A Photographer's Guide To Pricing Your Work And Services

For many shutterbugs, the dream of making money with photography doesn't extend past being able to pay for new equipment. Photography might just be a hobby if you already have a fulfilling career. But if you are looking to make a business out of being creative the first question that will cross your mind is "how much should I charge?" Knowing how to price your product (and from a tax perspective everything you do IS a product, not a service) does not come without consequence. Pricing yourself too low might gain you a ton of business but will also rob you of any free time. Pricing yourself too high, especially early on, will decrease your workload but might also send you filing an application at Starbucks...again! Mark Wallace has tackled the issue of how much to charge in his latest video, and he gives a lot of great pointers. Lee and I are currently working on a detailed video series on wedding photography where we will outline our ideas on pricing so stay tuned for that as well. Leave any questions or experiences you have in the comments below.


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@ aguirre's picture

Great tips. This pricing format is standard for most businesses. The difference and what's given me headaches in the past is licensing fees. I really like his sliding scale strategy. I'll be adopting this. The sliding scale is easy for media buys, but how would you work it for a website? I get a lot of requests for web images and am unsure how to price license fees for these.

Brilliant! Thanks for posting! :)

Great video, one question though, how do you decide what your markup will be?

Patrick Hall's picture

I think you have to start low and work for a price that will make you really busy.  Once you have clients and especially a good portfolio, you can start raising your prices until you balance the perfect income vs amount of work.  Remember if your prices are low you have to work more to maintain a certain income while if your prices are really high you might only have to work a fraction of the jobs to maintain a similar income.

The reason you want to raise your prices slowly is you will find your market's best price point easily.  The biggest fear is raising your prices too high, booking a few clients, and then having to explain to them a year later why your prices are less than what they paid.  Some things like gasoline and milk aren't as offensive when their prices change.....a photographer's prices should only go up.

Thank You so much for this video. This is exactly what I had been looking for. Definitely has helped me out a lot.

ASMP has a lot of great information on licensing if you would like to learn more. http://asmp.org/tutorials/licensing-guide.html

Mark and crew did an awesome job with this video. 

Looks like I need to charge $100,000 for every job :)

Jesse Lash's picture

Such a good video. Adorama's whole youtube channel is filled with gold. Thanks for posting Patrick

I use FotoQuote Pro to help me calculate the usage rights. I normally ask the client early on where the photos will be used and in what quantities, I then calculate the usage rights plus whole production costs including my mark-up. Small clients think you are charging them double when you mention usage rights, so I normally give them the full price stating that they have the rights for usage stated by them for X amount of time. John Harrington has written one of the best books to guide photographers over best business practices, a small investment for so much information: http://www.amazon.com/Best-Business-Practices-Photographers-Second/dp/14...

Randy Curtis jr's picture

thank you sweet wonderful jesus

I am incredibly grateful to people our generation of photographers. Never has this business been more filled with advice, mentorship and tutorials. If we go back just ten years, if that, we would never have imagined a site in which artists shared how they accomplished a project (fstoppers) or a video where a photgrapher spoke of rates and fees, not as a competitor, but as a companion (Mark Wallace, among so many others).

I have improved my little business with enthusiasm because of you guys. I will never take it for granted.

William Jason Wallis's picture

Here is a great Cost Of Doing Business Calculator:

This Guide is like Auto mode in camera if You know what I mean.
I study economics so I know what I'm talking about...

Patrick Hall's picture

Care to elaborate?  

It will take a lot of time. Maybe sometime I would have much time to explain and make my effort for Fstoppers. It's not easy for me, because I'm not from English-speaking country. We'll see.

I like Mark Wallace and his video is very thoughtful and well executed.

He is describing is the film-based business model. The digital economy is completely different and folks need to understand that the film-based models won't work for digital. Film was part of the mechanical economy where each person's job had a specialized role in a sequence. For example, an art director would hire a photographer and then work with a graphic designer to create an ad that would eventually be handed off to a printer etc. Each person had a role and the photographer was part of the sequence. He was able to charge for his photography, usage, licensing etc based on this mechanical business model.

But digital is completely different because it is non-linear and there is no sequence. The photographer's role is no longer clearly defined. He might be shooting stills one minute, shooting video the next, editing and retouching, creating graphics, and also publishing through web-based and social networking media. Photography is no longer a single clearly defined part of a sequence and is now an undefined part in a non-linear sequence. This means that pricing cannot be done the same way. Usage and licensing fees no longer apply. Day rates don't work. There are still people operating on these old business models but even they will tell you it's getting more and more difficult to make it happen. Anybody that is applying film-based economic models to digital imaging is destined to fail.

Digital shooters need to become content producers. In other words, they must learn to self-finance their own content and then learn how to make money off of the completed work. This is the digital business model of the future where the producer can be the same as the consumer. An example would be shooting an online catalog (for free) for a manufacturer and then getting a percentage of the online sales generated. Or, shooting content that drives traffic to a manufacturers website and getting paid for the traffic. These are just a few examples but there are 100s of possibilities. The main point to understand is that photographers have to figure out a way to make money off of something other than the photography itself. They might make percentages of sales, or drive traffic, or sell advertising space on high traffic sites etc etc. Photographs generate "eyeballs" (viewers) so it's time to start figuring out how to make money off of the eyeballs instead of the actual photographs.

The high prices that were demanded for wedding/portrait work in the past few decades is mostly over. It was a business model based on an economic bubble that has burst. Yes, some people will continue to do well but it will be extremely rare and competitive. Wedding/portrait work used to be accessible and that's why a lot of people want to do it. Unfortunately, the future doesn't support that. There is going to very little money in that field in the coming years and probably should be avoided. Just a friendly warning. Lots of people will disagree at this period in time, but time is against them.

Patrick Hall's picture

I agree with most of what you have said here Mike except the last paragraph.  IMO it amounts to saying that people will not pay high end dollars for luxury or sports calls anymore because more companies like KIA exist. 

I'd be willing to bet that the Wedding industry is bringing in more money as a whole now more than ever and that the number of photographers making $100K a year just on weddings has increased significantly since the start of the Digital image.  

Social demographics in the US are changing in a way that is cutting the middle class.  More people are now in the "upper" and "lower" class more than ever (which is why we have such a polarized political system when it comes to fixing our financial problems). Since more people have larger disposable incomes, I feel like couples are willing to spend even MORE money than before on their wedding photographer.  This trend is starting to catch onto other developing countries who might not have valued wedding photography in the past.  Now if you market yourself to the lower end weddings maybe my theory falls apart...

Obviously we have all been in a bit of a world economic slump the last 3 years or so (which hasn't affected many of the high end wedding photographer's incomes thankfully) but as a whole there are more and more people making more money than previous generations and living with a higher quality of life.  

I maybe reading your position wrong but I think the digital economy is booming and great photographers will always have a value ESPECIALLY with normal clients who might only book a photographer a handful of times in their lives.  If you sell your business on your work, your personality, and your customer service you will be successful for a long time.  I agree with your other views on the advertising industry as a whole though...that business model is changing more than ever and perhaps the average budget per job is infact decreasing.  We might have to resort to Chase Jarvis for more info on that perspective :)

HI Patrick - You're right about the top-end wealthy clients in weddings and I agree with you. My point was that weddings/portrait used to be accessible and easy for somebody starting out to set-up a business and compete. But it's actually not that way anymore. Now it is one of the most competitive parts of the photo industry and very difficult to start. There are a lot of people online that are thinking they can make a career in the industry but the environment has totally changed. They are coming in at the tail-end of the bubble,. They're mostly too late. Yes, some people will make it but most have no chance at all.

On the flipside, almost nobody is shooting or talking about self-financing commercial content. So everything in the photo industry has actually reversed. For example, 20 years ago commercial was the most difficult to access and weddings were easy. Today, commercial content is actually going to become more accessible for beginners whereas a wedding business will be the more competitive and difficult to enter.

It's not possible to predict exact dates or events, but it is possible to predict trends. The trend is towards a new digital content based business model for commercial photography. There are several things that have to take place before it starts to show itself. First, there has to be a link made between companies that need content and content producers. Right now, there are very few ways to get paid because most companies are still running on a mechanical business model. But when they switch over to a digital business model then there will be lots of opportunities.

Not to sound lurid, but it's smart to pay attention to what is going on in the online adult entertainment industry because they are actually the pioneers of the digital content business model. The entire online adult industry is based around electronic means of paying out for traffic/content through third-party-processors and revenue share programs. Anybody that can self-finance  and produce decent content (in adult) can get into the industry.

The digital commercial photography industry is decades behind the content based adult business model, so it's still going to be awhile until we see big changes occur. But it is going to happen. The days of creating portfolios and pimping to art directors for jobs is going to go away and any photographer that can create content can sell it without any intermediaries. They will be able to work directly for clients without even getting hired. The can simply tap into revshare programs etc.

Something to think about....most people are still focusing on the last bubble and aren't looking at the next big thing that's coming.

Patrick, Hey man I just wanted to let you know not to get offended if I don't respond to anything that you might post. I just read a post to me by garth VG...I'm just not going to deal with this high school kind of mocking/condescending attitude and don't have anything left to discuss here. No offense to you or the blog, I'm gonna keep up with your site and just not participate. Best of luck with your wedding business.

Patrick Hall's picture

Ah sorry you feel that way Mike.  I just read his response and while there were a few direct attacks that seemed unnecessary, it did make me wonder how the average photographer from your view point would ever book a real job from a large company like Adidas or Wells Fargo.  Some companies might resort to licensing a photographer's previous work in a sort of stock image bid but I think most companies would still have specific needs that would require a realtime shoot.  I know it's always tough to have an open discussion online without the real world rebuttals an clarifications on miscommunicated ideas.  Just be reminded that with every one response you find offensive there are dozens of people who won't respond but found help in your position.  Thanks for reading

I have to disagree.  As much as the business of photography has changed in the advent of digital, it has also stayed the same.  The major differences is the delivery system of images and the MBA attitude of incentives.

Yes, traditional print media is declining however, it is not a dead market.  As much as people would like to think that everyone in the world is "online" and they can deliver their message electronically for "free", this is the old guard trying to force old sales and marketing techniques into a digital world, that they really don't understand and they are fearful of.

As of March 31, 2011, the Internet Usage and World Population Statistics web site is reported that only 30% of the world wide population is online.  The United States, only 13% of it's the population is online.  Print media still has it's place in this world of ours.  I'm not denying that one day it will be at a minimum.  But don't start carving the tombstone just yet.  We have got a long way to go.

"Digital shooters need to become content producers. In other words, they must learn to self-finance their own content and then make money off of the completed work"..."The main point to understand is that photographers have to figure out a way to make money off of something other than the photography itself".

First off, you argument is a complet and utter contradiction.  You need to produce content...images...i.e. photographs. Then, figure out a way to make money "...off of something other than the photography itself".  What??? I'm confused because I know you are.

Let forget for a moment that businesses spend millions of dollars on market research for their next ad campaign, which by the way is a closely guarded secret.  Locked down by a litany non-disclosure agreements and lawyers.  That somehow, in the context of this conversation, a photographer is to psychically figure out what his/her "potential" client base is planing for their next ad campaign.  Absorb all the cost to produce images that exactly fit those highly researched and planned out campaigns.  Then stand in line with a dozen or so other "psychic" photo professionals, just hoping to make something back on your "investment".  Because we all know when supply go up, prices follow.

"Photography is no longer a single clearly defined part of a sequence and is now an undefined part in a non-linear mosaic."

Photographs sells products. Period.  If you have any doubts.  Research "Wheaties".

"From the 1960s through the 1990s, Wheaties provided in-box promotions, but maintained a focus on athletic fitness and on-the-box sports figure promotions. Since the debut of the front cover depiction of Bob Richards, hundreds of athletes have been shown and promoted, including entire baseball, basketball, and football teams, while also highlighting Olympic successes (including regional Special Olympics editions). Wheaties also does not limit itself to current athletic stars, as special edition boxes have depicted baseball players from the early 20th century, and many athletes who were too early for Wheaties to cover (see Jim Thorpe)." - Wikipedia

"...maintained a focus on athletic fitness and on-the-box sports figure promotions." and "...special edition boxes have depicted baseball players from the early 20th century..."  If, as you said, "Photography is no longer a single clearly defined part of a sequence..." then please explain why General Mills has chosen to display a image(photograph) of major sport athletes on their product for the last 51 years.

You Business model of the future is the "MBA's Utopian business model".  Have somebody else do all the work. Have them pay for it, so I can reep all the profits.  Or I'll kick it old school for you.  "Why buy the cow, when I can get the milk for free".

The only person who is holding on to a film/mechanical economy, is you.  You're making the same old assumptive mistake that digital is somehow free because the "process of film" has been removed.  Ignoring that the rest of the brick and mortar world is still in existence.

Patrick Hall's picture

Garth, do you think the population that does not have internet is a clientele to even target?  When I market my own work, I specifically aim towards clients who have  internet, social media, college degree, smart phone, etc etc because I know how much more promotion they will give me after the completion of the job.  If a company or individual is not connected online then I purposely do not try to market towards them.  Maybe I'm missing a small demographic who would increase my revenue but deep down inside, for highend wedding photography at least, I don't think brides willing to spend top dollar would also not have an online presence themselves.  

As for Mike's comments about not selling the photography itself, I think that is already the case.  We all want to think we are selling our photography but honestly I think 80% of what seals a contract is YOU and your personality.  I think having solid images in your port is what brings a client to you but more than anything else it's your personality and relationship with the client that ultimately separates you from the competition and makes the sale.  

How many times have you seen poor photography or a boring concept and thought "How in the world did this guy get the job?"  It's not the photography, it's the relationship the photographer had with the client.  Many people will choose not to believe this and it will be their loss but those who embrace this idea will have a very successful business.  

This idea is a big reason why I often join in the dancing at my weddings, share an alcoholic drink with the bride and groom, and even hand my DSLR cameras to the bride or her bridesmaids....I'm selling my personality first and foremost knowing the photographs are going to be great.  Some people might say it's completely unprofessional (and it is always a judgement calls, sometimes I don't) but I think it helps break the "hired help" label and brings me closer to being a friend.  Friends ultimately book more than being a hired hand :)

That 13 percent number is totally off. You got confused, maybe by looking at the 13.4% number on this page: http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats2.htm. But that's share of the world, not the percentage of the Americas who are connected. In North America, on that same page, it says 78.6% is online. And that's from a year and a half ago. You can probably assume that number is in the 80s now.

I love that CODB montage!  Charming AND informative...

Shakodo is a great resource for these types of questions. There is a very helpful community willing to chime in with their experiences as well. http://www.shakodo.com/

Mark Wallace teachings are always down to the point, love that.
However this is valid for a running business, not a starting one. I'm of the starters pack  and applying this is akin trying to getting rid of a fly on my foot with a shotgun.

I chose weddings photography for 2 reasons, 1. Had the opportunity 2. I can't see a more difficult area in photography so if I can succeed in it then the rest of the industry can't be that inaccessible (well ...). Anyways here's my take on pricing my starting wedding tog biz and why I have to disagree with this video upon starting a biz (putting in other words what I understand Patrick has said a few comments above):

0. Came back to my country after 10 years of absence therefore my networking is 0 (ouch !) nothing to tap in.

1. No portfolio no jobs, any first ever portfolio IS a cost whether direct or indirect (indirect for me i.e. time, logistics and gear) never heard of first portfolio being a profitable or even a break-even gig

2. Now clients : I get clients interest from a segment corresponding to my portfolio. They either have a budget in mind (coming from friends talk or other media sources) or are asking a few photographers for some quotes. In my starting segment supply reaches far beyond demand, therefore the market and/or the client sets the price, not my cost base.

3. Got some clients and now 50% of them are coming from previous jobs they saw and liked. I'm raising my prices for the first time and not because I am too busy, rather to work my way out of my current segment towards the next one up where survival is barely reachable. I do that only on the basis of the slow but steady growth of my still small network, not on cost.

Costs ? I'd love to price on costs but I'm not yet there. Am I loosing money, no, I just can't make a family living out of it yet. Family IS my real cost (and a pretty heafty one), until I get there and my wife can quit her job to stay at home with the kids I'm not considering myself a photographer (biz cards title doesn't make me so, still need biz cards though ...). Costs is the amount of money you need to earn to have your kids raised by their very own mother, at least that's my opinion.

Louis Rumball's picture

Brilliant! Very helpful and some good tips ill be putting in to practice! 


Hmmm... might someone have another link to the said video?? I see none here on this page in my firefox browser... only blank empty space below the intro paragraph

Patrick Hall's picture

Refresh now. This post was from our old site design and used a different code not supported by the current site.