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The Beginner’s Guide to Pricing Your Photography

Pricing can be a complicated topic. This guide helps you make money, rather than lose it.

If you’re wondering, “How much should I charge for my photography?” then keep reading. Pricing can be a complicated topic but you can keep it simple when you’re just starting out. The #1 thing to avoid: spending more than you make. This guide will help you make money, rather than lose it.

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Photography is a fun hobby but it can also be a serious business. Once you’ve honed your craft and built your online portfolio, it’s time to start making some cash.

Whether you’re interested in wedding, portrait, commercial, fashion or documentary photography, images are in high demand. They’re not going out of style anytime soon. We need them to preserve memories, sell products, decorate our homes and communicate important newsworthy stories. But how much are your images worth?

To be a successful photographer, you need to understand basic pricing structures based on your time, effort and market value. It doesn’t need to be complicated.

You don’t need to be an economist or mathematician to support your creative career. At first, focus on covering your costs, but then as your business grows you can adjust your rates to truly reflect your talent. With this beginner’s guide to pricing your photography, you’ll learn the quickest way to break down your cost-plus pricing model.

A cost-plus pricing model helps you determine how much you should charge in order to cover your costs and make a profit. Every photographer should be pricing their photos to cover their production cost, shipping charges and overhead. Plus, you need to make enough money to support yourself.

Here’s an example of a cost-plus pricing calculation:

This pricing calculation has two steps because it’s important to figure out your total cost before adding a profit percentage. Without knowing how much it costs to stay in business, you run the risk of taking too much money as profit. You want to avoid costly surprises like expensive printing, broken equipment or unpaid assistants.

Cost of Materials

For a photographer, there are direct costs to producing your final product. If your client wants prints or photo books, you need to factor in those hard costs. Don’t forget to include packaging and shipping. The cost for materials shouldn’t come out of your pocket.

Don’t forget about costs associated with digital files. Keep track of your expenses when it comes to hard drives, cloud storage and client gallery hosting. For clients that don’t want physical prints but need digital space, remember that you still have billable items.

Because you’re an expert, you might have some ideas for cutting material costs. Clients will always appreciate your advice and it can be a great relationship building tool. If you have recommendations that will save them the cost of materials, they’ll be grateful and likely to send more clients your way.

Reducing the cost of your materials is an easy way to adjust your pricing model to include more profit. If you source materials from the same retailer, reach out see if you can become partners. They might give you a discount if you use their product exclusively and help them promote it.

Buying in bulk also helps, but make sure you really need the materials. For new photography business owners, the last thing they need is a stack of materials without any clients in sight.

Cost of Labor

When you love your work, you can unintentionally undervalue the cost of your labor. That’s the flipside of building a creative career. Just because you enjoy it, doesn’t mean that it’s isn’t work. The time and labor you put into your work, whether that’s on a photoshoot or retouching afterwards, needs to be reflected in your total cost.

For every piece of work, a photographer needs to know how much time it will take him or her to deliver this product. Count up the hours and be realistic. Don’t count the thirty minute break you took to scroll through Instagram, but definitely count all the time you spent at a photoshoot waiting for everyone to get into place. When you’re on the job, you’re on the job and you should be paid.

Consider all the time you need for pre-production (setting up your equipment, ensuring you have what you need for the shoot) and post production (any editing or uploading of photos), including the time spent travelling and meeting with your client.

Photographers should ask themselves, “How much is my time worth?” and your photography pricing should reflect that. The more experience you get, the more you can increase your cost of labor. Ultimately you’re worth what a client will pay for your time. What makes them agree to pay more? If you are professional and deliver high-quality images on time.

“Freelance Tip: It can feel great to get lots of jobs but be wary of small gigs that chew up time with low profit. Instead, focus on booking fewer bigger jobs. One big job can be worth several smaller ones (and save you from burning out!).”

Overhead Costs

Overhead costs can be scary for an entrepreneurial photographer. You want to start making money, but you need a lot of equipment to get started. In the photography business, the tools you use can affect the quality of your work and management of your time.

This is a cost you just can’t cut. Maintaining software, post-production equipment, lighting, backdrops and buying camera lenses are all part of our overhead costs, plus the wear and tear. How often will you have to replace your camera?

Advertising is an additional overhead cost. Depending on your photography business, you might need business cards and a spending budget for digital ads. These costs can contribute to the overall success of your business but you need to make sure you’re getting a return on your investment.

Keep track of how many new clients or gigs your advertising cost are generating and consider if it’s worth it. If it’s working, maybe it’s time to up the ante.

To cover your overhead costs in your pricing structure, add up your expenses for the year. Take that total number and divide it by the projected amount of jobs you’ll work in a year. Add that percentage of the total cost to a photography job and you’ll start covering your total overhead, bit by bit.

“Freelance Photographer Tip: If you’re just starting out, an effective way to offer affordable prices is to lower your overhead costs. Decide what’s really necessary to do a good job and stick to the basics.”

A little bit more about expenses…

There are two types of expenses for a photographer: Fixed and Variable.

Fixed Expenses:

These are your equipment costs, marketing, communication, and other photography business necessities. Profits should also be part of your fixed cost calculation, like a loan payment or payroll. The end goal of working as a photographer is to make a profit, not to break even.

Variable Expenses:

Includes expenses that vary based on how many and what kind of shoots you do.

For example, if you are a wedding photographer, some bookings may have you spending money on travel, hotel, consultation, rental gear, and/or an assistant. Alternatively, if you are a fashion photographer, you may have to account for the expenses of location shooting fees or studio space, lighting, make-up, styling, casting, assistant fees and retouching.

Photography pricing is easier when you understand what it actually costs to run your business. This will get you to how much you’ll need to charge in order to earn a profit. If the pricing for your product or service doesn’t cover costs, consider yourself at a loss.

And the suggested retail price is…

Now that you have your material costs, overhead costs and labour costs all figured out, you should know the total cost for your next photoshoot. Add your desired profit and this cost-plus pricing equation will result in your suggested retail price.

This pricing will differ from one job to another, so don’t set anything in stone. Be prepared with “package” offers at different price points, but stay flexible when it comes to pricing (especially when you’re starting out).

By following this guide, your final photography pricing should:

  • Cover the hard costs
  • Pay for your time creating the final product
  • Leave room for overhead expenses and profit

Adding your profit can be very subjective. You need to have an accurate understanding of your photography’s worth. Here are some points to consider when you’re calculating your profit percentage:

  • The quality of your work and how you package your finished product
  • The perceived value of you and your products in the marketplace
  • How confident you are in your skills
“Freelance Photographer Tip: Continuously update your online portfolio to show that you are an active photographer with regular projects and will communicate that you are dedicated to your craft.”

Bonus: Get the Low-Down on your Competitors

Any established photographer would tell you to take stock of the other businesses in your local area. You should conduct some market research within your photography niche (ex. wedding, portrait, commercial) to see how you to compare photography pricing models. This is what your clients will be doing so make sure you see what they’ll see.

Depending on your photography business and location, your competitors could favor à la carte solutions, custom packages, or add-on options. What are your competitors charging? What are you offering? What does your photography pricing model look like in comparison?

Don’t feel obligated to copy your competition’s photography pricing, though. The importance of market research is for you to at least be aware of your local market.

In some cases, your competitors’ model will be “best practice” and indicate how it should be done. In other cases, you can develop a better way be more disruptive in the marketplace.

Regardless, photography pricing will vary depending on what kind of business model you are using as well as how many other players there are in the market. You need to be realistic and relevant to your local market. Do your research!

“Freelance Photographer Tip: Determining your local market is vital to becoming a working photographer. If your photography pricing is too high, you will need to convince your clients on the value of your work enough to pay that price.”

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