How to price your photography // Session fees that make sense

how to price your photography

We have all been there. In fact, some of us are still there. Trying to figure out what to charge for our services is a never-ending battle of confidence and market forces. What will the market bear? What am I worth? What are my competitors charging? All great questions, but all of them ultimately meaningless. We must control our own destiny.

I have a different philosophy on pricing. I don’t care what my competitors are charging. Nor should you! Photography is a very subjective product/service. What it’s worth is subjective to the value your clients place on it. To a client that doesn’t see photography as a must-have item, well that client will want to pay as little as possible. To them, you are just a person with a camera. They would take the picture themself, but want to be in it. Your service is a commodity service, one which they can get at any of the numerous national studio chains. You know, the ones with a 17yr old working the camera on the pull down back drops?

Guess what? NOT YOUR CLIENT! Read that again, say it out loud. NOT MY CLIENT! We cannot force people to see the value in our product/service. By the same token, we should not be trying to appeal to them. Instead, I make the argument, we should focus on the clients that see the value in what we offer. In addition, we need to understand that we are a limited resource. There is only one of us. There are only so many clients we can handle at one time. That being said, we need to price ourselves accordingly.

Its business economics 101. Don’t resist. Don’t tell me I am crazy. Don’t tell me this wont work in your market. It will work anywhere in the world! Unless your market has somehow escaped the rules of supply and demand in play since the beginning of time, this will work and should be at the core of your pricing strategy.

The big challenge for you is to determine if you want to be low priced, high volume or high priced, low volume. I will not debate the two, this is a choice for you based on resources, namely time and shooters. Personally, I see my services as more art based. My clients care about fine art. Want the best in photography and want a level of service not provided elsewhere. With that being said, we can’t service everyone and we are priced accordingly.

I know what you are thinking right now, Sal just tell me what to charge! The thing is, I can’t. You have to define your value and offering and most importantly, believe in your value.

Let me give you some food for thought.

  1. How many shoots do you want to do a year? Families, babies, seniors, or whatever your niche is. The more you want to shoot, the lower your fee. However, more shoots will turn your studio into a commodity product, lessening the perceived value. The less you want to shoot, the higher your fee should be, thus, creating scarcity and a more valuable brand.
  2. How long will your sessions last? Include travel time.
  3. Value your time. Your time is not just the shoot. Consider travel time, meeting time, phone time, post production time, ordering time, and everything that goes into creating, preparing, and delivering your images.
  4. What’s included in your session fee? My opinion, it should just include the session – hence “session fee”
  5. Create a sense of urgency. Run a special that discounts your session fees, but  by a limited amount and for a limited time. For example, from time to time, we run a sale on our session fees, but its once a year and for a very limited time.

Once you take these things into consideration, I feel confident you will come to the right answer. Most importantly, you should come to the conclusion that you cannot charge $50 for a session fee and include the digital files. You will be making about $2/hr. I guess if you are cool making third-world wages for your time and talent go for it. But if you want to actually make a living, retire some day, have a studio, buy new equipment, etc, then you need to get your pricing right.

Hope this gets you thinking and on the path to success.


This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Rose

    Like always GREAT info… While your blueprint has worked so much in my family photography, I hadn’t done too much work in trying to get weddings. The other night, for the first time I found MY CLIENT (bride). I got the “Well I could get rid of this, and I could do with out that… yes I can make it work!” I BOOKED A WEDDING!!! And for a price that makes me happy!!! Thank you to both you and Taylor for all the info you have given!!! Man it feels good to find your client!

  2. George

    It takes more than just “raising your prices”. You have to have the market, reputation, ability and networking
    skills to pull in those clients. Merely raising prices thinking that the higher class client will be pounding on
    your door is foolish.
    If you are part timer who doesn’t depend on your photography income to survive on then you can charge
    whatever you want and hold out for those prices. . But if you depend solely on your photography for your income
    and you are overcharging what your skills and talent can justify, then you better get ready to eat beans for the rest
    of your life.

    WE can’t arbitrarily decide what to charge. It takes so much more than that. It’s foolish to think otherwise.

    I’ve known many fellow photographers who went that route, overcharging for their talent and skill. They are now
    out of business.

    1. admin

      hey george – thanks for your feedback. not sure i understand your point, however. i dont think the article was suggesting just to raise prices for the sake of raising them – that would be disastrous. actually, i know that was not the point. or were you echoing the point of the article.

      the article was offering up some things to consider in order to come to the correct price point for you and your studio. let me know. sal

  3. Jan Gratz

    A never ending thanks Sal! Just putting my wedding package and pricing together today and thinking over what my goal is for 2013. It’s like comparing a Ford Focus and a Cadillac…which one do you want to be to your client? The Cadillac because it signifies excellence and class!!

  4. Tracy

    We just had this conversation over breakfast about both photography and restaurants. A friend of ours who was an executive chef in SF moved to a small university town in Illinois with her husband and opened a restaurant. Everything is made fresh and she gets local produce but after the opening grace period a certain amount of her clientele don’t get it, they just want the heaping plate for $7 so they go to Bob Evans down the street and I told her that was fine, they weren’t her client and never really would be. It is the same as some people not being able to tell the difference between a good photograph and a great photograph, frozen food from fresh food.

    I am not sure what her solution is, but I know for myself I like to surreptitiously educate my client and then value the services I offer enough to charge accordingly. I have had clients I thought I would never speak to again because they were price shopping, but because I took time to educate them and I was up front with the costs and the services I provided, came back to me in the end.

    I owe so much of my current confidence to Sal and Taylor Cincotta as well as CreativeLIVE. Without them I would still be muddling through so many aspects of my business.

  5. Brent Chapman

    I just raised my prices after watching your creative live. I’m also upping my products and customer experience.

  6. James Lout

    Great article, I struggle all the time with this. This gives me a lot to think about. Thanks.

  7. dee

    It took me YEARS to realize they are not my client. I wanted every client. Once I finally let the “picture people” client go I was so much happier. I had to learn it through my own experience because I wanted to please everyone. Now I have no more anxiety about people complaining my prices are too high. No one asks me how much I charge per sheet I educate the client upfront and let the people who want a cheap canned shoot go to the canned shoot people. ahhhhh.

  8. Scott Mahrer

    Once again, great food for thought Sal!

  9. Daisy Helber

    Always a good reminder as we set off into a new year. Thanks Sal!

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