No More Guessing What to Charge For Your Photography – Learn How to Price Your Work & Time Appropriately (Updated 2020)
Beginner/Amateur Photographers: Free – $50 per hour | $25 – $50 per image
Student/New Professionals: $50 – $100 per hour | $25 – $100 per image
Professionals: $75 – $250 per hour| | $75 – $300 per image
Top Professionals: $250 – $500+ per hour | $300 – $1,500 per image
Picking The Perfect Price
If you’re just breaking into photography and wondering how much to charge per hour, or if you’ve been running your business for some time and want to raise your rates, this article will help you decide how to price your work.
There are many different ways to price your photography. Different photography niches tend to lend themselves to different pricing models as well. For example, commercial photographers can charge per image, per day, or a fee for the entire project. Event photographers usually charge an hourly or a daily rate for their services. We’ll explore how you can pick a pricing structure that works for you further on in this article
Knowing what to charge is one of the hardest things to figure out as a photographer. You may think your prices aren’t competitive enough, but we’ll explain further on why this usually isn’t the case.
How to Determine Your Prices (or Rates)
There are several ways in which you as a photographer can determine what to charge, but they all boil down to basically one thing: knowing what you’re worth.
If you have no idea about what your work is worth to your clients, then pricing can be a nightmare. It’s surprising how many photographers simply copy what others are charging without giving thought to how those numbers impact their entire business strategy.
The most natural first step in determining your worth is to determine your cost of doing business (CODB). This is the yearly cost of all your expenses plus what you want to make as profit. Think of it as your goal for the year, or you can break things down further into monthly targets.
Digital Photography School has a great article on calculating your CODB. You can check it out here. The NPPA also has a tool to calculate the cost for you.
Your CODB should include all the expenses it takes to run your business, in addition to the ‘salary’ or income target you’re aiming to make for the year. If you work from home, this includes the cost of your rent or mortgage. If you use your car for anything related to work, include that as well.
If this is your first or second (or third) year in business, it’s important to be realistic when determining your income goals. In the early years you may barely break even with your business costs, so don’t plan on suddenly making record profits if you’re still finding your footing. Shoot for a reasonable goal that will perhaps challenge you – without proving to be impossible.
Calculating Your CODB
Add up all the expenses you need to run your business for the year: gear costs, insurance fees, hosting fees, software, travel costs, rent, food, etc.
Yearly Costs: $27,000
Desired Annual Salary: $35,000
Total CODB: $62,000
Let’s go with the above example for wedding photography. If you charge an average of $2,500.00 per wedding, you would need to book about 25 weddings per year – or 2 weddings per month – to reach your salary goal and cover your expenses.
Calculating your costs or your expected income may not be as simple as the above example, but you can play around with different scenarios to get a good idea of the range you should be charging for your work. If you currently charge a daily rate for commercial work, you can use the same method to calculate how many billable days you need to schedule per year.
You may find that based on your current prices, you would need to work an extraordinary amount per year to reach your current income goals. If this is the case, you can either take an honest look at your salary goal if it’s unrealistic, or you may want to consider raising your prices or providing higher-tier services to more affluent clients. Remember that just because you want to book 25 weddings per year doesn’t mean it will happen. The more experience you have, the better you’ll be able to determine what’s doable for you.
Know Your Value
So now you have an idea of what it takes to run your business and reach your goals for the year, how do you translate that into booking clients and selling your work at a fair price?
This is where a little careful planning and positioning comes in.
Every business is different, and clients or companies choose one photographer over another for different reasons. Some choose based solely on price. But there are other factors people pay attention to when picking a professional that you can play to your advantage.
The reason some photographers can command thousands of dollars is that their perceived value in the marketplace is high. If you’re struggling to find opportunities and command fair prices for your work, it may be helpful to do the following exercise.
First, you must determine what it is you do. You probably have different areas of work, such as wedding photography and portrait photography, but if you mainly want to do work in one area, focus on that.
If you mainly work for local clients, consider where your prices and services fit within the local market. You don’t want to price yourself out of the market, but it’s also not a good idea to be the cheapest either. Creating a pricing structure that your local market will pay is important, and it may take some trial and error before you find the sweet spot.
While we’re on the subject: study what your market wants. If you find yourself getting far more requests for weddings vs. portraits, this is also a good sign that you could make this your main area of expertise. No one photographer can be everything to all people, nor should you. Focusing in and narrowing down your expertise will allow you to command higher prices as a professional.
Next, think about your skills. What added value do you bring to the table? What is your personality like? Chances are, the gigs you have already snagged were given to you because of a few of these factors.
Your skills, personality, and offerings are what create the added value to your business. You may be very skilled at working with people so weddings are your natural talent, or you can come up with a vision for commercial brands that makes you very sought-after. Or you may offer a service that your competitors don’t, such as hair/makeup services for your portrait shots. Whatever your skills, talents or services are, list them out.
Then once you have your list, write out the benefits each one provides to your clients or customers. For example, being great with people means you can get very relaxed, natural looking photos without the “posed” look so many people dislike in their photo albums.
The benefits you can list here are like gold nuggets to use in your marketing for attracting future clients. Using this exercise, you can better determine what sets you apart from the competition, and why you may be able to charge a premium rate for your work.
Convey Your Value
The foundation of your branding and marketing should be the value you provide to your clients and customers. Make your business appeal to them, and your path to success will be much easier!
You could take the biggest benefit you offer clients and make that your tagline, add it to your homepage, or list it on your business cards. Your portfolio, your marketing materials, and your website can serve to convey your value through the quality of your work.
If a potential client finds you, before even meeting them you will have articulated your value through how you present your business to them. If your business cards or your website look cheap, your work will subsequently be undervalued as well.
When meeting with new clients, it can be helpful to have a “why I’m worth it” message prepared. This can simply be a statement all about what you bring to the table that makes you valuable and unique. This should include everything you came up with for your benefits list, summed up into a nice couple of lines. Treat this as your Elevator Pitch to clients, and you’ll be far more confident asking for your ideal rates.
One final note. Under-promise, but over-deliver when it comes to your work. Don’t be confused, it’s very important to articulate your value as a photographer and know how to sell yourself to clients. But don’t exaggerate or make promises you can’t keep – make sure you can still blow them away when the times comes, and you’ll have plenty of more business from word-of-mouth marketing!
A Peek at Average Photography Rates
Professional photographers aren’t cheap. Their gear includes hundreds and thousands of dollars of camera, lighting, and software that is most likely getting upgraded every few years.
Photographers also invest in marketing their work and some come with full crew and studio costs that make up their overhead expenses. Throw in travel expenses and licensing fees and you get an idea of why some professional photographers make thousands of dollars per day.
Below we’ve outlined a short pricing guide that covers beginning photographers to seasoned pros. A good thing to note here is the price you charge may differ depending on what the work is being used for. For instance, if someone wants to use your photo on their local website, you would probably charge less than if it were for a multinational marketing campaign. A good rule of thumb to follow would be the more eyes see your work, or the more it’s reproduced, the more you can charge for a licensing fee.
If you mainly photograph as a hobby in your spare time, and you don’t have plans to make it a business, then you likely fall into this category. You have some skill with a camera, and you can get the job done for someone on a budget, but you wouldn’t feel comfortable charging hundreds of dollars to clients.
Free – $50 per hour | $25 – $50 per image
You probably have some formal or informal training under your belt and some decent gear. But you are still new to the photography scene, so your pricing will affect your growth and demand for your work.
$50 – $100 per hour | $25 – $100 per image
If you’ve been doing this full-time for at least a few years, you may feel totally comfortable quoting high rates to your clients and your work reflects your experience. You may be fairly niched-down at this point and work exclusively for certain types of businesses or people.
$75 – $250 per hour| | $75 – $300 per image
Without a doubt, you know you’re a top photographer if you can easily command thousands of dollars (up to over $10,000 per day) for your work. As with any industry, there is a top 1 – 2 percent of elite professionals that make 10X what everyone else does.
$250 – $500+ per hour | $300 – $1,500 per image
Now that you have a good idea of what all levels of photographers charge, let’s take a look at specific rates for special events and project-based photographers.
How Much Should Photographers Charge for Special Events?
As mentioned earlier, different kinds of photography call for different pricing models. Next, we’ll take a look at the average rates of event photographers and photographers that charge per project. We’ll also touch on how to come up with a decent per-image rate for your work.
Average Price Ranges for Event Photographers
$2,000–$5,000. Rates for wedding photographers vary widely depending on the area and level of experience. An amateur photographer will usually charge under $1,000, while the top wedding photographers easily command over $10,000 per shoot.
$100 – $500. Their rates for portrait photography also depend on several different factors. In general, more time (full day vs. half day), locations, outfits, and print options included, the more expensive the overall price will be.
Local Website & Business Photography
$50 – $250 per image. If we’re talking about local businesses, the price for image use on their website or print materials will be a lot less than a large company. Again, looking at the number of eyes that will see your image should give you an idea of what to charge. For instance, if your image is placed prominently and the website gets a lot of traffic, you would charge a higher rate than for an image in a small print ad.
$100 – $500 per image. The prices here vary depending on usage and production costs. For example, will the client need models and a set or several locations? You can also factor in a sliding scale depending on the number of images purchased. For instance, the first image is $400 and every image thereafter is $350.
Determining Your Per-Image Pricing
More often than not, photographers like using per-image pricing as an easier way to communicate costs to their buyers while still making a fair profit.
You’ll find some photographers only charging $25 per photo, but professionals can command thousands of dollars per image depending on the circumstances.
Like with all things photography, there is a wide range in prices depending on the intended use for the image. Prices also adjust downward for a greater volume of images produced, while rates can fluctuate widely based on your location (for instance, photographers in San Francisco generally charge more than those in Phoenix).
Per-image pricing continues to work to your advantage as technology continues to make the process of photography faster and more streamlined. But if you spend a lot of time on post-production using software tools such as Lightroom or Photoshop, you’ll need to calculate this into the total time it takes for you to produce an image.
Rosh Sillars makes the process easy with a simple per-image pricing tool he’s created. This tool uses a few good parameters to come up with a per-image cost:
Production Level: How much money does it cost to complete the assignment?
Number of Images: How many images will be purchased?
Planned Usage: What will the images be used for?
This specific image pricing model has a couple of advantages. For one, it may not take nearly as much effort to produce more images during the shoot once the initial pre-production work has been done, but you can still charge the same rate for them.
If you were charging a daily rate, the amount of hours you put in relates to the amount you are paid. With per-image pricing, it doesn’t matter if you worked for only a few hours, you will still make enough to cover your expenses (if you charge appropriately), and hesitant clients see purchasing individual images as lower-risk than paying a larger daily rate. Though they may spend just as much, if not more, on purchasing your images, it can work as a win-win for both photographer and client.
Bonus: Scope Out Your Competition
Sometimes, one of the best ways to stand out from the crowd of other photographers is to make your pricing structure more appealing to your potential clients. No, we don’t mean lowering your prices – instead, see what you can do to appeal to them with a little pricing psychology.
If you study your local competition, you may find ways in which you can stay competitive while still keeping a premium rate. If other professionals in your area only have a daily rate pricing model, you could offer a lower-risk per-image pricing structure to appeal to more clients. The client may still spend the same amount, but knowing that each image is one they’ve paid for can be more appealing than simply paying you a larger daily rate.
Common Questions About Selling Photography
What About Copyright?
Every photo you create is a copyrighted image, whether it’s taken on a top-of-the-line DSLR or cell phone camera.
If clients ask you for the copyright, you need to consider if this is something you are willing to part with. Signing over the copyright means you give up the ability to use the photo or make any more income from selling it to someone else.
You have the option to formally register photographs with your country’s copyright office. In the US, each registration fee is $35, but if someone challenges your right to use a specific image, your registration can mean the difference of up to $150,000 per infringement (use of your work without an agreement with you as the photographer). You can still pursue a claim without having formally registered your work, but you’ll need to provide evidence that you solely own the work and your copyright was infringed upon.
When you are paid as a photographer, this doesn’t include handing over the copyright to your work. If clients ask to own the copyright to your image, this should add another 50 – 100 percent of the cost to your fee, provided you are willing to sign the copyright over to them.
Make sure you have a contract in writing that determines the use of the images, the length of time the contract is valid, and what limits will be in place preventing future use (such as are you still able to use the photo in your portfolio, or no? etc.).
What if I’m asked about negotiating my fees?
While you should never sell yourself short, some compromises can create a win-win situation for you and your clients. But you have to go about it the right way.
For instance, let’s say you are a commercial photographer working on an agreement with a client and your total costs come out to $3,500. The client lets you know this is $500 over their budget but they want to work with you to come up with a solution for you both.
First off, don’t automatically lower your price to $3,000 without changing the contract. This conveys that you were trying to overcharge them before, and reflects poorly on the professional industry. If you arrived at $3,500 as a fair price for you and your work, you shouldn’t lower it without adjusting your terms.
Look for other ways in which you could provide them with what they need and still fit their budget. If they initially wanted copyright claims to images, see if they can live with an alternate license. If they requested 10 images, see if they can do with 8. Working with them in this way shows that you’re flexible and willing to compromise in a way that still maintains your value as a professional.
What if a client won’t compromise on price?
In almost every business, you’ll run into clients who simply can’t or won’t compromise. In these scenarios, you need to ask if this is a client you really want or need, and know when to walk away from a project.
There are cheaper photographers out there that these clients can find and get cheaper results from. Your professionalism and level of experience come at a price, and honoring yourself and your work is the surest way to bring you closer to the clients who really value your work.
What if I’m not sure what pricing model to use?
If you need to spend lots of time producing your product, per image pricing may not be ideal. This is why most event photographers go with a per-project or a daily rate based on their total costs.
But if you tend to create multiple images for clients with different subjects, products, or settings, this model makes the most sense. The more great quality images you can produce for a client, the more money you are likely to make, so this pricing model rewards a job well done!
How do you calculate licensing fees?
A great way to calculate the costs of a usage license is to use Getty Image License Calculator. This allows you to select the intended use for an image along with the specific market it’s to be used for.
AOP (The Association of Photographers) also has a great licensing fee calculator you can compare with Getty’s to get an idea of the right price range for your business.
What about travel costs?
If you need to travel for a specific project, you should always include travel costs as a line item on your invoice to the client. This should include fuel costs if you’re driving, as well as food and accommodation costs.
It’s normal for photographers to charge for travel and preparation costs at 50 percent of their normal rate. Though some photographers charge 100 percent of their normal rate for these costs, which is also perfectly acceptable for many clients.
Do you ask for a deposit with per-image pricing?
There is nothing wrong with asking for a deposit or minimum image purchase before completing the work for a client. Especially if your production costs are high and you need to find models, assistants, and set up the proper equipment. They will need to be paid and so should you!
The amount you ask for can also vary greatly depending on the client and the project. A standard deposit of 25 – 50 percent of the total cost is common, or a minimum deposit to cover the purchase of ‘X’ amount of images you and your client can agree upon in advance.
How should I price digital files compared to prints?
While print pricing should cover the cost of producing the print, you would do well to price your digital files higher than prints. The reasoning behind this is because digital files can be printed as many times as the client wants. Think of a digital file as providing unlimited copies to your client – how much is that worth to them?
With the world of photography gravitating more and more into the digital realm, your business and pricing models should be well-equipped to meet the demands of buyers who want exclusively digital images. The good news is that photographers can easily make more money with digital sales than by exclusively offering prints. The best part is you also avoid the cost and time it takes to print!
Conclusion & Key Takeaways
Knowing what to charge as a photographer and commanding a fair price for your work is one of the biggest challenges in the business.
Instead of simply lowering your prices to compete in a crowded marketplace, consider ways in which you can provide greater value than your competitors, and target your ideal clients who are more likely pay premium rates.
Becoming a specialist in one area of photography seems counter-intuitive to some, but it will make you more valuable in the long run to the right clients. For example, would you pay more for a jack-of-all-trades photographer to come to your wedding – or a photographer that exclusively shoots weddings in your area?
When it comes to choosing your pricing structure, look at what your competitors are doing but don’t let it prevent you from getting a little creative to appeal to your customers or clientele. You may find that some pricing structures simply don’t work for your business, so this make take some time and experimentation to find what works best.
Last but not least, as a professional you should always price your work so you can at the very least cover your cost. Taking the time to truly know your costs inside and out can help you articulate your fees better to clients, and save you from frustration in the long run. This will help you continue to pursue success in one of the most challenging and rewarding professions out there.