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.
Photography can be a fun hobby but it can also be a serious business. Once you’ve honed your craft and built your online portfolio website, 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 how to price your photography 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 photography pricing guide, 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 miscalculating 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.
Focusing on selling your images digitally can significantly lower your material costs. As mentioned above, there are still expenses related to managing your digital files, but when compared to printing, packaging, and shipping physical prints—there’s no contest.
The trick is to find the right place to sell your digital prints. There are online marketplaces for photographers and artists that will let you start selling your images relatively easily. However, they often charge commissions, and you end up competing with the many photographers whose images get listed alongside yours. That kind of competition tends to drive prices down and further complicate the question of how to price your photography.
For those reasons, it’s best to set up your own online store. And doing it using Format is the easiest way to get started.
Using Format, you can set up an online store as part of your portfolio. That means you’ll have a single place you can direct potential clients to, have them check out your work, and make it easy for them to place a purchase. There are no added expenses to include in your cost-plus pricing model because the option to set up an online store is included in every Format plan.
In addition, as opposed to an online marketplace, you have complete freedom over how your images are displayed and they aren’t shown side by side with your competitors.
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 afterward, 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 traveling 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 Photographer 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 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?
If you choose to get some photographer insurance to cover damage to your equipment or business liability, the insurance fees are another overhead cost. Also remember to include in your overhead costs any professional services you need to run your photography business, such as an accountant.
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 costs 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.
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.
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 labor costs all figured out, you should know how to price your photography for your next gig. 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 photography pricing guide, your final pricing model 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.
The Different Approaches to Building a Pricing Model
While the cost-plus pricing model is a great place to start, it is not the only answer when it comes to how to price your photography. There are several ways of using value-based pricing that can help you ensure you get paid appropriately for what your photos are worth.
In the end, your pricing model can take into account multiple approaches. The cost-plus pricing model will tell you the minimum you should charge to reach your desired profit, and these value-based pricing methods will help you determine if you can ask for more.
Rates Based on Image Use
Usage-based pricing is typically used for photography projects where the client is looking for just a few high-quality images of their subject, such as product photography or corporate portraits. This type of pricing model takes into account how your images will be used.
For instance, if the photos are going to be used in a national campaign, you can ask for more money than if they were to be used in a local newspaper. Also, this model takes into account how long your photos will be used, such as whether they’ll appear once or be reused again and again over a certain period.
The Association of Photographers has an image usage calculator that can help you figure out how to price photography based on usage. It lets you input a base amount and then select the usage details such as the licensing period, types of media, and the territory where your photos will be used.
Hourly and Flat Rates
Charging an hourly rate is the standard for many types of event photography such as weddings and corporate events. This type of model is useful because it ensures you get paid for all the time you invest in shooting an event. If the event runs long and you end up having to stay late, you get paid for it.
Remember that your final charge can also include time spent before and after the event, such as for travel, client meetings, preparation, and post-production.
Alternatively, photographers will sometimes charge a flat rate for shooting an event. This is best suited to photographers with a lot of experience. That’s because to determine how to price photography as a flat rate for an event, you have to be able to accurately estimate how much work will go into it.
It’s also standard for portrait photographers to offer a flat rate for a photo session. Sometimes these sessions will be sold as packages based on the number of images. As long as the photographer knows how long it takes them to capture and retouch that number of images, they can offer a flat rate with confidence.
However, there’s more to it than just knowing how long it takes you to complete tasks. Whenever you charge a flat rate for a project, it’s essential that you and the client agree on what’s involved beforehand.
That includes things like the number of images, number of client feedback rounds, whether the client wants prints, etc. If you don’t take the time to outline the scope of the project, it’s impossible to know what to charge. You could end up finding out halfway through the project that the client wants you to do much more work than you expected.
For this reason, you should write up a simple contract that outlines all of the work you plan to do for the project. It’s the only way to ensure you get properly compensated and the client gets exactly what they want.
Rates Based on Experience
It should go without saying that experience is a major factor in how much photographers can reasonably charge for their services. But if you’re looking for some specific examples, here is a brief photography pricing guide for different experience levels.
Beginners: Amateur photographers typically offer their services for between $25-$75 per hour. That’s for taking photos that appear on blogs, small websites, or in local advertisements. However, these photographers usually lack basic photography knowledge. So if you understand at least the fundamentals and standard practices of photography, you’re ahead of this group.
Students: There are a ton of photography students out there who are eager to start working. These photographers can usually ask for more money than hobbyists since they have some formal training. The typical hourly rate is between $50 and $100 an hour, depending on which school they attend, how far along they are in their studies, and whether they have any professional experience.
Entry-level photographers: Those who are just getting started in the world of professional photography after taking some formal education typically charge $50-$150 per hour or $25-$125 per image. Since their amount of professional experience is probably limited, the same factors that affect the rates of student photographers also apply here.
Professional photographers: Photographers who have some real experience under their belts can typically charge $75-$250 per hour. With the higher pay, clients expect these photographers to know all the ins and outs of the craft, including having great pre-production and post-production skills.
Top photographers: Those who climb their way to the top of the field to become high-end photographers can charge way more, from about $250-$500 per hour ranging up to as much as $10,000 per day.
Rates Based on Specialty
Choosing an area of photography to specialize in is one way to start earning higher rates. This is something that many new photographers shy away from. That’s because there’s a fear that if you limit yourself to a single area of expertise, you’ll miss out on opportunities that fall outside of that category.
But by developing expertise in a specific type of photography, specialized photographers have their work valued higher than general photographers. There are many different areas photographers can specialize in, here are just a few examples.
Documentary Portrait Sports Product Fashion Wedding
Some specializations are valued higher than others. Typically, the more specialized the skills required for the job, the more you can earn doing it. For instance, experienced wedding photographers tend to make more than general portrait photographers. That makes sense as weddings are one-time events where the photographer often has one chance to capture important moments. So there is little room for error. Since not every photographer is up to the task, skilled wedding photographers are always in demand and can ask for higher rates.
Also, when you choose a specialization, consider how many projects you’ll be able to take on per year. This will help you determine how to price your photography. If you are a wedding photographer, work tends to come in seasonally, so you’ll have to make sure you’re earning enough to cover your costs and keep you going during the offseason.
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?
For some concrete examples of what pay rates other photographers are earning, check out this photography price list for beginners. It provides examples of how much photographers have been paid for various projects.
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 to 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.
This article was updated on January 9, 2020.