Knowing, or at least figuring out, what to charge for photographic services is complicated. It really is. If you’ve happened upon this blog post while Googling for information to help you decide what to charge, do keep reading but also definitely click on a whole heap of other links too and check out lots of different people’s pricing strategies. Chances are you’ll find that different photographers set their prices differently for reasons specific to them and their work. You’ll probably read a lot about figuring out how much you want (or need) to be paid per year and then working out how much you’ll need to be paid per hour and factoring in expenses that need to be covered. This is all perfectly rational and very sensible, especially if you’re reading information written by people who work in the same field as you. Like if you want to do wedding photography, it makes sense to check out other wedding photographers’ services and prices. What you’re about to read in the rest of this post is absolutely nothing like that.
Why my situation might be different from yours
So, my situation is slightly unusual. I am literally incapable of working full time as a photographer due to being physically disabled. I’m not saying that anyone with a disability will be incapable of being a full time photographer, but the condition I have makes it impossible for me. I discovered this unfortunate state of affairs through experience. I tried to do it and I did it for a while then I couldn’t do it any more. I could do the shooting part with the help of medication to hold (some of) the pain at bay and keep me upright, and I did the shooting part pretty damn well. I managed the processing part too, always to an exacting professional standard, and I did the running-a-business part without any major problems. The difficulty came when there was one shoot, then another shoot, then another. I need recovery time. Not like “A bit of extra sleep for a couple of nights” recovery time, but like “Flat on my back, unable to feed myself or walk” recovery time. Often, the level of work I was doing, the level of work I needed to do for full time photography to make financial sense, was a lot more than I could physically manage. In 2012, I made the difficult decision to put my business on hold and enjoy photography as a hobby again while making money in other ways.
The in-between times
Even after I stopped doing work for commercial and private clients, and stopped teaching, I still received enquiries. Because I had decided to leave self-employment behind (and because I don’t violate tax law by doing undeclared cash in hand work, obviously), I responded to those enquiries with a polite explanation that I was no longer running a business. I missed it though. I really did. Unfortunately, to be able to do employment-work with any sort of regularity, I could do very little outside of that. One photoshoot had the potential to put me out of action for days, if not weeks. Obviously, this wasn’t practical, however much I missed photography-as-work (although I did love it just being a hobby again and not having to shoot things I had little interest in).
How things are now
My employment situation has changed and I’ve been self-employed again since last year, which means that I can do a very limited amount of photography work. I say “very limited” because the disability that made full time photography impossible for me before is still a thing I’m living with, so that situation hasn’t changed. What has changed is that I have a lot more control over other areas of my life because I’m not working to someone else’s schedule right now. It’s slightly terrifying, as it always is and was, but is also a huge relief.
What I considered when setting my prices
First and foremost, I refuse to book less than half a day for a shoot because it simply isn’t worth it for me. A one or two hour shoot will cause almost as much pain and exhaustion as a three or four hour shoot and will also require as much recovery time. This means that when I shoot, I have to make enough money from that shoot to allow for the amount of time off I will need afterwards. As photography isn’t my only source of income, or even one that I desperately need to pursue at this point, I’m not concerned with it having to be this thing I absolutely must do no matter what. My main, if not only, consideration when setting my prices is “What amount of money makes it worth me doing this?” rather than “How much do I need to charge to pay my rent and bills and everything over the course of a year and beyond?”. This does not mean that my prices are artificially low. Keep reading.
What I didn’t even care about when setting my prices
Because I don’t have studio overheads any more and have zero concern about constantly needing to buy lots of expensive kit (don’t even get me started on the difference between “What you need to do the job” and “What you spend money on to convince yourself that you’re a real photographer”), I have very few costs associated with what I do. I already own my kit. If I want to buy extra toys, I do this as and when I can afford to. I also don’t care what other people are charging because I’m not competing with that other person who could shoot your wedding or that huge company that took your friend’s family photos or that student who is just out of college and is happy to work for £10 an hour taking photos for your Model Mayhem profile. I do what I do. If you like what I do and are ok with what I charge, hire me. If you don’t, hire someone else. Simple. To be honest, if your priority is finding the cheapest photographer to do an alright job on something, I can guarantee I’m not who you want.
What you’re not paying for when you hire me
We’ve already established that you’re not paying for my camera or my lights. It actually shouldn’t matter to you what any of my gear cost. For all you know, I could’ve found it in the basement of my rich uncle’s castle in Lithuania before I became a well-dressed international cannibal and it cost me nothing at all. This is not the case, by the way, and clearly re-reading those Thomas Harris books is affecting me more than I realised. Or maybe my camera is gold plated and psychically operated and can generate images that will print at a size of 20 square miles on canvas made from kitten skin. It isn’t, and it can’t, and I totally wouldn’t do that anyway cause I love kittens. Thing is, you’re not hiring my camera or renting my lights…
What you are paying for when you hire me
Basically, you’re commissioning art. You’re paying for what I do, for my individual approach and for my vision and for the things I create. You’re paying for the experience of looking at my portfolio, loving what you see there, and knowing that the person who created that art you loved will be creating art especially for you, and you will love that art too. It can be art about your face or art about your body or art about your cat and your favourite chair – whatever you want your art to be about, that’s what I make for you. That pretty much sums it up. You are paying for an artist to make art, for you. If you don’t believe that there’s value in that process, or in the background and education and experience and undefinable individual something that makes that process possible, or in the unique and beautiful results of that process, then I’m not who you should be hiring anyway.
Why I don’t work for free or for ‘exposure’
I work on artistic collaborations with creative people I know. I enjoy it but I do it at my own discretion, when my situation allows for it. It still blows me away that anyone in the whole entire world actually believes it’s acceptable to contact an artist and ask them to work for nothing, promising “exposure” as some kind of glorious reward. Exposure is not a glorious reward. If being associated with you, your name, your product or your brand is really such an incredible opportunity, then you are obviously a very important and successful person and you can afford to pay me. I don’t need to expand my portfolio. I don’t need to have my photo on the front page of your website, helping you to sell a thing that you make money from while you claim that you can’t afford to pay me. I just don’t. It’s not where I’m at. I may consider some commercial work, but chances are I won’t do it unless your business is ethically run and the working conditions you are proposing, including what you want to use the images for, are practical for me. This includes your willingness to pay what I charge. If you aren’t willing to do that, move along. You’ll find someone else who will work for what you’re willing to pay, even if that’s nothing. It’s a sad state of affairs, but there you have it. Someone out there will have an expensive camera that they can sort of use and will believe that pointing it at what you want them to point it at will somehow advance their career to the next level even if they can’t pay their bills. That isn’t me.
Just to make it clear, I’m not super rich. I’m not even moderately rich. Or any kind of rich. Seriously. There are weeks when my cats eat better than I do and I breathe a sigh of relief when I can afford to put petrol in my car. Living with a disability changes everything. I’m not being all “Oh, I can just turn clients away cause I don’t need to make money”. I’m being all “I am not willing to exacerbate an excruciatingly painful physical condition just so I can make an amount of money that isn’t worth making in the first place”. My priorities are perhaps different from yours and definitely different from a lot of other people’s. I don’t shoot weddings, club nights or events because I can’t. It’s too much for me, physically. I also sort of hate shooting (most) weddings, club nights and events. I don’t shoot pictures of children or babies because I really don’t like working with children or babies, or parents who are stressed to death trying to manage their children or babies at a photoshoot. I don’t shoot pictures of already perfectly delightful humans who I will then be expected to digitally edit into much taller and thinner humans to comply with unrealistic and oppressive standards of physical acceptability because while I do understand the fashion industry, I don’t often feel aligned with the values of many of the people and companies who operate within it. I do shoot art and when you hire me, that’s what you’re paying for. You are paying an artist to create art and at the end of it all, you own art that was made for you, with you and about you.
If you want to see my prices and booking info, they can be found on this page of my website.