Should I Take $1,000 For This Photography Session?

Laura is a wedding photographer. Her bottom package, and bestseller, is a $2,000 coverage. She set her prices at $2,000 because she feels this is her bottom line. Anything less, and she won’t be making a profit, won’t make enough to cover her expenses, and would be working “for nothing”. Yet she routinely has people walk away saying they love her work and style, but simply can’t afford her. She’s had more than one person this year ask her for the same package at $1,000. So many in fact that she’s beginning to wonder if she should move her bottom package to $1,000. At least it will bring in $1,000, which is better than nothing.

I found a video put out by Pictage that also showcases a variety of “Laura’s” that are feeling the same things. And I know they are not alone.

So the question becomes, “Should I take $1,000 for this photograph session?”

My answer is no. And here’s why.

Lets return to Laura for a moment.

Let’s say for $2,000, she spends 6 hours on average at the wedding, photographs unlimited coverage, provides an album layout, and a variety of prints included in the package. Add in meeting and production time as well.

Now she decides to keep the same package, except lower the price to $1,000.

If she normally photographs 25 weddings per year, her $50,000 business was just sliced in half to $25,000.

Ah, but you say she wouldn’t have booked the 25 weddings this year anyway at $2,000, isn’t $25,000 better than nothing? (Providing she could book 25 at $1,000.)

Nothing other than price has changed. Meaning nothing other than profit has changed as well.

Laura will now look at those clients differently, approach photography differently, and have a completely different mindset as she’s shooting. It’s a negative place to be, and it will reflect in her work. If she is constantly grumbling to herself that she should have been paid more, she’s not giving it all. And isn’t that why you went into photography in the first place?

What should happen instead? One of three things.

1. Instead of giving the same package at half price, reduce the package to match the price.

Create an entry package for people on a budget. You realize times are tough, and you’re willing to give people 100 percent attention – just in a different package.

How about a love portrait series, or a ceremony only package? Lighten up the number of hours to 2 to 3, and shoot in one location – no movement. You can capture the ceremony and include portraits and family images within a 2 to 3 hour window. Or meet for a love portrait, trash the dress, or other fun portrait session, creating incredible portraits for the bride and groom, leaving “Uncle Charlie” to photograph the wedding.

If you are a great photographer, they will love this option, and be thrilled they can have amazing portraits for their wall, yet still maintain their budget.

2. Change your target market.

If you had a chance to read yesterday’s post on why people are still willing to spend a lot of money on things they love, you know priorities rule a person’s wallet. $20 for a bag of chips? Not a problem if you love them.

Maybe you are simply targeting the wrong type of client.

A bride who is willing to buy her dress from David’s Bridal is not of the same mindset as a bride who purchases a Vera Wang. Different ends of the spectrum. Where do the majority of your brides shop for bridal gowns? If you don’t know, ask them.

You can also tell by the reception site. A tent in the park is a clear indication of a budget conscious bride. A mountain retreat going for a base of $25,000 is a whole different spectrum.

Look back at your weddings. What are the demographics? Maybe its time to change them.

3. Get out of the business.

If you are tired of dealing with clients who want more at half the cost, you’re tired of doing more work for the few clients you have, and you just aren’t happy with the situation any more, maybe its time for a change.

There’s nothing wrong with getting another job or starting another business. Pursuing something new may be just what you need to build passion around an idea again.

Any more thoughts or ideas?

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clientexperience@todaysgrowthconsultant.com' About Virtual Photography

We're the co-founders of VirtualPhotographyStudio.com and have been writing on this blog since 2004. We started Virtual as a way to help photographers stretch beyond a part time income, and develop strategies to become a Five Figure Photographer or a Six Figure Photographer. Ultimately its all about lifestyle, and if your goal is to live as a photographer 24/7, we think you should have the knowledge and the tools to do so. Welcome!

  • “There’s nothing wrong with getting another job or starting another business. Pursuing something new may be just what you need to build passion around an idea again.” – AMEN!

  • Absolutely agree with everything you have said here!
    I constantly get people asking me to lower my price (not that drastically but still) and I always say “sure thing we can change the package to fit your needs and budget, but that will mean reducing the number of hours, or removing extras such as photo albums, or engagement sessions” Most people will flat out agree that this is a reasonable compromise and be happy that they still get the same style and quality they are hiring you for, and you also do not need to feel like you are cutting yourself short nor are you driving customers away by just not budging at all on your price. It’s win-win. Those clients who still don’t agree with this are the type of clients I don’t want to have to deal with anyway and I just end up turning them down.
    You have to realize that at the end of the day it is a business, and we are in it to make a living. If you are constantly doing jobs for “free” or below what would make it worth your wile then your business is going to suffer and in the long run you will end up hating what you are doing instead of enjoying every minute.
    I do have to say though; I think having a $2000 package as your base package might be a little high. Remove some of the options, lower the amount of hours and come up with a Very Base package in the $1000 to $1300 range that would fit more clients. You wont be selling yourself short and it opens up the possibilities for more clients who are on a tighter budget.

  • Shannon Price

    Im gonna have to disagree with the creating a 1000-1300 package. Would you be happy booking that and a week later get an email with a client thats so in love with your work and wants to drop 5k?

    If you are the kind of photog that starts at 2k ( i start at 2300 ala carte..) what else can you take away form a already base package?

    There is almost nothing good that came from the low rent weddings I have shot. All the referrals I got later were never converted as I am sure they went on and on about oh he was only 1200 or 1600… I just cant stay in biz for weddings lower that 2k period. I AM worth it. People will pay what I want. I have to live. I have to eat.

    We did a cost analysis at a seminar last year. polled the room and found out what living and biz costs were for that area. shooting 20 weddings at 6000 each and 25 portrait sessions at around 1200 each was needed to actually pay YOURSELF 20k salary. It was jaw dropping to the room that the truth stings, numbers dont lie.

    You cant be every-ones market. There are others than can have the 1k brides. reaching to them will just be devaluing your work.

  • Hi Shannon – I agree with you, and it definitely sounds like you’ve done a lot of work on the business side of things.

    The key behind this post is hopefully get people to see that you have options, but taking your current packages and slicing the prices should never be one of them. If you like your clients, but realize they can’t afford you, create different packages to offer them more. If you prefer keeping your prices higher, then its time to look at your target market, and make some changes so that you are reaching out to a different caliber of clientele.

    Keep up the good work!
    Lori

  • Hmmm, I really don’t understand one of the first things written in this article: “Anything less, and she won’t be making a profit”. EH? She charges $2000 and anything less than that isn’t a profit? How can expenses be anywhere near $2000? Does she travel to clients’ weddings by chauffer-driven Lamborghini? Does she buy a new Canon 5D Mk II for each wedding…?

    $2000 is a whole lot of profit. The actual ‘per wedding’ cost for a wedding photographer is low – you have a bit of travel, and maybe the cost of an album or some prints. That’s it. You can’t figure in the cost of your equipment each time as an expense, because these are ‘set up’ costs. It’s not an expense. So charging $2000, then perhaps having travel/album expenses of $300, would mean $1700 profit, pre-tax. That’s a pretty hefty profit!

    So even if she cut her charge by half to $1000, then she’d still be making $700 profit or so. Whether that is enough to live on, or enough for that particular person to enjoy their particular lifestyle, is a different question – but, at the end of the day, it’s still profit, so to suggest that anything less than charging $2000 ‘would be working “for nothing”’ is flat-out ridiculous.

  • Al

    You are actually missing a whole lot of expenses in there.

    Rent for office space
    The cost of business insurance
    Studio equipment
    Camera equipment
    Your salary
    Telephone expense
    Marketing expense
    Networking expense
    Employee expense if you use office help, assistants, etc
    And much more

    You have to take everything needed for a business into account, then factor those expenses into your pricing.
    Lori

  • Hi Lori, thanks for the reply. I’m afraid I still can’t really agree, though, as, for a wedding photographer, this is how I see your points:

    Rent for office space – not needed, work from home

    The cost of business insurance – a set up cost, and quite minimal, about $300 / year to insurae photography equipment and public liability/business insurance

    Studio equipment – not needed

    Camera equipment – a set up cost, so can’t be included in wedding pricing. For instance, once you have done a few weddings and made all the money back on your equipment, you can’t factor equipment in at all. It’s like you can’t factor in the price of an entire restaurant building into every hamburger served. Profit of a hamburger is sale price minus the cost needed to make the hamburger – so, including the ingredients and the chef’s wage per minute to make the burger, you get the actual profit of the hamburger. You can’t take into account that you bought the restaurant for $50,000 each time you sell a burger – that’s not talking about the profit the actual burger is making you at all. Likewise, with a wedding gig, you can’t figure in the cost of the equipment – as that equipment isn’t unique to that wedding; you’ll be using it for wedding upon wedding.

    Your salary – surely this is profit anyway? You can’t really factor profit as an addition to salary? If you are making profit, you are making a salary. If you’re not making a salary, you’re not making a profit.

    Telephone expense – minimal. Per wedding booking, absolutely tiny.

    Marketing expense – I agree with this one, so perhaps a $100 in marketing per booking. But that still means $1600 or $600 profit if using my examples from my first comment.

    Networking expense – I don’t really see the expense here. Most networking these days – the vast majority – is done on the internet. Surely you can’t charge each wedding booking more because you used twitter/facebook for a bit?

    Employee expense if you use office help, assistants, etc – yes, a valid expense, but the vast majority of wedding photographers don’t have assistants.

    As, for the majority of wedding photographers, office space is not needed, nor is studio space etc, then I would say that, once the equipment cost has been made back, then around 80% of what you charge for a wedding booking can be classed as profit.

  • Hi Al

    For this example, I’ll stick with the wedding photographer example as well.

    Keep in mind, we’re talking about a full time wedding photographer who does this for his livelihood.

    Rent – Yes, you’re living there. But some of the rooms are for business, and they have to be paid for. The IRS allows you to use this as a business expense, so you should be paying rent for the business portion.

    Insurance – Business insurance may be $300 a year, but you also need car insurance if its a business car, and health insurance to cover your employees (even if its just you)

    Studio, Camera, Computer equipment – I agree, you may not need backdrops and props. But you do need lighting equipment, umbrellas, bags, computers, flash cards, etc. It all adds up, and the only way a full time photographer can pay the bills is if he makes enough profit to pay off those bills.

    Telephone expense – land lines, business lines, cell phones – all can add up to $50 to $200 a month in expenses.

    Marketing expense – A full time wedding photographer has business cards, marketing brochures, ads in bridal guides, bridal expo fees, etc. Marketing costs are typically 10% of sales, so for $100k, you would have $10k in marketing expenses.

    Networking – Organizations usually cost several hundred dollars to join, and a fee if they have monthly meetings.

    And finally salary – If you’re full time, you have to take a salary to pay for food, heat, water, entertainment, family/kid activities, etc.

    As a full time photographer, your sole income is derived from what you charge your client. So your pricing structure had better be at the level to cover everything here and more.

    Hope that helps clarify things a bit more.
    Lori

  • David

    Laura,

    I have observed a number of small businesses with similar problems and run a couple of my own. I am going to, respectfully i hope, disagree with VP’s conclusions 1 and 3. Without observing what you do and how you do it, there are 2 factors as I see it.

    Any decrease in the package and you will be frustrated creatively and intellectually by the limited scope of what you can do. Any accidents or incidents even at the current rate will leave you in the hole.

    The clients you are getting now at these rates are to put it bluntly bottom feeders. People come to you because you are inexpensive and provide quality to start with. Then they want another hunk off the salami.

    I would suggest you double your rate for the base package. This allows you to build your equipment list and replace equipment regularly. It gives you space to allow for an oops if it happens. It also means you do have room for negotiation if you wish to. It further allows you to give a discount to clients you enjoy working with. Being paid well for something you do well gives you more room to put a bit more into the setup and the post to make people happy. If you do half the shoots you do now until word of mouth spreads farther you still have lost nothing.

    It takes a great deal of courage to take this step. Sit down with a few advisers and a couple of previous clients and discuss it. Then put on your big girl panties, take pride in your work and go for it. You deserve it.

    D

  • Kat

    Al,
    You must not do wedding photography for a living. How long do you edit for? I do great editing for my photos and will not consider doing quick editing. It takes time and you have to factor that in the cost. You need at least one assistant just in case…GOD FORBID you miss the first kiss or another important moment due to camera glitches or falling over. They need to be paid nearly as much as you do and should be. The wedding may be 6 hours, but the editing takes weeks or months. Straining you eyes and sometimes working into the night. For my first wedding I charged only $800 being a new comer, then I factored my expenses and assistant after I realized I was paying myself only a few cents per hour, my prices went up! If I spend an hour editing I don’t work below min wage but try to stay at least at $18 per hour. End of story. If that means not including prints in packages and cutting down my time at the wedding to make sure I make that much, so be it.

    Do tell us where you find your cheap insurance though…purdy please!!!

  • Another thing to consider – expenses really change this: “Meaning nothing other than profit has changed as well.” If your expenses were $400 and you charged $2000, your profit is that 400% markup. Cutting prices to $1000 means your price has been reduced by 50% for the client, but your profits have been reduced to 37.5% of what they were. Whatever you cut would have been pure profit.

  • DT-Photo
    Sounds good in theory, but you also have to think of your own status and expertise. If you are attracting millionaire clients, and you cut your fees by a third because last year was a bad year, your typical “millionaire” client will now look at you and not hire you.

    Our wedding clients had million dollar weddings. They spent $25k on an ice sculpture caviar bar. They spent $50k on a reception site – nothing but the site. They flew in bands from New York City to Aspen for the night. There is no way they would spend $1k on a photographer – just on appearances alone. Part of being good is knowing your market, and charging what they will pay.

    I’m not saying everyone should be at the million level with their photography, but again, its about knowing who your target is and what the market holds. You have to know that so well that you are comfortable with every aspect of your business. The business will come if you have that level of confidence.
    Lori

  • This is in relation to http://www.learningthelight.com/comments
    My Blood is boiling reading your comments on 300 dollars is all that it costs to shoot a wedding. You haven’t an idea of whats involved. How can you actually note that you don’t have to include your equipment costs. Because they are already paid for. Is that how an airline company thinks – Great we have the plane all we need is fuel and a few machines for tickets. Ohhh i forgot to mention that there is staff required also to fly the planes, plus service costs, landing fees the list is huge. The same should apply to your photography business but on a smaller scale.
    Do you not take in to account that you have to change / update equipment every 2 to 4 years or so.
    For example
    PHONE
    POWER
    COMPUTER REPLACED ( SPREAD COST OVER 2 TO 4 YRS )
    CAMERA REPLACED ( SPREAD COST OVER 2 TO 4 YRS )
    NEW LENS OR GADGET
    CAR INSURANCE
    FULE
    MARKETING
    INSURANCE
    SOFTWARE ( UNLESS YOUR ONE OF THOSE PIRATES )
    WEB marketing
    SOCIAL MEDIA COSTS
    SEMINARS
    ASSISTANT PHOTOGRAPHER
    MISC COSTS

    Are you ” http://www.learningthelight.com/comments ” telling us here that you dont factor in the above. Meaning you just pay for the stuff above and everything after that is profit. Yes it is profit – however you have to pay for it some how. And if your not factoring the the deprecation and replacement costs – then i think its not a business. Its just another part timer. This is so like a discussion that a photographer could have with a by standard who has no experience on photography.
    We are here to make a living

  • Andy

    Re: Al from “learningthelight.com”.

    I certainly understand why everyone is a tad annoyed with Al. After all he is effectively trying to tell people that wedding photographers can earn bundles of money by charging just a couple of hundred pounds/dollars.

    But…. has anyone actually looked at his site?
    From the about page “Well, I wanted to start a website where I could share my progress as a (total) amateur photographer,”

    Says it all really, TOTAL AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER, and as such it is understandable that he would think the way he does.

    If he ever gets good enough to think he can go into a proper photography business then he will quickly learn.

    A