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Full Time – Make My Living – General Pricing Thoughts For Professional Photographers

CalculatorIt has been a while since I have written a blog post about pricing.

This blog post is not for staff photographers that earn an hourly wage or salary by working for a company or other photographer. This blog post is also not for the part-time, wannabe, weekend warriors that love tainting this industry with $99 DVD offers. This blog post is for those who want to make a living as a full time professional photographer working for themselves.

There are numerous things that go into setting your pricing as a full time professional photographer: what you want/need to earn, overhead, what the market will bear and much more. The lower your pricing is the more volume you will have to have to earn a living. On the other hand, you may think that if your pricing is too high that no one will ever hire you. That really depends on your work and what the market will bear.

Every industry has top producers that make way beyond the average income of the industry and others who leave the industry because they couldn't make a living doing it. Photography is no different.

One of the core mistakes new photographers make is profitable pricing. Even veteran photographers can struggle with or second guess their pricing especially with all the new photographers in the market. Even with pricing guidelines, things don't always just fall into place. It can take some testing of the market to see what clients will pay.

No matter how much volume a solopreneur photographer has, it is hard to make a full time living that actually pays all the core personal bills that almost everyone has plus both business and personal insurance and still having the ability to save money for new gear without going into debt, etc. Doing $99 burn it all to a DVD photography will likely not be a sustainable long term profitable revenue stream. So what's the answer? Well, I hope something below will help.

This is a good article to check out and no I didn't steal all my ideas below from it because I already follow a similar model.

When trying to figure out pricing, the segment of the industry will have to be factored in. For example, weddings vs. families vs. commercial vs. home real estate will likely not be able to follow the exact same pricing model because they are all different market segments with different expectations from the various clients in each segment.

If you want to photograph homes in Raleigh, North Carolina and you want to charge $500 per average size home, you will be hard pressed to get that rate unless something you do truly sets you well above others in the market most of which are likely charging $150 or less for the average size home. Can you get more than $150 per average size home? Probably. Can you get $500? That's a tough one. If the market will not bear your pricing, you'll have to decide if you are in the right segment or if volume will get you there.

For me, I do like letting clients know an average per image price. The article that I mentioned earlier talks a lot about per image pricing. Although I agree with a lot of what the author is saying, I have my own twist to it. For example, rather than simply say "It's $100 per image for 10 images and that's $1,000." I like to add more value to it by saying "The price is $1,000 for 3 hours on site with a photographer and an assistant, including travel, setup, breakdown, basic editing which adds 3 to 5 hours of post work and that all works out to just $100 per image with lifetime usage rights."

In the paragraph above, there are numerous ways that a client could look at the $1,000 price point. Some of them may come across as objections. For example, $1,000 is $333 an hour based on 3 hours on site. Well, it's not really because it's a photographer and an assistant which is 6 man hours plus travel, setup and breakdown plus post work. If it's 10 hours of time, that's $100 an hour. That's not a crazy fee plus it will quickly puts it into perspective for you as the photographer when you think through it all. You cannot be drastically below that and actually make a full time sustainable living unless you have enough volume to make it work because 1 or 2 gigs a week like this may not be enough for a sustainable long term income.

The article that I mentioned states that full time professionals should charge $75 to $250 an hour. That model does work for events but will not work for every project. At $75 an hour, the actual shooting time like an event that is 3 hours long (for example) that you charge $225 for, but you still have to drive to the event and do basic post work which means your actual time may be 6 to 8 hours. When you divide $225 by 6 to 8 hours, you end up at $28 to $37 an hour. That may sound like good money, but it's not unless you have enough hours per week every week. You cannot make a living off of 20 hours per week at $28 an hour which is why finding a different rate may be a necessity to staying in business.

My personal rate for corporate events is $200 to $250 an hour which I don't usually have trouble getting. Yes, there are some professionals that charge $100 to $150 an hour, but I'm not willing to shoot an event for $100 to $150 an hour for multiple reasons including making a profit to pay overhead, buying near gear, paying personal bills and corporate events are often the most physically demanding work that I do. It's not greed. It's good business sense. Don't forget what the $75 an hour example is more like $28 to $37 an hour before all the expenses kick in.

The average annual salary in the US for a photographer is just under 40K per year. If I use 40K as the base, that is $769 per week based on 52 weeks a year ( with no time off ). To actually make $769 per week, you'll have to have a pricing model in place that will yield that after after all expenses are factored in plus you HAVE to leave room for future gear investments. The gross number will be different for each photographer based on overhead, expenses, etc. You'll have to crunch some numbers and set some goals. Whatever you do, stay away from a $99 per DVD model because the math is not 8 x $99 per DVD to actually earn $769 per week.

Even if you are a part time, wannabee, weekend warrior photographer, do yourself and the industry a favor and price like a true professional not a low priced, be the cheapest in your market ______ (at a loss for words).

Use the article that I mentioned, along with what I'm saying to help you determine a profitable pricing model. Don't sell yourself short by being the low price leader in your market.

There is still room in the photography industry for full time professionals. Confidence in your work, quality of your work, working hard and the ability to sell your services all play into your potential success as a full time professional photographer.

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David Williams

Short Bio About The Author: I'm David Williams a professional commercial photographer focusing on corporate and business clients with some personal branding, lifestyle photography in the mix. My love for photography began in late 1981 while still in High School. I started making money with his camera in 1982. Brenda, my wife, and I started working together in photography in 1988 shortly after we met. Brenda and I married in 1989 and have two adult daughters. Please be sure to get a quote for services if needed. Call or Text: 919.723.8453. Please reach out to connect with me on LinkedIn.