhaps? Maybe 100 covers per day?
At $2.99 per meal it seems unlikely that they are looking at a profit of more than $1.50 per cover. Take away staff costs and overheads and there is probably in the region of 20c to 50c per cover going into the general business pot that might cover marketing.
Let’s say 30c per cover going into the marketing pot, 100 covers per day – $30 per day.
Now take a look at what other marketing this company needs to do menus, leaflets, flyers etc. etc.. All of a sudden they’re probably in the $200 to $300 photography job category, not in the $2,000 to $3,000 category.
You then ask yourself – do I want it? Is this going to boost my professional photography portfolio? Will I be proud of these photos? How far away is it? How difficult will it be? What are the potential risks to my reputation? Is it possible to screw this up?
You put together all of these complicated questions… And then… Wait for it… Then, after gathering all this information in adding up all the numbers…
You make it up!
Everyone makes it up. You should not feel self-conscious plucking numbers out of thin air!
Everyone makes up their prices to a certain extent. There is no such thing as a perfect formula, because there are so many rapidly changing factors. And there are factors that a monetary figure can’t be put on, such as the value of the resulting photography for your portfolio. There is also the potential for repeat business, how do you price that potential?
So, just make it up.
I mentioned this earlier, but in fact, this is really important. Especially when you’re just starting out.
The fact is, when you’re just starting out, you are desperate for business. You’re so desperate for business, and willing and desperate for the content of your portfolio, that between you and I, you’d probably do these jobs for free.
But you shouldn’t.
In fact, doing jobs for free is actually slightly better than doing jobs for super low-cost. But whether you plan to do a job for free, or for low-cost, it is essential that you add a caveat and an explanation of exactly why that is cost is so low.
And it is also essential when you write that explanation, that it doesn’t sound like you are asking the client to be grateful for the deal they’re getting.
A good example of this is my Havelock Video business. (At the time of writing this I still haven’t got the website up and running.)
Havelock Photography has been running since 2012, and I had always shunned the option of doing video work. If you’ve read some of my other posts you’ll know that my other career is in broadcast television, so I find the slightly low-rent commercial video world hard to get excited about. But I have recently had to embrace video production in my business.
The problem is that everybody these days wants video. About 50% of my photography clients were asking for video as well is stills. By saying no, I was turning down good money.
So I open the doors to video. Initially I added a video section to the photography website. But it quickly became clear that I needed a dedicated video site.
But… I didn’t have enough video work to make that dedicated video site look good.
The solution? Start offering huge discounts on video jobs for a limited time.
I put the word out to all our clients that we were offering 50% discounts on all promotional video work for the first six months of 2019. The response has been amazing.
But the most important thing that I did when communicating this 50% discount offer, was explain that it was for me… not for you. I said to all our clients exactly the story above. I told them that we are launching a new a video-only website, and needed to fill it with content, so for six months we’re offering huge discounts until that website is filled.
The response has been terrific. Our video production books have been full since February.
I am pricing jobs well below market rate, but still above our bottom line. We are making money on the jobs, just not much!
But that is a good example of a great reason to offer a discount.
The dangers of pricing cheap
If you price yourself cheaply, people will always ask why? Why is this guy so much cheaper than the competition? If they can’t find a good reason, then they will assume that you don’t know what you’re doing, that you are maybe a new starter, or very young, and they might not feel safe in your hands.
The same applies for the incredibly expensive quotes, where your price comes in way above everybody else’s. Your clients are going to go looking for a reason why you are so expensive, and if they can’t find it on your website, then they will just rule you out.
If you have an extraordinary, shiny, well-built website, then you might get away with big prices. You could have a quote 30% above the closest competitor, but if your client sees that number, goes looking for the reason why, finds your amazing website and decides that 30% extra is probably worth it… Then you’re not far from a big sale!
Other pricing models
There are several pricing models available for photographers, I’ll list them here and explain each one, including the pros and cons, below:
- One off fee
- One off fee plus extras
- Small up front and pay per print
- Pay per print only
- Deferred payment
- Profit share / back end / split
I’ll go through those individually…
- One-off fee – this is the standard set up, here’s the price, this is what you pay. We do you shoot, we deliver your photos
- One off fee plus extras – this is where a one-off fee only covers delivery of a certain number of images, let’s say 10. The client can then pay extra if they want more. Wedding photographers often do this – big up front, for which the client gets X, then optional extras at the end. I’m not a huge fan of this kind of thing. Feels like you’re just keeping the door open to continue emptying the client’s wallet.
- Small up front and pay per print – the family portrait photographer’s favorite. The client pays a small fee for the shoot itself, with maybe one or two token prints included, but the photographer makes their money on further sales after the client sees the images.
- Pay per print only – the sort of thing you will have seen at a marathon or sporting event. No up-front money for the photographer, all payment comes through sales to individuals after the event.
- Deferred payment – this is simply where an agree fee is withheld until a certain point. I have had clients ask for payment to me to be held back until they have sold a print themselves. Not a fan. Have never a signed a deal like this.
- Profit share / back end / split – this is where the photographer is commissioned to do work intended for sale, and in exchange for a lower up-front fee gets a cut of the profits. This is more common in the fine art photography world. Not really one for commercial or family etc.
- Retainer – the holy grail of commercial work. This one is where the client agrees to a monthly fee for a year or so, in exchange for discounted rates and regular work. The reason this is so sought after is it allows a photographer to plan… sporadic one-off jobs pay better, but you have no idea whether there is any work in the pipeline. A retainer is a guaranteed fee month on month. Albeit a lower fee than for one-off jobs.
Those are the usual set ups. I can’t think of any more right now, but I could well be missing some! Leave me a comment below if you have more I should add.
My favorite quote and billing set up by far is the one-off fee. I hate screwing people over, or people feeling like they’re being screwed over. It’s important to me that everything is transparent and easy and simple. I want my clients knowing what they’re getting into, and being happy with the end result.
So I always push for a big enough fee agreed in advance that I don’t then need to look into more charges further down the line.
I have been asked for other models in the past, and I once went for a pay per print opportunity at a kids event. That day I spent six hours there, handed out more than 200 cards with gallery and login details. I took all the images home, retouched more than 1,000 shots and posted them all to the paid gallery and automated sales section of my website.
I made about ten sales, with a grand total revenue of just over £100. Minus costs I walked away with about £60. For in excess of 14 hours work. About £4.20 per hour ($5.50).
Not a great result!
Small upfront and pay per print
As mentioned above, you’re most likely to encounter this one at the family portrait studio. You pay a small fee to have the photoshoot – maybe $50. Then you get to come in again to take a look through your images and the opportunity to purchase prints, canvases, wall art etc. at an extraordinary price!
I took my family along to one of these things as a learning exercise back when I was considering opening up a family portrait studio to run alongside the commercial business. I wanted to do it so that I could have a studio space shared by two businesses, the family and the commercial, thereby keeping it busy and earning money all day every day.
We paid £30 for the photoshoot, which quickly became £50 and then £70 as we paid a premium for a Saturday appointment and then a refundable deposit for something or other. We got two free, small, cheap, plastic prints included. To the purchase anything from the shoot started at £220 for a 6×6 art block! And the top package which included a couple of canvases as some other bits and bobs was £3,700 ($5,000)!! INSANE!
The family portrait model
But here’s the thing about the family portrait studio… I did the math back when I was considering it as a business venture. I added up all costs and overheads, rent etc. And I worked out that, assuming an average spend of $300 (seemed reasonable to me) I would need to be clearing 20 clients through the doors every week of the year.
That means making more than 1,000 sales per year!
To make 1,000 sales per year I would need to have a full time sales person. At least one. Maybe two. And guess what? When you hired two sales people the minimum number of clients just went up to 35 per week – 1,800 per year. You’re going to need another sales person. Oh wait.
Tough business. That’s why they’re selling packages for £3,700 ($5,000).
And by the way… if you’re thinking about becoming a family portrait photographer for a big studio – the pay is truly shocking. Over here in the UK you’re looking at a starting salary of about £25k ($33k), and unlikely ever to get above £30k ($40k). And they do require a degree in photography, and evidence of significant experience. (one exception to our “don’t get a degree” rule, but not totally convinced our argument is defeated).
Our quote formula
Here’s how we do quotes.
We’ll do this all in dollars, for ease and to avoid putting everything in two currencies.
Our standard hourly rate for a photographer is $100 per photoshoot hour.
We multiply the first hour by 2.5, the second by 2 and it’s the standard hourly rate thereafter.
So, a 5 hour job, with no other expenses, is $750 – (100 x 2.5) + (100 x 2) + (3 x 100)
Any chargeable expenses we quote at 1.5 times cost. So, if we hire a studio at a total cost of $100, we quote and bill the client $150. We mark everything up not only to make sure we make a profit, but also so we have a little wiggle room. Because whilst we may be super kosher and above board, that isn’t so for everyone. And we need to be able to accommodate any rising costs from other people.
The only thing we don’t mark up is assistants. We figure that’s a little unethical. They get paid what the client pays for them. We DO mark up models, because we have to find them, and quite often get lumped with their expenses on top of their fee.
Sample photography quote
Ok, we’ll give you a real-life example to work with.
This was a video brief, not a photography brief. The reason we’ve chosen this one is because it covers most of the bases with regards things you might charge for – lighting hire etc.
The brief was – a promotional video to be filmed in the client’s warehouse. They wanted a fairly complicated script shot in several takes. We estimated 6 hours shoot time. We needed to hire a model and quite a few lights to brighten up a very dull warehouse.
|Item||Cost||Cost to client|
|Photographer/cameraman||$850 (6 hours, see above)||$850|
|Assistant x 2||$360 ($30 p/h p/p)||$240|
|Model x 1||$400||$600|
|Lighting (12 x litepanels)||$780 ($65 p/d x12)||$1,150|
In-house equipment costs
Clearly we own our own cameras. We also own pretty much all of our own photography equipment as well, a growing collection of lenses, tripods, cards, batteries etc.
So how do you include this in the client quote? For us it’s factored in to the hourly rate.
I am a terrible accountant. So, the way I do things is probably not the best way. But I’m going to tell you about it anyway.
Essentially we have a kit slush fund. We have a separate account that we pay a fixed amount into every month, and that then covers all equipment purchases.
We allocate $700 per month for the equipment account. Each month $700 goes in. Sometimes we spend some, sometimes we don’t and that money rolls over.
We have some scheduled purchases, such as camera updates every 3-4 years or so. But otherwise this is just used as and when we need to purchase something.
The slush fund
For the first few years in business we were maxing this out every month. We were adding more and more equipment to the roster and loading up. But since about year three we haven’t needed to add much there. Every second or third month there will be a purchase of some photographic equipment to replace something that has become worn out or broken. But in general we have almost everything we need on a daily basis.
In the job example above – we just don’t need 12 litepanels every day. So we didn’t buy those, we hired. And we informed the client of that cost and passed it straight on to them.
$700 may seem a lot to be stashing into a slush fund. And initially it is! But if you’re doing 10 jobs per month, which you will hopefully hit pretty soon into your business, then you only need to find $70 per job. That’s $70 from the $850 hourly rate in the quote sample above.
If you’re hitting 20 jobs per month then you’re talking about $35 per job. You can find that, right?
I think that’s about everything covered on the subject of how much to charge.
Here are the key points to consider when deciding how much to charge for your photography:
- Charge what you want to charge
- Don’t under charge
- Don’t over charge
- Charge what your client can afford
- Put yourself in your client’s shoes
- Don’t forget your overheads
- Mark up your extras
We hope this has been helpful!
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