When I started my photography business I had no reference for how to price my sessions. There were no resources I could turn to, online there were only broad numbers and phrases like "a photographer's salary is xxxx in your location" or "photographers charge between $1-1,000 per hour." They offered no further explanation of how they made that much money or how they chose that pricing. I spent the next few years going between a couple different pricing models. I went through the season of charging very little, then pricing by matching competition and finally settling on a way to intentionally price my sessions. This way I am covering all my expenses and paying myself fairly. I will explain the simplified version of my system so you can price your photography sessions and skip the trouble I went through.
Keeping Costs Low:
Photography often has low overhead and startup costs. If you stick with natural light outdoor photography, some of the only costs you have is equipment. This can be as little as a decent camera and one nice lens and editing software. Overhead can go up as you buy more equipment, lenses, studio lighting and props, and you pay for a website, advertising and photo gallery delivery website.
I recommend being intentional with these costs. As much as you want to get swept up in the thrill of being that photographer with every lens, I use my one favorite lens 100% of the time. Adobe has an incredibly affordable photographer plan at $11/month (subject to change) for Lightroom and Photoshop.
Business finances are the same as personal finances, if you want to make any money, spend less then you make.
Being Smart With Your Money:
The best way to be smart with your business expenses is only fund your photography business with money you make from photography. If you keep your business money separate from your personal and pay everything for your photography business with that money from subscriptions to taxes, you'll never lose money. Want a new camera? Book sessions and save up for it. Don't touch your personal money.
Throwing prices up against the wall and pricing based on competition is a risky way to do business. You may keep track of your expenses and income. You may come out positive at the end of the year, but what you may fail to take into account is even though you made $3,000 that year, you worked over a thousand hours and were only paying yourself $3/hr. It's important to keep track of your hours, costs and income.
Pricing your session with purpose gives you confidence in your costs. If you charge $300 a session because the photographer across town charges $300 a session you will forever be trapped in a cycle of thinking "are my photos as good as theirs? Maybe I shouldn't be charging as much." Having your own pricing where every dollar has purpose and meaning will give you the ground to stand on when people say you're too expensive or another photographer has lower pricing then you.
Take control and price with intention.
The Pricing Model:
The math, my favorite part. Let's break it down.
Take all your yearly and annual costs. This includes your software, website, advertising budget, and equipment expenses. It's a good idea to keep up with the number every year and take the average. Just because you bought a $4,000 camera one year, doesn't mean every year you will be spending that on equipment. I'll keep my examples nice and round for easy math.
Adobe Software $150/year
Equipment budget $400/year
Take this total and divide it by how many sessions you plan on doing the next year. If you don't know, take a realistic guess. If you only do one session a month, undershoot and say 10. Don't fall into a trap of thinking your miraculously going to be booked every week. The point of this is to have your costs covered.
Total yearly expenses $1,000 / 10 sessions a year
= $100 base fee/session
This fee is going to be the base of every session price. We will be back to him later. If you want to be spicy with the base fee you could weight it lower and higher for your more and less expensive packages, but let's keep it simple for now.
Break down the different things you do to prepare, do and finish a session and how long it takes you. This may take some trial and error, I recommend tracking your hours any way you can. I love busybusy right now (not sponsored, it is an awesome free time tracking app).
Consultation 1 hour
Scouting Locations 1 hour
Commuting to session 1 hour
Session 1 hour
Editing and uploading 3 hours
Total 7 hours
This is the toughest part to give advice about. There is a reason the numbers are so broad online. Photography is a trade skill, it's a valuable skill that not just anyone can do well. However if you are just learning and in a rural area, you shouldn't be pricing yourself at a few hundred dollars an hour.
Start simple, if you are working at a regular job, price yourself similar to that, you know your time is at least that valuable. You can always increase your hourly rate as your skills increase and you get a better sense of your worth. Indeed has a neat little chart that tells you how much the average pay is based on how many years you have been doing photography.
Photographer pay by years of experience in Texas (as of 2022)
Less then a year $14
1-5 years $15-16
6-9 years $17-20
10+ years $21
Let's go with $14/hr for now
If you have any costs that are sessions specific, add them up. You can budget in props, travel costs, or paying for your clients coffee if you plan on taking them out for the consultation. For travel, I highly recommend picking a radius for your session, maybe an hour drive or what ever it ends up being. That way you don't need to tack on any travel fees to your sessions.
Totaling it up:
Multiply your hours by your hourly rate, and add it to your base fee and session costs. Now if you plan on doing taxes, make sure you tack on a nice 18% to account for the 15% self employment tax (if that doesn't make sense, trust me, let's not get into mark-ups and mark-downs right now)
Base Fee $100
Hourly (7 hours * $14/hr) $98
Total with tax (18%) $250.16
There you have it, you make $14/hour after taxes and you can be sure all your costs will be covered.
Now you can refine these numbers as needed. Your session costs can go down if you do more sessions in a year, your costs may go up if you invest in better equipment or a studio. Remember that when looking and comparing other photographers pricing. Their situation can be entirely different then yours. They may not even price with purpose and could be losing money.
I want to see you succeed with your photography business, I want you to be confident in your business model. Take this guide and adjust it to your needs. If you have any questions or comments please reach out to me! Ali email@example.com
Cover photo from fixthephoto.com