How Much Should I Charge?

The short answer to this question is simple…Charge Something!

This subject is a touchy one that turns people on their heads, makes their palms sweaty, keeps them from calling back a potential client, and keeps many in the back of the food line. It’s a sensitive topic, one that I will address in four parts:

The breakdown goes as follows:

How much should I charge?...

How much should I charge?...

Let’s start off with a question – one that goes out to those of you who, this is maybe your third visit for the fifth time, to some random website, in search of a concrete answer to a relative question…my question is, how long have you been working on your portfolio now? 2 years? Three? More? It always starts off under the pretext of a portfolio in progress. But, before you know it, a quarter of the local community has walked away with your work, and you’re the only one not benefiting from it. Whenever a photographer works for free, he/she does four things:

  1. You pay the client to benefit from your labor. It may not feel this way at first. But, adding up travel, time, labor, electricity (if you use your own studio), wear and tear, cd/dvds, ink, and/or bandwidth (if you post them online), not to mention your initial purchase of an SLR plus lenses, you’ve gone and easily spent at least $30 invisible dollars, and given away a portion of your day to photography, then another for editing.
  2. You burn yourself out. Before you know it, you’ve cut three more corners just trying to get through with this project. It will affect your day, your week, and you won’t have as much enthusiasm for the next project. Thereafter, the client wasn’t exactly disappointed, but at the same time wan’t impressed. So she forgets to mention you when her sister gets engaged, because you just weren’t having a good time and it showed.
  3. You’ve single-handedly brought down the industry standard just that much more. Barbie McGee just got her fashion portfolio done, and a dvd given to her for next to nothing. So, when her friend, Ken, is offered pro photos for $825, she laughs and tells him where to go to get a bargain. With every free shoot, you reinforce to the client that it’s okay to expect free art/labor. Back to the breadline, people.
  4. Last, you’ve degraded your own professional status. Sure, you were nice to work with. So is Playdough. But, we always remember things best when they have a price (in the physical or spiritual realm).

But there’s good news, too (switching to Geico and Jesus aside)! It’s all relative. A person can buy a chisel, a hammer, and some stone, but they can’t necessarily make a Gian Bernini masterpiece. A person can also buy the latest Nikon D3x, but AF settings will not turn them into Dave LaChapelle. As long as photography is an art (and, I don’t foresee that changing in my lifetime), its value will always be in the eye of the beholder.

The only wrong price, my friends, is zero. Nothing is free. It’s not a clich√©, it’s a fact. Someone profits from the electricity you use, your batteries, your gas, the clothes and props involved, your backdrops, the results of your photography, and even your camera. In the photo industry, as in art, as in business, a person or entity sets the standard of their worth. So, if you’re working for zero, that doesn’t say much about you. And, if you’re looking for the standard price for say, fashion photography, ask yourself what it’s worth to you. How much will it cost you to set up lighting and backdrops? Will you have to change locations, to shoot in front of that graffiti wall? How many changes of clothes (at least three). Will it be done in one 5-hour shoot, or will you treat each outfit as a separate shoot to keep your model fresh? What if you planned the day around this shoot, and the model doesn’t show up (read “Protect Your ASSets, above”)? Should that cost only you? What about results? Aren’t you going to edit the photos? Are you going to sell prints or digital rights? Are they included (I hope not, unless they’re paid for)? I can tell you that, if there aren’t at least three figures in your quote, you’re committing a fashion/photography industry crime.

The only reason a person in this day & age calls a professional is for professional photography service. If they’ve called you, you should feel obligated to give a professional rate. Otherwise, he/she can buy themselves a point-and-shoot, and go to town on their latest DIY project. Remember, the industry you’re in is saturated. That doesn’t go to say that you should be the bargain man, nor that you need to look for another line of work. It means that you simply need to be the best at what you do. This includes getting paid as such. There will always be suckers and hobbyists. But you don’t have to be one of them. If you are one of these, the rest of us both love you (for eventually becoming a part of the background) and hate you (for fooling clients into thinking that you represented a professional brand). So, sweat, pace, rehearse, or tremble -but, charge your clients what you feel you’re worth. Or, you can contact us so that you don’t have to worry about that part (we’ll do the business for you).

Things to consider for any photo shoot (not necessarily to be shared with clients, unless they ask, “why”):

  • Your talent (this should be your main pricing tool – what’s your artistic touch worth?)
  • Travel/mileage
  • Studio supplies: lighting, backdrops, props, equipment (ladders, extension cords, etc.)
  • Duration of the shoot
  • Intensity of the shoot (will you be able to take your time, or will you have to stay alert constantly?)
  • Number of subjects
  • Post production time: sifting through the discards, editing, sampling, printing, correspondence,¬† burning
  • Post production cost: printing, computer disc space (if you shoot in Raw, this could take alot of space), dvd/cd, paper, ink, delivery, packaging, etc.
  • Rights…we (VPG) don’t bundle rights to our photos with just any project, because we like to control how the results come out. Photography is just the beginning. If you include results, make sure you’re considering how much business you’ve lost to your local Walgreens, as well as the possibility that poor printing reflects poorly on you.
  • Sidekicks – are you using a lighting person?
  • Location fees: Some facilities charge for rent/usage

Here are Fashion Photography-specific considerations:

  • Number of models you’re working for, and who will want to benefit from your work
  • No-shows (models are notorious for no call/no shows. It’s wise to have them prepay, with an understanding that your time is part of the package
  • A quality fashion shoot is a full day. Not only do you want your models to change outfits, but you need to keep them lively, meaning ample breaks. This is important!
  • Props
  • Deadlines – are they in a hurry, therefore demanding that you work long hours editing.
  • Archiving
  • plus “any photo shoot…” guidelines above.

Wedding Photography-specific considerations:
Weddings can be very taxing, when done right. A good photographer will take very few breaks during this crucial one-time event.

  • Number of photographers
  • Length of wedding
  • Engagement Portraits?
  • Bridal Portraits?
  • Rehearsal Dinner?
  • Posed shots
  • Equipment (take more than you think you’ll need: ladders, extension cords, batteries, etc.)
  • Timetable for results
  • Result medium (please, don’t treat your product as a mere coincidental outcome of the service you provided)
  • Travel/location
  • Attire expenses
  • plus “any photo shoot…” guidelines above.

Commercial Photography Pricing Guidelines:

  • Purpose of the shoot. How your clients aims to profit from your shoot should effect what you charge.
  • Number of photographers
  • Time and intensity.
  • Is this a one-time job, or the beginning of something long-term
  • Research
  • Props
  • plus “any photo shoot…” guidelines above.

Any genre not listed above is either generally covered in the “Every Shoot” section, or else will be added later.

“But what if they say NO?!” That’s easy. Enjoy youre day, because you won’t be any less broke, but you’ll have your time back.

We at VPG hope that this was helpful. This subject has certainly been begging to be addressed. Now it’s out there. Now it’s up to you.

3 Responses to “How Much Should I Charge?”

  • I am going to help you share this link around because the information is GREAT. I will blog about it sometime.
    Thank you for sharing this great article.

    P.S. Not all but some clients really under estimate the time, talent and effort that goes into the work.

    Dwayne D.C. Tucker II
    Nassau, Bahamas

  • I was searching for digital photography when I found your site. Good post. Thank You.

  • Kelysha says:

    Thank-You So Much! I had been looking around all over trying to find a site, that gave me the detailed answers that I needed and I found it here!

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