Updates for Fall 2014 (and how to price a photography business)

June 30, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

This summer has been a time of reflection for me with the direction in which my photography business needs to go in order to continue to be sustainable.  I am extremely grateful for all of the clients who have helped me build Whispering Pines Photography and hope to continue serving your photography needs on into the future.  That said, I am realizing that in order to continue, I need to ensure that my pricing is such that I am not doing a disservice to my family by taking time away from them and from my legal work to pursue my photography.  Because of this, I took a long, hard look at my pricing and costs of doing business.  I decided to outline some of the process that I went through here because I know that there are quite a few other photographers out there doing the same thing and maybe this will help them in determining the pricing for their business as well.  One caveat for other photographers out there, I am fortunate in that I do not have to do photography as a full-time, cover all of my living expenses, job.  There may come a time when Whispering Pines Photography is a full-time business, but I have more flexibility in my pricing than full-time photographers.  Also, even with this reflection, there are certain benchmarks in pricing that I do not want to pass because of the market in which I want to make photography available.

  • First realization – I was spending hours upon hours preparing for shoots, going to and photographing shoots, and editing the results and was charging very little for that because of the goal that I would make up the difference in photo product sales.  What I found is that a large majority of the clients that I was getting would only spend maybe $50 in photo product sales.  When I keep the mark-up on my photo products low, that $50 means that I maybe make $10 off of the photo product sales; not much for covering operating expenses or for making even a part-time living off of photography. 
  • Second realization – I used to try to take every photo session that inquired and spent all of my time running around doing sessions, even if I had to slash my fees to do so.  When things slowed down some over the winter, I realized that I had gotten completely away from the purpose of my photography business allowing me to help my family make some extra money to pay bills while also allowing me time with my family.  Running a photography business takes time, it’s not just showing up to shoot a session and then copying the images to a disc and being done (if that’s all you’re doing, you are doing yourself and your clients a disservice).  It’s doing legal work on your business; billing, accounting, and paying expenses; web management; education to improve your skills; marketing; editing; the list goes on and on … if you’re running your business right, then only about 10% of your time is actual shooting (i.e. what most clients see as the billable part of your business) time while the remaining 90% is spent on the less fun business management side.
  • Third realization – I have found that as I’ve started trying to move my fees closer to what I need to make to run a sustainable business and have stayed with presenting things as these are my fees and the client can choose to hire me or to walk away that I have actually gotten more inquiries and bookings.  Know your expenses, know your worth and have the confidence to charge what you need to charge in order to run a sustainable business.  You may not get every client, but the clients will come and will respect you as a legitimate business more when you treat yourself as such.

So, what all did I look at in light of these realizations?  The first thing I did was run my average expenses or costs of doing business (CODB) through a calculator provided by the American Society of Media Photographers.  Because many of my expenses are either shared or covered elsewhere (mortgage/rent, phone, internet, etc…) I was able to put in lower amounts.  Using this calculator, I was able to break down the amount for the CODB that needed to be accounted for with each session in order to be sustainable.  I then sat down with a legal pad and calculated how much time on average that I spend with each session … some sessions will be more time, some less.  The breakdown looked something like this:

Lifestyle Sessions – Time Spent:

  • 3-4 hours before the session meeting with the client and planning the session (this includes the pre-session meeting, time spent online and going through past sessions to plan out poses, etc…)
  • 3-4 hours for the session (this includes drive time, set-up and break-down of any props, actual shooting time, etc… for an average shoot of 1-2 hours – depending on how long it takes to get the needed number of images)
  • 6-7 hours for editing, ordering session, and ordering from the lab (this number is probably low, but should be supplemented by any photo product orders)
  • So, for the average 1-2 hour lifestyle session, I am spending close to 15 hours from start to finish to make the session happen.

Weddings – Time Spent (for a 4 hour wedding package):

  • 6-8 hours before (includes prep for both the wedding and the engagement session, which would be the same as for lifestyle sessions but would also include a final planning meeting a few weeks before the wedding to go over the timeline, etc… for the day and a likely site visit to plan for lighting, where to stand during the ceremony, etc…)
  • 10 hours for the engagement session and wedding 
  • 15-18 hours for editing, ordering session, and ordering from the lab.
  • So, for the average 4 hour wedding (with a 1-2 hour engagement session), I am spending an average of close to 35 hours from start to finish.

In doing these calculations, I quickly realized that to make close to the same amount per hour (before expenses are taken into account) as I do with my day job, I would either have to charge a significantly higher amount that I would feel comfortable charging my clients or would have to take on more sessions/weddings in a month than I want to book.  So, the question then became how much do I need to charge to make this a part-time business worth spending some time on?  In other words, what do I need to make in order to feel like this is worth doing (as opposed to closing down as a business and just doing photography for my family and as the occasional friend needs help)?  Needing the time to come up with this answer is why I decided at the beginning of the summer to leave my pricing as is until the (unofficial) end of summer – when school generally starts back – to allow me time to think through and calculate things.  The numbers below are the result.  While I realize that there are clients out there who may not wish to pay the new fees for my photography services, I also trust that there are many out there who appreciate the art and hard work that goes into running a photography business and who will also appreciate knowing what a hard process this was for me to come to the fees that I need to charge in order to continue running a sustainable business.

A few other things to note before I give you the new price list …

  • One way that I can keep my expenses lower is to only edit the photographs that my clients will ultimately purchase.  So, with my lifestyle sessions after this price list goes into effect, I will be offering same-day ordering sessions.  How this will work is that we will do the session and then we’ll take a break for an hour or so while I upload the session photos to my computer and prepare them for viewing.  Only the photographs that you order that day will be edited and presented online for viewing.  The rest will be kept for 3 months and then discarded.  If you choose to not do a same-day ordering session, then you will see/receive on your disc “photographer’s choice” of images.  Weddings will not have the same-day ordering policy as all images are edited and included.  Your ordering session date will be put on the calendar for a date after the photographs are edited.
  • Another way that I can keep expenses lower is to reduce travel time for sessions.  So, a 10% discount will be offered for sessions that are held at my location or when you “bring a friend” to your session (multiple bookings at the same location on the same day). 
  • There will be referral credits offered.  The exact amounts of these will depend on the number of referrals, type of booking, etc… but be sure to refer your friends and to tell them to let me know who referred you so that I can make sure that you get the referral credit.
  • Lastly, be sure to sign up to receive my e-newsletter each month to see news, photography tips, and to receive exclusive discounts and offers

DM PHOTOGRAPHY

Fall 2014 Price List (Effective 8/15/14)

Lifestyle Sessions - $200.00          

  • This package will cover a 1-2 hour session (length of session will vary depending on how long it takes to acquire the necessary number of photographs) – or, 1-2 outfits, up to 10 people, and 1 location.  You will receive up to 30 high-resolution, edited images sized for printing on a digital images disc and a $50 print credit.  Your (purchased) session images will also be re-sized for social media and posted on my facebook page with permission for you to share, make profile picture, etc... If you choose to not include the print credit, the fee will be $150.00, but you will not receive the print discounts that I will offer when print credits are purchased. You may also add to the print credit.

For other photographers out there, my breakdown ended up being that if I charged $10 per hour (which is extremely low) for the 15 hours, then that made the session $150.  With the results of the expenses calculator, my average expenses would be $50 per session.  So, just to cover that, makes the session $200, which is more than I wanted to charge for just the session and digital images.  I was able to reduce the hours on editing, ordering session, etc… some by switching to same-day ordering, and then I made a few other adjustments to keep pricing in line with the fees that I felt comfortable charging.

Weddings - $500.00

  • This package will cover a 1-2 hour engagement session and up to 4 hours of wedding day coverage.  You will receive up to 25 high-resolution, fully edited images sized for printing on a digital images disc from your engagement session and all of your edited images from the wedding day on a customized wood USB drive as well as a hard-cover photo album.  Your (purchased) engagement session images and your choice of up to 25 wedding day images will also be re-sized for social media and posted on my facebook page with permission for you to share, make profile picture, etc... You will also receive a $100 print credit which can be completely applied to either the engagement session or wedding or split between the two.  As with lifestyle sessions, you can choose to not include the print credit but you will not receive the print discounts.  You may also add to the print credit.

For other photographers out there, the breakdown was much the same as for the lifestyle sessions except for the fact that I needed to leave the editing, ordering session, etc… time pretty much as is.  I also needed to account for the added product expenses of the customized wood USB drive and the hard cover album.  I could have possibly reduced expenses further by eliminating the engagement session (which many of you may be considering just have as an “extra” that can be purchased) but I feel that the engagement session time is important for making sure that the couple and I are comfortable working with each other, know what poses work well before the day of the wedding, etc… so I offer it as a standard part of my wedding packages.

DM PHOTOGRAPHY

I know that I did not have to include the full breakdown of the process here in this post but my hope is that maybe this will help other photographers who are trying to come up with how to set their fees.  There are many elements to pricing that are easy to overlook when you first go into business as a photographer, so hopefully this will provide a guide.  Every photographer’s expenses and work-flow is going to be different, so please don’t copy what I did exactly because you will be doing yourself a disservice.  Instead, sit down with a pen or pencil, some paper, and a calculator and work through your expenses and business goals to come up with what works for you.

DM PHOTOGRAPHY


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