I’ve written many other posts explaining how much work and focus it takes to build a full-time photography business. The market is increasingly competitive, there’s easy access to education online and beautiful cameras are becoming lower and lower in price. All of these are wonderful things! The barrier to entry should be low, it makes us all better as photographers and I truly believe there’s always room for one more. It pushes us to work harder.
However, it can be daunting to figure out how to make your photography business successful! Maybe you’re not charging what you’d like to charging and you’re working too many hours for too little return. I hope my photography story will motivate and encourage you in your pricing journey!
When I started my photography business, I was only doing family sessions. I had been using a few of my friends as models, getting familiar with my camera, my exposure and settings. Soon, I started visiting moms I knew and asking if I could follow their cute kids around the house with a camera. Everyone I photographed was willing to have their images displayed on my Facebook page, website and blog. (This was before Twitter and Instagram. Weird, right?) I launched a template website a few months later and listed family session rates on my website: $275, one hour session, including a CD of edited images. (CDs! So novel!)
setting your initial prices
Why $275? I honestly didn’t know at the time. I knew price communicates value. I knew I didn’t want to be a lower-level/beginner photographer. (Even now, I still see some websites where photographers seem to be ‘afraid’ of calling themselves photographers? ‘I’m new at this, so my prices are cheap.’ Own your legit prices. Own that this is what you want to do!) By starting at $275, I felt this price was fair to my experience level and work and I would attract clients who valued photography.
A few weeks after my website launch, to my surprise (honestly, I was pleasantly surprised) a sweet family with three young kids hired me for their family session! I showed up, did a great job and delivered the photos on time. That same summer, I worked with a photographer for two weddings and she was gracious enough to allow me to use the images in my portfolio. I went out on a limb, added these images to my website under a “Weddings” section and got back to work. (Don’t wait. Get back to work. Do portfolio-building shoots. Splash them all over your website/social media. Nobody needs to know this wasn’t paid. Look busy. Be busy!)
A few months later and a bride emailed me asking about her wedding photography. I was honest with her – although I had never lead shot a wedding by myself, I was confident I could do a good job. I showed my portfolio and miraculously, she booked. I charged $1000 for that wedding. It was 8 hours, included all the images and an engagement session.
you can start low… but aim high
No photographer can pay their bills on $1000 weddings. Literally. Even if you do 50 of these (very difficult!) you’re probably going to take home $25,000. It would be better to get a low-stress, 9-5 job… believe me. But I had to start somewhere. I was thrilled with the opportunity.
I interrupt this blog post to share about…. Knowing Your Numbers. KYN is an Excel/Numbers document designed to help you calculate your ideal prices for services and products. Using this tool, you’ll be able to see how much money you’re taking home at the end of every year. But what if your yearly income isn’t where you want it to be? Maybe you’re charging $1800 for a wedding and know it’s not sustainable, but have no idea how to even begin raising your prices. This is for you!
Between booking my first wedding and shooting my first wedding (six months) I continued to put my nose to the grind-stone! I photographed their engagement session and shared the images everywhere I could. I continued to do family sessions and other volunteer sessions. I networked with other photographers and wedding vendors. Miraculously (sometimes you need a stroke of luck with these things) I booked a handful of weddings for the 2008 season before ever lead-shooting one.
Ultimately, I photographed 11 weddings in the summer of 2008, the summer I graduated high school. And no, they were not all for $1000. (Eek.) My process was as follows – I was constantly striving to improve the look and feel of my brand on my website and blog. The first few years in business are a constant mess of asking, “Am I doing this right? Do I like this?” It’s natural. I would spend hours tweaking online presentation, website, meeting structure, email response, my pricing PDFs, my print packaging. Every time I invested a chunk of time into improving one of these areas, I would raise my prices. Especially when it came to new websites or blogs.
raise your prices strategically
My average wedding booking by the end of my first season was around $2400. Every few bookings, I would increase my prices by $400. And brides continued to book! I never publicly announced my prices were going to be raised (it seems kind of in bad taste to me, or a weird thing to announce) however I would use the price raise to my advantage internally. When brides would inquire, I would mention my prices would be increasing by 20% (or whatever your figure is) on the following date ____. (Two weeks in the future? Make it the same across the board. January 10 for example.) If inquiries lined up correctly, I think this was a great motivation for brides to book sooner and an easy way to make the price increase ‘fair.’
If you’re terrified about raising your prices, there’s no ‘easy’ button here. You have to try. If you want to be taken seriously as a full-time wedding photographer, $1000 weddings aren’t going to cut it much longer than a few months! Take a risk (business is all about risks… you could go back to your old job?) and see what happens.
As a reminder, don’t forget to actually do the correct math. How much do you want/need to make as a yearly income? How many weddings/portraits do you need to book and at what price, calculating your total expenses, to make that yearly income?
make sure you know the math
If math is not your strong suit, I would highly recommend Knowing Your Numbers, my excel document for photographers! Figure out your perfect photography service and product pricing in an hour’s time. Knowing Your Numbers also includes step-by-step video tutorials so you’re never left wondering, “How does this work again?”
Ashley Ham, a fellow photographer, shared with me about Knowing Your Numbers:
“I am recently 100% full time and I can’t say enough good things about how this has helped me set goals financially. I highly recommend this tool to anyone who isn’t a numbers person, like myself, and also looking to get more organized with their business!”
‘How to Raise Your Photography Prices’ take-Aways
- Everybody starts somewhere. It is okay to have a ‘portfolio-building’ price in your first year of business. But you need to work to raise your prices, quickly. And work hard to do so.
- Price truly does communicate value. Keep this in mind when choosing your initial photography rates. Even with the same level of experience, clients will value a photographer who charges $275 for a family session much more than one who charges $100. And this will allow you to move your prices up to a sustainable range, quicker, as your client referral base isn’t jumping from say, $100 to $600. You’re already at $275. (For example. None of these figures aren’t meant to be gospel.)
- Always be working. As soon as you’re done client work (sessions or weddings) get back to the marketing brainstorming board. How can you get more work in front of more people? The more inquiries you have coming through, the more demand you have. The more demand you have, the quicker you can raise prices.
- Ultimately, if you’re terrified of raising your prices but not happy at the level you’re at – you just have to try. Try for a time. Raise them $300 a wedding collection. Attempt it and if you’re not happy with the results, no big deal. Lower them back down. Nobody is checking your website every month making sure your prices are the exact same. It will be okay!
- If putting together a handful of spreadsheets clearly laying out your business’ financial story isn’t your thing, you need Knowing Your Numbers. Knowing Your Numbers is a step-by-step workbook to help you price your services and products profitably. The spreadsheets will help you present your photography prices with confidence to potential clients. Sell beautiful albums and products… at a profit that works for you. Make an annual plan for your finances and say goodbye to ‘off-season anxiety!’ Practically work towards achieving your dream salary! You can start today with your instant download.