Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Get the Job Done: How Much Should I Charge?

Something has continued to plague me ever since I decided to start my photography business: How do you know what to charge clients for your services?

A lot of my anxiety comes from past experiences. I remember seeing lovely artwork and photography hanging in exhibits and displays at restaurants. I always wanted one or two, or 10 to buy for myself....but I would cringe when I saw listed prices of $100 or more for a single print (and not even a framed one at that!) I knew I could never afford to pay for such a luxury. Now that I am the one peddling my own art for a profit, I often feel guilty asking others to pay for my work.

I charged a client $350 for a shoot, and then couldn't stop myself from saying things like, "let's barter or make a deal if you think that's too much!" Even the editor of the Denver Post balked when I charged him only $150 for a family portrait session where I even traveled all the way to his house to take the pics! He told me I wasn't charging enough! I basically sucker punched myself.

According to photographer Julia Woods, because every studio's product is different, "cost of sale is the only way to accurately price what you sell." Woods and her husband photographer Jeff Woods are official spokespersons for Canon USA, Explorers of Light. In her article, "The Mystery of Pricing," Julia Woods says to start with the truth of what it cost to produce an image. Adjust your prices based on the cost of the photograph itself, retouching time, spraying, shipping from the lab and packaging, then multiply that number by 4 in order to reach a profitable price point of 25% COS. The 2005 Financial Benchmark Survey put out by the Professional Photographers of America shows that successful studios all have a COS at 25% or less of their gross income.

Using this example, Woods estimates that an 8X10 should cost a client $98.80. Here is the break down:

8X10 print: $3
Retouching: $15
Spray: $.95
Lab shipping: $2
Packaging: $3.75
(box $2, tissue paper $.25, sticker $.50, bag $1)
Total: $24.70 X 4 = $98.80

My current clients would never pay $100 for a single 8X10! So Woods suggests reducing the amount of retouching or the quality of packaging. Woods created a three-tiered pricing structure, offering cheaper 8X10s with little or no retouching, a middle priced 8X10 with average retouching and a higher priced 8X10 with all retouching. Woods and her husband Jeff used that system to gradually work their way up to more affluent clientele that would pay the asking price for a completely retouched 8X10.

Need more advice? My new friend and photographer Dave Scott offered me this in an email:

"Many newer photographers shoot themselves in the foot that way...You need to make a living. You are not selling prints. You are selling your ability, your time, and
if for editorial or commercial usage you are licensing the rights to
use the photograph. The price of a print pales in comparison to those

Many photographers complain about the lowball photographers that
charge $50 for a portrait session that lasts an hour and includes 4
8x10 retouched poses. I like those photographers. They weed out my
customers because they would never hire me in the first place. They
only shop by price.

You offer a valuable service to a certain set of clients. You just
need to market to bring in those clients!!"

Located in the Portland Oregon metro area, Dave Scott Photographic provides photography for commercial, editorial and private commission clients Worldwide. He has nearly three decades worth of experience photographing architecture, interiors, real estate, product, fashion, business and executive portraiture. Dave's blog Business for Photographers includes ideas for optimizing a successful photography business. I've already learned some great tips to help get me started in advertising my company. I think this postcard marketing strategy is a great idea! I enjoyed reading this one too about finding money to start up your business. And Dave is very responsive to his readers, answering their specific questions while at the same time offering information that everyone else can relate too.

Dave and I are cooking up a plan to begin writing as guest columnists on each other's blogs. I get the feeling my readers are probably going to get more out of this deal than his, given his 26 years of experience. But he assures me that even though I've only been at it for a year, other noobs like me may be able to relate to my stories of triumphs and frustrations. I'll let you know more about this soon! For now, subscribe to his blog and his business site for more ideas.

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