Last year I began posting a series of essays on things I learned about photography that I did not learn in a textbook. Hence the name:
Photography After the Textbook
Here is my tenth essay, titled:
Pricing Your Work
When a photographer turns professional, one of the more difficult things for them to do is price their photography. Every new photographer fears that if they set their prices too high, they won’t get any work while at the same time worrying that if they price their work too low, they’ll be leaving money on the table. I wish I could tell you there is one simple trick to ensure that your pricing is spot on, but there isn’t. All I can suggest is that you research your market. Some markets are more straightforward to examine than others — For example, if you’re a wedding, portrait, lifestyle or event photographer, you usually will find the pricing of your competitors online. I suggest that you do not undercut their pricing — that is the biggest mistake most new pros make, and it often puts them out of business before they had a chance to start.
I’ve written before that in my opinion, many photographers turn pro too soon — before their ready to be a professional — before they have enough clicks under their belt to feel confident enough, to be a professional photographer asking the current going rate for their photographic services. New pros without the confidence are more often tempted to undercut their competition. Don’t fall into that trap. Wait until you’re so good at photography that your images and work are better than your competition and you’ll have no problem setting your pricing competitively and no problem getting work.
What should you do if your photographic discipline and market aren’t easily researched? This would be the case for, among others, advertising, fashion, and assignment photographers. When a client approaches you, and you have no idea how to quote, ask this question,
“What is your budget?”
It’s such a simple question that will immediately give you an idea if you can do the work profitably once you know exactly what they require. Remember that the client will often low-ball their budget so don’t be afraid to use the amount they tell you as the starting point for negotiations.
Setting the prices for your services is difficult but if you studiously prepare by researching your competition and where needed, use those four words,
“What is your budget?”
You’ll be confident that you’re not losing work due to prices being too high or leaving money on the table because your rates are too low.