How to Charge for the 3 Stages of Beginner Photography

Running a photography business is challenging and earning your first client can be tough. In this article, I will show you how to charge for photography in the three stages of a beginner photographer's career. 

Let's divide the beginner photographer into three categories. If you consider yourself a beginner, more than likely you will fall into one of these. When you watched my entire video, I will go into greater detail about what you should do and how long you should be in each phase.

The Photographer Who is Afraid to Charge

It seems like almost all of us started here, and there is nothing to be ashamed of if that's where you belong. Let's use this as an opportunity to build strengths that will help you make greater income later on. The biggest fear is that they are afraid to charge. Photographers will even go as far as making excuses as to why they should not charge, excuses like "no one in my market charges." Or they might say they are not yet good enough to charge.

For this type of beginner photographer, I would encourage you to start charging for cost. Worry less about the money and more about the courage to ask for your value. Charge for cost!

The reason for that is that you should never be photographing for free, and investing from your own bank account is even crazier. We teach this photographer that asking for money does not mean the end of the world. That's why I encourage them to charge only for cost and to do this for 30 to 60 days maximum. That's the critical part: If you go more than 2 months, you're bound to tell the market this is your permanent value. 

We're here long enough to develop the courage it takes to ask for money. It allows you to develop your portfolio and put out a small smoke signal that you are no longer free. And do it for a maximum of 60 days, so that we quickly introduce you as the stage two photographer.

The Photographer Who is Ready to Charge

This is where you have already let the market know you are no longer free. Now we are telling them that you fully understand your value and are willing to work but with your training wheels on. You're still going to get your value but maybe not all with money. I encourage bartering and working with businesses that can assist with your growth. Barter dollar for dollar value. If you really want to charge $2,000, then ask for $2,000 in their product.

Barter with accountants, lawyers, website builders, those types of people. Ask for your full rate when you barter. The reason why I insist on barter first is that this photographer was afraid to ask for money just two months ago. Now we are teaching them to ask for their full value, but through an easier method. When you ask a restaurant for $2,000 in credit, it really only cost them about $400. It's an easier "yes" for the photographer, and sometimes we need that in the earlier days. Even though it's an easier YES, you are still letting the restaurant know you are charging $2,000.

I suggest staying in this phase for a maximum of 45-60 days. By now you've realized the world does not stop when you ask for money and that people will believe you when you say your value.

As we get closer to the end of your term with phase 2, you can employ a hybrid payment system. Maybe you get $1,000 in barter and $1,000 in cash. The biggest win is that you are asking people for your full rate without fear and I think 60 days is plenty of exercise time.

The Photographer Who is Already Charging but Uncertain

This is phase 3, we are only accepting full rate payments (Credit cards, Zelle, Venmo, etc...) from our clientele. You've spent the last few months letting the market know that we are a fully functioning business. We will resume business with our full rate moving forward.

If you wish to do a little barter here or there, that's fine but your main objective is to charge your full rate with each client moving forward. 

Here are some tips to make sure you are charging correctly for this phase, the longest stage.

  • Did you offer the client additional products upon delivery? If not, you're leaving money on the table
  • Did you charge a production fee? If not, you're really cutting into your profits
  • Did you count all of the hours for pre-production and post-production? Do inventory because you're spending a lot of time on each project
  • Did you price yourself in a way that leaves room for last-minute add-ons?

Watch the video and see how I get into each stage with far greater detail. Each beginner photographer is different and their needs must be met in a variety of ways. 

Walid Azami's picture

Walid Azami is a Photographer/Director and creative consultant from Los Angeles. He got his start working with Madonna + Co by contributing to her many projects. It was then he realized his place in the creative world & began teaching himself photography. He has since shot Kanye, Mariah Carey, Usher, Bernie Sanders, JLO, amongst others

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Good thoughts here, but my question is how do you define "charge at cost"? Is the cost the hourly rate (and how do you determine that), or cost for driving + amortization of gear costs, or ...?

Hey Alan, it's more about charging for things that cost you money. Charge for the gas, the rental of your gear (if applicable), maybe any special props, etc... For the first two months I advise they stay away from charging their rate. I say this because the person who is making up excuses for why they should not charge isn't really ready. I want to them to ask for money and realize the world does not end. And that's why I want this stage to be 45-60 days so it's not a bad habit they're forming. And if they ask for their "hourly rate" then that cheap price could stick to them. It's easier if we charge for things like rentals, etc... We're just in the training wheels stage but for some, it's a HUGE step.

Thanks for the clarification. When I was at that stage (and honestly, still now) I have trouble thinking of what my "hard" costs are going to be, other than gas. No gear rental, so it's really gas and time. And as crappy as gas is, unless you're going a long way it's not going to be a huge amount I'd guess... It's a great way to think about it regardless.

I totally get you having trouble with that. Even if it's just gas, then it's just gas. The biggest win is asking for money and realizing no one died. Also, I'm happy to converse because on this blog...95% of comments are just trash talking from photographers who are unhappy and cynical. So it was a pleasant surprise reading something kind.