Talking about pricing is minefield; it’s a difficult subject to approach in the photography world due the variety of niches and circumstances involved within a photographer’s income. Depending on whether you are shooting commercial, weddings or pets the way to set your prices and your costs will vary dramatically.
So in order for this post to cater for varied readership I’ll be focusing on a generalised view of pricing, you can pick the best bits for any genre. This advice is very much for people who are still figuring out their pricing and how to make money from photography.
The basic principle is this – setting your prices too low does not realistically best serve you nor your client.
Let’s be honest through - We all need to start somewhere
We’ve all been newbies at some point, when you get your first paying job you are blown away that someone would want to pay money for images you can provide for them. I still remember being there myself, it’s pretty magical - but we need to progress past this and learn to price ourselves better so we can, if you choose to, turn a hobby into a business (or at least not lose any money!)
Once you are past the level where you have a portfolio and a few clients under your belt it’s time to consider the bigger picture and start charging what you’re worth.
What constitutes your prices being “too low”?
There are 3 points I would consider if you feel you are perhaps pricing yourself too low, or you are offered a price and not sure if it’s enough or not.
1. Does the price cover your costs?
Cost of doing business is a very complicated subject which I will be tackling in more detail in a future post, but for now I can give you the basics - Does the fee cover your costs? This may include; your time on the day, travel, post production, equipment, prints, albums, tax, and also paying yourself after all that. If the answer is no – The price is too low.
In the past I’ve made the mistake of shoots actually COSTING me money - I’ve lived and learned through experiences like these.
2. Will you feel any resentment for doing the work at the given price?
I go with my gut on many occasions when doing business. Your intuition is there for a reason – It’s your “inner tutor”. So if you are thinking of accepting a low fee, but it’s less than you feel you are worth, it may cause feelings of bitterness & resentment. This feeling is going to carry on into the job and the delivery.
Trust your gut - you know that feeling deep in your stomach when you know something isn’t right? This can happen when you know you are about to be overworked and underpaid. If the price makes you feel bitter, it’s probably too low. It’s probably not an accountant’s recommended pricing process, but as an artist you need to look out for yourself and how you feel about your worth and your work.
3. The client will get far more out of this than you will?
You have to consider if the client taking advantage of the situation - by gaining your time, skills and images for a very low fee, then later using the images to benefit themselves or their own business by selling a product and making an income from your images, you might be getting screwed over.
Although sometimes clients will do this without realising. This is why you need to understand your costs and so you can politely educate the client as to why the fee is too low. Usage and licensing fees are also a very complicated subject but you should in the very least know where your images will be used, and what they will be selling, in order work out a realistic fee.
Why Pricing yourself too low is bad for your client
On the flip side, there are a few reasons why it’s not in a client’s best interests to undercut and pay less than you are worth as a photographer.
1. You won't be able to spend the time required to do your best work
If you are stretched too thin you may need to take on additional work to cover your costs for business and life. The quality and speed of delivery will be affected.
2. The client will expect future work to be a similar price
The client will shoot themselves in the foot by budgeting too low in the future, so later down the line they will be over budget if they get a more suitable price. I find this is very common with clients looking to raise standards of their marketing/sales images, and are often shocked to realise they will need to spend way more than first anticipated.
3. You may feel resentment towards the work and the client
This will affect the working relationship; you will want the job to be over before it even begins. You also leave zero scope for over delivering for the client as the entire project becomes an over delivery is your prices are too low.
The Good, Fast, Cheap Triangle!
You may have seen this graphic before but serves as an excellent reminded of what the client gets for his/her money. You should also bear this in mind if you are considering spreading yourself too thin – You can only supply two of the benefits at any one time.
GOOD + FAST = EXPENSIVE
GOOD + CHEAP = SLOW
FAST + CHEAP = NOT GOOD QUALITY
GOOD + FAST + CHEAP = IMPOSSIBLE!
I would suggest you save this image and put it somewhere as a reminder for the next time you need to deliver a price for a client!
Moving forward, and some final points
Understand the value of your work and educate your client.
Gaining a better understanding your basic costs of business, while also taking into consideration paying yourself after those costs will give you more clarity about the minimum price required for a job.
Break down the items for the client so you can help them understand why your fee is such. You don't need to go too far into detail if you don’t feel comfortable telling them prices of each item, but at the very least you need to make them aware of your costs – Day rate, travel, post production, equipment, physical prints, insurance. The list is far longer than this, but gives you a starting point to help the client understand.
Learning how to say “no”
It’s very difficult, I know – But learning to say, “No thank you” is sometimes the best solution. Even after your client understands your breakdown of costs but isn’t willing to budge on price – saying no can sometimes be the best option for you and the client. Take time to consider whether this is right for you. Later down the line when the client has more budget they might come back to you again - This has personally happened to me in the past.
Low paying clients are harder work!
Trust me on this one - Nightmare clients are always the cheap ones. They will push for more of your time even after you think the job is over and done with. I advise you keep clear of them!
Do you still work for free?
As photographers we will always need to work for free on personal work, and even go as far as self-funding projects that can help us progress and improve our craft, which in turn will generate new clients.
There’s a balance with understanding your costs and choosing to work for free, and saying no people who may be taking advantage. Time and experience will be your greatest teacher for determining the best route.
Final Thought - Sometimes you’ll need to take low paying jobs, I get it, you can’t win them all. So if you do need to take low paying work please please please just make sure you are AT LEAST covering your costs and making something on top to pay your bills.
I would love to hear about any other advice you might have on this subject, as I know pricing and self worth is something many creative people struggle with.