Anyone who’s launched a creative business knows this secret: it takes a lot to get things off the ground. Bringing a dream to life takes serious work! If you’ve started a photography business, you know what I’m talking about. You’ve carefully charted your course with a business blueprint, jumped through all the hoops to get yourself squared away legally, figured out banking and invoicing, and snagged some essential pieces of equipment. Now… you’re ready to make some money (aka price for PROFIT).
As a photographer, finding a pricing system that actually brings home some profit can feel like an impossible math equation. Maybe you feel confused about what you should charge, thinking, “If I’m just starting out, how much should a session cost?” Or maybe you’ve been at this for a while, and you know your talent is better than your bank account can prove… but you don’t know where to tweak things to see the returns you need.
I’ve been there. Making a living as a photographer is an art and a science. Today, I’m here to walk you through pricing your photography services for profit so that you can finally start seeing the dollars flow in!
3 Pricing Mistakes to Avoid as a Photographer
Before you can start pricing your photography business well, you might need to stop some of these common mistakes — they can be a killer for your profit margin and your creative energy.
Lowball your prices to get clients in the door.
Starting a business (and maintaining a steady one!) is scary. But here’s the sneaky secret: we tell people how we value ourselves through our pricing — and that determines how they see us, too. When you set your prices super low, especially compared to other photographers in your area and at your skill level, you’re waving a flag to clients that you’re cheap. While that might seem like a good thing on the surface, cheap prices sometimes equal cheap quality. Instead, price your services at a reasonable rate for your location and experience and trust that quality clients will show up.
Overbook yourself to make enough.
This mistake is so common — and thankfully, so easy to fix. New photographers often set their prices low, determine how much they want to make each month… and then book waaaay too many sessions to reach that number. Here’s the problem: when you’re overbooked, you’ll be pressed for time in your edits, which can lead to delivering galleries that aren’t your best work. It’s also easy to burn all your creative energy through too many sessions, which leaves you zero brain space to learn and grow. Plus, if you’re working 24/7, your personal life will suffer. Don’t overbook. (Keep reading to find a better way to meet your benchmarks!)
Price without a strategy.
Look, I’m all about raising your rates — but do so strategically. If you’re constantly changing your packages or prices, clients will be confused (and therefore less likely to book). The way we navigate pricing as photographers is a reflection of our confidence in our business and ourselves! As you set or raise rates, learn how to implement systems and strategies that work. This keeps you from running a charity (unless that’s what you WANT to do!) and instead helps you make a profit while keeping your dream clients on the books.
How to Price for Profit
Now that you know what not to do, it’s time to dig into a pricing strategy that actually works. Here’s how to start seeing a profit in your photography business, step by step:
Determine your goals.
What is your financial goal? It’s important to actually name it so that you can reach it. When I was starting out as a family photographer, I knew I needed to make a certain dollar amount for my passion to become my full-time career. To get there, I started with the dollar amount I needed to make in a year. Then, I worked backwards to figure out how much to charge. Once you identify your goal, the next step will help you figure out your pricing specifics.
Audit your time.
Most of us don’t realize how much time we actually spend on each client! Of course, there’s the session — but have you factored in your creative prep, location scouting, client communication, and editing hours?
Determine how much time you spend on each client to get an accurate picture of your investment. For example, you may spend an average of 5 hours total on a “1 hour session” client.
List your fixed costs.
From editing software to social media tools to photography equipment, it’s important to know exactly how much you’re spending. Make a list of your fixed expenses — you’ll factor this into your monthly budget in just a moment.
Do some quick math.
Time to reach for your calculator or your spreadsheet! Let’s say you want to make $18,000 next year as a photographer. Here’s what you’ll need to calculate:
- Your monthly income: $1500 (your desired annual income divided by 12)
- Your monthly expenses: $200 (Lightroom, equipment upgrades, etc)
- Your monthly taxes (I like to set aside 20%, so about $300)
- Your monthly availability: 30 hours
- Your time spent per client: 5 hours
If you have 30 hours and each client takes 5 hours, you know you can book 6 clients per month. If you want to take home $1500 per month, you’ll need to make $2000 to cover your expenses and taxes. 2000 divided by 6 is $333 per session, or about $65/hour (although you’ll probably want to price a session at $325 or $350 for simplicity’s sake). Obviously, this example may not be anywhere near your actual desired numbers — but plug your figures into this equation and you’ll be off to a good start.
Streamline your workflow and cut costs.
If that equation renders something unworkable, or you just want to boost your own bottom line, take a look at your current time and money investments to see where you can trim. Speed up your workflow by improving your editing speed (hello, trusty templates!), automating or pre-writing form emails, and creating a session flow to keep things clicking along. Next, consider paying annually for your subscriptions (you’ll almost always get a discount) and consolidating your tools. I love Cloudspot Studio — it’s a one-stop shop for client communication, gallery delivery, contract sending/signing, and so much more.
It’s Time to Price like a Pro
And that’s it — your simple guide to actually making money as a photographer. If you want to dig even deeper, I wrote an in-depth course that will help you dive into the deep end and solidify your pricing system for good. Find it in my shop for just $60! Whether you grab the guide or just follow the steps in this blog, I believe you’ll be well on your way to a profitable photography business soon.
This blog post is part of a series for BRAND NEW photographers! If you want to start your business off RIGHT, this guide will help!
- How to Create Your Photography Business Blueprint (aka Business Plan)
- How to Legalize Your Photography Business
- How to Manage Your Finances as a Photographer
- Must-Have Equipment for Starting a Photography Business
- How to Price for Profit as a Photographer
- Why You Should Start Marketing Your Photography Business