One of the most common questions of new photographers is how to price their work and skillset. It’s something I struggled setting early on, and until recently, it was something that made me anxious whenever talking with new clients.
After all, even though photography work is coming back, the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that were associated with it are still certainly in the back of all of our minds. It’s hard for us to say no, even though a photo gig might not value us completely.
Here’s a piece about my photography pricing journey, and how I ended up where I did.
The early days: Undercutting to get clients
I was a new photographer. Untested. Inexperienced. So, I chose a price to match that. I set my pricing at $90 an hour, and would line-item out everything on an invoice. This meant that clients saw how much I would spend on shooting their event, editing their photos, traveling and any other fees.
There was a problem with this model. First, $75 an hour was wayyyyyyy too cheap. I was undervaluing my skills and was allowing clients to take advantage of me. I was also accepting jobs “for exposure,” meaning I wasn’t earning a dime.
Not once did a “for exposure” job actually lead to a paid job. Ever. It got me some portfolio images — which are valuable in their own right — but that’s it.
The other problem is that occasionally, I’d get questions about how long it took me to edit photos, why clients were being charged for editing, etc.
Tweaking how I worded my pricing
Based on the questions I was getting, I decided to stop itemizing every invoice. I worked my editing into my overall rate. The only extra fees clients saw were 1) travel, 2) photo assistants and 3) any purchases made for them.
I sent an email to my clients about this and told them that while they’ll see a higher rate for the photoshoot, the total amount shouldn’t change at all. Essentially, I went from charging $75 an hour to charging $150 an hour.
I didn’t receive a single question about this. In some cases, a few long-term clients actually applauded me for it. It made more sense for me, and it was easier because I’d no longer have to track my time editing. When you do this, just be aware of the average time you spent editing a photoshoot, and you’ll come out ahead.
Realizing my value, but still being flexible
As I was getting more and more work, I realized that it was time to increase my rates. I did this over the course of a few years, making small adjustments as necessary. I ended up where I am today, charging $210 for an hour of event coverage.
But there was one problem. I was still flexible when it came to meeting a client’s budget.
This is OK for the most part, but cutting your pricing by a third or even half — especially for a new client? That’s not worth it unless you value the relationship more than you do the end result of making an income.
Realizing my value, and sticking to it
Finally, we reach where I am today. I recently bid on a job that I really wanted to do — a full-day gig shooting an outdoor event in June. I gave my standard pricing, which was $1400 for the day.
I ended up not getting the job. Not because they didn’t love my work, but because they found someone more affordable who was also throwing in drone photos and video.
It bothered me for about a day. But then I realized that it wasn’t my fault for not getting that job. I shouldn’t be mad at them for choosing someone else. In this case, they valued budget over quality. I moved on.
Two days later, I received a request for a multiday headshot session for a large organization. And ya know what? They didn’t bat an eye with my quote.
By realizing your value and sticking to it, you’ll achieve two things. First, you won’t have to deal with constantly adjusting your pricing to fit inside someone’s budget. You’ll be able to set expectations financially, too. If you’re doing this for more than half of your clients, you might be too expensive. But if it’s only happening once in a blue moon, that usually means your pricing is spot-on.
And two, you’ll get clients who actually want to work with you, instead of those who are just looking for a deal. The great thing there is, that once you have the respect of your clients, you’ll continue to work with them. And they’ll never bat an eye should you have to raise your prices again, because they know you do great work … and that you’re worth it.