How To Set A Price For Your Work

by William Lulow

Every bit of work someone does is worth something. You had to learn how to take good pictures. You had to buy a camera. You had to buy a computer to process your images. You had to spend time and effort at making those pictures. You might have even had to travel a distance to get to where the pictures were taken. So, every step along the way to where you are now had to cost something for someone. The work you do, therefore, should have a price. But, how do you figure out how valuable your work is?

The best way I’ve come up with to answer this question is this: do some research. Go to other photographers’ websites, books, articles, exhibits and see:

  • Do you like the work?
  • How long have they been in business?
  • Is the quality of the work professional?
  • Have they been published in recognized places? (Newspapers, magazines, etc.)
  • Is their work comparable to work you do?

This will give you an idea of how to price your work. You will get a good notion of what the “market” is. Then, do some soul-searching and try to determine where you fit in to the market’s landscape. If you are a beginner, you obviously cannot charge what a seasoned professional can charge. Therefore, you must price your services on the low end of the scale. As you gain more expertise and more people willing to pay you for your services, you can then adjust your prices accordingly.  One of the top wedding photographers in the business reportedly receives $35,000 to $50,000 for his efforts per  wedding. He photographs the weddings of high-profile celebrities and politicians. You cannot possibly do this as a beginner. You wouldn’t be able to find anyone who would pay you that kind of money.  You would need to find out exactly what services he provides and how he provides them. This kind of knowledge takes years to acquire- usually by working as an assistant to that person or other people in that market. Once you have proven yourself, you might then strike out on your own and set up your own business.

But that’s how most businesses work. You need to spend time, effort and money to train yourself and develop the skills and equipment  necessary to provide clients with top-notch work before you can charge accordingly. That’s why photography, especially, is difficult to price. Most people think that all they have to do is press the button and their digital cameras will do the rest. That was Kodak’s tag line when they first started introducing their cameras and film. Where are they now?

Once you have gone to the extent of training yourself, equipping yourself and learning the “business,” every finished photograph you make is worth something. I have a rule of thumb about pricing because if it’s a studio shot that’s needed, I have setup time and strike time as well as shooting and processing at the computer. If the shot is on location, I have to physically get there and back and pay the expenses of travel.  So, my minimum fee has to be around $150 or $200 per session. Shooting sessions are around one hour. Any time you take your camera out of the bag, it has to be worth this as a starting price. Therefore, my starting rate is around $150 per hour. Sometimes I make it a two hour minimum to assure that my expenses will be covered. We don’t have film & processing expenses any more, but we do have computer time that needs to be billed.

The moral here is DON’T GIVE YOUR WORK AWAY! You may be tempted to do so by people who “guarantee” you’ll get more exposure by working for free. They try to exploit your talents by making you think that the “exposure” is worth something intangible. IT IS NOT!  Reputable publications (including websites) are used to having to pay for talent. (Sometimes the pay isn’t great, but at least it’s something).  When you get to the point of realizing that you are indeed good at what you do, you will decline all offers to work for free.