As a creative, do you understand your value? Many don’t and sometimes that can be problematic. Note: I was a graphic & web designer in the past. I’m now a full time photographer, (digital content director, if you’re fancy). I will speak for creatives as a whole, but specifically with my experiences as a photographer.
When starting out many creatives fall into 1 of 3 categories (if not 2 or all 3):
“That Was Easy”
Many jump into something and say, “Oh wow that was the easiest $100 I’ve made! If I can do that this many times a week, I’ll have more than that job I was working!” This was me. My first two paid sessions were actually $175 and $200, both family sessions on-location. It felt like the easiest $375 I’d ever made. I even took my prices down to $100 thinking maybe I charged too much for 20 photos that I might have delivered to each person.
“Cheaper Is Better”
You also have the “well, I’m cheaper than this person by $100 so more people will want to come to me because of that.” This is often the first thought of many in any industry as well as their number one mistake. Some get out of this thought process, but many get stuck. In a sense, yes you might gain more clients, but as I’ll explain later, the quality of clients won’t always be the greatest. You can also miss out on many.
“I wouldn’t Pay That”
There are many “I wouldn’t pay that, so I am not going to charge that” people. This was me as well. It’s actually the reason I purchased my first camera. I couldn’t believe somebody would charge me $500 for something when I could simply buy a $500 camera and do it myself. Yet here I am over $20k in investments later lol and now I get it. Photography is definitely not just clicking a button.
My 2014-2015 Story
I found myself doing $100 photo sessions, delivering 20 edits within 3 days, wondering how and why people were charging 5 times more than me, and still taking weeks to edit. It baffled me. It seemed as if we had the same amount of clients, but they charged more and took a longer time. I thought my quality was pretty close. There were people telling me to raise my prices and people telling me my prices were still too high (I actually still get this, but my understanding is greater).
My first two studios were virtually free. I could be in whenever I wanted to and however long I wanted. I eventually moved into a “shared studio” home and things changed. I was paying XXX amount of dollars for 15 hours of studio time a month. If it was booked, it counted. There was no “my client didn’t come” or “I didn’t come so this hour doesn’t count.” Everything counted. There were no rollover hours. I can admit at first I HATED it, but I was locked in for a year and it turned out to be the BEST thing that happened as far as my career and understanding of things.
Free Studio: I was charging lower fees, would shoot for HOURS on in, had to wait for late clients, and deal with clients that would never show. I’d rarely charge deposits. My time and life were all over the place. I was getting paid to do what I truly had interest in so initially, I did not notice the problem.
Hourly: I raised my prices to accommodate my studio usage and gas to get there. My first two no-call, no-shows forced me to require a deposit at all times. This was not only for the studio time wasted, but for my time wasted driving across town. I developed a better business model, “be on time or get charged extra.” This was the beginning of being respected as an early professional.
I began to realize things were a lot smoother on the client end, and as my name grew, my professional clientele grew as well. I studied the works of every creative I aspired to be. I studied their processes, clients, and overall effort.
End of my story…or at least that chapter.
Quality > Quantity
Anybody in the business will tell you that the cheaper the client, the bigger the headache. It’s a clear difference between fast food service/customers and prime steakhouse service/customers. The same goes for the quality of the meal and the time spent on that meal. Not everyone needs or wants a steak, but when they do, they typically treat that process differently. They dress up, take their time, reservations are made, and they sit back and enjoy that meal. When you get fast food you’d be HIGHLY upset spending more than 5 minutes in a drive through line, only to drive off and realize you didn’t get a straw or barbecue sauce. If you’re going to have a steak price, you need to have a steak service. If you’re going to be fast food, at least be Chick-Fil-A because let’s face it, Chick-Fil-A can do no wrong.
$100, $500, $5000. What’s the difference?
When doing sessions on this end of the price scale, deposits (if even required) are lower, and result in more risks of no-shows, or late clients. A lot of clients typically don’t understand nor do they respect the value.
This is a hit-and-miss price point. You’ll have some amazing work and some “how did I get here” work. For the most part, deposits can be anywhere from $100-250 and the clients usually feel this is an expensive investment; therefore, they are on time. They’ve done some preparation for the session. This particular price point is also still affordable for most people, as well as small businesses.
There’s usually a small team involved with this price range. In addition to photographers and assistant(s), you’ll usually have hair, makeup, wardrobe, quality control, and a creative director involved. Everyone works hard to do their part and make the shoot go as smooth as possible. One of the more beautiful things about higher budgeted shoots is, they’re a lot easier! This is usually due to the fact that more money is on the line, everyone is on time, your talent/models are more experienced, and editing is minimal to none. These sessions are rarely personal shoots, but usually commercial clients. However, I am aware of $2000 portrait photographers. I just don’t know them personally.
As far as $10,000+ projects, I haven’t touched any YET lol, but they’re definitely out there.
What should you factor into your pricing??
You should take gas, programs, education, equipment, insurance, and licensing into consideration. The most important factor though? Time. Creative fees for the shoot, location scouting, and post production all require time, in which you should include.
You will ALWAYS be too expensive for someone and that is perfectly fine because you can also be too cheap. If you were given $100,000 to go solely to a vehicle, you probably aren’t going to buy the $2000 1999 Pontiac Grand Am. The same goes for clients. A client with a 10k budget is not going to look for a creative in the $500 range. Even if that $500 creative can give you 10x better work, the perception is that the experience will be risky. “Can they handle this workload? Will they meet the tight deadline? Is their equipment up to standard?” Your price is almost comparable to reverse credit. A credit card lender will not give you a 50k credit card if you can’t handle the $200 prepaid card you already have. Side note, I’m also not saying that $2000 Grand Am would outperform a Tesla lol.
If You Want Nice Gear, Your Prices Have to Reflect It
I’m a FIRM believer that you do not need all of the “bells and whistles” to get a project done. Usually working with bare minimum tools proves to be the best. However, there’s a reason expensive equipment exists. It’s freaking dreamy and makes your process SO much easier. The quality also tends to be a step above the cheaper option. The list goes on and on. If you want that $1800 lens that produces a crazy look almost effortlessly, you’re probably not going to get it doing $100 sessions. Trust me, I own a $2000 camera and have been eyeing a $3500 camera. Is it justifiable? Yes, as it might be the one element that gets me hired. Do I need it? Nope, but If I had to go back to a $500 camera, I’d lose it. The functions and quality just aren’t there. Although to the naked eye they take the same photos, the process is completely different.
In closing, there’s so much stuff to learn when it comes to value. This knowledge stems from years of trial and error. If you ever have a question as to how much you should charge for a session or how much you should pay as a client, please don’t hesitate to ask.