Serene Life

by garik

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This may sound like a silly post...but, I need some "outside" opinion from people who know what they are doing.

I took up amateur photography as a hobby a couple of years ago...most of it being portrait photography of my children. As I have posted my pictures on facebook, a plethora of people have loved my "work" and have been contacting me about my "photography" business. I have been very up-front and honest with every one of them about only being an amateur, and never professionally trained. That being said, people still hound me to take their pictures. I am comfortable with my ability to take portrait style pictures....and I have even started charging $60 for a two hour shoot with the rights to the cd of prints. I do not do my own printing.

Now, I have done three weddings for family members just over this last summer....and only as a wedding gift to them (in other words, I have not charged.) But now, I am having others, who are not family members, wanting to "hire" me for their weddings. Again....I have tried to tell them I don't do professional photography, only to be met with all of them still wanting to hire me.

My question is...what is a fair price to ask of these people? They obviously still want me to work for them, knowing that I have no credentials.....but I have no idea how or what to charge for. Can anyone give me some ideas?

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Is wedding photography something you want to do? If not, the simple solution here just seems to be to say "thanks for the offer, but I'm not interested". –  Philip Kendall Jun 6 '13 at 20:15
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What country are you in? Helps frame some business aspects. –  Russell McMahon Jun 7 '13 at 7:13
    
Philip Kendall.....I love photography. I have had a wonderful time photographing the three weddings over the summer. But, it is taking me out of my comfort zone being asked to do weddings for "other" people. I just don't feel that I have the proper experience....yet, if I don't start somewhere, I will never gain any experience. I do know that I don't want to just do wedding photography. I love photographing people so much more! –  mindi Jun 7 '13 at 11:43
    
Russell McMahon...I live in the Midwest, USA –  mindi Jun 7 '13 at 11:52

3 Answers 3

I'll pass on two pieces of advice I received years ago for you to think about whenever you are ready to start charging for your services.

The first is that any amount you charge must be enough to pay for another photographer to shoot the event if you cannot do it. If you are injured the night before the wedding or if you suffer some other disaster that prevents you from shooting, you must be able to arrange and pay for a backup photographer.

The second is to value your time and charge for it. The work will not stop after the wedding ceremony and if you will be spending hours on retouching, framing, and album creation, you need to charge for your time.

My personal approach to pricing would be to do some research first and find out what photographers in your area are charging. This information will ensure that your prices will not be at the extreme ends of the range, or completely off the scale.

Next, estimate the maximum amount of weddings or events you could shoot in a year. If you live in a northern city, you may only have 25 weekends each year to photograph weddings, but if you live in the south, you may be able to shoot all year.

Then you should calculate your annual living expenses and costs. You should approach photography as a professional endeavor that will support you. When figuring your living expenses, assume you will have to pay for your own healthcare and account for the expense. Divide this annual figure by the maximum number of weddings in a year.

Next, you should calculate your annual fixed costs for the business assuming you shoot every weekend you can. You will need to pay for insurance, promotion, taxes, leasing or renting a location for the business or a place to meet with clients, and also equipment depreciation. Divide your annual costs by the maximum number of weddings you plan to shoot in a year. This is your fixed cost per wedding.

Next, calculate the cost of supplies needed for each individual wedding. Will you offer packages with prints included? Will you include any albums in the package? You'll need to figure out these costs. Include transportation costs and any other expense incurred in the act of shooting the wedding. If you do not shoot a wedding, these costs would not be incurred. These costs are the variable costs per wedding.

Finally, add up your fixed and variable costs, and decide on your markup percentage. Your markup should be enough to support yourself and pay your living expenses if you shoot every available weekend. Check your figure against what other professionals in your area charge, and adjust if necessary. It may not be possible to support yourself by shooting weddings at the market rate in your area, and most professionals do portraits and other events in addition to weddings. When determining a final price, you should also assume your services will not be in as much demand as established and experienced professionals and price accordingly. If you find yourself with more work than you can handle, the demand for your services is high and you should raise your prices and if demand for your services is low, you should lower your prices.

Do this process even if you only plan to shoot one or two weddings per year. If you approach it as a serious business, and price your services accordingly, you will help keep the value of the services in the market higher and you will be helping the other photographers in your area maintain their prices and support themselves. Undercutting the market prices drives down prices for everyone and will hurt you in the long run.

As I said, this is my personal approach, based on some experience shooting weddings professionally and reading business books, but I do not own my own business. If any professionals have ideas for improvement or constructive criticism, I would be very interested in hearing suggestions.

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I highly suggest if you are researching local market prices, to be direct and up front with other photographers as you do this - rather than posing as a client. I have seen it done both ways before, and their certainly is a right and a wrong way. –  dpollitt Jun 12 '13 at 2:58
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+1, but I'm pretty sure (having lived in them all my life!) that people in northern cities actually do get married year-round. –  mattdm Jun 12 '13 at 3:34
    
@mattdm - That is true, but volume of weddings drops significantly, that is a fact in my region(upper midwest USA, same as the original poster). People still likely get married at the same rate if you average out the year though, so you can expect busier summers and less busy winters! It is a good time of year to attend the trade shows, market, train, etc. –  dpollitt Jun 12 '13 at 20:16

This is not a silly post in the matter of an amateur that gets asked to work paying gigs. If your work is satisfactory, it is very common to initially have close friends and family consider you for their photography needs. As word of mouth continues, of course even people outside of your immediate contacts will pick up on your skills and engage in business type transactions.

Business

This is where this stops being silly and becomes very serious, very fast. You love photography, but do you want a business? Are you prepared to get:

  • Insurance, both liability and asset coverage
  • CPA to complete your yearly taxes
  • Professional association memberships
  • Contract(s)
  • A business plan
  • A line of business credit with your bank
  • Collection of taxes from clients
  • Training on marketing
  • Loss of all weekends especially during busy seasons
  • Hours in front of a computer fulfilling orders, SEO, social media
  • Training in becoming great at sales

So that was a bit of a scare tactic. If you do love photography and you do want to go at it professionally, far and away the best advice I can give you is to stop shooting them for family/friends/friends of friends - and start second shooting. You will learn vast amounts of knowledge that you simply won't gain on your own, or would but after making many years of mistakes. Wedding photography should really not be jumped into without second shooting of some kind. Similar to how a nurse or doctor commonly practices under the guidance of a seasoned professional prior to graduation from school.

Pricing

What price should you charge? Really this question is outside the scope of this website. It is a very specific question that a real answer would only apply to you. We would also need a great deal of more information such as your costs to keep the lights on, equipment amortization, local pricing data, etc. The list is nearly endless and frankly people charge money to help with this and even then it is a skill to properly create a price list. It takes modifications and improvement constantly from any professional photographer.

In all honesty, charging anything other than zero in your shoes is a bad idea. Charging a few hundred or even a thousand dollars is a doing a disservice to the photography community as a whole, and grossly under valuing your own time. Having a $1000 camera and 8 hours of time is not what shooting a wedding is about. The years of experience, trained eye, ability to predict the next shot before it happens, perfect technical execution, multiple backups, insurance, reliability, along with the artistic merit to match all of it - is what shooting a wedding is about. It certainly can be rewarding and challenging, but please if at all possible start by second shooting and ensuring that you do in fact want to start a business!

Resources

We have great resources already on this site for wedding photography that I would recommend:

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For me, the big difference is that for money, you have with the bride when she hates the photos, or when you forgot to get a picture of Aunt Tillie. As @dpollitt says, its not about photographic skills. –  Pat Farrell Jun 7 '13 at 0:43
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dpollitt....thank you so much for your help. I am definitely going to look into the resources on this site. You are right...I do love photography....and I am not at all knowledgeable about how to go about starting a proper business. I will definitely have to mull that one over for awhile. You gave me a lot of great things to think about. –  mindi Jun 7 '13 at 11:47
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@dpollitt's basic point is well made: shooting a wedding for money is a pretty serious endeavor, if for no other reason than because the wedding cannot be redone if you blow the shoot. Especially if they are paying you, they have a (legal) right to expect high quality work, and would not be the first folks to have recourse in court over a botched job. –  Ryan Jun 7 '13 at 18:52

If you don't have a clear idea what you would want to charge, you could ask them what they think your service is worth and see if you think it is worth your time. It's also a tricky thing to pick up since there is a lot of responsibility to making sure you get it right since there aren't any re-dos.

In general, anything from $30 an hour for basic shooting and give them a disk to $5000 or more for a package deal with touch up and prints is within the realm of reason. Personally, I've been doing wedding videography for a number of years, so when I made the jump to wedding photography, I started out at the $50 an hour price range for weddings with touch up being extra and giving them freedom to do whatever they want with the images I shoot. I also offer printing and touch up separately.

To give an idea of the level of investment I have in it, I'm a software developer by day and have about $10,000 worth of gear that I use for shooting weddings. I will also be working my price up from where it currently is as I build out my portfolio.

The main thing is don't do it unless you really want to. If you do, get your feet wet on the cheap with low expectations and then build your way up as your confidence improves. It can be a great way to make some money to help pay for nice camera gear, but can also become stressful if you jump in too deep or too fast. I think it's a blast though and if you enjoy the events you've done, you'll probably enjoy shooting weddings professionally as well as long as you don't move beyond your comfort zone by too much at a time.

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Oh, and if you are curious, I got my start in wedding videography in a very similar way. I did other video stuff as a hobby and people liked my work so much they asked me to do weddings. After a wedding or two, other people took notice and I started getting clients I didn't even know. The first wedding I did was only $500 and was the biggest waste of time for the money I got ever, but it helped eventually grow out in to a business where I was doing three or four weddings a year at around $3500 a pop (video is far more labor intensive than photo in post.) –  AJ Henderson Jun 6 '13 at 20:42
    
I only stopped doing videography because my Dad was my second camera guy and he moved south and it was turning in to too much work as a side job. I swapped to photography because of the lower post load and the fact that you can do it solo. –  AJ Henderson Jun 6 '13 at 20:43
    
Thank you, AJ Henderson, for your words of encouragement. I feel like your post balances out the previous post. Like I told dpollitt, I have been given some fantastic viewpoints, resources, and things to think about. I appreciate both of you taking your time to respond. –  mindi Jun 7 '13 at 11:51
    
@mindi thanks. And I wouldn't advocate advertising until you have a chance to do a lot of what dpollitt said. The main difference is someone is asking you to do it despite not being professional. Clearly they like your work and while some mistakes WILL be made while you learn. My experience is they don't end up mattering all that much since the people really wanted YOU. It alters expectations a lot. –  AJ Henderson Jun 8 '13 at 3:35
    
Recruiting clients and opening a formal business is far more complicated. (And necessary to do it legally beyond a certain fairly low volume in the us at least.) –  AJ Henderson Jun 8 '13 at 3:36

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