We hear this question all the time from new photographers just starting to book weddings and portrait sessions:
“How much should I charge?!”
The answers we see on Facebook threads vary widely… but all too often, we watch well-intentioned photographers comb through the website and portfolio of the person inquiring, and reply with a number that seems WAY too high for a photographer just getting started.
Why do we feel this way? Let me explain:
- A pretty website & a handful of AWESOME portfolio images does not automatically make you an experienced wedding photographer.
- Overcharging leaves the door WIDE open for unhappy clients.
If you’re a photographer just starting out, you have to give yourself room to grow and to make mistakes. I photographed my first seven weddings in 2015 with a Canon Rebel t3i and a handful of borrowed lenses. I charged between $400 and $800, used a paper contract, and delivered images via Google Drive that looked like this:
I see two things when I look back on these images from 2015. One- some of them are pretty decent! They catapulted my business into year two, where I booked sixteen weddings charging between $1600 and $2400. In 2016, I found consistency in my editing style, upgraded my equipment, signed up for a client management system and online gallery delivery program, and invested in photography education that helped transform my business into what it is today.
The second thing I see when I look back at these images makes me cringe. While some of what I delivered in 2015 looks pretty good… some of it honestly looks awful! The reception images are dark and grainy, the lighting is inconsistent, the posing is awkward. But do you know what? All my clients loved their photos, left me good reviews, and had a great experience. I whole-heartedly believe it’s because I didn’t overcharge them. I was a beginner, and didn’t promise them anything that I didn’t KNOW I could achieve every time.
That’s my story… but how much should YOU charge? I’d encourage you to follow this formula:
- Consistency is KEY. Until you are confident that you can deliver images that look like your portfolio at every single session or wedding, keep your prices low.
- Once your work is CONSISTENT, it’s time to raise your prices. Do this gradually, with a small increase every time you land a booking. Use the extra cash flow to invest in high quality equipment, photography education, and other resources that will help your business grow.
- The sky is the limit now! Set your prices at a rate that will earn you enough money to run your business and your life. This is different for everyone, so think about it carefully! Here are some examples:
Example 1: Your favorite weddings to photograph are casual, backyard weddings where the couple doesn’t care about an expensive venue or over-the-top decor. You edit quickly and just LOVE being around families and couples in love… you would photograph a wedding every single weekend if you could. You have seven years of experience, but you keep your prices on the lower end because you prefer to book a high number of casual weddings. In one year, you might make $2500 x 30 weddings = $75,000.
Example 2: You’re a mom with three kids. While you adore your job, every wedding booked is a careful calculation because you have to pay for childcare and spend an entire Saturday away from your family. Your favorite weddings are luxury weddings that look like they popped out of a magazine. You only have four years of experience, but you’ve worked hard to elevate your images and your client experience to a level that allows you to charge a very high amount per wedding. In one year, you might make $7500 x 10 weddings = $75,000.
This last step is deeply personal… your goal may be $15,000 per year to take your family on vacation or put more money into a savings account for your kids. It may be more or less- there’s no wrong answer! The most important thing is that you know your numbers. Write down how much you want to make per year and how many sessions or weddings you want to book. Calculate your expenses, and think about the types of sessions of weddings you want to shoot more of. Then go from there! But understand that while pricing varies WIDELY, it’s important not to go too high too fast.
Give yourself time to grow and gain experience while charging less to ensure that every client of yours leaves happy. Treat them like gold, and who knows! They may even come back to you years later when you’re charging four times as much, and they’ll be happy to pay the difference.
Wondering what equipment you’ll need to upgrade to in step two of the process? Click here to download our free go-to gear guide!