Many shutterbugs dream of turning their hobby into a business. Getting paid to take photos of beautiful scenery, adorable babies, or happy couples on their wedding day hardly sounds like work — so long as it’s what you love. But photography is a competitive and challenging industry, and aspiring photographers must work hard to make their pictures profitable.
Like all small business owners, one of the most significant challenges facing new photographers is figuring out how to price their photography. While you don’t want to price yourself out of the market, you also don’t want to charge less than you need to maintain your business. Is there a “gold standard” for freelance photography rates? If so, how do new photographers find out what it is?
Don’t worry — we’re here to help. Here’s what you need to know about how to make money as a professional photographer.
A quick guide to pricing photography
It would certainly be easiest if there were a universally agreed-upon photography rate. But photography pricing is unique to every artist. The average price for a photographer varies depending on region, occasion, experience, and even the number of photos. After all, the rates you charge for your services as a novice will likely differ from your rates after ten years in business.
So, how do you determine your photography prices as a beginner? First, sit down and figure out what it will take to sustain your business. This should include the following:
- Business costs (equipment, advertising, editing software, studio rentals, etc.)
- Earnings (what you’d like to make as your “salary”)
- Profit (what you’d like to make in addition to your earnings)
- Taxes (based on your desired annual salary)
Next, grab a calculator and add all those numbers together. This sum is the amount of money you aim to make in a year, which will influence how much you should charge for your work.
Your rates also depend on how frequently you expect to work. Are your skills in high demand? How many hours does a typical shoot take? Is photography a full- or part-time business? Your answers to these questions should lead you to the number and type of clients you expect to take on each month.
For example, a professional photographer may take family portraits and professional headshots as a side hustle. Let’s say they hope to earn a total of $13,000 per year to pay themselves and keep their business running and have time to conduct three photography sessions per week, two headshots and one family photo. To have three weekly sessions and make a minimum of $13,000 per year, they could charge $75 for headshots and $100 for family portraits.
Of course, you may not find clients willing to pay your dream rate for your first photography job. But once you understand what conducting professional photography costs you and what you want to earn, you can competitively price your work within your industry. Then, when you have a few photoshoots under your belt, adjust your prices accordingly.
Once you determine how much you’d like to make from your photography, it’s time to decide how to price your photoshoots. Most freelance photographers use one of the following pricing options:
- Per hour/day: Charge your customers by the hour (typical for short sessions like senior portraits, headshots, or newborn photoshoots). You can also charge a flat rate for the day or half-day (typical for wedding photography and similar events).
- Per project/job: Professional photographers taking on large jobs, like a multi-day shoot, may charge a flat rate for the project based on their time, labor, and expenses.
- Per image: If you take graduation photos, family portraits, or similar photoshoots, you may want to charge clients for each shot rather than by the hour. This provides some pricing flexibility and more potential clients — a huge benefit when you’re a new photographer and building a portfolio.
- Usage fees: If you work in product or commercial photography, companies may want to license your photos for their website or marketing materials. In this case, the company would pay a usage or licensing fee for the right to use your work for a set amount of time.
- Packages: Most people associate photo packages with school portraits, where parents buy photos from their child’s session in various sizes. But you can offer photo packages for just about any shoot. Photography package prices vary depending on what’s included, such as the number of poses, final images, and editing options.
General rates for photography and editing
Every photoshoot, portrait session, or event has its unique challenges, so it’s common for photographers to vary their rates based on the job. Here are a few examples of how much professional photographers charge for different situations:
- Wedding photography: Wedding photographers cost between $2,500–$5,000 on average — although some charge more. For example, in New York City, some wedding photographers earn up to $7,000 per event. This cost usually includes a flat fee for the day and a pricing package for edited or printed photos.
- Product photography: This type of commercial photography involves taking artistic photos of a product for the company to use in marketing. Product photographers charge an hourly average between $100–$300 but may earn more depending on their experience and the scope of the work required for the photo shoot.
- Portrait photography: Portrait photographers typically charge between $150 to $500 per session, depending on the location and the length of the photo shoot.
- Newborn photography: Photographing people’s babies is a lot of fun, but it can also be a bit tricky if your model’s in a fussy mood. That’s why most newborn photography is slightly more expensive than the average portrait photography session. An infant photoshoot costs around $400 to $800 per session. Alternatively, the photographer may charge a smaller sitting fee along with a price per image.
- Real estate photography: Professional photography is an excellent way for sellers to put their best foot forward when listing a home. This work is also great for freelance photographers, as the average real estate photoshoot costs between $110 and $300 per session (although you may earn more in major cities).
A photographer’s work also doesn’t end with the photo shoot. After the session, the photographer begins the post-production work, including photo editing and retouching. The average photo editor charges $90 per hour or $3 per image, depending on how much editing each picture needs. You should factor in the cost of your time and labor for this process — or, if you decide to outsource the retouching to an editing professional, factor that into your business costs.
4 tips to competitively price your photography
At the end of the day, the right price for your photography depends on you. It may take some trial and error before you land on the perfect rates — and that’s completely normal.
Remember: your rates should be enough to support your business without scaring away potential customers. Before you book your first session, check out these tips for pricing your work in the sweet spot:
Analyze your experience level
An amateur photographer can’t expect to make as much as a seasoned pro. Before setting your prices, honestly assess your current experience level. Do you have clients who can give positive references? Do you have a portfolio website or social media page where clients can see your work? If you’re just starting out, you may have to begin with lower rates and work your way up.
Study your market
As a beginner photographer, much of your work involves studying the local market. Remember, pricing will vary from place to place, so find out what other photographers in your area charge for their work. This is also the time to look for an opening in the market. Your city may have a demand for pet photography or maternity photoshoots, and you can be there to meet that need.
Choose your specialty
Do you love taking photos of cherubic little ones? Want to capture the magical moment a groom sees his bride walk down the aisle? More interested in high-fashion photoshoots? Once you find a niche you love, build a portfolio reflecting your photography skills in the relevant contexts. Most importantly, choose a specialty that makes you excited to grab a camera and start shooting.
Make sure you can support yourself
Whether you’re into portrait photography, product shots, photo editing, or anything in between, your photography business should make enough to pay your bills. Calculate what you need to earn, price yourself as close to that number as possible, and don’t sell yourself short.
Manage your business with Practice
If your photo pricing is sustainable, competitive with the market, and backed up by your excellent photography, plenty of clients will ask you to take their pictures. But once you have a regular flow of customers, you need a tool that will help you stay organized.
Check out Practice’s customer relationship management tool (CRM). Our CRM allows you to manage your schedule, payments, customer relations, and more — all in one place. And when you’re on top of everything, you expect clients to arrive at their photoshoot already smiling. See how Practice can help your photography business today, and check out our blog for more reading to benefit your small business.