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Photography business question - Starting Price?

dbrunodbruno Member
edited April 2015 in business & marketing
It may be a little early for me, but I am getting more positive feedback from the organizers of the events I have been photographing on a volunteer basis. As a result, my confidence is going up, maybe to a point where I might want to eventually - and I mean many months from now - start advertising. I know there is SO much more to this beyond what to charge, so please don't trample me with all the other stuff that goes into this, and I hope I'm not risking a firestorm. I just am at a loss about how much to charge.

All of you folks who are paid professionals had to start somewhere. I have no illusions about replacing my day-job salary with photography. I will hopefully be retiring (early!!) within 3-4 years, and know I have to occupy my time somehow, and if I can make a few bucks doing something I really enjoy, great. I have some basic ideas of how I would advertise, but I really and seriously don't have a clue about how much to charge if and when the time ever comes. A contract I know would have to be in place, and I would sign on to what I could comfortably produce in the end. But, what do you charge/how do you charge?

I'm not asking anyone to reveal how much they currently make as a photographer. What I am asking is how much did you make/charge for your first gigs, whether it was as a lighting assistant, second shooter, or on your own. My main focus is event photography, but not weddings, at least not until I've worked with someone for a while who does weddings.

Thanks - Dave


  • I am new and definitely not charging. This is an interesting topic for me, nevertheless. Anyway, I heard how to charge starts from whats your cost.
  • I would find out what professional photographers in your area charge for various services -- i.e. headshots, portraits, etc….. and set your prices so you are right in the mix ….. not higher not lower. Or look at website of other photographers local and around the country (whatever country you're in) and get a sense of what people are paying these days.

    The reason I say 'not lower' even though you are just starting out and are making the jump from amateur to pro is that if you do not think you can deliver the same quality photos as other pros available to your clients for a particular type of work I don't think you should be charging at all. You don't want to basically send the message "I'm not as good as the others you could hire so I'll charge you half as much as they do." You aren't helping them doing that; you aren't helping you doing that. Wait until you can deliver high quality photos they will love and then start charging. Maybe that time is now. If so charge what the others do. That said, you don't have to be a Neil van Niekerk or Joe McNally before you start charging but you have to be really confident in what you can produce. 
  • I dare say probably NO Professional Photographer will tell you there prices unless they are listed online or on some kind of pamphlet. They look at it as if you're trying to undercut them, but there are a few I'd imagine would knowing you're new and want to learn the business. Like you Skipper, my photography will NEVER EVER replace my salary or even come close. I have a small in home studio, and do small events and the like. I like it that way. I never feel pressured or hurried, and can deliver a great product that  my few clients are  very happy with. If I ever felt photography was getting to job status, I'd cut my jobs down even further. I do not want it to get any bigger then it is now. I thoroughly enjoy myself.  I wish you luck in your endeavor dbruno, and lots of success. I would try and second shoot as much as possible with a local Photographer to get the inside track on his/her methods and possibly what they charge. I still love second shooting...Much less pressure, and freedom to shoot something other then the MONEY Shots. I don't second shoot often, but when I do, I love it. 
  • It's easy to find out what others charge. I have received calls and emails over the years that I am sure were photographers (or those calling for them) trying to find out what I charge. They pose as prospective clients. So I just tell them. I have never done that.... not because I'm above being sneaky but because I don't want to get caught. But many photographers (maybe even the majority?) list right on their websites what they charge, including session fees and prints.
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Skip and Penn - thanks for the comments. My question had been hanging on with only one response from Rany who, probably like me, is just gaining experience with volunteering and such. That kind of clued me in to the possibility this is not such an easy question to answer.

    Penn, I also realize this will never replace my full-time salary. I am enjoying the learning process, and my confidence has been going up, especially with getting "call backs" from almost all the organizations I've worked with since last November. But, there lies the problem - do they like my work because it's free, or do they like my work because it's good? I don't feel it's the former, because recently I passed the "picky" test for an organization. I won't bore you with the details, but: they asked me to shoot an event they originally told me would not require a photographer after seeing my photos from an event I did for them. Still, I'm getting call-backs from places which are specifically volunteer, and I can't charge knowing I responded to a volunteer opportunity.

    My idea behind all this is to have something to do and make a little cash after I leave the full-time work force hopefully in 3-4 years.

    Skip - your advice about not charging lower than others is good and understood. I recently (today) heard from a photographer who does some work where my wife is employed. He gave me a reasonable per-hour price range, the minimum number of hours, and to charge a processing fee. What I didn't think to ask about are the number of shots.

    I ask you guys this question; if you shoot an event at an agreed-upon price and minimum number of hours, do you give a guarantee of how many shots will be delivered? The dilemma I see here is a "delverable/useable" shot to me might be very different from someone else.

    In any case, I do appreciate the comments.

  • The answer is to charge as much as you can.
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    All-righty, then!! I'll take it!
  • Regarding the number of shots. No, it's rare that you'd agree to a certain number of shots from an event. It's more important to ask your client what they are looking for for content and type of shots and then you need to use your judgment to decide how much to shoot and which shots to give them. I always ask what they are looking for so I can get a sense of what they expect, regardless of whether their answer is specific or more vague. I always ask if there are must-have people such as VIPs (which are often not VIPs but VIPs to this organization or business, such as a major donor or volunteer or client …… ). I ask if they want guests looking at the camera and smiling or if they don't care about that. Do they want the speakers speaking? (Yes, they do). What's important to them for the photos? Be sure you understand that. Shoot a lot but don't go crazy…. for at least two reasons. One, you don't want to kill yourself with culling and editing. And two, you don't want to be in their face too much with your presence, your flash, etc…. A lot of people don't like their picture taken so don't take 20 when you can take 4. At the same time be sure you take enough to account for motion (out of focus images), blinking (eyes will be closed) and if someone's speaking at the podium try to wait for them to pause or you'll get an unflattering expression. You need to emphasize quality over quantity but be sure you get enough too. Don't give them any crappy photos. It will reflect badly on you and they don't want them. You have to be careful not to flood them with too many final images but at the same time be sure they get all you think they might like. It's a balance. If you can be more specific with the type of event and length, I can help you better with the number of shots. Obviously a wedding will have more shots than a two-hour fundraiser.

    For events, I have an hourly fee. 
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Skip - thanks for the great tips. I am about to do a fundraiser for an art school tomorrow night, and I was just sent an email of what they want. I responded - in not so many words - that what they want is really what I have been doing for other events. She thought it was all great what I was telling her. I also provided her a Dropbox link to my most recent PBS event, but haven't heard anything. (I shot about 150 photos over 2-1/2 hours for that one, and gave them 80, just to give you an idea of how many I take). This event will have a number of performers, a local TV personality as guest host, silent auction, food, etc. Ticket prices are from $125 to $10,000 (yikes).

    But, again, this is volunteer, and all I *believe* I can do is inscribe the photos - which I have yet to do with other events - with "Photo by .... " or "Photo Courtesy of .... " in the lower corner of the shot. I will certainly ask before I do this. I'm not sure how the photos will be used, but if they are in a brochure mailed to the donors, maybe my name can be there (?). I can't charge for something I respond to that is clearly spelled out to be "volunteer".

    I have learned to take two photos of groups for the reasons you describe - lighting is off, someone blinked, etc. I have experience with some speakers speaking, performers, chorus groups, no flash allowed, stuff like that.

    I am very self critical of my photos, which I think you have to be, in order to get better. And I think they are getting better, looking back at my first event last November. My confidence is growing a little bit each time, by my head isn't swelling due to my self-critical nature. I feel better about my photos because if I didn't, I wouldn't be having this forum conversation about what to charge, you know what I mean?

    Thanks - Dave
  • My guess is they will definitely want some nice photos of the high end donors to put in their annual report, website and other publications. So for sure find out who they are and be sure they want you shooting them. They will likely want shots of big donors with the school's head of school and other big wigs. I always tell people to hold their drinks low so they are out of the frame. Not because it's alcohol, just because it clutters the photo, I think. 

    Inscribing the photos is a nice idea but I doubt they will want this. You might consider scrapping that plan. Instead you might ask them if they'd say "Photo credit: Dave Bruno" or something like that, underneath the photo in print publications and maybe discreetly on web uses. But don't overthink this because this type of 'exposure' does not lead to work. Believe me, it just doesn't. Don't have these illusions, which everyone has early on. Just do a great job and hopefully they'll recommend you to others, photo credit or not, and use you again. What you do not want to say is "Photo courtesy of….." because then everyone knows you did it for free and that will undercut your nascent rep as a pro. Plus, another reason the inscribing idea might not be best is that they may want to give some of the pix to the guests and they won't want writing on them. Another thing you can ask for is to use the photos on your website. 

    Couple of tips:

    -If it's inside, watch the shadows on the walls. Bounce the light.
    -Don't shoot the food. They don't want it.
    -Get nice candid portraits of the old people. They are probably big donors and or alumni and they'll want nice photos of them.

    Good luck!
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Thanks again for the great advice. I read a while ago somewhere about lowering the food and drinks, a good tip.

    The no-no about using "Courtesy of ..." Big thanks for that, and I will ask about giving me some sort of written credit somewhere.

    Ever since first visiting this forum for the first time last year, I don't think I have taken one non-practice shot indoors without bouncing the flash. The stuff I pick up here is great.

  • Ha ha.Yes, what was I thinking? A NVN blog regular doesn't need to be told to bounce! Sorry about that.
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