Without a doubt, the most asked question in photography…what do I charge?
Pricing is probably one of the biggest stumbling blocks that people come up against when starting a new business.
- How much should you charge?
- What is the competition charging?
- What if you are too expensive?
- What if you are too cheap?
These are some common questions…
…and only you can decide how much you need to charge in order to be profitable. You see, all people, businesses and pricing strategies are different and depend on many factors such as location, skill level or experience, current economic climate (to some degree), demographics and target market.
What you may find after reading this section is that you are charging, or in danger of charging way to little for your work…underselling yourself. Many couple’s have a “perceived value” approach to booking a wedding photographer, i.e. too cheap and they think they are no good, whereas they see the more expensive photographers as being the more experienced and professional even if they are not.
(When I am shopping, I have a tendency to always go for the most expensive item in a range as I feel I get what I pay for and in many cases I am right. For example, buy the cheapest kettle from a market and in 6 months it may break and you might be buying a new, and more expensive one anyway. Buy a quality kettle from the start and it will last for years!)
Once you have perhaps done a few jobs for free to get your portfolio together (not always the best route) and gain some experience…STOP working for free! The sooner you start charging “your worth” with proper and realistic rates, the better. Not just for you but for the industry as a whole.
I saw some “dilution” happen to the prices in Spain for a while where newbie photographers would enter a thriving wedding market and offer a full day’s wedding photography for a ridiculously low price. This is suicide!
Not only did they bring the prices down in the area, they brought the quality and expectations down too.
The stupid thing is that once these people realised they couldn’t afford to live on what they were charging, many moved on and left us to pick up the pieces and try to restore order once again.
Wedding photography for one is a hugely expensive business for the photographer in both terms of equipment needed and time to learn the ropes, get experienced and actually shoot and process a wedding.
A full wedding can take up over 40 hours of a photographers time when you take into account:
- Initial discussions via email and phone
- First meeting with couple
- Second meeting/rehearsal/engagement shoot
- The wedding day
- Processing all the images
- Creating slideshows and albums/photobooks
- Meeting couple for preview/delivery
- Reprint orders
- Travelling time
So you see, there is more to account for than just monetary outlay. Your time is valuable too!
Costing Method of Pricing
Before you work out the prices you plan to charge for a wedding, you need to work out the costing:
- The cost of running your entire business (including living expenses if doing this full time)
- The cost of shooting the wedding
- The cost of creating products for the wedding
The Business Cost
You need to establish first and foremost how much it costs you to run your entire business each year. To do this you must write down all of your expenses, these can include:
- Studio rental
- Marketing expenses
- Website hosting costs
- Workshops and seminars
- Equipment purchases and repairs
- Bridal fair expenses
- Sample photobooks or albums and marketing materials
- Website memberships
- *Cost of living if full time. If part time, your current earnings should already cover your cost of living expenses.
*Cost of living includes everything you need to survive:
- Utility bills
- Loan repayments
- School fees
- and whatever else you spend on a regular basis
The business cost list should really be the minimum you need to kick start your business, as we discussed in the financing section, you would do well to use profits to expand your business rather than outlaying too much in the beginning.
The Wedding Cost
These are all costs relating to the specific wedding day such as:
- Petrol or gas
- New clothes
- Parking fees
- Media (CF cards etc)
Fortunately in this digital age, the cost of shooting a wedding is fairly low compared to film and processing costs of old.
The Product Cost
What products do you offer and what do they cost?
Factor in the postage and packing both from the supplier and to your client (unless you intend to hand deliver). Also, website costs for hosting the proofs and any payments you make to an assistant or processing person/album designer.
Part of your business plan that we talked about earlier was to assess how many weddings or portrait shoots you were planning on doing in a year. If you write these figures down* (let’s use weddings as an example) and say you were planning on shooting 30 weddings, this sets in stone your goals and gives you something tangible to aim for.
*Writing down your goals for the year helps your subconscious mind to deliver those goals by making yourself accountable.
It also helps to determine the cost for each wedding throughout the year.
If you do plan on shooting 30 weddings, assume that you will actually shoot 20. This conservative estimate method will increase the cost per wedding forcing you to put up your prices to match and ultimately give you more profit…better to have more profit than make a loss.
Think about your target market
Are you going for high end, fashionable weddings or are you going for the lower end of the market? This is a tough one because once you target that market, stick with it, I have found it is best not to be too choosy and “niche’d” and try to cover all angles with a set of packages that attract all couples.
Now you need to start pricing your packages and to do that you need to create a list of things you intend to include in each package. Make it so that people can bolt on extras to a predetermined set price.
For example, you may have 3 standard packages that only differ in time where you are charging an hourly attendance fee (4 hours/8 hours/full day). You can then add on extras such as different sized photobooks, albums or websites, you could add prices for enlargements and canvas prints plus framing. You could add the price of slideshows and parent books/albums…more “bespoke”.
So you need to work out your hourly fee which is determined by the cost of running your business.
Let’s say you are full time and doing this for a living
Your annual costs of running the business coupled with your cost of living are:
- Rent – £6000 (£500 per month)
- Utility – Bills £1200
- Food – £2000
- Marketing – £1000
- Loans – £1000
- Equipment – £2000
- Accounting – £500
- Bridal Fayre’s – £400
- Websites – £200
- Cost per Wedding – £100 (£1200 per year)
Total – £15500
If we expected and were aiming for 30 weddings but conservatively said 20, that is 20 weddings in year one giving us a cost per wedding of £15500 / 20 = £775 and your hourly cost (if you average 8 hours per wedding) is £96.88
So, you need to make at least £775 per wedding to break even but remember, that cost includes everything you need to survive for a year.
Now we use an age old, typical business rule where you multiply this figure by three. The reason we do this is that:
- 1/3rd covers your costs
- 1/3rd covers your tax and National Insurance bills
- 1/3rd is profit
That means in theory, you should be charging £2325 for your lowest package if you want to make a healthy profit of around £15500 per year after all costs and taxes have been deducted!
Obviously this figure may seem a little high to many people and you may be thinking “I can’t charge THAT”! Remember, we were conservative in our estimates and if you shoot more than 20 weddings, your profit goes way up and you can afford to charge less.
Also, to fit in with the local economy and demographics, and to kick start your business, you can reduce your profits by say £5000 per year which will in turn reduce your taxes and make this figure to charge per wedding somewhere around £1500 which is a lot more realistic and close to what myself and many photographers I know charge for their lowest package.
20 x 1500 = £30,000 less costs of £15000 = £15,000 gross, taxable income (Approx £10,000 net).
Obviously you need to play with these figures yourself to establish your own costs of shooting a wedding but always remember to be conservative in your estimates, that way you won’t get any nasty surprises and any extra work you get in is a bonus as you should have your yearly costs covered.
You also have to bear in mind what other photographers are charging in your area and if it is way lower, you will have to think about spreading your wings further afield if you want to make a living solely from wedding photography…which is something again, myself (in the past) and many other photographers that I know do.
If you need to reduce your figures even more, make sure you get other work in from elsewhere and factor in the prices using a similar method. Once you have got the first year out of the way, you will be more established, you will probably have a much better idea of how many weddings you will be shooting the following year and you can then adjust your pricing accordingly.
Don’t be afraid of charging a good, fair amount for your wedding photography
I know photographers that charge in excess of $10,000 per wedding and still get a lot of business. When I started shooting weddings in Spain, I realised that I was way too cheap for my lowest package and doubled the price to see what happened…I still got booked so I added a further 50%….still got booked.
This made me realise that my entire pricing structure was too cheap so I adjusted everything and for good measure, I added a further package on top of my already “top end” package for an additional €1500. I figured this would entice people to book me for the next level down which was my original top end package as the new price was too high.
It worked PLUS I got some bookings for the new top package
…I was gobsmacked! So as I say, don’t be afraid of these high prices as on more than one occasion, the CAKE has made more money than me at a wedding!!!
Just make sure you have a lower package to suit lower budgets. You can make this a “digital” package whereby you shoot the day and give all images on a DVD. Your costs are very low and the couple can always bolt on other products if needed later on.
A Note on Reprint Prices
When establishing prices for your reprints, work out the cost of producing the prints and you can multiply that figure by way more than 3 times. For example, a 7″x5″ print costs around 0.50p to print but I charge around £7.50 to the client. The cost, including folder and postage is around £2.00 so there is a healthy profit there. Some people charge even more…
Likewise, a large canvas can cost around £50 to manufacture but some photographers sell these for £400 and above, again, depending on your target market and overheads etc.
I usually have around 3 or 4 packages in ascending order. That means I start off with the basic package which could be 5-8 hours photography and a disk of images leading up to unlimited hours, DVD of high resolution images, 3 photobooks, large canvas print, video (if required and available) and so on.
I wouldn’t suggest having a package for less than a full day during the main season
You may well book a super cheap wedding only to lose a much higher paying wedding because of it. You can always accept smaller, lower paying weddings at last minute whilst adding on some extras but you may want to save your valuable time for the full days, especially when you start to get busy.
If people really like you and your work and want to book you, they will book you for the day regardless.
Once you have got your packages and prices together, check them against local, competing photographers and if you think you need to adjust accordingly, decide whether you want to lower or raise your prices to match or you whether want to add some extra value to your packages to make them more appealing.
If you add extra items, keep an eye on the new costing and if you offer any discounts at any stage during the year, make sure you are still making a profit otherwise all of this is pointless.
If any of you feel these figures are too high and have already shot a few weddings at lower prices, you have been charging too little for your work. As a test, do some research and check out the prices for other wedding services.
Have a look at this beautiful wedding cake and check out the price…over £700 ($1100) by my reckoning!
Now, no disrespect to the cake maker as this is a wonderful cake and we are all in the same industry (I have an aunt that makes wedding cakes too) but the ingredients would have cost a fraction of that price.
What you are paying for is the experience, professionalism, time, love, care, attention to detail and quality of that wedding cake…and couples pay those prices no problem.
If you are charging less than that for a full day’s wedding, how do you feel now?
Let’s face it, as nice as that cake is, by the next day it has literally gone “down the pan” and the only records they have of it are the wonderful photos you took of it as it stands alone as well as being cut by the couple.
On top of that, the couple have hundreds of beautiful images, a creative, stylish album or photobook and a slideshow lovingly put to music to keep and watch forever of the entire day.
Just remember that couples when booking their wedding are expecting to pay premium prices for everything and you should be no different. Maybe you should work out the cost of all wedding expenses in your area and then decide if you are too cheap:
- Car Hire
- 3 Course Meal x 80 + People – £35 per head minimum at some places – £2800
- Bridesmaids Outfits
When you really start to research, you should feel a lot more comfortable about what you are charging.
If you still want to charge less, and you should do this anyway, streamline your costs and try to get them as low as possible. For example, research cheaper suppliers of wedding books and prints (without reducing quality) and then reduce your charges by the amount of savings…you will still make the same profit.
You can use this method to work out your minimum charge or profit required for portraits
Let’s use the cost of running a business from earlier which was £15,500. If you can manage, and expect to realistically shoot 15 paid portrait sessions a month, that is 180 sittings a year so divide £15,500 by 180 and you have £86.11 that you need to make each sitting to break even.
Now you know that figure, you can work out a plan of “attack” for each client. Maybe you make around £50 from a framed print and £100 from a large canvas print. Already you know that even if you sell on average one of these from each sitting, you have your costs covered…everything else is profit and I have had portrait orders of around €3,000 from one sitting and one person!
Knowing these figures means you can keep a spreadsheet to keep track of earnings and profits as you go and adjust your tactics and marketing accordingly along the way.
If you are lucky and you know you can charge £85 per sitting, then you know that all print orders after that are pure profit…sweet!
Try this pricing method for any form of the photographic industry you are in.
Another way to determine your pricing is working backwards and this can be quite motivational.
To do this, you simply work out how much profit you want to make for the year and use that as your goal and pricing structure.
Let’s say your total yearly costs are £15,500 as before but you want to make £20,000 profit. Realistically, you know you can shoot 15 weddings in that year as well as shooting portrait sittings here and there.
If you charge £1000 for 15 “run and gun” weddings where you simply take the photos for a full day and hand over a DVD with all images on and nothing else, you will gross £15000.
You are now just £500 short of breaking even. That means you need to accumulate a further £20,500 to hit your target of £20,000 profit. If you were to charge a £25 sitting fee for each portrait session and aimed to make an average of £100 on all reprint orders, that is £125 gross per sitting.
£20,500/£125 equals 164 portrait sittings for the year needed, 14 a month or 3-4 a week.
You could always book a local hall and advertise a portrait sitting day where you market the fact that £25 is half price and entice people in that way. You could even offer the first 10″ x 8″ print free and hope that they order more. You could easily get your week’s worth of sittings in one go or even more!
Whatever you do, again, you need to constantly monitor your progress throughout the year and hopefully you will zip past your targets!
Next Page – Forward Planning