Photography pricing is really hard.
In a perfect world, you’d be able to charge whatever you wanted, people would be willing and able to pay it, and you’d have all the clients you could ever want.
There’d also be rainbows and unicorns prancing around every day. And perfect light. And no client complaints. And more hours in the day. And free gelato for all (yum!).
But that’s just not how it is.
It’s really hard to run a profitable photography business.
If you haven’t ever looked at the numbers, it’s likely far more expensive than you think.
In fact, to be both “affordable” and yet still charge enough to make it worth it to you without your business going under is difficult. However, I’ve heard from several people lately who want to be both.
So I’m going to tell you exactly what you need to do in order to be affordable and still keep your business afloat and profitable.
You’ve got to know your numbers inside and out
Trying to do this without knowing how much you’re actually making is a recipe for disaster. You absolutely MUST work through my free photography pricing guide to determine how much you need to be charging and shooting to make it worth your time (and in my guide, YOU determine how much your time is worth, not anyone else, so your pricing will be completely accurate).
If the guide says you need to be charging more than you want to per session, you have three options for making that number more affordable.
You can shoot more sessions, you can lower your expenses, or you can choose to make less money.
There are no other alternatives.
Let’s look at these three options in more depth.
1. Shoot more sessions
The reason places like Walmart can charge such low prices is because they can sell LOTS of a particular item. Because of this, they don’t need to make as much per sale to meet their sales goals.
You can attempt to do the same thing by charging less but shooting more sessions. The downside to this is that you’ll have to do more work and make less per hour because you can’t magically add extra hours to the day to fit in more work.
Shooting 10 sessions at $75 each will get you $750, but you’ll work 10 times as hard and spend 10 times as many hours as if you shoot one session and make $750.
I don’t recommend this because you’ll eventually burn out and will be making less per hour than if you worked at McDonalds once you factor in expenses and taxes.
2. Lower your expenses
This is an easy way to bring home more money without any extra work. By reducing your photography business expenses, you make more profit.
Do you need those lightroom presets? That new lens? Those fancy packages and frills and bells and whistles? Look at every item in your expense list and determine which ones you can live without. Then re-compute your numbers to see if you can get away with charging less if you simply cut back on expenses.
Just DON’T be tempted to skip out on the essentials.
You’ll seriously regret it if the IRS comes calling or you get sued. The consequences far outweigh the benefits of running a business the right way, so don’t even consider skipping out on taxes, insurance, or contracts.
3. Choose to make less money
First two steps still didn’t get your session price down to an affordable amount and you’re unwilling to charge what it says you need? Then you’re going to make less money.
That’s all there is to it.
This is where most people choose to live in the land of unicorns and make-believe because they don’t WANT to face reality.
They’d rather think that they are making more than they actually are and keep charging prices that make them less than they want to be making.
If the pricing guide tells you that you should be making $750 per session to hit your goals and you choose to only charge prices that make you around $250 per session, you’re not making even close to the amount of money you should be to make it worthwhile to you.
Since you are the one who determines how much money you want to be making, which is what determines the prices, your only option is to go back and lower the amount of money you’re willing to make. In fact, to find the lowest amount you can charge for a session without having to shoot more, you could put in the lowest amount you’re willing to make to make it worthwhile to you and see what your minimum session price ends up being.
Hopefully, that number ends up being “affordable” in your mind, otherwise if you charge less than that, it won’t be “worth your time” since YOU are determining what your time is worth.
But Jamie! I don’t like what I see! Is there ANYTHING else I can do?!? Please?!?!
It’s a noble thing to want to be affordable to people who might not otherwise be able to afford photography, but honestly professional photography is a luxury product.
If you really have a heart for being affordable and want to take photos for those who can’t afford it, you may have to consider working a secondary job that provides you with the money & benefits you need so that you can just do photography as a hobby and you can donate your services OR only do photography part-time, charging just enough to cover your expenses.
While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to help those who don’t have the money for a boutique photography experience, it’s REALLY hard to be both affordable AND profitable, especially if you need money from photography to make your own ends meet.
A few things to keep in mind:
1. There’s nothing wrong with charging more than you’re willing to pay. You don’t have to be your own ideal client. Not all BMW salesmen can afford to buy their own BMW, and that’s okay. Charging “a lot” for your services because you know your numbers is not wrong. It’s smart business.
2. You can’t be everything to everybody. You’re not going to be able to meet every budget, and people may go elsewhere because they can’t afford you. That’s okay. It’s not personal. You’re not insulting them: you’re running a smart business and making sure that it’s worth your time in the end.
3. You most certainly can donate your time and services if you want to, just know the numbers so you know what the results will be.
What’s the hardest part of pricing to you?
What is your biggest pricing struggle? Leave a comment below, and I’ll do my best to respond to each one.