Lets Talk Seriously About Photographers Putting Up Their Prices

Lets Talk Seriously About Photographers Putting Up Their Prices

When was the last time you put up the amount you charge for your photography? If the answer is never then you're not alone. Many of us struggle to ask for more money and even those who try are not always successful. The problem is that if you never increase your prices you'll be out of business before you know it. Here's how and when to start charging more.

Most of us photographers just want to take nice pictures and not have to deal with the business side of it all. For many people, anything that doesn't involve a camera or editing pictures on a computer is just a little too removed from the role of "photographer". I think this is why things like how much we charge for our services can be something that gets neglected. Asking for more money is usually an awkward conversation at the best of times and it can be especially tricky with clients you have worked with for many years. All that being said, it really is crucial that you keep on top of what you charge and how much it actually costs you to operate as a photographer.

Why You Need to Increase Your Rates

Almost everything around you has increased in price over the last few years. The electricity needed to power your cameras and computer, the many crucial items that you use daily as a photographer, and the fuel you need to run your vehicle are just a few common outgoings. If you don't increase your rates then the profit you make will slowly become eroded over time. It might not seem like much but if you are stuck on the same rate for many years the difference will eventually become apparent if you look closely at the numbers. As a basic example, if a photographer needs to shoot 50 days a year to survive then in 5 years time they might find themselves needing to shoot 60 days a year to take home the same amount. Some might think this isn't a big deal but finding more days to shoot can be easier said than done. Those extra days will also add additional wear and tear to your gear which will mean you will need to replace expensive items such as cameras much sooner.

Another reason to increase your rate is that everyone else around you is. If you are regularly competing for work with other photographers and you haven't changed the amount you charge for several years then questions may be asked. While you may look like a bargain to some clients, others may wonder how serious or successful you are. Could you be keeping your rates low as you need the work? Are you just playing at being a photographer? Aren't you as good as those other more expensive photographers? It may very well be unjustified seeds of doubt being planted in their minds, but they are negative associations none the less. These need to be avoided if you want to continue to be hired.

When to Push up Prices

Timing really is everything when it comes to increasing your rates. If you decide that next Tuesday is the day you will start charging more then people might feel like you have just randomly plucked a date out of thin air. Without any major justification for your actions, your customers or clients may feel less than enthusiastic to pay extra. For this reason, I think a good time to make rate adjustments is the start of a new fiscal or calendar year. By using a recognized starting point you can draw a much more understandable line in the sand for the people that hire you. Those times of the year are popular for most companies to push up their prices so any announcements you make won't come as much of a shock.

Unfortunately for our American readers, the fiscal year in the U.S. begins on October 1st so if you were going to use that date you'll to have to wait a good few months to make rate changes. In the United Kingdom, however, the fiscal year begins on April 6th which is only a matter of days away. Regardless of where you live, this strategy is a long term one so being patient and giving clients notice is always a better approach. If you really do want to change your rates much sooner you could potentially choose a non-traditional date and explain to clients that this change was set to happen at the start of the current fiscal year but you delayed implementing price increases for some reason. It's not guaranteed to work but it might just make your clients feel better about the announcement.  

How Much to Increase Things by

It's difficult for me to give you actual figures of how much you should push up your rates by as this will vary widely from industry and location. What I can say is that smaller regular price increases are the best way to go. Not only will these changes be less noticeable, but they are much more understandable and affordable. Frequent price increases stop clients having a reference price for you which is a good thing. Being known as the photographer who shoots for $100 a day is going to be a hard one to shake if you've charged that much for the last decade. If your price stays the same for years, people will become accustomed to that figure and have much more of a problem with paying extra for the same job. By never changing your prices there will come a point when the scales tip and you have no other choice than to push up your rates to stay in business. If you need to hike up your prices dramatically overnight you could find yourself with serious irreversible problems. A 5 percent increase each year is always going to be easier for people to stomach than one massive jump of 50 percent.

So there you have it, how best to increase your prices and why it's more important than you think. By having a strategy and getting into good habits you can really take the stress and guesswork out of how much to charge and when you should make changes. By taking control of your rates you send a clear message out to your clients that you know what you are worth and how much it actually costs to operate as a photographer. The alternative of doing nothing will eventually put you out of business.

Over to You

Do you regularly increase your prices or have you had the same rates for many years? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic in the comments below.

Lead image by RyanMcGuire via Pixabay used under Creative Commons.  

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9 Comments

One correction for the US: there is no set, single fiscal new year. Each company or business gets to choose their own, and it can be any day of the year. Most, however, just go with a regular calendar year, with Jan. 1 being the beginning of a new fiscal year.

Kirk Darling's picture

Yes, October is the beginning of the government's fiscal year. 1 Jan isn't a bad time to set new prices for a photographer, either.

Most photographers are in something of a slump in January, so if they raise prices on 1 Jan there will have been enough time between work for most clients not to experience a sudden jolt as ("Last month you only charged...."). All chances made at the turn of the year have less of a feeling of arbitrariness because everyone expects changes at that time.

Paul Adshead's picture

Totally agree Kirk. Raising prices with existing clients is the hardest part but needs to be done. Is January when you do it?

Kirk Darling's picture

Yes, unless there is something that forces it otherwise.

Paul Adshead's picture

Thanks for the info Tim. I'm not from the US & although I did research the fiscal year over there I wrongly presumed it to be similar to our system over here in the uk.

Unfortunately this article shows little understanding of basic supply and demand Economics. How much prices are going up around you and how much competitors are charging has little to do with increasing your own rates successfully.

As an analogy just because you're a football player on a pub team and the cost of living has gone up and other footballers are getting paid more that doesn't mean you can raise your 'rate'.

It all depends on how much in demand you are.

If you're not, and if you're barely working, even if you raise your rates by just a little, there's a good chance, if you're not bringing in new clients, that you're going to be working and making even less.

However, if you're busy and consistently bringing in new clients, if you raise your rates, you'll quickly replace those who leave and you'll end up taking more money home.

And let's say you are super in demand, you are a genuine rising star. Let's say you you just shot your first fashion editorial for Vogue and now you have agencies knocking down your studio door. Should you only raise your rate a little?

Don't look around you to justify raising rates, look at your appointment book to see if you're in demand.

Paul Adshead's picture

While you make some excellent points Peter, I never said "how much prices are going up around you" and "how much competitors are charging" were connected to the success of a rate increase. The execution of a price hike was what I wanted to focus on in this particular article. So timing & the relationship between the frequency/amount increased by are the important factors to discuss. I purposely don't talk about ability, industry, or the few photographers who might become overnight successes as this article was more about the general & essential price changes that every single photographer should be doing just to tread water and stay in business.

What I did say in regards to "prices around you" is that if photographers stand still with their rates they will be taking home much less year on year if the amount of days they shoot remains the same. This might be an obvious point to make but it's an important one to illustrate & one which can help photographers to understand the importance of not staying on the same figure for many years.

You do need to always look around you so you know exactly what it costs to continue to do business and what the climate is like in your industry. Using your appointment book in isolation is a bad compass to navigate by.

Robert Bell's picture

You see all sorts of contractors freelances etc staying on the same price for many years in lots of different sectors. Great for the customer but like you say it's not for the business.

Raising prices consistently is necessary to maintain a profitable business. I adjust my prices in line roughly with the rate of inflation, which although currently about 2 percent per year never the less adds up and compounds over time. I have done this since I started my photography business in 1975, otherwise I would now be charging one tenth of my current rates.

Not raising prices not only earns you less money but eventually drops you into the bargain bin category as other more financially astute photographers surpass your prices. That will also cost you money and cause much grief when you start to attract the bargain hunter clients.