Price Determination

When I was a freshman in college, I worked for the successful photographer John Harrington, based in Washington, DC. Author of Best Business Practices for Photographers, he was a wealth of knowledge on how to run a business, handle clients, retain clients, determine pricing and licensing, and much more. I highly recommend his book to anyone serious about their business as a photographer.

One of the things that Harrington taught me early on is that people often see prices as directly correlating to talent and value. For example, the highest priced photographer in an area is often regarded by customers as the best and most high-end. His prices are the most expensive, so it must be for a reason! That's what most customers believe. Similarly, if your prices are the cheapest in your market, customers assume this is because you are not experienced enough or your final products are less valuable. You must price to represent your worth.

When I started in the wedding photography business, I was only charging about a grand for a wedding in rural upstate New York. After working for Harrington, I went home and tripled my prices. With the tripling of my prices, I shortly tripled my business. I was no longer at the bottom of the pile for the least expensive (and seemingly least experienced photographer). Now my work was among the best photographers in that market, and clients compared my work to those photographers in a similar price range. Tripling my prices was the best thing I ever did for my early career. It helped people take me more seriously.

You want to be the Tiffany & Co. of photography: low volume, high value, and exclusive. When you are exclusive, you can devote more time and effort to each client and produce a higher quality of work that's worth the value of your prices.

The way you choose to market fashion flair depends on your market and goals as a photo studio. You may want to make fashion flair your sole focus and promote your studio and business just for its fashion flair approach. On the other hand, you might want to promote fashion flair as an additional service available to your most discerning and creative clients.

Either way, fashion flair services require premium prices. As you know, fashion flair often requires more effort. It might require location scouting, hair and makeup, a wardrobe stylist (or wardrobe rental), and extra post-processing.

Figure out how much time and effort goes into producing a single fashion flair shoot. From there, you can decide how much your time is worth as well as how much the premium service is worth. If you decide that at minimum you need $500 to make the shoot worth your time, start packages or sitting fees at $500. Or if you decide that your service is one of a kind and want to cater only to extremely high-end clients, start packages at $2,500. It all depends on your market, goals, and so on.

Regardless, your fashion flair services need a higher price tag to signal to customers that these services are unique, high end, and customized.

Use high-end terminology when talking about your packages and services. For example, when clients come in to review their images, it is not an "image viewing session" or "review session." Instead, try terms like "investment session" or "image investment consultation."

When writing this book, I had a specific request to cover pricing in more depth. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you how to set your prices and marketing. All I can do is urge you to truly look at the time and expenses that go into producing a high-quality production. If you really break it down, that can help you decide how much you need to charge. From there, consider your clientele and market. Here is an example of how I might price a shoot near New York City with one styling look. I do not bill this breakdown to clients, but this is what I have in mind when I set my starting prices and sitting fees:

Hair and makeup: $100 Wardrobe: $50 (per look) Assistant: $50 Location scouting: 1 hour

Concept development (phone time, email time, and so on): 1 hour

Gathering creative team, concept coordination: 1 hour

Shoot time: 2-3 hours

Post time and retouching time: 3 hours

Other equipment costs, rentals, parking: $25

Props or location rental: $50

If I value my time at $50 an hour, I am looking at a starting sitting fee around $800. This is where (in the greater New York City metropolitan area) I might start my prices for a fashion flair session. This is certainly not a rule for anyone, but it's an idea of how I might break down my basic costs to start building my pricing around. At a minimum, I know I need to start around $600 for a basic package (with or without sitting fee) to make the shoot even worth my time. I might also charge much more than this once I've established a more prestigious clientele. Whatever your price, be sure you are accounting for all the effort and time you must invest.

Note

Whenever you set your prices, don't forget to consider all the hidden costs of doing business, including equipment, insurance, rent, depreciation, membership to professional organizations, utilities, lab fees, taxes, retirement fund contributions, and health insurance. You want to be sure that you are charging enough to cover these costs that may not be readily apparently in the list of costs for each shoot but are costs of doing business nonetheless.

Caution

If you live in a more rural area or an area with small budgets, don't think you need to start your prices at $800 per session. For some markets this is simply out of the question. In some places, $300 is out of the question. Know your goals, know your market, price what you think is appropriate, but don't undercut yourself. Obviously, rent and fixed costs alone are vastly different when comparing markets.

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