Pricing Your Portrait Photography

The following is a guest post from Marianne Drenthe of Marmalade Photography and Professional Child Photographer FAQ. Marianne’s article is a tough but important examination of pricing for emerging professional photographers. I urge you to read the article, leave your comments and questions below and check out her workshop: See The Light.


Check Yourself : Profit Is Not A Four Letter Word

When I started the See the Light Workshop in 2008 I set out to create an all-inclusive program for photographers seeking to improve not only their art but their businesses. My main goal was to help photographers gain the insight to price themselves appropriately and run legitimate (and profitable!) businesses. Frequently I am quoted as saying “profit is not a dirty word” because it is my feeling
that too many people start out as photographers thinking it’s all fun, passion and do not structure themselves as having a business first.

However we all know the point of being in business is to do one thing and one thing only: generate PROFIT. So please, repeat after me:

“PROFIT IS NOT A DIRTY WORD!”

In the years since I started my photography business: Marmalade Photography , I admit that I’ve been pricing sensitive. I have seen talented photographers with SO MUCH to offer give away the farm for free or even, more heartachingly so, paying THEIR clients with their time, energy and talent.

I know that the costs of running a business vary from person to person and my deepest wish for everyone starting a photography business is for them to succeed in a way that produces profit for them and supports the industry in a positive way. To that end I have created a sort of self-evaluation checklist for you to use in determining what your costs of running a business are. In the following “fill in the blanks” checklist I ask that you use it over the course of several sessions and monitor the time you spend doing each of the following tasks. Then I ask you to consult your tax paperwork and figure in what you are paying in out of pocket/out-of-profit costs and take a good long look at how you are running your business. This is for self evaluation and this eye opening experience will help lead you to creating a profitable business that will succeed in the long term. This checklist is meant to be an inventory of your time so be explicit in what you include. It is available as a download from the See the Light Workshop site here:

I see a lot of the following: current pricing by new (upstart) photographers ranges from $250 (or less) CDs with all images retouched and finished to $50 Groupon Specials for session + disc of retouched images to shoot & burn photography that doesn’t include post processing. The excuses may range from “Well I’m new…”, “I don’t want to rip people off…” to “I think photographers are too expensive…”.

I’ll be frank, the types of pricing models as follow do not make business sense, especially when you take all the factors in that are associated with appropriate pricing.

Let me as you a question: are you running a business or a charity? If you run a business, defined as working to generate profit, WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO WORK FOR FREE?

You may be wondering: “Who would do such a thing?” Well you’d be surprised, on the surface, $250 for two hours of shoot time seems like A LOT of money, right? Let’s do the break down shall we?

With XYZ Photography you get ALL your images on disc! I’ll meet you at your home or location of your choosing, I’ll help you get your kids ready in cute matching clothing and we’ll go to the location together and shoot for 90 minutes – 2 hours. In a few days you will a disc of retouched and edited images (about 35) from our session together!

Sounds like a great deal, yes? Let’s do the breakdown of the time this photographer will spend conducting this session. Here we will look to simply breakdown time. This is based on a “on location” portrait session to meet at a client’s home about 15 miles across town from the photographer’s base (his/her home):

  • 30 minutes – 1 hour booking time (client contact time, getting paperwork together, emails back & forth, payment, etc)
  • 30 minutes -1 hour prep time getting your gear and samples together for your session the night before
  • 1 hour travel (to & from session) during rush hour to client’s home
  • 35 minutes at client’s home for getting ready time & the travel time to client’s desired location
  • 2 hours shoot time for a family of four
  • 15 minutes showing off samples and discussing the process (in case client wants to purchase add on products from your session)
  • 20-30 minutes to unload your images from CF card to your hard drive
  • 30 minutes culling images for edit
  • 3-4 hours time in Photoshop editing images for presentation
  • 30 minutes – 1 hour with client in email back & forth about how images are coming along, presenting sneak peeks on your blog, etc.
  • 30 minutes prepping files and burning CD for delivery
  • 30 minutes total travel time to post office to send CD to client
  • 15 minutes follow up time to discuss if client wants any add on images for printing for add on sales (they do not – they have them all on CD, what do they need your professional services for at this point?)

In this example the time spent in simple client time is up to 12 hours (obviously it would be more if the client was purchasing images and if that is the case I have an additional time breakdown on this site at the Professional Child Photographer FAQ page here)

Here’s the monetary breakdown, remember $250 session, on location, with disc of finished images:

$250 payment

  • $1 disc
  • $2 shipping/packaging envelope
  • 12 hours of time creating
  • Don’t forget the following things that COST you money: software,computer, monitor, hard drives, lenses, cameras, lens bags, back up camera (& lenses), CF cards, online ordering software and/or slideshow software, your accountant and/or accounting software, babysitting, vehicle depreciation…the list goes on and on (and I discuss it in the pricing guide)
  • Even wanting to earn $20/hour, after taxes and figuring out your depreciation costs you are still running the risk of PAYING your client. Depreciation is a tough nugget to grasp but everything (even homes these days!) depreciate. You literally lose money every time you press the shutter release!! At $20/hour you are still losing money because all the supporting structures associated with running a photography business cost a lot of money!

As you can see you are paying THE CLIENT for your session with them. They get the images, they get the time that you would be spending with your family. They get a bargain! In reality, this bit of “spending money” is still subject to IRS guidelines and tax laws in your state and you STILL have to pay taxes. Plus you still have those pesky equipment depreciation costs, you still have cameras to pay for, software to pay for (and the time to learn it) and other bills associated with a photography business to pay. There’s so much more involved with the costs of running your business than meets the eye!

Running a business can seem overwhelming, there are so many things to keep track of and expenses pile up, camera equipment breaks, computers need upgrading. Make sure YOU GET ON THE RIGHT TRACK from the get go…it’s the biggest favor you can do for yourself. While the art of photography is fun you cannot support yourself on just art & fun, you need to put your business brain to work.

pricing your photography from Marmalade

About Marianne:

Marianne Drenthe Marianne Drenthe has been a professional photographer since 2005 and runs Marmalade Photography (www.marmaladephotography.com) out of the Chicago area, where she resides with her husband, two children and her wonder dog, Thumper.  Marianne’s work has been featured on the cover of the August 2011 issue of Rangefinder Magazine as well as the 2011 WPPI Tradeshow Guide for Family, Children’s and Senior Photography.  Marianne’s reviews on photography products and other articles often appear in Professional Photographer Magazine (both print and online editions).   Marianne runs the Professional Child Photographer FAQ at www.professionalchildphotographer.com and conducts workshops for professional photographers: www.seethelightworkshop.com
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