What Should I Charge? Photography Pricing 101

Many photographers have mulled over the age-old question, "What should I charge for my work?" This question is tricky and can cause anxiety because at the heart of this fundamental query is the fact that "what should I charge?" is really tackling two questions in one. 

Let's take a closer look. The underlying issues are: 1) how do you price your work to be sustainable, and 2) what are your potential clients willing to pay for it? One question is about your business' cost/profit ratios, and the other is about the value you offer to others. 

If you try to answer the second without answering first, you'll most likely base it on these common pricing myths:

  • What other area photographers charge. Don't fall into the trap of basing your prices on what the other guy is charging. Why? Because you have no idea what his actual costs are, which means you don't know if he's making money or losing it.  It's also quite possible he doesn't know either especially if his prices are based on a different  photographer. Vicious cycle!
  • The level of your work. If you base your prices on the level of your work, it gets sticky real quick.  Who decides when you're good enough? Your clients? Other photographers? Most likely it's based on how you perceive your work… or worse, how you perceive what other people must think about your work. That's a self-inflicted headache.  If you're always growing as an image marker, the truth is you probably never feel as though you've "arrived" because there's always room to grow.
  • What you would pay. Asking yourself, "what would I pay for my own work?" is a tempting but damaging trap because it preys on the natural bent of dissatisfaction in one's own work. The creative and artistic community is rife with self-abuse gone amok, the roots of which are intertwined within our hidden thought patterns and how we feel about ourselves as human beings. Do what you can to be kind to yourself.

Now that we’ve identified – and jettisoned – these common pricing myths, let’s move on to what really works. 

Pricing for Sustainability
The first step includes an in-depth and brutally honest look at what it costs you to produce a final product for your client.  The primary factor of a healthy business is that it makes more money than it spends.

Under PPA’s Benchmark research, the average photographer's salary is 20% of his or her gross income.  In very simplistic terms, this means if you charge the client $100 an hour, you only make $20.

That other $80 enables your business to sustainably function by covering the raising costs of products, albums, computer upgrades, equipment, maintenance, education, healthcare, etc. If you don't have these costs built in, guess where they come from? That's right; they come out of your 20% slice.

Once you honestly and thoroughly crunch the numbers, you'll know without a doubt where you need to set your prices.  You'll have a bare minimum you'll need to charge for your business to survive without stealing from other areas of your life.

It can be an overwhelming process to go down this road, and so we understand why most people never start. But it's like someone saying they may be worried about being seriously sick, so they don't want to go into the doctor. The truth might confirm your worries, but it can also offer you an opportunity for a real and exciting solution. You can get the help you need.

Utilize PPA’s Benchmark Survey and Square One tool to get started!

Pricing for Clients
The second question concerned pricing for what your potential clients are willing to pay, and this is a completely different area, since it’s based on the value that your work brings to clients. To answer this question, let’s hear what two amazing PhotoVision instructors have to say, Sue Bryce and Beth Forester:

PPA has myriad resources to help you price for success. We’ve got your back as you create a photography business that is profitable and brings you happiness. If you’re not already a member of PPA, join today! If you are a member, log in and begin using these comprehensive resources, including the vast Online Learning Center, to help you Be More!

Written by guest blogger, Kameron Bayne of Fotoseeds