How much should portrait photographers charge?

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by David Em
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Pricing is an important aspect of being a professional photographer but it can be difficult. Here’s how much you should charge as a portrait photographer.

Close-up of a hand holding money.

Profitable pricing

When it comes to pricing, you need to be profitable. If photography is your business and source of income, you’re relying on it to live.

You must understand that you won’t book every single client who reaches out. If your prices are too high, you’ll lose those with a lower budget.

If your prices are too low, you devalue your services and won’t be in business for much longer. Especially if the cost of doing business is higher than the amount you’re getting paid for the portraits.

Related: How to give photo credit

To be profitable, you must charge more than the cost of doing business and still be able to pay for your bills.

Remember, you are the professional and need to build a sustainable business.

How to figure out your rates

Your prices should account for business and personal expenses, taxes, time spent before, during, and after the photoshoot.

There are many different factors that need to be included in your rates. Here’s your guide to figuring out how much you should charge for portraits.

1. Know your expenses

Camera with lenses laying on it.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash

The first step to figuring out how much you should charge is to consider your expenses. This will ensure that you’re earning more than you’re spending, which will keep you in the positive.

What kind of expenses can you expect?

As a portrait photographer, you’ll have business expenses and you’ll also have your personal expenses. Let’s begin with personal expenses.

Now, this list doesn’t cover everything because everyone has different expenses. You may have more or less than what’s on the following list.

Personal expenses:

  • Housing costs
  • Groceries
  • Utilities
  • Vehicle expenses
  • Health and dental insurance
  • Retirement funds (IRA, 401k, etc.)
  • Taxes
  • Social Security
  • Clothing
  • Entertainment
  • Phone and cable
  • Subscriptions

Business expenses:

  • Equipment
  • Business registration with the state
  • Software
  • Insurance
  • Business travel
  • Advertising
  • Legal and professional expenses
  • Office and studio

Add all of these expenses up and you’ll have the cost of doing business. This is the number that’ll be going out and you need to bring in more than that to stay positive.

2. Desired work schedule

Person typing on laptop.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash

After you figure out your expenses, think about how much time you want to work in your business. This is a vital step to help you figure out how much you should charge.

A typical work schedule for regular employees is 40 hours per week. Do you want to follow that schedule or would you rather work more? Maybe less?

It’s normal for self-employed photographers to work more than 40 hours a week, especially when you factor in all of the backend work such as marketing, editing, booking clients, and the photoshoot.

Here are a few examples of calculating your rates if you were to charge for only the time spent on the session.

Example 1

Let’s say your desired revenue is $50,000.

1 hour per photoshoot x Rate: $300 = $300 – Expenses: $100 = $200

If in each shoot, you earned $200 after your expenses, you would need to do 250 shoots each year to make $50,000 (50,000/200=250).

To make more, you’ll have to do more shoots or charge more. If you charge more, you can save time but if you do more shoots, you’re risking possible burnout and you’re also capped with the number of shoots you can do.

Let’s see what happens when you increase your rates.

Example 2

We’ll stick with $50,000 as your desired revenue.

1 hour per photoshoot x Rate: $600 = $600 – Expenses: $100 = $500

In this case, you’ll need to do 100 shoots to achieve the same result.

This awareness is crucial because you can calculate how many hours a week you would need to work. On top of this, consider the amount of time you would spend doing things such as editing and sending the images.

3. Different skill levels

Cameras, lenses, and speed-lights.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Different skill levels mean different prices. As a beginner, you can’t charge as much as the best fine art portrait photographer in the world.

Generally, hobby portrait photographers charge nothing to $50. While professional portrait photographers can charge $400 and the top professionals can charge more than $600 per hour.

Your pricing is in your hands. However, be sure to factor in your skill level.

4. Per image vs. per hour

Polaroid photos on white textile.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Not everyone will need an hour-long photo session. Sometimes people only need a couple of images. Instead of charging by the hour, you can set a price for each image.

Remember, you can still charge the same amount as you do with your hourly rate.

Your clients are not just buying the portrait. They’re paying for the time spent editing and everything else you need to do to provide a high-quality image.

Per Image Pricing Example:

$50 per image x 5 images = $250

$75 per image x 5 images = $375

These photoshoots can be completed much quicker than the hour-long shoots, so you have the opportunity to make more money while spending less time.

5. Learn the art of business

An officespace.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash

The business aspect is just as important as the creative aspect.

Portrait photographer, Randal Ford said in an interview with us, “put commerce on the same plane as art. In other words, make the business aspect of photography equally as important as the art aspect. Write a business plan before you do this and really consider how viable it is. Get honest criticism and feedback to see if this is a path you want to go down. It’s a rewarding path but a very challenging one.”

There are many resources online and in-person that you can use to sharpen your knowledge around business, marketing, sales, social media, licensing, finances, law, and other aspects of running a business.

Your local government and the IRS has helpful information on their websites about starting a business, hiring employees, and forms that you’ll need for different situations.

When you improve your knowledge around the business aspect of photography, you can also learn how to charge more and provide a professional experience for your clients.

Average rates based on experience

Person holding black camera.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Here are the average rates that portrait photographers are charging based on the level of experience.

LevelPer HourPer Image
Aspiring$0 – $50$0 – $25
Amateur$50 – $100$25 – $50
Semi-pro$150 – $300$50 – $100
Professional$300 -$600$75 – $350
Experienced Pro$600+$350+

Marketing and branding

Marketing and branding are very important aspects of your photography business. You can take two professional photographers and compare their pricing, chances are, they’ll be different.

By having a solid brand and marketing well, you can charge higher rates and book clients at those rates.

The great thing is that these two things are in your hands. You have the opportunity to develop and solidify your brand.

Conclusion

As a professional photographer, you do more than take pictures. There is a lot of time spent editing, communicating with clients, and running a business.

When you’re setting your prices, be sure to take into account all of your business and personal expenses. You want to make sure that your cost of doing business is less than your income so that you make a profit.

More resources:

The National Press Photographers Association has a great calculator: Cost of Doing Business Calculator.

Featured photo by David Em/Portraits Refined.

About David Em

David Em.

David Em is the founder of Portraits Refined. He’s a published portrait photographer dedicated to helping photographers develop skills, capture incredible photos, and build successful businesses.

About Portraits Refined

Portraits Refined (PR) is a media company that publishes the latest expert-backed portrait photography tips, in-depth camera gear reviews, and helpful advice to grow your photography business.

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