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I am fairly new to photography and have done a few high-school senior sessions of friends here and there. I have been getting more and more requests to photograph families, seniors, etc. and am starting to spend quite a bit of my spare time doing this. I consider myself an amateur, but am thinking about charging money.

I am wondering what a typical price for a sitting fee is for a senior session or child/family session, and how many images people would expect from these types of sessions.

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    I think your location plays important role here. – Karel Aug 9 '10 at 16:32
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    Probably worth mentioning that "Senior session" (in fact, the term "senior" meaning a high-school student itself) is pretty uniquely American. – ex-ms Aug 9 '10 at 17:28
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    Thanks for the explanation. I assumed he was photographing elderly people. – DJClayworth Nov 10 '10 at 17:17
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    Also, "American" means US citizen, not the whole continent with the 40 different countries. – Andres May 9 '11 at 18:10
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    See also photo.stackexchange.com/questions/7432/… (particularly, @Jay Lance Photography's answer, which isn't wedding-specific). – mattdm May 9 '11 at 18:41
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I don't agree that pricing should only offset your costs. Photography was a hobby before you started making money with it, so the cost of your equipment isn't exactly an expense of your photography business.

Instead, I think the end product you produce is the only factor in pricing. There is no reason for a client to have to pay for your expensive DSLR if you output photographs that could easily be made with a point and shoot.

So a good place to start is to look at other photographers and studios that output similar products (senior portraits) and have similar quality to your pictures. Then check out their prices and maybe take an average. This is a good place to start for sitting fees.

When selling prints remember that you aren't just selling the paper and ink -- your artistic talent, along with time dealing with printers, also went into producing that print. Don't sell prints at cost. This is also another place where it is a good idea to look at other photographers and studios for guidance.

Try mirroring prices of a nearby studio that does the same thing you do. After a number of sittings, evaluate how well the prices you choose reflect your work. Don't sell a valuable photograph for less than it is worth (called undercutting the industry and this is what makes 'pros' get so insecure and start to dislike you), but also recognize that you don't take the same photographs that a top-tier studio can.

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    Agreed. The price of a product or service is what the market will bear. Production costs have no bearing on the price, only whether it is economically feasible to provide the product or service at that price. – Reid Aug 9 '10 at 19:41
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    I don't think the other answers are suggesting that one should only price to cover costs, but that being aware of those costs is important in order to find a reasonable cost. – mattdm May 9 '11 at 16:20
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    Production may have no bearing on what the consumer will pay, but they do have a bearing on whether you can stay in business or not. Don't set your prices for a new business based only on your established competition and disregard your costs. Especially in this example, you may find yourself pricing against somebody with a much more streamlined workflow or tools that make his work more efficient - that you don't have. A new business can't compete on price. Set your price based on your costs and your time and if its not competitive with equivalent quality - you're in the wrong business. – rfusca May 9 '11 at 16:25
  • @mattdum - Yup, costs must be considered. This whole "price only against your competition thing" is close to what economists call "predatory pricing" and a business can't stay viable for long when they try to do this. Photography IS A BUSINESS. – rfusca May 9 '11 at 16:28
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    I don't agree with the notion that photography gear is not part of the cost model as it was already purchased before going into business. Any photography business has gear costs, it doesn't matter how those costs are funded or if the gear is used for both pleasure and business. A cost is a cost and gear is an ongoing cost. Charging should therefore always be cost + profit based, otherwise there is no point in going into business. If the end price results in a non-competitive offering, well then you don't have a business to begin with. – Ferdy Aug 21 '12 at 19:44
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The key to setting your pricing is to figure out your costs, that way you can make an informed decision:

You need to not only consider the printing costs, but also all the other fixed costs:

As an example:

Costs per 3 years:

  • Camera - $500
  • Lenses - $1000
  • Accessories - $250
  • Software - $250

Total: $2000

Annual Costs:

  • image hosting: $100
  • website: $50

Total: $150

Per Project:

  • $10 - printing
  • $2 - gas

Total: $12

So your major purchases for 3 years would be $2000. To spread out the costs, we will split that up over 3 years, so $666.67 per year

If you want to break even and shoot 52 sessions per year (1 per week) then you need to charge

(amortized costs) + (per project costs) = minimum charge
(666.67 + 150.00)/52 + 12 = 27.71

to break even, covering the cost of your equipment. This is the bare minimum that you should charge, and as your skill improves you should charge more (you want to be paid for your time, right?)

This is obviously just an example and every person's costs are different, but hopefully this can be a good place to start to figure out what you will need to charge.

Summary

When starting out many people work at cost and some decide to work at a loss to build a portfolio, but you have to know what your true costs are in order to make that decision.

As far as what packages to offer, that is highly dependent on your local competition. Find out what other local photographers offer and use their offerings as a starting point. I wouldn't suggest copying their packages directly, but again, you want to make an informed decision.

  • @chills42: I think your example lacks a very important part of the pricing: Honoraries. All the things you listed are correct, but somebody else may have the same excat equipment and other costs, but the final product won't be the same. Your time and the preparation you've had that allows you to generate the output you do is what adds value to the product. – Jahaziel Nov 13 '14 at 19:39
  • @Jahaziel Right, and that's why I've made it clear that all the calculations are just to get you to your bare minimum charge, basically, your break even point. As you gain experience, hone your craft, and expect to actually make money on your work, then clearly your prices should go up accordingly. – chills42 Nov 18 '14 at 15:45
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One good guideline regarding pricing is the monkey principle:

Let's say your prospective client decides to ignore your photographic skill, and instead use someone totally incompetent to cut costs. They therefore decide to go to a local zoo and let a monkey shoot the pictures.

But there's a catch: the monkey has no camera. So they use local rental service and get some gear for the monkey to use. Monkey then snaps some pics and everyone goes happily home.

The moral of the story is that if you can produce better results that monkey + rental, you probably should not be cheaper than what it costs to rent the necessary equipment without your services.

Adapted from what I've read on John Harrington's blog some time ago.

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    How much is it to rent a monkey? How much is the monkey insurance in your area? – florin May 9 '11 at 23:44
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    @florin: In practical usage, you can approximate all monkey-related expenses to the cost of one reasonably tasty banana. – che May 10 '11 at 7:08
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    Guess the cost of rental of equipment + (minimum wage fee per hour * hours of shooting) is a more realistic formula. Assuming equipment is camera, lens, and computer to copy the jpeg files to a CD or DVD for a set of digital pictures with no editting and taken without any particular skill. – Jahaziel Nov 13 '14 at 19:48
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I agree with James that you should consider the fees that professionals charge. However, there is a baseline cost of work for you below which you should not do the job. Here is how you calculate it:

There are three components that go towards figuring out the value of your work. If you charge below the sum of these components you will be losing money.

  1. Labour time
  2. Fixed assets
  3. Consumables

I'll address these individually, albeit briefly, below. You will need to put some flesh on the bones of this calculation:

1. Labour time

This is difficult to estimate. It is essentially the rate of pay needed to keep yourself in the manner you are accustomed too. This is obviously a subjective measure - if you are giving up an afterschool job to take photos, then its probably the rate of pay from your other job. If you don't have any need for income because your parents cover all your costs then you don't have to value your labour time at all! This is obviously a competitive advantage - other professional photographers not only have to sustain themselves, but often have a family to feed! Its worth noting that for adults there is a socially acceptable minimum standard of living quantified by the minimum wage.

For the purpose of this calculation however, lets assume you are giving up a four hour shift of your after school job to complete this job for which you would otherwise be earning $10 per hour, or a total of $40..

2. Fixed assets

I am assuming here that you will not purchase any durable equipment for a photography job but will instead use equipment you already own (otherwise the calculation becomes a little more complicated, but is still tractable). In this case, the contribution of your fixed assets (e.g. camera, lenses, car, accessories, etc.) is calculated as a proportion of their average lifespan consumed by use. In some cases you can calculate this directly. For example, if you are shooting with a 500D that you purchased for $750 with an average lifespan of 100,000 shutter actuations, and shoot 500 photos for a job the calculation looks like this:

Asset value x Amount of asset used / Amount of asset in average lifespan

= $750 x 500 / 100,000

= $3.75.

You need to reproduce this calculation for each of your fixed assets. Rather than working this out directly, lets arbitrarily quintuple the figure for your camera body and get a value of $18.75 of the value of your fixed assets consumed by a job.

3. Consumables

This is the easiest component to calculate, as you can simply keep the receipts. Lets assume that this job requires $10 worth of gasoline and $20 worth of photo printing.

This gives a cost of consumables of $30.

Value of your work

The value of your work is the sum of these components. In this rather contrived example, that is:

Labour time + Fixed assets + Consumables

= $40 + $18.75 + $30

= $88.75

This is your break-even point, below which you should under no circumstances charge. If you charge less than this amount you will be losing money.

Price of your work

Now, you need not charge your work out at its value. Indeed, you would have no monetary incestive to run a business if you did so. Instead, you need to make a profit by charging a rate greater than your costs.

Exactly what this profit will be depends on market forces. You probably cannot charge as much as high-class professional studios, as they offer a quality of services you presumably do not at this stage. However, you are likely to be the fortunate position (from the perspective of a business owner) that the cost of your labour time is likely to be significantly less than that of your competitors who are presumably raising families, etc. Thus, you are in the fortunate position where you may be able to undercut your competitors prices and thus attract business while still making a profit (at least until your life becomes more expensive, either by getting expensive tastes or leaving home or starting a family yourself).

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    Not to be too picky with a good answer, but I would question a bit of your reasoning in the 'fixed assets' category. One of the interesting things to come out of micro economic analysis of business is that it can make perfect sense to operate at a loss (short term) so long as your variable costs are covered. I.e., you are already out the cost of the camera, lenses, etc. and that is money you won't get back either way. So you might as well (if necessarily) work for $40+$30=$70 in your example. That is your real break-even point. A minor point, because as you said, you do want to make a profit. – Sean May 9 '11 at 20:15
  • @Sean True, but this isn't really a viable long term strategy is it? – fmark May 10 '11 at 5:55
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    Not long term, no. But for an amateur just beginning to charge for their work, it might be an option to consider. Absent the economic lingo, it would probably go something like, "I have a camera anyway, so I might as well make a little money with it." This is not the kind of thinking that makes for a good business plan, of course, but it might suit some people who just want to dabble or who are learning while building a portfolio. – Sean May 10 '11 at 22:25
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There are a few ways to slice this:

Charging just to make a little money on the side.

Or

Setting the appropriate costs for your services and time.

The former makes some sense: as a friend, you might want to give discount prices. After all you're doing people a favor, and maybe these friends have helped you out with pricing breaks. That's fine, so long as it's a tit-for-tat kind of deal, and it's a rare occasion. For example, I agreed to do the senior photos for my friend's daughter probono--he gave me one hell of a referral which landed me a really good (re:high paying) job.

However, this sounds like this is getting to be more serious, then you should consider the latter option.

For the latter, I recommend looking up the local branch of some professional photo association, skim the directory and find several photographers, especially those who's skill level you feel you could compete with, and see how much they charge for their services.

And price yourself near that level.

Food for thought:

By pricing yourself at the level of the competition you are essentially setting the proper value of the services you are providing. Just because you're an "amateur" does not mean the service you provide is any less valuable. Also, just because you're an "amateur" does not mean you should not attempt to act like a "professional." This means having at least:

  • one spare camera (rent if you have to)
  • multiple redundant backups including backing up images during the shoot
  • a legally binding contract that explains who retains what rights for the image
  • a model release form should you decide to use these images in your marketing (better to ask now, then later).
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    Remembering the value of work is an excellent point to make. – ex-ms Aug 10 '10 at 4:12
  • I want to upvote this more than once, because it emphasizes that the cost should be based on the level of skill you bring along, while at the same time you as the photographer, being paid a certain amount that will be out of the 'just amateurish league', also have to provide the professional infrastructure, too. While it works out 99% of the time, clients do not see the fact that they also pay for the security that there will be a photo even if the camera meant to take it in the first place breaks down ;-) – kamuro Mar 15 '16 at 9:44
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Whoever says you can do this with a point and click needs to stop talking. You need to offset your cost and pay yourself. When we in this industry get that one guy who thinks it's OK to shot with his point and shot and not charge anything it's like Walmart stepping in.

We buy our equipment because it will get the best results and the client is looking for the best results and they are paying for your talent. You got into this because you have a talent and a passion; don't undercut yourself just to make them happy. Pay yourself and help pay your overhead (remembering your overhead is not a studio with employees and such, it's you and your car).

In my area charging $150 for a senior/family session as long as the family is under like 6 people and then giving a CD with printing rights is about fair; or the other route people are taking in my area is like $50-ish for the sitting fee then offering $35 - $145 print packages.

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For an update, the article " How Much Should Photographers Charge In 2016? " could give some help.

So:

Amateur: $25 – $75 per hour. (...) Different types of photography lend themselves to different pricing models. Event photography is generally based on an hourly or day rate. When it comes to commercial photography, some photographers, like me, charge on a per-image or per-project basis.

Depending on the photographer, the per-image pricing model is lower risk for the photography buyer, and rewards for the photographer for a job well done. Some photographers charge as little as $25 per photo, while top photographers receive thousands of dollars for a single photograph. (...) Rates also fluctuate depending on location. (...)

Student: $50-100 per hour / $25-100 per image. As with all types of photography, the student rate varies, depending on their photographic discipline, industry experience, and interaction with, or assisting, professionals. Some advanced students do – and should – command as much as professionals. (...)

Semi-Pro: $50–$150 per hour / $25-125 per image. These are photographers who have ambitions to join the ranks of the professional. They may have another job or income source to keep them afloat, but which they aim to leave behind. Sometimes their additional skills are compatible with their photography. Many compete with professional photographers for jobs, but are not quite ready to jump in with both feet.

For a professional:

Senior Portrait Photography $125-$300. This rate depends on many factors, such as the number of locations, changes of clothes, and reprint package that you chose. (...)

And now, ask yourself:

– How much do I wish to earn in a year?

– How much are my annual business expenses?

– What’s my marketing budget?

– How many days will I likely work next year?

You also can calculate your costs at this NPPA calculator.

NPPA includes in the calculation the following:

Expenses

  • Office and/or Studio

  • Phone (cell and/or landline)

  • Photo/Video/Audio Equipment and Accessories

  • Equipment Service and Repairs

  • Computer(s) (hardware and software)

  • Broadband Internet

  • Web Hosting / Portal Service

  • Vehicle Expenses (Lease, Insurance, Maintenance)

  • Office Supplies and Furniture

  • Postage and Shipping

  • Professional Development

  • Advertising and Promotion

  • Subscriptions and Dues

  • Equipment and Business Insurance

  • Health Insurance / Deductibles / Copays

  • Legal and Accounting Services

  • Taxes and Licenses (Business and Self-Employment)

  • Office Assistance (Payroll, Answering Service, Intern, etc.)

  • Utilities

  • Travel and Entertainment

Income Factors

  • Desired Annual Salary

  • Non-assignment Income

  • Number of Days You Can Bill Per Year

Your Results

  • Total Annual Expenses

  • Weekly Cost of Doing Business

  • Overhead Cost for Each Assignment Day

Your Answer

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