How much for your services, boy?
That was the question I got a few months ago as I was getting out of my van to go shoot the sunset. I have lettering installed on my vehicle. It’s a very inexpensive way to promote one’s business. I ordered car magnets from www.vistaprint.com and cool lettering from these guys: http://doityourselflettering.com.
But I digress….I did not answer right away as I had to think. The question was very general, especially when it comes to photography services. The fact I do not price all my assignments by the hour made it even more difficult to give an answer. The guy asking the question wanted photographs of his Kawasaki motorcycle. I told him: ‘Yes, I can do that’ as I handed him my very expensive looking business card. I did not try to get more information as far as how many photos he wanted and if prints were even a consideration. I was in a hurry to go get the sunset.
I thought about that brief encounter for a while. I never heard back from that man. Here is what I learned:
1. Confidence is just as important when talking about pricing as when describing one’s artistic and technical abilities. The guy was quite stunned I did not answer right away that he asked me if I spoke English! I’m not kidding. He may have taken my pause as lack of confidence. As I was caught off guard, I may have come across like an amateur that had no clue how to price his time and talent.
2. Was it worth it to hurry and get the sunset when I could have spent more time answering the man and possibly get an assignment? The photo I got that day came out very nice, it was cloudy (which is very rare in Phoenix), the colors in the sky are vibrant and unique, never seen them like that before. There is no question in my mind the licensing and print sales from that shot can easily surpass the amount of money I could have made on the motorcycle assignment. If I would have missed the sunset, I could have still miss getting that job. At least I got one out of two, the better one I believe.
So why am I even blogging about this? The answer is simple: most of us photographers struggle with the concept of pricing and its application. So I thought I’d throw in my 2 cents on the matter.
The bottom line is when one is in business it is to make money. Here is a simple calculation based on the following question: how much money do you want to pay yourself per hour rendering photography services? Let’s say the answer is $40/hour. That would be net by the way, after you pay taxes and deduct expenses to run your business. Now, let’s say you meet the same guy I met and he wants you to photograph his motorcycle. Let’s say it takes 30 minutes to drive back and forth to the job, 90 minutes to shoot the bike (yup, art takes time) and 120 minutes in post processing. So we’re talking 4 hours of your time. Let’s say your tax rate on your business income is 30%, you don’t own a studio and the only expenses to do a job are gas, vehicle and equipment wear. If you want to clear $40/hour in your pocket, then you need to charge at least $60/ hour. In this case, the price to do the assignment would be $240. Of course, sales tax applies.
A client looking at this price can say: This guy is nuts! Frankly, I don’t mind taking the time to break down and explain my pricing, but in the end I do not care if someone thinks my services are too expensive. We all have a finite amount of time, energy and resources. Rather than take low paying assignments and deal with people that only care about price, my preference is to go create art. This betters me as an artist, raises my confidence level and increases my portfolio of images. Some may think they can make more money if they offer rock bottom prices and compensate with a high volume of assignments. This is a loosing proposition in my opinion. Wouldn’t you rather make the same money by having 2-3 or even 10 times less the number of clients? Think about it: if you practice and get extremely good at creating photographic art, those who value the power and importance photography plays in society and in our lives, they will gladly pay for your services.
There are 2 types of people when it comes to photography. Those who understand, appreciate and seek its value and those who don’t. I am looking for those that understand (sometimes with a little help) the value and importance of great photos. Those people do not have a problem paying to get that, they need only be convinced I’m the right person for the job. Commercial clients, for the most part, understand the need for professional images. They understand great photos sell products and improve brand image. I love commercial clients. If you can deliver the quality they seek, you can command higher prices than your competition and still get the job.
The photo at the top of the page is the sunset I got that day.
Thanks for reading and all my best,