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

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.

~Sal

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

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