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Photography Marketing: Justifying your rates

A few weeks ago, I saw in a Facebook post that someone had complained about the cost of photographers. After all, for a person who makes an hourly rate of $15, why should they pay a photographer $200 an hour, or $3000 for a wedding to “just click a button?”

We all know what goes into photography, but most of the general public doesn’t. Sure, there’s the time that’s involved on-location or in-studio that you spend with your client. But there’s also the time that the client doesn’t see. Post-processing, traveling, communication, preparing for the photoshoot, purchasing gear, insurance, cleaning gear…the list goes on. So how do we communicate this to our clients who might criticize our rates?

Tell what your rate includes

When I started with photography, I had a different line item for everything. Mainly on-site photography time and post-processing time were the biggies. While this made sense, it was confusing to the client — why does it take me two hours to edit something, when they think it should only take an hour? Can they do the editing themselves?

After a few of these inquiries, I included post-processing into my photography rate. Unless you have a client who wants everything itemized out, I strongly recommend you do this. I only have one client I line-item things out for, which is based on their request (due to being an agency that splits fees between different departments).

Along these same lines, it’s not necessary to bill separately for communication, photoshoot preparation and other smaller items. I don’t even include travel unless it’s over 25 miles away from my home. Instead, put these items into your base hourly cost for photography.

Be prepared to explain

You’ll undoubtedly come across a potential client that balks at your rates. Know that first and foremost, this might not be the client for you. But if you do want to pursue them, you have to gently try to explain your position.

Explain the costs that go into your fees. Tell them the amount of prep work you do before a photoshoot, the gear costs (including the cleaning, the repairing, the replacements). Make sure they know that you pay for insurance in case something goes haywire at their location. Something like:

“I certainly understand your concern. But as a small business owner, there’s a lot to photography beyond just the time I spend on-site with you! There’s a lot of hidden costs that I have to pay regularly — everything from photography gear to insurance, editing and travel.”

As long as you’re friendly about it, the potential client should be receptive. And if they’re not, that’s when you know it’s not a good fit.

“But we’re a non-profit…”

Without naming companies, I was contacted earlier this year to photograph a half-day event for a non-profit. For a regular client, I’d charge them $750 for this. But before we even talked about a quote or I mentioned my pricing, the company told me they wanted me to photograph the event for free. They offered me either a letter I could use for a tax write-off, or grocery store gift cards.

No, you can’t pay me in produce. That doesn’t pay the bills — sorry!

In all seriousness though, non-profits have money. I work with quite a few with them, and guess what — they pay me! When a company immediately says they want me to photograph for free, I almost always say no, unless it’s a cause I truly, seriously believe in, or it’s a really great opportunity that could lead to some paying work in the future. Sometimes non-profits have budgets, and that’s fine, but being asked to photograph for free is an immediate red flag.

And one more thing — while a tax write-off sounds great, unless you write off a bunch of other shoots, that letter won’t do anything for you. You need to donate a few thousand before it’ll make a difference. And usually a letter isn’t enough to prove a donation — you need an invoice showing you truly donated.

Ultimately, a client who is truly interested in hiring you will pay your fee, or work with you to pay as much as they can. For those that complain about rates, there are plenty of other fish… er, photographers in the sea, so to speak, that might fit their situation better.

For more on Photography Marketing, see my weekly column.

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