As a freelance photographer you are responsible for setting your own price limits for a variety of assignment types, from weddings and society parties to business profiles or simple portraits. One of the most common mistakes among photographers beginning in the business is charging too much or too little for their services. Set your prices first to cover any out of pocket expenses, then develop a per hour price based on experience and ability for both shooting time and editing time.
A freelance photographer might make a lot on one assignment, half as much on another assignment, and nothing during slow weeks or months. Competitive pricing gives you an edge over other photographers in your area and helps you keep booking projects. Pricing yourself too low shows a lack of self-confidence and can be perceived by clients as a lack of ability. It also makes it harder to raise your prices to a market standard later in your career. Research the market standards in your area and begin at the lower end, without going too low.
When setting a price for an assignment, first factor in all out-of-pocket expenses like mileage, batteries, disks, any disposable props, hotels, and meals on the road. Then charge a price-per-hour for the shooting time of the assignment. A second price-per-hour rate is set for editing time. For example, a beginning photographer may charge $50 per hour for a three hour gig and an additional $20 an hour for the estimated five hours of editing time. So the quote given to the client would start at $250 plus expense. It is best to calculate the expenses and include them in one quote. Most clients prefer one set number on the front end instead of calculating everything at the end.
Both clients and beginning photographers look at a large bill for a wedding or business profile and assume photographers make lots of money. Freelance assignments are not consistent. Also, you will work an average of 1 hour and half more per each hour of shooting time (this accounts for editing, preparing disks, research, re-sizing and other behind-the-scenes tasks clients do not see). Do not assume because you made $1000 on a wedding this month that you will book a wedding each month. Carefully budget until you have a steady flow of assignments and always keep three months of living expenses saved for slow periods.
Do not price yourself too far beneath other photographers in your area. It damages your marketability but also get clients used to paying very little for quality services. Begin pricing at a small margin below other photographers until you feel you have enough experience and skills to match their prices and eventually go beyond them. Do not be too humble or arrogant about your skills. Learn to accurately compare your work against other photographers and do not let clients take advantage of you based on youth or “inexperience” if you know you have the skills to complete the job.
Especially with weddings, offering little extras makes your clients feel they got more for their money. When designing wedding packages, throw in a few “free” pre-printed albums, which can be ordered for around $10 online, or digital photo albums or key chains preloaded with wedding photos. You can up the package price by several hundred dollars and still make profit around these extras.