Even if you haven’t been practicing photography for too long, you might start getting the itch to charge people money for your services. It’s not uncommon. Once somebody tells you how awesome your work looks, a little light bulb goes off in your head. Suddenly you think, “I could make a business out of this.” Right you are, but there are a few common roadblocks we inevitably hit before beginning a lucrative career as a professional photographer. Here’s what you need to watch out for.
Cheap portrait studios
Most peoples’ experience with professional photographers is very limited. They remember their high school photographer, that one day out of the year when everybody lined up for a quick portrait. Some of them may have gone through Wal-Mart or some other big chain to get a few quick photos snapped. The problem is that these memories come back to haunt your clients in ways you wouldn’t expect. They set the context of the shoot, often in a negative way.
If you want to make more than a fast food worker’s wage doing photography, you need to put yourself in a higher caste. You are not a photography assembly line worker. Your job is to creatively photograph a client for a few hours in a relaxed setting of your client’s choice. You will spend many more hours on the job than some Wal-Mart worker, and you will be much more flexible. You need to communicate this with your clients in order to convince them that you are worth more.
Because everyone is used to the cheapo photo booth style of portrait photography, their idea of the right price tends to fall way below acceptable levels. It’s not their fault. They’re just used to paying a certain price.
If you are ever to convince them that your services are worth it, you need to be unwavering on your numbers. Pick a price that’s right for you, and take pains to explain it to those who aren’t completely sold. I’ve spent the equivalent of a full week’s time on a single client. There were dozens of amazing images, and they all needed to receive the best treatment in post-processing. Sometimes people don’t realize what goes into your photographic process. You have to explain it to them before they’ll be willing to open up their wallets.
I don’t care what business you are in, there will always be clients or customers with downright unreasonable expectations. It is in your best interest to avoid them, because if you don’t, they will become an unimaginably large productivity black hole. Harsh language, I know, but if you continue to accept ridiculously low prices you’re harming yourself and your business. How can you keep your business alive if you can’t pay your bills?
20% of your customers will cause 80% of the problems. Just eliminate the problematic 20%, and do business with the 80% who are reasonable and appreciative of the work you do. If somebody doesn’t like a price quote you throw out there, try to negotiate a little bit. When that fails, just walk away. Some people simply can’t get over the idea of paying for high quality work. They will never be happy, or appreciative of the work you have put into their photos.
Realize that I mean nothing negative when I say these things. Some people are in the market for a Mercedes Benz. Others are testing the waters and trying to see if they can get a sweet deal before buying. This isn’t the first or last business where you’ll run into people trying to save money. I am certain I’ve been a cheapskate to someone else in the past. It’s only fitting that these folks come back to haunt me in my photography business.
Which brings us to the question... what is a reasonable price to charge for a photography session? I get asked that question all the time, but it's a hard one to answer as it depends on a number of factors. Here's what you need to consider:
The income level of your clients. If you're charging a premium price, make sure your clients have that amount of disposable income. Otherwise you'll never make a sale.
Your target market. Corporate customers pay more than families. You can charge more to a model who wants a photo taken for commercial use than a single mom who wants a glamor shot.
Your experience. If you're just starting out, I recommend you charge a lower amount initially to help you build up your portfolio. Once you have some great examples of your photographic skills, up your price and stick to it.
Ring up a few local photographers and pretend to be a prospective client. Ask for their hourly rate and what's included in that cost. Alternatively, as I've suggested before, offer to work for a local photographer for free for a while. It will give you a lot of valuable experience in the trade.
Remember, it's not just your time you are charging for, but you need to recoup the costs of your camera and the time (and probably money) you have invested until now in your own training.
It's also helpful to get your work out there. Start a website. Advertise in the local newspaper. A local restaurant can make a perfect place for advertising your services.
Finally, make sure your clients know how they can use your photos. Most pro photographers charge a standard rate for personal use of the photos, but the copyright is still owned by the photographer. Most corporate clients will want full rights over their photos, and are prepared to pay more for that. Wedding photographers offer both rates. A cheaper rate for clients who just want the printed photos; and a higher rate if the client wants the jpg files too.
Have fun, be unwavering in your pricing, and enjoy bringing back some cold hard cash for all that work. You deserve it!
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