Should You Shoot for FREE? (& Other Pricing Questions for Photographers)

 Selfie at @Rosalie.Studios

Selfie at @Rosalie.Studios

Since so many of you guys requested a pricing post.. here are my 2 cents on pricing! 


Should you shoot for free? 

The best answer came from my photography instructor-- between shooting for free or for trade, which one do you think is more valuable? His answer? Shooting for free, because now you've built a relationship for when you need something. (For this reason, sometimes I'd prefer to shoot for free than a super low rate that's not worth it.) Trade is good too but honestly I think some photographers are too reserved when it comes to shooting for free. I shot for free and for discounted rates SO much when I was first starting out! If I hadn't shot for free in the beginning I daresay I wouldn't be where I am today. And although it was super hard in the beginning to shoot for free when I wasn't making money, it helped me build connections and network. The key thing is not to be short sighted. Although this client is not paying, she could refer you to other high paying clients. So my answer? Depends on if you're booking, depends on who they are, depends on what the project is.

But I wouldn't say it's an immediate no! 


How do you figure out your pricing? 

I've been a freelancer for almost 3 years now and in the beginning it took a lot of trial and error. I've been on both spectrums of undercharging and overcharging. Eventually I found a price point where my clients was happy paying, and the clients who aren't aren't my target clients. The thing about photography is that there are no set prices. You can throw out a number and your client can either meet you halfway or you "can work within their budget." 

One way that the internet recommends to do this is work backwards-- how much annual income do you want to make and figure out how many hours a week to your hourly rate. 

So for example, you want to make $60,000 a year. 

Divide that by 12 months in a year is $5000/month. Divide that by 80 shooting hours a month (20 hours a week, because assume half your time would be spent editing), then your hourly rate is around $63/hr. 

I don't love this model because first of all, it doesn't take into account of taxes. As a freelancer you have to pay your own taxes, so if you bring in 5k/month, at least 20% of that will get taken away for taxes. It also doesn't take into account of editing time. 

Another way photographers price is arbitrarily assign a few hundred to the project, and say "I'll charge you $300 for 2 hours of shooting and this includes 15 photos." 

Great-- but what is your hourly shooting rate? What if they want to add one more hour and 10 more photos? Then it becomes fuzzy because you don't have an exact breakdown. 

To make it simple for you guys, this is what I do. 

Ask yourself, what is your ideal hourly rate? 

Now add $20 more on top of that. (Because if you ask a creative that question, chances are they'll underprice themselves because that's generally how creatives work. They'll say, I want to make $30/hr-- but really, they can charge $50/hr.) 

Now that's your shooting hourly rate

Now figure out how long it takes you to edit a photo within that one hour, and that's your price per photo. If it takes you 10 minutes to edit one photo, then your rate is $5/photo. One tip I have for this is, the cheaper the price per photo, the more photos clients will buy from you. So if you charge $50/photo, someone might buy just 2 photos. But if you charge $5/photo, then they'll keep coming to you and buying in quantity. Think of this like going to the grocery store LOL. If you pay for something expensive once, you'll never go back. But if it's cheap, you'll go back and get more. 

So instead of saying I'll charge $300 and this includes 15 photos, first ask them how many horus they want to shoot and how many photos they need. Then send them a sample breakdown:

Shooting 3 hour x $50/hr = $150

30 Edited photos x $5/photo = $150

= $300 total 

So now, when they want to add an hour and 10 photos, it'll look like this: 

Shooting 4 hour x $50/hr = $200

40 Edited photos x $5/photo = $200

= $400 total 

If they want a full day with 100 photos, then it'll look like this: 

Shooting 8 hour x $50/hr = $400

100 Edited photos x $5/photo = $500

= $900 total 

And these numbers are yours to tweak around. If you decide you want to make $75/hr and charge $10/photo, it'll look like this: 

Shooting 8 hour x $75/hr = $600

100 Edited photos x $10/photo = $1,000

= $1,600 total

Bam. That's how you charge. 

Now if you want to take that number and figure out how much you make in a year, can we do that. Let's say you book 3 projects a month at your $1600 full day rate. That's $4800 a month x 12 = $57,600 a year. Now that's very close to 60k annual income. And that's just shooting 3 times a month! That's an example of how lucrative photography can be if you price properly. 

One note I do have-- if you don't have at least a decent camera (full frame) and decent laptop, don't charge clients over $50/hr. That's just rude lol. Don't charge clients professional prices if you're still shooting with a kit lens! 


How do you find your pricing compared to other photographers? 

Photographers don't talk to each other about pricing. And we're all at different experience levels with different gear, that's what makes it so hard to price properly within the photographer community. For example, if a guy lives at home with his mom and doesn't pay rent-- then he'll probably charge less than someone who has to worry about making rent every month. Or if he has a full time job and shoots for fun, he probably won't charge much at all. (And trust me, there are a lot of these guys/girls.) There have been plenty of situations where a client would rather pay someone who is willing to do it for half price. But the key thing here is that cheap clients get what they pay for.

Have confidence in what you're worth and what you bring to the table. That's why in my pricing model, I didn't suggest you look up the average income of a photographer and price off of that. I asked what YOU want to make per hour. Every photographer is different and their eye is different. If you want to charge $100/hr (assuming you have all the gear and proper lenses), then charge $100/hr. If you're turning more people away than you're taking on jobs, then it must mean you're too expensive for your current clientele and you can lower it to $80 for now and work your way towards $100 with clients that have a bigger budget. But don't compare! Have confidence and find your niche within your clients. And be good to your clients. I don't raise my prices every year on my clients. I keep them at the rate they started with me at because I value their business. 


What about price packages? 

A lot of clients ask me about packages so I found it really helpful to create a document that details out that formula I shared with you guys earlier in this post. You can price it out at different hourly packages so they have a clear idea. 


Package 1: 2 hour shoot (2 hr booking minimum) 

Shooting 2 hour x $75/hr = $150

30 Edited photos x $10/photo = $300

= $450 total 

Package 2: 4 hour shoot (half day) 

Shooting 4 hour x $75/hr = $300

50 Edited photos x $10/photo = $500

= $800 total 

Package 3: 8 hour shoot (full day) 

Shooting 8 hour x $75/hr = $600

100 Edited photos x $10/photo = $1,000

= $1,600 total 


When do I raise my prices? 

Like I said earlier, I don't raise my prices on my current clients. But of course, if you have clients that are paying you a low rate because you started working together years ago but now your prices changed a lot, then I would have an honest conversation with them about working out a new arrangement that works for both of you. 

However with new clients, I recommend raising your prices every January on the new year and committing to that for the rest of the year. So if you made $50/hr last year, maybe raise it to $75/hr this year and don't raise it again until the next year. That way you only need to update your price sheet once a year and it's way less confusing logistically. 


How do I price for different photography jobs? 

When you get more experienced in the field, you typically wouldn't need to answer this question. For example, I don't ever shoot weddings or baby photography. And if I get asked to shoot something totally random, I'll either "work within their budget" (Gas money is still money, people.) if I have the time and it's worth it, or I'll just be upfront and say I'm not an event photographer but this is my rate. 


How do you count the price for time you take to prepare, travel to the location... etc? 

If you're spending hours and hours planning for a shoot, you can charge for a creative production fee (which would be either the same rate as your hourly rate.) But to be perfectly honest, I'm pretty lax about pricing out everything to the dime. I did a campaign shoot recently where my team and I spent 20 hours creating a shot list broken down by the minute and I didn't bill the client because they were already paying me a day rate and I just wanted the shoot to look amazing. So pick and choose your battle kiddies.

As for travel to location, I've billed clients before for parking if I need to pay for parking, but it also depends on the client. (At the end of the day is $10 really that big of a deal if they're paying you for a big job?) If I were to travel from LA to Palm Springs, I would charge my hourly for the time it took me to get there and for gas. (Miles traveled x gas price + hourly rate.) 


How do you charge when you travel with the client? 

When a client pays you to travel with them, at the minimum they should cover everything from food & travel expenses (uber) to hotel and flights. Then from there, I just charge for the hours I shot while traveling with them + price per photo. I love traveling so when I get to go to cool places I just take traveling as a loss in exchange for getting to go somewhere super cool. (Because let's face it, you can make more at home working than traveling. I also can't answer emails and coordinate with clients as much as if I was back in my office.) 


What do I do when a client asks for raw photos? Do I charge? 

Yes! The best advice I got was to charge a processing fee for raw images. These are BIG files you have to send over or hand over to the client. Typically when a client books you, they're paying you for your edited photos and that's how you make money -- so if they ask for raws too, then you need to charge at least a processing fee. (I recommend charging something small, like $1/photo lol. Typically when clients ask for raws, it's usually 300-1000 raw images so something small like $1/photo is easy to calculate.)

That being said, I've personally never charged a client for a processing fee for raw images because I end up getting along with the client and I just don't want to go through the hassle of tacking on an additional charge. I'm the type that's firm on my hourly rate-- but once I take on a client, I try to be very accommodating. Like I said, pick and choose your battles. 

I don't typically get clients now that ask for raw files-- people come to me for the full package, shooting and post production. What are they going to do with 10 extra options of the same pose that's unedited? 


What about paying for usage? 

I've never had a client ask about usage, and generally when they ask me about usage I just shrug and let them have the rights to the photos forever. (I'm a dgaf photographer lol.) But then again, I don't book ginormous Nike campaigns that need usage writes written in the fine print. This article I found is super helpful to understanding usage for you guys to just get more information about this. 


Do I need to send OUT invoices and what is the best form of payment? 

I don't accept venmo as payment. And if it's a professional client, they typically wouldn't pay on Venmo. A great website I use is "Hello Bonsai." This is a web tool that helps you send out invoices, keep track of invoices, how much you've made per month, and facilitate payments from clients. Via Hello Bonsai you can select paypal as payment, or checks or credit card so it's super helpful. I love this because it marks off when a client has paid an invoice, and if they haven't, it'll send a reminder that it's overdue. 

If you're going to send out an invoice using Google docs, at least change the colors around so it doesn't look super obvious that it's a Google doc template. (So it doesn't seem like it's your first day on the job, and also it's just a personal pet peeve of mine lol.) 



Phew okay! So that's my two cents on shooting and pricing as a photographer. If you guys have any specific questions feel free to leave it in the comments below and I'll answer them next week in a part 2 pricing blogpost! Thanks guys love you!