Portrait photography is a growing business, yes even today, fueled by those with a natural passion for photography, excellent photography abilities and most importantly, a great eye. It’s also a career that can offer a high financial pay-off however, many in the business are unsure of exactly how much of a price is suitable for their services offered.

To set your prices for portrait photography, you should consider your costs compared with the industry standard of portrait pricing. This is the average price charged by those in the portrait photography industry as a whole. Doing so will give you an idea of an appropriate price, and whether you should niche down or not. Again, don't forget to also calculate the costs of equipment.

There are several factors you should consider incorporating into the prices you set for your portrait photography. In addition to the quality of the equipment you’re using for your photo sessions, you should also consider how much income you need and/or are willing to receive from your photography.

What to Charge for Portrait Photography

Being conflicted about what prices to set your portrait photography services at is actually a common issue amongst many photographers. New and experienced or freelance, you name it, everyone is forced to figure it out eventually. But it can be quite tricky trying to understand what goes into a service fee as well as targeted income.

This is why it’s recommended to understand the ‘industry standard’ first before you set a concrete price or better yet, before you even start calculating all of the details necessary for the process. It’s not necessary by any means to follow the industry standard but doing so will at least give you an idea of what’s considered the average price. Think of this as a benchmark price. If you are nerdy like me, you will track prices against this benchmark in an Excel spreadsheet.

The industry standard is also a great guide if you’re just starting out as a portrait photographer and haven’t yet garnered a solid business following from clients. If you’re what’s considered more of an amateur portrait photographer, you don’t want to set a price that’s too high and not compatible with your skill level and abilities.

Your experience level will ultimately play a major role in you setting your prices. If you’re fairly new to portrait photography, start low and charge around what’s considered the industry standard for amateur to entry-level photographers, around $25 up to $150 per hour of a photographing session. Yes, amateurs can charge $100s!

For a more accurate breakdown of the industry standard per level of experience for portrait photography, visit Pixpa’s guide to photography pricing in 2020 here. Good stuff.

To first understand what to charge for portrait photography, you must take into consideration how much it will take to run your business, provide you with a sustainable income, and even cover your tax rate to name a few.

What Goes into Pricing for Portrait Photography?

As far as the business side of portrait photography goes, here are some of the few factors you may need to consider as you begin to calculate the price you wish to set for your services. They are ranked in their priority, starting with the most important factor to consider followed by the lesser:

  1. Equipment.
  2. Business location, if applicable, including office or studio rental space.
  3. Business and equipment insurance.
  4. Office supplies and equipment, if applicable, such as décor and furniture.
  5. Staff salaries including assistants, secretaries, and all others working for you.
  6. Marketing strategies as well as business promotions.
  7. Photography software such as Adobe and Skylum to name a few.
  8. Expenses for advertising and networking (this is inclusive of business website fees).
  9. The cost of traveling for business (car, plane, train, etc.).
  10. Business costs such as tax preparations, licensing, and appropriate paperwork.

While some or all of these factors may or may not apply to you, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to think them over. This is not only for present consideration but future as well in the event that you expand your services. The same goes for the priority of the factors listed above, as it is based according to industry necessities and requirements.

If there are factors unique to you that you feel need to be included in your price, that’s fine also, as long as they are not completely out of the realm of what is needed for portrait photography.

For instance, say your studio is located on a remote island that is only accessible by boat (this is just an example, although it may actually apply to you!), you would most likely have higher travel and business expenses compared to what other photographers have. You would also need to factor in how you would charge clients to come to you.

On the other hand, if you lived next door to a famous celebrity and decided to charge clients an extra fee for a meet and greet with your neighbor, this would be considered a unique factor that is outside of the realm of photography needs and possibly illegal!

Calculating Business Expenses into Your Prices

Once you’ve identified the factors that affect your business expenses or rather the total cost of running your business, you can begin to do a more thorough review and type up some estimates. This estimate doesn’t have to be accurate, that’s why it’s considered an estimate, but you should aim for a number that’s at least in range of the actual cost.

You should also consider categorizing some factors into categories such as essential as in things that you absolutely have to have, things that you need, and things that you want.

For instance, a camera is an essential necessity that you have to have in order to be a portrait photographer. Something that you need or at least should have handy is enough money set aside for traveling and other personal expenses and something you may want is extra help with your business such as an extra assistant or employee.

If you have previous experience running your portrait photography services, consider using last year’s income and expenses or those of previous years as a guide for coming up with an estimate or two. For your first year, you will have to base your estimate solely on industry standards or by the numbers you come up with after factoring in everything.

In addition to the expenses related to running your business, you also need to add into the figure estimate the cost of goods (COGS). These expenses are related to labor and production including the retouching of photos, the size of the photography prints, as well as other materials the photos are printed on.

“COGS is the total cost of production of a good or service, which includes its labor and material cost as well. If you are providing your client with an 8×10 print, the COGS isn’t merely the cost of the print itself. The cost should also include post-production charges, packaging, and shipping charges.”

Source: Photography Pricing in 2020

With COGS, you would also need to consider not just the amount it would cost you, but also how much extra you would need to charge clients.

Calculating the Cost of Living

Whether portrait photography is your only source of income or supplemental income, you will need to calculate the cost of living into your final estimate needed to set your prices. Face it, you need to support not only your business, but your life outside of that as well.

This aspect of finding an estimate is just as important as calculating business expenses. Given the fact that you can’t support a business if you’re struggling financially in your personal life, you should take great care in calculating the cost of living. To add onto the previous point, you can support a business with bad finances, but it would be very hard.

With calculating the cost of living, you want to make sure that the amount of money you bring in minus all business expenses will leave you with enough income to cover your cost of living AND future business expenses for the next period. In the best-case scenario, you never want your expenses outweighing your income.

If the worst-case scenario does occur and your expenses total more than your income, you don’t want it to become too repetitive and end up with a debt that becomes more than you can handle.

How to Combine All Aspects of Expense and Profit

Along with providing a thorough explanation of all the factors that go into setting a price for portrait photographs, Gurpreet Singh of Pixpa also provides a simple calculation one can perform in order to get an idea of their pricing. It goes as:

“The basic premise of figuring photography pricing is:

Cost of running your photography business + Cost of goods + Cost of your time and labor + Profit + Taxes = Pricing”

Source: Photography Pricing in 2020

Now, this might seem a little jarring at first, especially if you’re not that into complicated calculations. This is by no means a complicated calculation and don’t worry if you’re afraid of numbers, you only need the right numbers for this simple formula. If you don’t have these numbers available, don’t worry either, you can simply use an estimate.

Once you have the figures or at least an estimate, simply plug them into the formula and that should give you the pricing. The pricing, however, isn’t exactly what you will charge your clients, but rather the amount of money or more you will need to make in order to completely cover those costs.

Say for instance, the costs of all expenses and your profit combined came to a total of $50,000. You wouldn’t charge each client that amount of money, which would be considered very high if you did! If your profit for the year was around $35,000 then the remaining $15,000 would be inclusive of the expenses.

While it is important, as mentioned before, to receive a sustaining amount of income from your photography, your focus should be mostly directed at the $15,000. This is the biggest factor to consider for pricing. You will need to charge enough to cover the $15,000 and the rest can be put towards your income or back into the business.

Furthermore, in order to get that $15,000 or more, you would need to charge around $150 to $250 per photo session based on the scenario that you have 100 clients or gigs for the year. This is only to serve as an example, but this number can fluctuate up or down depending on whether or not you charge hourly or per session.

You will most likely have to play around with the figures before setting your actual price and even that isn’t always permanent. Depending on how long you stay in the business of portrait photography, the cost of equipment, traveling, rent, and more will naturally fluctuate over time. As this occurs, you will need to adjust your pricing even more.

How to Get Clients for Portrait Photography

As a portrait photographer, clients are your number one priority. Without them, you won’t have much of an income. As your photography abilities expand and your photos garner more attention, it will become easier to get clients. Starting this process is always the hardest part, but it certainly pays off in the end. Your clients will thank you too!

Face it, unless you’re a world-renowned portrait photographer and have clients running to your doorstep, you have to muster up the courage to seek clients. Yes, that means going out and finding them yourself. Whether you’re a freelance portrait photographer or you work for someone else, you will at some point have to go out and seek clients.

There are multiple ways of getting the attention of potential clients through means of advertising, launching a website, word of mouth, and networking. If you’re interested in adding some stock photos to your portfolio, consider starting with clients you’re comfortable working with such as family and friends.

This is a great start, especially if you’re curios for an honest opinion of your work. Be careful though, sometimes family and friends can be too honest! Also, you could photograph strangers, with their permission of course, free of charge. This is a good opportunity to gain some experience photographing a diverse crowd of clients.

Ultimately, the prices you charge will play a factor in how much or how little clientele you attract. If your prices are too high, it could turn customers away, especially if the quality of your work does not match up with the price. Consider starting low and as you work your way up, naturally, more clients will be willing to pay for your work.

Advertising Strategies for Portrait Photography

Advertising is a great way to bring in business, but it can also be very costly. Ultimately, if it means bringing in more clients and income, what’s the harm in doing so, right? To make sure your advertising does just that, it’s important to come up with some strategies first to make sure you’re not putting more out than you’re receiving.

Advertising can be tricky given the fact that it doesn’t always have a huge effect on your client following the minute it’s put into place. It takes time for the results to pay off, but there is more than one way to strategize advertising, especially in this day and age. Marketing also falls under advertising and requires strategizing methods.

Putting your work out there isn’t easy for everyone, but that’s ultimately the only way you can provide yourself the opportunity to become a successful portrait photographer. If you’re just starting out, advertising can be a great method of attracting clients and even networking with more experienced photographers with the same interests.

Advertising can be in the form of a simple business card, a social media account, and a website to name a few. If you are reluctant to advertise, try starting out with a few simple photo samples to hand out to those you think would be interested. If you’re comfortable with just advertising your services to friends and family first, that’s fine also.

Advertising, no matter what form, is also a great way to seek new opportunities and help you maximize your business ventures, amount of income, number of clients, and the price you charge as well. As with finding a definite price to charge your clients, it might also take trying more than one advertising strategy to see which works best for you.

Overall, there’s always someone out there looking for a great portrait photographer to capture their senior photos, wedding pictures, family portraits, and more.

Advertising on Social Media

Social media is one of the most popular forms of advertising, even for photography.

Instagram, to be exact, is a great app to utilize if you’re looking to advertise your portrait photography skills. After all, Instagram is a social media app popular for allowing its users to post photos. Not only can you use Instagram to advertise your work, but it can also act as your own digital portfolio and attract clients at the same time!

This is also a great option if you’re looking for inexpensive advertising strategies, as Instagram basically does all the work for you, aside from you posting your work and getting it out there. Social media as whole is a great way for you to post your work, gain a more diverse clientele, network with other professionals in your field, and more.

Social media has the ability to reach the public on a much larger scale compared to if you were just giving away business cards or doing all the advertising yourself. If you’re lucky, you could also strike a deal or partnership with some of the bigger companies in the photo industry such as Shutterfly or Pinterest.

Instagram’s paid partnership gives you the ability to add paid advertising onto your profile and guess what, every time you advertise the company and/or product, you get paid.

Say for instance, you utilize Pinterest for your photography a lot. If Pinterest were to contact you about promoting their services in exchange for them paying you and advertising your business on their website, that would be a big win! Now, this may not happen overnight, but it’s certainly worth using social media for.

Advertising on a Website

Websites are one of the main platforms that photographers use to advertise and market their services. Websites can include your own designated business website, a personal or professional blog, and even the website of the studio or office you work for. Websites are great for providing those interested in your work with tons of information.

Not only are websites great for showcasing your portrait photography work, they are also great for posting your set prices on as well. Once you come up with a set price to charge for your photography, you can post that information on the website for interested clients. By this, those interested don’t have to inquire, the information is all there!

Websites give you the luxury of being able to post photos from your portfolio, client testimonials, information about yourself, the services you offer, and best of all, the prices you charge. Think of a website as that marketing assistant you have that works for you all day, every day without fail, and produces results. Besides social media, websites are a fantastic way to scale easily, yet many people sleep on this option, or try to cheaply build something as an afterthought.

You don’t have to post every little thing you charge for on your website, but information regarding deposits, holding and touch-up fees, and other important fees should be listed. Should a client need more information, provide a phone number and email they can reach you at to inquire about a certain price not listed on the website.

“You should publish some of your prices on your website. This is the first step in managing client expectations and not getting the sticker-shocked client trying to weasel their way out of paying your prices. Just publish a couple of guide prices as a reference.”

Source: 6 Tips For setting Your Photography Prices

Website are also great for uploading client photos online and making them available for purchase. This method is quite popular and convenient since it doesn’t require visiting your studio or office in order to view and accept their portrait photos. Similarly, you also have the convenience of providing photos in both print and digital formats.

Important Things to Consider Before Setting Your Prices

Aside from the general expenses associated with running a business as well as the profit, there are some other factors to consider when setting a price for your work. Given this industry involves working with the public, there is always the downside of clients potentially breaking payment agreements and general misconduct.

As well as protecting your business, you also want to protect yourself. To make sure you never offer a service without payment unless there’s an agreement and protect yourself from difficult clients, consider taking these extra steps:

  • Charge upfront at the time of the session confirmation to prevent clients from wasting your time. By cutting out the deposit and asking for the total amount upfront, you can ensure that even if the client does leave you hanging, you at least get your money back for any preparations made. If a client is willing to pay the full amount, it means they are committed to receiving your services wholeheartedly.
  • Charge everyone, even family and friends. There’s a bit of a loophole to this suggestion, as it’s a matter of your personal preference after all. As you first start out, it’s perfectly acceptable to offer services for a one-time free of charge session to those you’re comfortable with. However, do not let anyone take advantage of this type of opportunity. If family and friends are desperate for a photograph, they should expect to pay like everyone else. I learned this the hard way with building computers for friends and family.
  • Explain the fine print upfront and clearly. If you have certain rules such as no refunds at all or a certain amount of days after payment, make them loud and clear. Most importantly, make it a priority to inform clients of these policies. Realistically, you shouldn’t expect your clients to read through all policies. You could have them sign a contract, if that will make it easier for both you and the client.
  • Setting a low price is fine at first . . . until it’s not. Setting a low price for your portrait photography is fine at first, especially if you’re just starting out, but you’ll want to make it higher eventually. With a low price, comes the more difficult clients looking to take advantage of your services for a bargain price. Clients won’t value your work as much, if your prices are too low. As you gain more clients, raise the price to make room for the rising costs of necessities.
  • Don’t ever let your labor outweigh your income. Hard work does pay off, but at what cost? You should never do more than you’re required to do for a client. This means not putting in an extra amount of work for a low paying client. This is considered “scope creep.”

“’Scope creep’ is an industry term for when you start a project on one set of terms only to find yourself doing much more than originally agreed for the same amount of money.”

Source: Guide To Pricing Portrait Photography

These factors should all be taken into consideration as you set your business prices. Overall, only time will tell after you come up with the first set of figures for deciding how much to charge. No price is definite, so remind yourself that you have the freedom to adjust your prices accordingly.