Charging For Your Work

In my last blog, I did a very simplistic calculation to demonstrate that giving away a “free” print of your photo still has costs, even when you don't factor in your time.  Again, I'm not saying you should never give away any prints; I am saying you should understand what they cost.  If you apply no value to your photographs, why should anyone else? Let's wander a little further down the road.  You are working at your job, and you like to eat and live in a house.  You aren't ready to chuck it all and rely on your photographs to support your lifestyle.  But you want to make a little money, on the side, to pay for new gear.  How do you know what to charge?

St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome, Italy

One of the easiest ways to set your price is to look at what others are charging.  You can find out the information by looking at their prices on their websites, in galleries, or simply asking them.  This approach will keep you from unintentionally under-pricing your work.  You don't want to come across as the low-rate photographer because that will ensure you receive lots of low-rate offers.  You can look at the quality of work that is selling and make a comparison with your work.  You can be objective about the quality of your work, right?  Sounds simple.

Model at Photoshop World, Orlando, Florida, USA

Well, major disadvantages to this approach is the challenge to match your customers' expectations and understanding price realism.  The range of prices out there is very broad.  An easy place to see the range is the cost of wedding photography.  I've met wedding photographers charging $500 and photographers who start at $25,000 - that's a big range!  My expectations would be very different from the two ends of this spectrum.

You shouldn't use another photographer's price list as your sole basis unless you understand how he arrived at his prices.  He may be pricing in his studio (do you have one?); 30 years experience as a wedding photographer (does your experience compare?); and include services in his contract that you never even considered.

You should be able to explain to your accountant exactly what factors you use to arrive at your prices.  Price comparisons have a place in that judgement, but they are only part of the equation.  I have a spreadsheet that allows me to make changes as different specific factors change.  This allows me to change my printing factor when my lab raises print rates, separate from what I charge for my labor, and separate from shipping charges, and separate from all my other factors.  All the factors add up to the rates I charge.  This allows me to consistently price my work and make specific adjustments as needed.  I don't second guess myself when someone wants to pay less.  I don't get annoyed or insulted.  I simply reply, "No sale."  Because I took the time to work out and research my costs, I feel comfortable with my prices.  You may use a different system, but any consistent method beats guessing.

Lighthouses, Fort Story, Virginia Beach, VA, USA

In the end, you have to decide what your price will be when you decide to sell an image or provide some photographic services.  Each step along the this continuum from free to fully-paid, professional photography services gets more complicated.  One size does not fit all.

Since this blog isn't about being a full-time, professional photographer, I'll stop here, at making a little money to support your habit.  There are many books and articles about the business of photography.  I've read dozens over the years, and many of them contradict each other.  If you want to support yourself in this business, you should take the time to work out your plan; hire a good accountant and lawyer; and research the opportunities and hazards of such a move.   And, just in case I wasn't clear, you should do all this long before you hang out a shingle as a professional photographer.  Most professional photographers don't fail because they lack talent; they fail because they are unprepared to run a profitable business.

Portrait of a ittle girl, playing in an amusement park