When I started my photography business, I only offered family sessions. I was only 16 years old, with no wedding photography experience and simply getting familiar with my camera. I was regularly doing ‘complimentary’ shoots for friends in exchange for using the images online in my portfolio.
When I had enough images to launch a website, I bought a $200 template and a domain name and set up my galleries. I wanted to include a starting price for portrait sessions on my website – but I didn’t know where to begin. After a bit of research into my local market, I saw experienced photographers charging $500-800 for portrait sessions. Newer photographers were charging anywhere from $50-$250. I set my prices at $275 for portrait sessions, which included a CD of images.
My Pricing Journey
$275 wasn’t a price I laboured over – it felt good. I knew price communicated value. I didn’t want to be ‘known’ as lower-level/beginner photographer. I was serious about this business! $275 felt fair to my experience level and ensured I would still be making a profit after all of my costs. And I would attract clients who valued photography – not $100 sessions.
A couple weeks after my website launch, to my surprise a sweet family with three kids hired me for their session! The same summer, I worked with a photographer for 2 weddings and she was gracious enough to allow me to use the images in my portfolio. I added these images to my website under a “Weddings” section and got back to work. (Never sit around and wait. 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.
When I started shooting weddings, I wanted the work. Many photographers are in that place. They want to be busy – they want clients and experience – so they are out there charging $1000 for weddings. And I don’t judge them! I was there, too.
But I wasn’t there, for long. $1000 weddings were a stepping stone for my business – a stepping stone I didn’t plan to camp out on.
You shouldn’t either.
You Have To Aim High
No photographer can pay their bills on $1000 weddings. Literally. Even if you shoot 50 weddings a year at that rate you’re likely to take home $25,000 salary. And be working 60 plus hours a week. And probably be a miserable person, haha!
Between booking my first wedding and shooting my first wedding (6 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 portfolio-building 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.
I had vision before I started this business – I wanted to succeed. This wasn’t a hobby for me!
I enjoyed it, yes, I was having so much fun learning how to be a better photographer, yes, but this was not a hobby for me! I wanted this to be my job. I wanted it to be my career.
I charged $5000 for a wedding my first year.
It was my 10th wedding ever photographed.
Six months after shooting my first wedding.
Now, in full transparency – $5000 did include a full day of coverage, two photographers, a massive wedding album, guestbook, parent books and an engagement session. My costs were probably $2000 just in products, not to mention all of the editing costs, overhead, second shooter, etc! But somebody paid $5000 to book ME for their wedding photographer, a few short months after shooting my VERY FIRST wedding.
I photographed 11 weddings in the summer of 2008, the summer I graduated high school. My average booking that summer was around $2600.
How to Raise Your Prices Strategically
The first few years in business are a constant mess of asking, “Am I doing this right?” It’s natural. I would spend hours tweaking online presentation, my website, how I held client meetings, the best way to respond via email, my pricing PDFs and print packaging. Every time I invested a chunk of time into improving one of these areas, I would raise my prices by $300-ish for weddings and $50-ish for portraits.
Regardless of my price increases, brides continued to book!
I never publicly announced my prices were going to be raised but I would use the price increase to my advantage internally. When brides would inquire about their wedding, I would include in my reply:
“Due to the increasing demand in my photography business, my prices for wedding coverage will be increasing 10% on November 20th. I’d be delighted to honour my current wedding prices for you and your fiance up until the evening of Friday, November 20th. Thank you so much for understanding!”
The date you choose should be 2-4 weeks in the future. Every inquiry you receive in that time period will receive the same ‘cut off’ date. If you choose to raise your prices in a booking season (Fall/Winter for wedding photographers, usually!) – this can be an awesome strategy.
In November, the second year of my business, I booked 6 weddings in one month (for the following summer) – as brides were motivated by the price increase – and it feels good to book someone whose ‘increasing demand’ is requiring them to raise their prices!
Know Your Math
As you start to gain photography experience and slowly raise your prices, it comes to point where you must know your business numbers well. It’s not possible to charge $1000 for weddings and be bringing a legitimate profit home at the end of the day – but it is a great way to gain experience.
Once you’ve started to get experience, you quickly need to transition to treating your business like a business. It’s time to get out your calculator, or open up an Excel document, and write down every single cost in your business. Find out how much money you need to make every year just to break even.
After finding your break even number, determine how much money you bring home from each wedding after your Cost of Goods Sold. For example,
Collection A is $5000, it includes:
- 2 photographers
- 12 hours of coverage
- online gallery of edited images
- wedding album
- parent albums
My costs for the above?
Collection A – Cost of Goods Sold
- 2 photographers – $360 second shooter fee
- 12 hours of coverage
- online gallery of edited images – $30 cost
- wedding album – $700 cost + design fee
- guestbook – $300 cost + design fee
- parent albums – $600 cost + design fee
My cost to deliver (hypothetical) Collection A is approximately $1960.
If I charge $5000, I’m making $3040 after delivering the collection to my clients. From that $3040, I need to cover all of my overhead costs – $30,000 a year is not a ridiculous number. Based on that, I would need to sell TEN Collection A’s just to BREAK EVEN. To make no money!
Going through the steps of this process for your business is going to give you the confidence you need to increase your prices – because you’re going to realize how hard you may be working, for $8/hour! Or $15/hour! Or whatever it is. Then you can set a goal to where you want to be, and work towards that.
If You’re Overwhelmed By All The Math…
If numbers are not your strong suit, I would recommend Knowing Your Numbers.
Knowing Your Numbers is a step-by-step workbook to help you price your services and products profitably. Knowing Your Numbers also includes video tutorials so if you have zero knowledge of Excel Documents, you won’t be alone when asking, “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!”
Feeling the Fear, Doing It Anyway
Maybe you’re terrified about raising your photography prices.
Fear is natural as artists, as businesspeople – as humans!
There’s no ‘easy’ button here. You have to try. If you want to not only be taken seriously as a full-time wedding photographer, but actually build a sustainable business, $1000 weddings aren’t going to cut it much longer than a month or two.
Can I let you in on a little secret?
Nobody else in the world is obsessing about your prices.
If you change your starting price on your website to Weddings Starting at $2600 rather than $2300… no one is likely to notice. Most brides contact you immediately when they land on your site. They aren’t checking back 3 months later, noticing your prices have gone up $300. And $300 isn’t a lot of money in an average $25k wedding budget. It’s just not.
It’s the same fear that tells us everybody at a party is thinking about what we’re wearing, how weird our face looks when we eat – when all of them are simply focused on themselves and their own fears.
Nothing is permanent.
Raise your prices by a couple hundred dollars. If you notice a significant decrease in inquiries/bookings over a 60-day period… lower it back down, if you really want. But try it. You won’t break your business by experimenting with prices for 2 months! I promise.