pricing your photography
we’ve all been there .
to photographers, i know.
we’ve all been there. the perfect opportunity is knocking. it is a beautiful wedding, an elopement, e-session, or a new destination…but they won’t cover the cost of your travel. or, the couple can only pay for the travel, but not the session. the wedding will be like “a vacation!,” right?
to clients & other brides, i know.
planning a wedding feels like signing your life away, contract after contract. it is expensive and draining, both on your savings and emotions. sometimes you want to scratch the venue deposit and just elope– we hear you. (seriously…. go for it!)
but you know what we would all still want, even in the hills of an elopement with just our love and the officiant? we want exactly what photography provides : moments & memoirs; a way to tell the story, forever.
why would we want to undermine that value?
being a photographer is rewarding in this way, as we and our clients are excitedly striving for that same thing, but I specifically want to speak to photographers about how that reward has an actual monetary value that we can outline, respect, and uphold.
Pricing While Starting Out
It can be hard to put a “price” on something we have such an emotional response to. When I first started, I often found second shooting such a rewarding experience that I didn’t care if I got paid. The intrinsic reward of creating work I’ve always wanted to create was enough! And that’s how personal learning & experimenting should be. That’s how styled shoots continue to be for so many photographers– opportunities to grow, and build other vendors up while we’re at it! Eventually, though, we put hours and hours of professional service into this art we love, so we have to compensate ourselves…and pricing is sensitive. Sometimes people are pricing for short term goals : they want extra money on the side, or they want enough shoots to pay off the hobby. Sometimes people are pricing for short term situations: they want to serve with photography for now, or start with a niche market. And if these are your current circumstances, I’m happy this art can help add value to your life in already specific ways.
But if you’re pricing for your passion to be your career, and planning to invest your 9am-5pm’s into it’s growth, you should know : you don’t have to undersell yourself. And if it takes you too long to realize your value, you may set yourself up for a burn out season. For example, you may end up booking weddings 1.5 years out without realizing you will be shooting X amount of weddings or engagements in between now and then. You will instead think “I am worth this much now, so this is what I should ask for.” This is such a common mistake I hear over and over again. But as a professional and artist, you will grow, and you risk not being treated as such if you weren’t valuing yourself as such from the first season in.
I received my undergrad in Entrepreneurship, and I remember learning how compensation or “wage” can be based on three factors :
how hard it is, how valued it is, and how good you are at it.
- The skill & expense to enter professional wedding photography is no small feat. Maybe you’re still at this door, close enough to feel just how hard it was (or is) to open. Yes, there are increasingly easier ways to begin photography now, but the emotional, monetary, and time sacrifices you must make are ever-present.
- The value in wedding photography is inherently irreplaceable and monumental. This has been emphasized in recent years as weddings have evolved and as the way we share stories has evolved.
- There is talent in all art, but expertise takes practice and hard work over time. Some people say eventually you find your “style”.
Those who have opened the door into professional photography and have fostered skill beautiful to their market has offered a valuable, irreplaceable service for life. The more we share this with each other, and encourage each other that we are valuable, the less competitive our market environment becomes. Trust me, I’ve felt it.
I feel lucky enough to live in a state and city that does value wedding/couple photography services in a positive way; but I’ve traveled enough to other cities or states to find that where environments are more competitive than collaborative, people are often doing it for free. “Every one and their mom has a camera and a hot location here,” I heard one of my friends say while traveling once. “It’s easy to get likes on instagram, but impossible to make a living.”
which are we going to value more, as an industry, long term?
This brings me to the problem our community is continuously wrestling with.
Destination & Travel Pricing
you have most likely heard before:
“ if they can’t afford you and you want to travel there, just shoot it for the cost of travel. it’s like a free vacation! ”
whether as a light quip, as a means to hustle in the industry, or even from clients themselves, it’s not a new idea. Get paid to travel somewhere, and that opportunity alone is enough!
as I personally started hearing this notion, I found myself thinking two responses.
“hey, I’m just starting out. what an opportunity to travel somewhere cool!”
“well, I’m not worth getting paid to travel and shoot…so maybe I won’t get paid for the shooting part. ”
But guess what? Only the first response was true. It IS so special when we get that opportunity to travel; when we finally get that inquiry for an elopement, or even a big wedding in Europe. Anything to take me anywhere– I feel that travel bug. I really do. And I value it.
But do I value it above the cost of my time, my actual services, the services of others, or my art?
Travel is just one piece of growth. It’s not always about growing your portfolio, it should also be about growing your business. If travel work is your end-all goal of your career, I will mention more ways you can get into travel photography without devaluing your packages, but for now I want to continue as to why it’s important you don’t.
1. it will not only undermine your work, but that of photographers in the area, if you aren’t compensated for travel
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but a sentence that took me a long time to care about consciously. Can you imagine if everyone just started shooting weddings for free in California, and what that would do to the California wedding photography market? Then imagine if every other Mary Jane flew into your town to shoot weddings for free. I’m not saying if you are asked to shoot a wedding in another state don’t take business from the local photographers there, but if a client really wants you,why shouldn’t they value your services for what you quote them, and then be willing to spend the extra fee on travel?
I like to think of it as going to buy a designer bag. If you’re going to sell something special, do you want it to be in the best, nicest store you have, or from the trunk of a car? Are you willing to sell your product from the trunk of a back alley, or do you AND your clients want you at your best, shining on display for your worth? If your clients want the designer bag, they will be happy to spend the extra money to cover your travel. If they pay less for the experience, they will get the trunk of our cars. I personally want to give them our best bag on display.
2. it will cause you 3x the amount of stress for 3x less the income if you shoot destination work for free
Hopefully their inquiry is filled with so much love for your work, they really do want you, out of all people!, to fly across the nation or world with them, and that is amazing! I’m rejoicing with you! But now if this is true, realize all the factors that will come into play : the amount of time planning this trip you can’t put towards planning other weddings, the amount of time on the trip outside of the shoot day, and the amount of money you will be spending on top of and around the shoot day. If you’re being asked to shoot a wedding for free, this is time, energy and actual money you are losing in order to pursue this opportunity (otherwise known as your “opportunity cost” of pursuing a wedding that would otherwise compensate you). As much as I adore photography with all my heart, and make traveling affordable for my couples and my self, I will not say it is a vacation. For me it is more of an altruistic purpose, which is service that takes work. If you continue to take “vacations” for work, you are going to forget what an actual vacation can feel like. Take it from someone who’s been there. You can get paid for your time and travel, and take an actual vacation one day, and it doesn’t have to be complicated :
3. it is not the only way or cheapest way to grow your destination portfolio
the gravest myth I have to bust for my clients, and now to photographers, is that pricing for traveling is complicated.
travel pricing for photography doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.
While it is about hustle and sacrifice and technically “starting from the bottom” in the beginning, you can still strategize to value your work and others in the area while making money & growing your portfolio. One way I’ve seen people do this is set up trips with photo friends to do styled sessions in new places, or creep hard core on hashtags to get couples who would love to pay for a couple session that already live in your dream places, and pay you for it. Give discounts if you want, split the wage with the photo friend; in the end, it’s your business! But after lining up a couple shoots, you are at least getting paid for your travel, your time, and your value.
Then when we get those clients who find us, versus us finding them, we can still keep pricing simple. I personally work on a fee basis, where I generally have two travel fees that can get me anywhere in the US, and as long as the client can afford that on top of their wedding or engagement package, I include that fee in the contract, and I take care of the rest. So their fee has pre-covered my ticket, stay, or other expenses, give or take. It’s respectfully acknowledging the cost of my travel, without being knit-picky or tedious. This tactic has gained me the most unique experiences with my local clients I could’ve ever hoped for, and I hope if you take nothing else from this blog, it’s to keep traveling simple and opportunistic for your clients. In the end, all of our dreams come true. It’s a win win.
that all being said : know your target market.
You don’t have to shoot for free, unless you’re making it very clear it is for a learning opportunity, a style shoot, or your own service project. But those things aside, you are worth something. I am not saying we are all 5k after year 2 or can’t be 2k in year 4, that’s up to your target market and who you’re choosing to service. But even if you’re valuing your weddings at $200 and a box of crispy creams, you deserve that payment, on top of your travel, if that’s requested of you.
i hope this blog helps us see that the more we lower the bar for ourselves in our pricing, the more we will lower each other’s value and our industry’s future. i do beleive doing free work for fun or for service is great, and i think making packages flexible for clients you fit with will always be important. but let’s stay respectful, stick to our guns, and have integrity when we book professionally.
we will all grow stronger together.