How much should photographers charge? I feel like that statement is as triggering as my toddler asking me about death or where babies come from. But unlike the age-appropriate answers we give our kids on hard topics, it’s important to do some adulting on the topic of money.
The money journey as an artist can be a tricky one. You might be oscillating between feeling guilty about charging for your work and being pissed that your clients don’t value you more. Maybe you just feel lucky to get to do what you love or perhaps you’re tired of being overworked and underpaid in this career that was supposed to make you happy.
No matter where you are in your photography career, let’s see if we can tackle this money question without hiding in the corner. There are a few questions that you need to ask yourself when determining your pricing structure, so let’s start there.
How Much Should Photographers Charge
Below are three steps to help you determine how much you should charge. The main thing to be aware of is following all the way through to step 3.
- Charge what you’re worth: How much experience do you have?
- Charge competitive prices: What is the industry standard for your type of photography?
- Charge what you need to be sustainable: How much do you need to make to support yourself? No really, calculate an actual number.
How a Photographer’s Experience Level Impacts What They Charge
If you are completely new to photography and are just shooting photos for fun, there might come a time when you start to wonder if you can make money with this thing you love. There’s a turning point when you start to charge for your work and then there’s another turning point when you start to charge market value for your work. Then there’s another turning point when you get frustrated with those hobbyists that are bringing down market value because you’re trying to make a living.
If you’re a full-time professional photographer or if you want to be, you have to be experienced enough that you can make a living so we’ll be talking about that later for sure. But if you’re inexperienced that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t charge. Charging for your work helps you take yourself seriously, it helps your clients take you seriously, and it helps the industry as a whole.
My advice is to look at the market rate in your area based on something simple like a google search where you’ll quickly discover a wide range of pricing that’s somewhat based on the experience of the photographers. The top photographers in an area are probably at the higher end and have branded themselves as luxury photographers, then there will be an average, and then there will be some less experienced photographers charging less and possibly focusing on quantity over quality. You can compare your work to what’s out there and get a starting point by aligning yourself accordingly.
Analyze the Market to Help You Decide What to Charge as a Photographer
As you dive into the world of the business of photography, you’ll discover that industry standards and market values can vary based on the type of photography you do, the industry you do it in, and your geographic location. As we talked about in the previous section, it will vary even more depending on your experience level, business model, and branding.
The hope is that the industry standards result in a living wage for photographers but unlike some other careers it’s unfortunately a little more complicated. In the next section, we’ll talk about how much you need to live and structuring your pricing based on that. However, you’ll end up needing to circle back to market value to ensure the market will sustain your pricing.
Some photography rates are priced hourly while others are priced by the project. Photographers might offer a la carte pricing or packages. It can be dizzying to try to wade through the countless ways to price things.
Somewhat unhelpful ballpark figures for pricing:
- Wedding Photography: Often priced in packages and some packages are all-inclusive with files and albums while others have a lower entry point and try to upsell after the face. Packages range wildly geographically and otherwise and can be anywhere from $2,000-$10,000.
- Portrait photography: Some photographers charge a small session fee of $100-$400 and then sell products after the fact while other photographers include products or digital files and charge more like $1,000-$2,000.
- Event Photography: Often priced hourly but some photographers might have a minimum number of hours and rates can be anywhere from $100-$500 per hour.
- Real Estate PhotographySome companies do bulk work utilizing subcontractors charging in the $100 range while luxury photographers might charge closer to $1,000.
- Commercial PhotographyDay rates or creative fees for a project might range between $100-$5,000 or even higher for brand name photographers and then there might be additional licensing fees above that scalable based on the industry, image usage, or size of the project.
The reason these ranges are so unhelpful is because it’s a huge range. A wedding photographer that shoots weddings at $2,000 that needs to make $100,000 would need to shoot 50 weddings per year. Meanwhile, a photographer that charges $5,000 would need to shoot 20 but those 20 might be more high pressure and they might have to deliver more.
Since the above numbers are somewhat broad, I highly recommend diving deeper into these numbers in order to get a better idea of what applies to your specific circumstances for your specialty, in the industry you work in, for your geographical area, and at your level of experience and skill.
How Much Do You Need to Support Yourself?
Which brings us to the question: how much do you need to support yourself? If you’re going to be self-employed one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give you is to make a personal budget. Sure, I’m going to tell you to calculate your business expenses too, but sometimes we want to do what we love and we forget what we have responsibilities and bills to pay too.
So figure out your personal budget to cover your rent or mortgage, food, transportation, and any other aspects of your lifestyle. Then add on for things like retirement savings and taxes. Then calculate your cost of doing business remembering to include things like health insurance, equipment, internet, marketing, and so forth.
My guess is that when you add up all of those numbers you’ll be surprised at how expensive life actually is. Then maybe you’ll feel less guilty about charging for your work because you deserve to be able to fix your car and save for retirement just as much as your clients do.
In summary: Price Competitively and Sustainably
Essentially my goal for you would be that you price yourself competitively and sustainably. Don’t undervalue yourself but rather make sure that you price your work competitively with similarly experienced photographers. And price yourself sustainably so that you can continue to do what you love.
- Analyze your experience level.
- Analyze standard pricing in your specialty, industry, and geographical location.
- And then make sure you can run your business, pay your taxes, and support yourself.
Somehow many of us have learned to undervalue creative pursuits. You can see it in the wild ranges of pricing both in what photographers charge and what clients are willing to pay. While there’s bound to be a range in how photography is valued in the marketplace, it’s important to follow through all the way to step 3 when deciding how much to charge.
About the authorBrenda Bergen: Brenda Bergen is a Colorado wedding photographer, videographer, yoga teacher, and writer who works alongside her husband at Bergen Photography. With their mission and mantra “love. adventurously.” they are dedicated to telling adventurous stories in beautiful places.