Five Reasons to Raise Your Portrait Photography Prices

Five Reasons to Raise Your Portrait Photography Prices

You get what you pay for. In most cases, this saying rings true. However, there is another narrative playing out in the photographic world. This other, rather untold story has a central character getting much, much more than what they pay for. When it comes to portrait photography, clients are reaping rewards from photographers who are unwilling or too fearful to raise their prices. There comes a time when something other than a photographer’s livelihood must give. 

Your Reputation

Like most vocations, your photography business is built upon reputation. Without a solid reputation, your career as a photographer is destined for failure.  More than likely, you already have a reputation in your service area. Clients and fellow photographers alike recognize and label you. Hopefully, you aren’t immediately associated with low prices. One descriptor that you never want to have attached to your name is to be known as the “cheap photographer.” Believe it or not, undervaluing your services can have a counterintuitive reaction. Clients see rock-bottom prices and will recognize that you have little value as a photographer. 

On the other hand, the “competitive rates” you have established will attract a slew of clients. However, the clients you will attract will not value you as a photographer or the art that you create. Soon, clients and industry peers will recognize you as the “discount option,” and this reputation will be hard to overcome. By raising your prices, you distance yourself from the economical option. Far away from rock-bottom prices, you establish value for your service and show that your experience, artistic vision, and technical prowess are worth your rate. 

You Aren’t a Work Horse

Too much work is a bad thing. You aren’t built to put in 60, 70, or even 80-hour weeks. Long, grinding hours are not sustainable and leave photographers mentally and physically exhausted. Low prices are the quickest way to inherit this unsustainable grind. Depressed pricing attracts customers who consider budget over everything else. While these cost-minded clients do bring photographers a small payday, they also refer new clients with similar values. Soon enough, you will have a steady stream of meager-paying jobs but will not have the time to do much else with your life. 

While higher prices for each portrait session might result in less work at first, you will still maintain your same annual bottom line with less effort. Use simple math. The average annual income for a portrait photographer in the United States hovers around $50,000. If a photographer raised their prices by a modest 20 percent, their new income would reach sixty thousand dollars. While this extra cash will by no means will make you rich, the extra income will provide you with the flexibility to work less hours and increase free time to spend with your family, relaxing, or working on your craft.

Consumer Confidence 

Professional photographers realize how their clients feel when being photographed. The last thing you should want your client thinking during a session is about how they do not trust you as their photographer. It is a photographer’s goal to make their clients relax in the knowledge that they are in great hands. 

Higher prices will inevitably lead your customers to have confidence in you. If a client pays dearly for your service, they have confidence that your work will live up to its price. With consumer confidence high, your client will not doubt the decisions you make before, during, and after your portrait session.

Raise the Industry Standard

As a portrait photographer, you can immediately name the photographer down the road that is willing to shoot for hours, deliver heaps of high-resolution images, and only charge pennies-on-the-hour for the whole package. Many photographers fall into the trap of lowering their prices to compete with the photographers who undercut their services and lower the value associated with the portrait industry. 

At first, lowering your prices to compete with the competition seems like a good idea. However, this logic is flawed and is counterproductive to your goals as a career photographer and to the industry at large. Clients use pricing comparatively and create pricing anchors. If all photographers have deflated rates, consumers enter a mindset where little value is attached to photography services. Considering this, photographers should collectively raise prices. Instead of lowering your rates to meet the low end of the market, do all in your power to raise the standard for the entire industry.

Career Longevity

No one said that starting a photography business was going to be easy. Starting a business is one of the most challenging endeavors you can face as a creative. In fact, many professionals don’t last in the field because of financial uncertainty. By increasing your prices, you are gaining an edge against the odds and positioning yourself as a staple in your market. 

Knowing that you are receiving a decent wage for your work, you will be more likely to show up for your portrait shoot motivated and full of excitement. With fresh energy, you are more likely create better work that will, in turn, attract the clients you have always desired. With increased revenue, you will soon be able to pick the projects that deeply interest you and will add years to the lifespan of your photographic career. 

In Conclusion

Most photographers choose their career because of a deep passion for the craft and a calling to create beautiful images; financial prosperity is just an added bonus. But somewhere along the way, a shift towards full-client rosters became paramount. Photographers are now quick to gobble up any client they can get and actively price their products based on arbitrary anchors. 

Many photographers forget that the business of photography isn’t all about clients. The photo business is also about you, the photographer.  By raising your prices, you will be able to hold your head up high and approach your work with renewed energy. With higher prices, you will create a sustainable business model. In a world where every Tom, Dick, and Jane is a photographer, elevate yourself by asking for a fair wage.

Andrew Faulk's picture

Andrew Faulk is an American photographer based in Tokyo, Japan. Though specializing in portrait photography, Andrew dabbles in all things photography. He is a husband, father, and lover of fried food.

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Sounds good if you can get clients. High price is the best way to increase profit - that is for sure.

I am rather new at this but I have been around the marked for 40 years, and I have seen photographers undercutting the going rate and been taking marked share, for then to increase price.

Actually the label "cheep" is not bad.
Starting up getting clients is the biggest challenge, and you are bound to mess up. Many people who wants low budget will be more then happy even if you are not perfected. Surly there are a marked for cheep, and it is a different marked to:)

Over time it is good to raise prices, as you get better people will notice your pictures and you will have a name, cheep or not. Giving special offers will get you clients that never would go to the expensive shop anyway.

Starting up it is about getting clients and do work. Practice and get good. Later when clients are coming in a measure that kills you, that is the time to increase price :)

Nobody gets good siting on there butt waiting for someone to take pictures off.

Diversity in the marked is not a bad thing. Some pay 20 usd for a jeans, some pay 200.

To me it makes sense to increase price when you have a overflow of clients or think it will not hurt you business to increase price.

Question is what can I charge, not what does other charge. Bigger is better for sure :)

I disagree entirely. You raise prices with the clientele whom you start with, which have different values for photography and willingness to pay for that service. You're assuming the $20 pants is the same quality as the $200 pants... in reality it is not. the $20 pants could have been in a sweat shop in China vs. the $200 pants made down the road from you in the US or whatever main stream country. As the article mentioned, "You get what you pay for." I want to provide a white glove portrait experience service, not just some pictures. Granted what attracted my clients to me is the pics, but I want to be hired to provide them that amazing experience and the photos are the bonus to that service. Not just a photographer but an experience maker as well. I wouldn't be able to afford to give that experience for X, Y, or Z "Cheap" prices, heck my current prices are already too low for my portrait experiences but I do lean more of my revenue towards the products to balance that. Problem is currently for me, is my business model is not meant for the region I'm in at this time.

Chris, great points. You are talking about perceived value. Stay tuned for my article next week about how to used perceived value to increase your revenue.

If you model of business does not work where you live then maybe it is wrong?
I would like to have a fancy shop and a nice assistant and charge top fee, but currently I don't.
I have seen tests on jeans and 40 dollars jeans was better then most more expensive:)
Sell for a price that gives clients and charge as much as possible.
People who are in the top did a climb to get there:)

No, its not wrong. I designed my model to stand out from the crowd intentionally. I offer something no one offers in my entire region. My photographic style is unique to the region, so why not offer the market something unique other than just photos, and more something like a portrait experience and not just be a photographer offering photography services. I don't want to be like the rest and then be forced to compete on price cause my only difference is the photos. My photos and entire business model is different than the majority in my region. So I can set my pricing that reflects to the CODB, which is no where near the local market can bare and being spoiled by S&B photography business models.

I wish you all the best and if you can make it work, then all is well.

Agreed. And as many entrepreneurs have said countless times... Location, Location, Location. I've learned and recently realized this the hard way where my business model will not work in my region, or heck may not ever work with the embedded value for photography and sadly even average income as well. This is why I'll be moving to an area where the business has the best and more opportunities to grow. Right now the only way I can grow is giving away the cow and farm and work for pennies on the dollar, in my region.

Chris, I hear what you are saying completely. Location does determine the asking rate for portrait photography. I also moved into a market that was sustainable for me as a photographer. Best of luck with your move!

Thanks :)

eu ja vi fotografo que cobra menos que um mendigo ganha por hora. pode acreditar. uns meiasolas que os pais sustentam pra brincarem que trabalham. porem os clientes rebecem exatamente o que pagam. muito pouquinho. hoje a foto digital custa 9 vezes mais que a de filme se for computado todos os custos que orbitam a foto, como computadores, programas, durabilidade do equipamento...

Being in a smaller market has definitely worked in my favor. I would suggest looking around into areas that aren't blasted with photographers and begin there. I landed my biggest client in one of the smallest towns in the state. Excellent read.

I think it depends on the genre personally. For me, fashion is my goal. So since the vast majority of the talent are in major cities, I have a extremely difficult time recruiting local talent for personal projects/collaborations, where I am using way too much time on personal projects than other business duties and drive in cash flow. Past 6 years its all I did sadly. No fashion designers exist where I'm at, or heck 1 wardrobe stylist in the entire region, no pro fashion models. So only real shot I got to make serious fashion personal project shoots are in or around major cities.

But I agree as to other genres like newborn, family, weddings, etc. yea. You're not as dependent on a team than fashion would be.

Chris, I totally hear what you are saying here. Fashion is a genre that can be trouble for small town photographers. Many times a move to that metro area is needed to start generating steady cash flow with fashion. But, I would say that your fashion work will help bring in even more portrait clients. Have you found this to be true for you and your business?

It has not sadly. The area I'm in right now does not value photographers other than shoot and burn (S&B) and average spending for a portrait session is $100-$250 and high res./print rights on a CD. It's just not enough to have a decent hourly wage where I do give my edits the full treatment of a real fashion shoot, like FS, DB, sometimes micro DB, etc... spending an hour on a retouch on average, not worth doing for $100, unless its just 1 retouch and a low/web only resolution file. Hence why I'm moving to a bigger city, slightly outside of philly, where value from what I see may be taken a bit more better than my region I'm in now. Only real option I saw was possible was "de-grade" the output to more regular retouching to save 50% of the time and cutting my prices 50% to bring in more volume. Thing is I am an artist at hear, which I know is bad for business. I rather not ever send or produce anything I am not happy with entirely and will rather lose the job/money on the table. I just have to create value and perception to tell the world I am worth the price I am asking... which is no easy task either. Plus with my area being super behind on the social media technology (lack of influencers too in the region) its not easy to get my name out there without traditional advertising methods which we all know is very overpriced. I tried doing tons of trade shoots to get the word out, and it somewhat did, but not to any real influencer levels in the region.

I know I could "make it" work, but this will take a minimum of 7 years to invest into the area. I don't see it justifiable to invest that much time than other areas that have more opportunities to grow my craft and network for the industry I want to be closer to.

But I did learn a ton from forcing myself to find and work with inspiring models and regular people and make them look like professional models. Got fairly comfortable doing that and has prepped me to working with regular people and making them look their best. But I am lacking the working skill of working within a fashion team and experienced models in the fashion business. I know I'll have more opportunity to building a solid team, which is the heart of a fashion photographer, the team. Can't look good without the entire team, and I am missing that opportunity to grow and expand my collaborations with working with many different people/talent in a team. Plus, more experienced models is a huge plus or even models that give that fashion mood better from what the industry and publications expect and want. I'm not knocking the models/people and other creative talent I've worked with where I'm at now but I've tapped the well dry, after 6 years I am planning to up my game to the next level and getting more opportunities by moving to or near a bigger city. :-)