Pricing is one of those things where most people in service industries learn the hard way. Photography is no different for most people in their first couple years in business. In my years as a commercial photographer I’ve quoted jobs for anything ranging from small family portrait shoots, corporate events, weddings, studio head shots, fashion lifestyle & editorial, product catalog and more. And yes, I have learned the hard way with pricing and I am always listening to other photographers and peers in business for broadened perspective on pricing strategy.
There are so many factors to consider that it’s easy to get lost in the details. In my experience, the client gives you very little info to go off of and often times they are not aware of everything involved. It’s easy to become a victim of those vague requests and it’s your job to protect yourself by asking the right questions and covering all angles.
Things to Consider
1. What are you shooting – who, what, where, when, how many and why?
2. Do you have the equipment required to do the job? If not, what will it cost to buy or rent?
3. Industry standards? (Compare: competition, complexity, corporate vs. personal)
4. Usage! This is a big one… are these photos for personal or commercial use?
- Commercial usage questions
- Product value, complication
- Advertising? Print? Web? (high volume, wide reach?)
5. Are the photos making them money – long term or short term pay off, how much?
The Gray Areas…
One of the hardest things about pricing is that you want the job, but you want to be paid fairly for it, but “fair” is relative and circumstantial and based on your knowledge on the topic of the work required. Half of the battle is educating inexperienced clients on the costs and time involved in order to justify your price and knowing when to compromise or walk away. Let’s face it, there are a ton of photographers out there these days and you can almost guarantee that there is someone willing to do it for less. So how do you present a quote that is fair to you and also competitive in a flooded market?
See more: Trade Work: When is it Good to Barter?
Ask questions so you understand your clients experience level – phone conversations almost always trump email. Take notes, send a follow up email with details of verbal conversation.
Give some technical details when consulting the client to establish authority and knowledge on the subject but not so many that you overwhelm the client and complicate things – don’t give them a blueprint to take to your competition.
Allow for a buffer in costs because they will almost always change.
What other benefits are there in working with them? Are they a good intro contact to a niche industry? If it’s a bridal client, do they have friends or family they would recommend you to?
Mistakes We Make…
1. Being too vague or being too detailed in quotes (too few specifics and you don’t protect yourself from assumptions the client might make, too detailed and you overwhelm and confuse the client)
2. Caving on price – I’ve had a few clients haggle on a quoted job and I have agreed to their terms. You end up regretting it!
- Compromise is one thing but it’s a give & take arrangement – stick to your quoted price and if they need to cut costs be prepared to offer options to do so.
3. Not providing alternatives to cut costs. Options to cut costs might include:
- Limiting the time of the shoot
- Limiting licensing arrangements for usage rights
- Bill for post editing/retouching separately (note that if you are not including it)
- Limit number of final images
4. Not scheduling around peak season or forgetting other opportunities. Look at opportunity loss – I’ve taken small weekend jobs in the middle of peak wedding & convention season and ended up regretting it because I did a small family portrait session for $180 when I could have been making $1,500+ on a wedding if I hadn’t been booked.
What Are Your Costs…
Take all of the time you are spending emailing, preparing quotes, coordinating models, hair/makeup, scouting locations, prep time for equipment, shooting time, editing time, all of the above into consideration when quoting each and every job.
Commercial work especially requires a lot of time discussing specifics, often with travel time to meet and shoot on-site, and coordinating logistics with multiple contacts. Portrait and wedding clients can sometimes be dramatic or take up time deliberating on how they want images edited and you should consider that too.
Take Away Tips…
- Ask questions, take notes, talk in person or phone to clarify any email conversation.
- Understand the clients needs and how that affects price and your costs.
- Be prepared to justify any charges or rates on a quote with a rational explanation.
- Prepare alternative ways to lower price.
- Don’t be afraid to walk away if it’s not worth your time, but always do so gracefully!