6 Tips for Setting your Photography Prices

6 Tips for Setting your Photography Prices

Do you feel completely in the dark about setting your prices? Do you have a formal price structure or are you just coming up with numbers? Do you constantly change your price list? Then you’re just like me. Well…me a few months ago anyway. It’s funny – you can be the best photographer, but knowing what to charge can be an un-slayable dragon. And when you’re not quite sure why you charge what you charge, it’s hard to remain firm on your prices when your clients want to haggle you down to nothing. I learned everything I needed to know about setting my prices from Alicia Caine’s eBook. I’m not getting paid for telling you that. I swear by that book. It changed the entire face of my business.

These are the top three things I learned from Alicia’s book:

  1. You should publish some of your prices on your website. This is the first step in managing client expectations and not getting the sticker-shocked client trying to weasel their way out of paying your prices. Just publish a couple of guide prices as a reference.
  2. I don’t have to do friends and family discounts. I don’t do mates rates. I don’t expect them from others and I don’t give them. Well…I don’t allow it to be expected. But I might knock some off or give an unexpected gift to a friend. In my experience, it just doesn’t go well when I under price my services. They value me less and I feel a bit of resentment about spending an entire week editing a wedding I was expected to do for free. Alicia empowered me to say no.
  3. There are a few very easy calculations you can use to price your stuff in a way that keeps everything nice and uniform and my pricing makes sense. I used to price my stuff according to the square inches of the product. Lol that took a bit of work! Alicia’s calculations are waaay easier.

Here are a three points about money I’ve learned the hard way, in no particular order:

  1. ALWAYS charge a session fee. And always charge up front when making the session reservation. This means the clients are serious and aren’t going to take up half a day on your calendar and leave you hanging. Don’t just take a deposit. Take the whole thing. I’ve had plenty of deposit-leavers leave me hanging, but no session-payers have let me down yet. Taking the money upon reservation (I either send them a self-addressed envelope or shoot them a PayPal invoice) falls under the category of ‘spent money is forgotten money’. So a week later when it’s time to buy photo products, they don’t feel like their bank account just took a hit and they’re free to spend on photos. And they WILL spend because they’ve already made a financial investment. Not to mention an emotional and time investment during the session.
  2. ALWAYS make sure that you make it clear that the deposit/prepaid fee is non-refundable. They can sign a contract (a little too formal for me) or acknowledge receipt of your confirmation email by saying that they understand the fee is non-refundable.
  3. When you put a client gallery up for preview, give it an expiry date. I still have clients from a year ago who haven’t ordered. Put the gallery up for 30 days and for goodness sake, WATERMARK those suckers allover the place. It’s ok to ruin the preview with a watermark and make it clear that swiping the preview is stealing.

What aspects of pricing do you feel in the dark about?

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Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

Some Older Comments

  • Sheryl September 7, 2013 11:50 am

    I have been doing photography for over 25 years now, since I was a young teen. It is a love of mine.
    I do not have expensive equipment, besides my camera (Canon Rebel) that I carry with me everywhere, and a telephoto lens I was able to splurge on one day when I had some extra pocket money.
    I have basic portfolio pages on flickr, and fb, with small examples of my work, but have never gone ahead in making an "official" site as even though friends call me pro in my quality of work, to me, not having all the fancy equipment, or backdrops makes me feel I'm not quite.

    I have found at time friends of friends, and even friends don't realize that my time is still being utilized and think that because I love doing photography that I will just willing take their photos, and will ask me to in the moment, take their photo, or their friends photos.
    I do at times feel taken advantage of, I also do realize I have a voice to say something, but end up more often than not, not doing so because I don't want to look like a b*tch.
    I have actually had strangers who were in the photo come up to me asking me for "their" copy, or ask me to take some of them too, and they'll give me their address to send them to. :/

    I am by all no means not an entrepreneur, nor know how to "sell" my work when it is something I love doing.

    I recently went to a friends' sports tournament, and wanted to take photos of them playing. Ended up I taking some pics of the other players, which then lead to a few asking/whining did I get one of them too, and posing for shots. So I ended up making sure I got photos of All the players so no one was upset or felt left out. Next thing I know, I'm the unofficial official photographer for their team. Loving every minute of it, but now felt a little pressured to make sure I got the scoring moments, and highlights of the game.
    I did awesome, and now have close to 2,000 shots (2 1/2 days worth) Some utterly fantastic captures, as the team in the end, went ahead and won the tournament! :D
    The team lead was so sweet in telling me he wanted to pay me for the photos and wants to pick out his faves.
    But now I'm left in the position of not only not knowing what to charge per photo, but what do/say to the others on the team who expect to have all my photos given to them for free? :(
    I feel stuck. :(

  • Frank Kautz March 19, 2013 05:27 am

    Hi Katherine,

    I suggest checking out Alicia Caine’s eBook (there is a link to it above) and Elizabeth Halford's blog (also a link above). Both will give you some ideas. The problem is that no one can just tell you how much to charge. You need to figure out your costs and what you need to pay your own bills, and how much over that you want, and then you will have some idea of how much to charge. You need to move the scale around a bit so that you can also figure out how much you want to work, because it isn't all fun and games, it is real work. Sure, there is some fun involved, otherwise no one would be doing it, but the fun wears thin when you have a deadline and your kid is sick, your computer won't cooperate, and the client won't pay if it is late.

    Also, I think I have heard most professionals say that they spend about 2 to 3 hours on the computer in photoshop for every hour they spend shooting. You need to plan on this as you set your prices.


  • Katherine Davies March 18, 2013 10:04 pm

    Thanks for your response, but do you have any suggestions on how i can price up my work in the future? As I always find myself selling my photos short and always put of pocket. Please help? Or is there a book or website I can go on to for advice?

  • Frank Kautz March 16, 2013 10:01 pm

    Hi Katherine,

    You haven't left a lot of time here, so this is going to sound a bit more abrupt than it otherwise should. You really need to know your prices before you sit the client down for the first time. You need to know what your "hard costs" are before doing this. How much is it going to cost you in both time and materials to produce each and every picture? No one can really just tell you how much to charge because they don't know your costs and what your market is like. (Aside from that, under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890, it is illegal to do so in the United States.)

    As for today, I wish you luck, because you are going to have to "wing it." Take a guess and run with it.

    Good luck,


  • Katherine Davies March 16, 2013 06:46 am

    I've done a photo shoot and tomorrow I shall be showing the family their images, but im not too sure how much to charge and if it would be cheaper to do a package deal but at what price? Most of the photos are either 7x5 or 10x8. I will need a response asap. Thanks

  • Jules March 10, 2013 01:41 am

    Hello there can someone help with a few problems I am having. I am finding it very hard to stick to the scheduled 1hr slot that I advertise. I recently done a p/s for 2 sisters, I thought 1hr would be plenty but I was so wrong, I took them together, then separately then they changed their outfit. As a result we went well over time, I have now ended up with a lot of images to edit. But I doubt the clients will want to buy all the images I am editing, yet I want to display all the scenarios that I have taken. I feel as though I am loosing out twice. Not charging enough for the shoot (as we went over time) & I am spending a lot of time editing loads of pics which I doubt they will purchase all of them. Any advice really appreciated ?
    Also do you think packages are better for example photoshoot + 10 images for x amount (at least you know you are getting x amount) or do you think just charging for the session then letting people choose how many pics they want/sizes etc is best? I am going round in circles? Any help will be so gratefully received :-)

  • David December 15, 2012 06:09 am

    Carolyne, I agree with Mindy here. You're an artist selling your vision, skills etc. and the pleasure and enjoyment people receive from you sharing your talents with them. You are not selling canvasses or time, that is an artist doesn't sell their artwork based on time and materials basis.

    Also, why price them based on size? Why not price them per image and let the buyer chose the size based on their needs. This also helps to distance your art work from the materials they are presented on.

  • Mindy December 15, 2012 04:42 am

    Carolyne, stick to your prices. You're not offering "discount prints" here, and you need to teach your clients to understand that each of your pictures has value as an art piece. Just say no.

  • Carolyne December 14, 2012 11:30 pm

    Hi, I am just starting out selling my photos on canvasses of the local area/beach. The problem I have is that I have set my prices for each size canvas, and have them on a blog, but people are starting to notice various discounts on online canvas printing sites and wanting me to reflect this discount on my prices so they can get the canvasses cheaper. I live in a small town and it is very awkward. I am not sure how to handle this as the way I think is that if I can get the canvasses cheaper then as I have done all the work buying the camera, spending time at the beach at 5am and hours editing them, then I am the one who deserves the extra profit, not them the discount. I also feel my prices should be the same for everyone, not varying because of various sales at printing outlets. Any advice? The people asking me are not strangers, so it's quite awkward. Carolyne

  • Barry Perhamsky September 21, 2012 09:01 am

    Ok, so here's how it goes: First you need to charge a session fee. If you do outdoor portraits, a good fee would be $100 per hour. A session lasts from 1/2 an hour to one hour. I don't like to post the photos on the web. Then a nice 11 x 14 canvas might be $250. So if you photograph a Couple $350 for a very nice portrait in a formal garden using a white rotiron bench as a prop is ideal. Have them stand near one arm and look across part of the bench; Then have the wife sit on the arm while the husband sits on the bench; then switch; thwn have them both sit on the bench and look at them across the bench at an angle. Different poses. Still another setting would use rose bushes, even a picnic table. several days later, they can look at the proofs and choose the pose, size, and style. Of course you need a serious and reliable prosser that won't go out of business after several years. You must also factor in your expensives as well. So if you pay out 1500 a month, after your profet of 1500, them you begin to make a real prophet.

  • Hannah Anketell May 15, 2012 01:36 am

    'ALWAYS charge a session fee'

    Does that mean for the initial consultation that you should charge a fee?

  • Mik May 7, 2012 10:17 am

    Some awesome advice and points to ponder, a question, local author wants some portraits for use as their author photo on the back of their book and some images for their blog and Facebook.

    After editing the RAW images I can supply some low res watermarked image on DVD for their blog and Facebook. They want electronic copies for the author photo, so I can supply a few higher res un-watermarked images on a dvd for that.

    Do I just make sure I have in writing up front what the images are to be used for and what they cannot do with them?

    If this has been addressed before I'd appreciate a nudge in right direction.

  • ametallichick April 10, 2012 06:32 am

    I recently received some great advice from a photographer in my area that has been in business for 20+ years. NEVER EVER EVER sell your un-edited RAW files. First off, they would have no way to view them. Secondly, if they could open them and print them, they will look like crap. All photographs need a little retouching. I don't care how good of a photographer you are. There's always going to be a little editing needed. Plus, if they take the photo CD/DVD to Wally's and it looks like crap, guess who it falls back on? Also, Sal Cincotta told me that he only sells his retouched photos on a CD/DVD in his highest priced packages and I tend to agree with that. If you give away a photo disc, what reason does that client have to come back to you for prints? Just my two cents!

  • Judy March 19, 2012 11:39 am

    I am a serious amateur that is looking much forward in doing professional photography in the near future. I sometimes feel like a dog chasing its own tail at times when trying to find answers for my photographic journey. I must say that I too thank everyone for their comments and input it really helps alot. But, I as for pricing my work I find myself being stuck and I don't want this to be the a baracade to my business, this is my passion it has been for many years now and I feel that I've been getting my feet wet and am ready to move into doing this professionally now. Prices, prices, prices......If I begin to charge $120.00 for a session fee and then separate portrait printing fees is that right to do, or do the printing services come from within the session fee, how do I do this? I am going to put something up and please tell me what I am doing wrong?

    This is my price list that I am working from now:
    Judith Williams Photography Price List

    1hour session the sitting fee is $65.00

    Here is a listing of separate fees for the portrait package pricing to choose from

    { Package A }
    20 wallets
    $37.00+ tax

    { Package B }
    20 wallets
    $45.64+ tax

    { Package C }
    20 wallets
    $52.12+ tax

    { Package D }
    20 wallets
    $65.36+ tax

    { Package E }
    20 wallets
    $78.32+ tax

    { Package F }
    20 Wallets

    $85.60+ tax

    my website is www.wix.com/judithwilliamsphoto/jwphotography
    Please excuse the site as I am fixing some things.

    I am in the process of writing my business plan and getting all necessary paperworks done to do this on a full time basis. I just need help I feel like I've been scratching my head on certain topics like pricing my work and also marketing strategies. I would love to receive some constructive crtiques on my photos also. Please help, help, help. I find that when I speak with other photographers they seem to close lipped about sharing info so I just go online and find info that I need but the one thing that has always seem to stop me in my tracks is pricing because I have had numerous issues with previous clients that I do not want to have again, which was clients claim they are interested in me taking photos but when the time came they couldnt do the shoot for their own reasons, I feel that I am a great photographer and always want to give my clients the best photographic experience they can receive, I have plenty of word of mouth clients waiting but I havent given an answer because I don't want to price to low or to high, what is the proper way to price? Someone please help me it will be greatly appreciated.

  • Paul Howes March 18, 2012 10:33 pm

    @Kristen @Nikki When you set your pricing structure, instead of putting the packages directly in the price, use the print credit system, with the credit going toward a package. That way you already have their money. When you present your packages to them during the selection consultation, they'll see the prices and choke a little. Then you tell them, "But you already have $n worth of credit toward your purchase, so it's really only $m!" Suddenly they won't mind giving you even more money because they feel like they're actually giving you less! It's a psychological thing.

    For example, let's say you set your day rate at $250/hr. When you come up with actual packages, you say something like, "My day rate is $250/hr, but if you'd like to save some money, I can charge you $300 today and give you a $100 credit toward whatever package you decide upon. If you're prepared to spend $500, you'll get a $400 credit, and $750 gets you a $700 credit. The more you put down now, the more you actually save later.

    The trick is to make sure that your cheapest product or package is more expensive than your lowest credit so that they HAVE to write you that second check during the selection consultation. They're more likely to add on and buy more in that case. Also, you can advertise that "sessions start at $250" knowing that you'll never charge less than $300, and you'll quite likely collect more than that.

  • Nikki March 17, 2012 01:15 am

    @Kristen W - you charge a session fee for your time and talent up front. Then you let them choose the package they would like. I have many clients say they will choose a mid to high priced package, only to change their mind when finished, so without the session fee you risk not earning any kind of profit.

    Good luck!

  • Tony Newton March 16, 2012 03:23 pm

    Thank you for the comments. Really helped a lot.

  • Kristen W February 23, 2012 06:14 am

    I do have a question....You say you charge everything "upfront" how do the customers know they want a 5 portrait package or 10,15,20 package deal (whatever it is you might offer) How are "they" going to know what they want for sure until they see the images you took? What if they pay $200.00 for package #1 then they see the pictures and decide they should have taken a larger package? Do you charge up front the smallest package you have....THEN tack on the rest if they decide they want a larger package?

  • Jessie December 16, 2011 05:36 am

    What if you aren't doing prints and you are just sending them the photos in electronic form? If you charge a session fee, and I charge a travel fee since I only do on location, then is that it? You just get the session fee and travel fee up front and then they are done? Then you give them their photos?

  • Marie December 1, 2011 04:56 am

    up and coming photographer here. I've doing a lot of reading and come upon this site and I like it. During all the readings I feel like my head is going to expplode with some much information but there doesn't seem to be any true, good and solid information to follow through. I'm even more confused the when I began my seach but this site helped a little. I don't want to sell myself short. Like someone stated, back then a photographer did not give out the negative so why are we giving away cd's with all the pictures? I want to be known for my work and not for the cheap service that I can give. It is a problem when a client edit their own pictures, I feel like you take my work and make yours. It hurts sometimes become art is my passion. Pricing, quantity and value of work has become a big jumble thing. How does one get through this?

  • Angela McClain November 2, 2011 04:55 pm

    I have been thinking long and hard about my pricing strategy, and I'm so happy that I stumbled upon this article and discussion! The information and tips here are invaluable, and I appreciate all the pointers. Many thanks!

  • Paul August 29, 2011 10:54 am

    @Peter I know a couple photographers who will sell a DVD of un-retouched JPEG files sized for a 5x7 @ 150 DPI for $500-$600. If you order product above some minimum amount, the price drops by a couple hundred dollars. Most people want digital files for social networking sites, not to print.

    You could put a couple images on your Facebook page to promote the shoot and tag the customer. They'll be able to use the image as their profile picture, but that's about it. No real loss there.

  • Peter August 27, 2011 09:41 pm

    Some great tips and it's so tough out there at the moment with everyone suddenly becoming a photographer. I'm amazed at how little people are charging to get by and so have no intention of giving up my week job. I'm not giving in to giving away all the RAW files, and put strict conditions on not allowing edits of my electronic images. However, people don't care much. I found one model had edited all of my edits to make her skin look like plastic,,, and she simply took off my signature before reversing some of the photos and adding my sig back on again as she wanted to look the other way. It looks a little ridiculous and my name is one them...

  • Nikki August 19, 2011 02:16 am

    I too, purchased Alicia Caine's e-book and found it invaluable for pricing. I still am super frustrated by all the wanna be photographers, and hobbiest turning around and giving away all the files on CD. Even the pro's are doing it and frankly, making it impossible to earn a living. I am so frustrated.

  • Australia April 1, 2011 03:51 am

    I also have to learn to say no to friends and family "discounts" hehe.... im still working on not budging.

  • David October 7, 2010 06:04 pm


    I have just invested in Alicia's e-book, and it will certainly address the issues you are having.

    Business advice is worth its weight in gold, if it allows you to run a better business. And there a several ways you can define what a better business is. Its not just financial, it could be working the way you want to work, it could be working with clients who you enjoy working with etc, etc.

    Only time will tell how valuable Alicia's advice is in the setting up my photography busines, but I see it playing a key role. And I can certainly relate her advice to other service oriented business I have been involved in, in the past. It isn't only photographers who are plagued by people looking for a free ride and cheapo deals.

    On a slightly broader theme: I don't see how photographers with real skill can be seen to be in competition with point-and-shoot photographers who print their stuff at Walmart. Not that there is anything wrong with doing point-and-shoot pictures and printing them at Walmart, but these are totally different market sectors.

    A part of your marketing strategy is to make sure you cannot be confused with this point-and-shoot market. And, again, Alicia's e-book will show you how to do this.

  • Mindy October 5, 2010 03:07 am

    Hi Kathryn and everybody,
    Kathryn, there are no foolish questions!

    I think one of the roles of a professional photographer, as opposed to the many non-professional photographers out there, is to develop relationships with high-quality printers and suppliers. This is something that I think most clients would reasonably expect from a professional photographer - they want to know that they can order high-quality prints. It cheapens your work to allow them to go print crappy reprints at Costco.

    Pricing remains, to me at least, a work in progress. I've settled on a model that seems to be working for me - a session fee that covers my shoot and processing time, and a reasonable per-print fee. Higher-end prints, like canvases and collages, are priced higher. This seems fair to me and to my clients, and protects the integrity of my work. I provide a free web-only file of each image that is ordered in print form to accomodate those who love to share on Facebook - and I make sure those images are watermarked in a polite way so I receive some advertising from their sharing.

    Again, I urge everyone to think hard before giving/selling files - in the "old" days we didn't just hand out negs, and there's no reason clients should expect to receive the digital files from our shoots.

  • Mark October 5, 2010 12:24 am

    @Kathryn S

    Sorry if I got heated and scared you or anyone. In your case, if you are happy with this business model then who am I to tell you what to do. Just be aware that you lose control the minute you give them a digital copy. Just like MP3 files in music, they will feel ownership from having the file and will do what ever they want and not feel guilty about it. They may re-edit and really mess them up but still list you as the photographer! That could hurt referrals. You will never get a dime from them beyond the price you charge for the CD of images that you supply. You are leaving a lot of money on the table. For instance, I use a mail order house called White House Custom Colour and prints are about half the price of Walmart or Walgreens and are on much better paper and higher color quality. They also do Canvas prints and other premounted prints for very affordable prices. The prices are so affordable, you could double it or even more and make a nice profit.

    The main point of my previous post was that you own the images you take! And you should control how they look in public! However, if you feel that digital works for you then that is your decision. I have a friend who shoots local bands. He makes very little money at it, but he gets free concerts and his one hope is that one of these bands will make it to the big show. Then his images will go crazy in value overnight!!!! All it takes is one band to break through! However, he needs one to break through for all of the special lenses and the high end camera body he has bought to do this work!!!!

    Each of us must decide what we are comfortable with, but do it from an informed position!!! Learn what copyright law says, read up on model releases in your country and know who owns what and what your contract should include in it.

  • Kathryn S. October 4, 2010 02:48 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to write this important article, Elizabeth!

    I am sheepishly asking this next question, so please bear in mind that I am just starting out as a professional photographer. By that I mean that I have been at this about two years and still do mostly small scale stuff (ie: portraits). This is by my choice, as I am primarily a stay at home mom.

    Okay, so would you change your advice at all for someone who doesn't provide prints? I charge up front for my sessions and I am clear about how many photos my clients will receive, but I always provide the edited digital files, not prints. Since most of my clients are in their twenties or thirties, they are usually more comfortable with this anyway, since they might as well print their photos from me at Costco and save a buck. In turn, I don't have to worry about the added expense or complication of printing. In fact, besides your typical photo place, I am not sure where I would even get their prints from if they asked. Wow, I hope I am not making a total fool of myself here!

    Anyway, how would you say that might change things, as far as rules about prices? I appreciate any insights you can offer!

    ~ Kathryn

  • Mark October 3, 2010 12:14 pm

    @London wedding photographer David Sherjan

    Giving up the copyrights to YOUR images is not to be taken lightly. And allowing others to edit your files can destroy your reputation. Once you give out digital data files, every Tom, Dick and Harry will feel fully justified in editing and publishing YOUR work and might even do you a "favor" and give you credit!!! RAW files should never be given or sold to anyone that is not a large ad agency because they are only half done. With an ad agency, you know that your work is only one part of a graphic layout and in most cases will not be credited to you anyways. And that type of work is a much higher profit zone as is. High Resolution digital files in TIFF or JPG are equivalent to a film negative and should only be sold under strict contractual terms that spell out where, when and how they may be used. The pricing should reflect the amount of rights granted. Personal use is one thing, but selling to magazines and such should be much more expensive. And publishing on the web, even a person site, will lead to theft so size limitations should be specified. A strong contract won't keep them out of circulation, but it will give you recourse in case they harm your business. A strong contract will also impress upon your customer just what they are buying, because they WILL THINK that having the file means they OWN ALL RIGHTS unless you specify very clearly that they don't. Think long and hard before you give up anything other than low res small files for Facebook and other online uses.

    The only other real alternative is to give the images up without restriction as long as they don't connect your name to them. But that will kill any referrals and limit your sales to the immediate sale. No residuals, no print sales, etc. I just don't see the future in such a business model. But it is your choice.

  • London wedding photographer David Sherjan October 2, 2010 08:49 pm

    I'd like to say a few words here. I don't normally delve into the world of replying to posts on forums and topics etc but now and again, for some strange reason being human, one feels compelled.

    I have been a full time professional wedding photographer in SE England for about 3 and a half years now. I literally got into wedding photography after my partner suggested it about 4 years ago whilst we were enjoying a crisp Winter canal walk in Hertfordshire one Sunday. It was very crisp.

    On the topic of prices, the more you can make yourself out to be a photography 'business', the more your clients will feel safe with making their payments on time. In my first year of wedding photography I shot around 26 weddings, turning over close to 75K. I did this by keeping some simple practices of business at the front of all my photographic services. To name a few:

    1) Replying to EVERY email or phone enquiry either instantly or within one hour. No-one is busy enough to suggest they can't do this. I wake up around 0600am every Monday with about 3000/4000 photos to edit from a weekend of shooting and that's before I've started the days admin and I still have time to reply to enquiries super prompt
    2) Sussing out the competition and setting your prices at a level that both reflects your skills and doesn't price you out of the market...MARKET RESEARCH IS CRUCIAL
    3) You'll never get a second chance to make a first impression - heard this before?! USE IT EVERYDAY!!
    4) Providing my clients with up front information on costs and that they will need to pay a retainer/deposit before booking me for any services...this ensures their absolute interest once paid
    5) Giving them an E-Receipt upon all clearances of funds for their security (this sometimes helps the decision making process with some wedding clients and gives them a little security)
    6) BE PRESENTABLE AT ALL TIMES - it is a reflection of your business and can separate you from the rest in a busy market
    7) Photography should ALWAYS be treated like a business if you are serious about going full time - this speaks for itself
    8) BE FLEXIBLE WITH YOUR PRICES - and to those pro's who say learn how to say 'NO' well I have never understood this. No matter what your level, if a millionaire came up to you on the street and said 'Here's £200 to spend whatever you like on with no strings attached...' you wouldn't say 'Well actually thanks mister but I'd rather spend hours earning it...' NO YOU WOULDN'T! Profit is profit FACT

    Anyway, I hope that this is somewhere near the subject of setting your prices and handling your wedding photography services as it seems some have strayed off the topic above. I am just about to launch a new blog which will include tips for both new and experience wedding photographers...January 2011 deadline!

    Thanks for reading.


  • Mark September 30, 2010 05:03 pm

    @frank (and others)

    RAW files are not really the same as digital negatives, they are worse. Film negatives had the saturation and contrast for printing already in them. Some photogs improved upon them with darkroom tricks like dodge and burn, but they were essentially ready to print. RAW files are just that, the raw data that the camera captured. No matter how good your capture was, the work flow on the raw file is essential and can be done great or badly.

    I feel that the minimum file to sell would be a TIFF or PSD as an export of the RAW file AFTER your work flow to get it up to a film negative quality. And that high resolution file is EXPENSIVE because once you release it, you will never get another dime out of that client! Also, the only way I would sell a high res image is with a contract that specifically spelled out ownership of the copyright and the uses that the client has bought for that file. If they want a high res output of every photo taken at their wedding, GREAT!!! That is going to be a very expensive order and they will be somewhat surprised at the limited usages that they are buying! If they want to buy the copyrights to all of the photos from their wedding, GREAT AGAIN! But a few hundred photos at $5000 US per photo is going to be a large order! If they still want it, make sure their payment clears before you deliver the images!!! Then go on a round the world photo shoot with your new camera and lenses!!!!!!

  • celeste September 30, 2010 07:01 am

    I too want to purchase her ebook, but can't really justify the cost just yet. I'm also finding it hard to deal w/family and friends and just about everyone in general wanting pictures for 50 bucks. Has anyone besides the author (smile) purchased this book that can say that it has absolutely worked for them? thanks.

  • heather September 25, 2010 11:31 am

    @Mindy: Thank you so much for that advice. I in no way even want to show clients my unfinished work. It's like buying a CD at the store and getting upset because you only got their 'best work'. haha. no one ever says that or does that! No one ever complains about not having all the unedited and really bad takes that happen in the studio for a musician... anyway, I agree whole-heartedly. :)

  • Frank September 25, 2010 01:29 am

    Hello your friendly (maybe) neighborhood lawyer here,

    Unless you have a contract that says that you must give up your original files to your client, I know of no law in the United States that requires this. (Caveat, I trained in PA and practice in MA, so those are the only states I can really speak of, however I do watch other states for this.) If a client is desperate enough to pay for the original files, figure out how much they will pay for them and go for it. Will they add an additional $10k to your fee? How about $20k? Since your care is your image as a photographer, it is important that your unedited and un-sorted (ahem, read not perfect) pictures not find their way into general circulation. Therefore, unless they are willing to pay through the nose for them, they don't get those files.

    Now, as to never selling them, in particular the negatives, that I do have a problem with. My own wedding was 12 years ago. The photographer (whom I will not name because I found him to be both obnoxious and uninspired, while he had okay snapshot pics, nothing stood out as a memorable picture) flat refused to sell me the negatives. He told me that they were kept for seven years and then destroyed. I contacted him 6 years and 6 months later and he still refused to take $10k for the negatives (I couldn't really afford that, but I wanted them as all of our grandparents had died by that time). So, I sent him a final letter the day before he was scheduled to destroy the pictures making a final offer. He ignored it and effectively tossed $10k into the trash. My point, if someone is willing to toss money around to get the originals/negatives, then by all means, take the money. While the reputation part is always a good point, how many people really will see the unedited pictures? Most brides will want to show people the good pictures, the unedited ones will most likely never be shown to anyone but family and really close friends, who will then see how good you are because they will already have seen the edited ones. In some ways, it could even help you.

    Remember, first and foremost, you are running a business. You must make money. Don't ignore the chance to get some extra money that might just walk through that front door. That extra money might mean the chance to get that shiny Nikon D3X. Don't sell yourself short, but don't toss out money that you could use.


  • chris September 25, 2010 01:18 am

    Totally agree @Mindy. I'd honestly be a bit embarrassed, even as an amateur photographer, to put my un-processed work out there. I cringe inside every time a client-friend even wants to see the shot on the back of the camera, but, you know, you've got to be amenable.

    That being said, the professional I hired for my wedding was very accommodating ( http://jrowephotography.com ). He knew that as a photographer, and someone who leans VERY (too) heavily on Lightroom/Photoshop I'd want to process them myself, so he dumped all the unprocessed full-res files on me in addition to his edited picks. I was infinitely grateful and had a blast getting to process my own wedding's photos (much more fun than processing the thousands of photos from OTHER people's weddings!) However, this should very much be the very rare exception and not the rule.

  • Mindy September 25, 2010 01:14 am

    Oops! Sorry for the double posting. That first version seemed to have disappeared only to reappear : )

  • Mindy September 25, 2010 01:11 am

    1. NEVER show, sell or give the client your original files - very unprofessional! They should not even see them.
    2. Please, please, please let's start a movement to convince photographers everywhere not to sell or give their digital negatives to clients. This cheapens our entire field. If you're one of the folks who does this, have you seen what the prints look like? Oi! How embarrassing that people will think you approved of that dime store print job. And you train the client to expect that from the next photographer who cares very much about what his or her work looks like.
    3. Of course clients want ALL the images you've shot! I want that shiny Nikon D3X very badly too, but I can't walk into my equipment supplier and say, "But I LOVE that D3X! I've just got to have it! It's not fair that you won't sell it to me for $500!" Clients have to realize that they are not paying for "snaps" or, God forbid, "pix" and that there is value attached to the work of a talented photographer.

  • Mindy September 25, 2010 01:02 am

    1. NEVER give your client unedited raw images - totally unprofessional!
    2. Please, please, please let's start a movement to convince all photographers everywhere not to give/sell their digital negatives. This cheapens our entire field. Clients should be purchasing beautiful, well-crafted prints, with a "web-only" file offered to those who want to share on Facebook.
    3. Sure they want every image! I want a D3X, too, but I am aware that I can't afford it. Clients need to know that our images come with a cost, and if they can't afford it, they can't afford it. It's not up to us to lower our prices to meet their economic needs. We don't walk into our equipment supplier's shop and say, "Oh, but I LOVE that D3X. I've just GOT to have it! Why won't you give it to me for $500? That's not fair!"

  • Wilson September 24, 2010 10:41 am

    One of the things that puzzle me is whether or not I have to give my clients the original files of the pictures I took, or just the post-editted files I have processed.

    I'm not comfortable in giving up the originals as I find they never look as nice as the ones I have edited, and I'm worried that my clients displaying the originals to other "potential clients" might have a negative effect on my reputation.

    So the question is: Should fee-paying-clients have the right to obtain (their) original files?

  • Sarah September 22, 2010 02:44 pm

    @ heather

    Heather, after I have finished editing, I renumber all of my files. I also don't tell the client how many photos I took in the first place so that the client has no idea how many files I've deleted.

  • heather September 8, 2010 11:11 am


    Thank you. I agree. I just don't know a lot of other photographers in the business, so I don't know how it's actually done. There isn't a lot of talk about how to present your photos, or what is the best way to sell them etc. That's one thing I learned quick! Thank you for your help. :D It is MUCH appreciated!

  • Matthew F September 3, 2010 06:47 am


    !st and foremost YOU own the rights to the digital negatives. Those RAW files are never theirs unless you have agreed to sell all rights to them and they pay accordingly, think of future sales! Even then you should only be handing over the finished product. Unless your business model is such that each shot is correct in camera and they then view the images straight after the shoot I would not even show the client the RAW files!

    If they want every photo all well and good, take it as a compliment, as long as they pay for every photo.

    I personally wouldn't sell a CD with all images on BUT if I did I would charge exactly the same as I would make from framed prints.

    There is always someone in the world that wants something for nothing...

  • heather August 27, 2010 06:45 am

    hey guys, can someone help me with something? What if a client wants ALL the shots? I mean, ALL of them? The unedited ones, the edited ones etc? I didn't want to give them away, nor sell them. Certain packages say that you can get a disc with all edited shots for x amount. How do you handle a client who demands you give them all the shots because they are 'theirs' (according to them)? How do you charge for raw images, or do you just not give raw images out and/or not show them at all? help?

  • Courtney Brimm August 27, 2010 06:02 am


    Wow! Thank you to everyone who has participated in this discussion. I am just embarking on my adventure into starting my own photography business and I have been searching for answers to a lot of these same questions ... or at least signs that I'm not alone in having them!

    One question I saw above that I didn't notice any responses to was regarding providing digital copies of the portraits. So far I have only given people a DVD of files because I was paid little to nothing (friends/family) and was just happy to get the experience. Now I have the confidence to start charging but I am struggling with pinpointing what exactly I am charging for.

    After considering the above discussion with my own experience and other research, I do want to charge for the session/sitting fee and post-processing time - anyone know a good rule of thumb for how to come up with these prices? I figure a set session fee and an hourly rate for editing, which there shouldn't be too much of if the images are good. (I can't bring myself to buy a 30 page book for $150)

    How do we gauge what to charge for prints? Is that just a matter of me taking the files to a prof. print shop and then charging the client what I pay (plus some) to get them printed?

    Should the digital files or a DVD be included? Optional at additional cost?

    Or should everything be done online? If online is the way ... well, then I have a lot more questions ...

    Thank you all!

  • Paul August 21, 2010 09:21 pm

    I agree with Dennia -- a 30 page book for $150 is completely outrageous, especially with so other low cost and free resources available.

    Here are three more tips that I have learned about product pricing:

    1. Call them portraits, not pictures, otherwise it cheapens the perceived value in your client's head.
    2. Use descriptive words to refer to portrait sizes, such as grande = 40", large = 30", standard = 24", etc. Too many numbers only serve to confuse your client.
    3. Price the portraits based on the smaller dimension. e.g. a 40" x 30" is priced as a 30".

  • Dennia August 21, 2010 12:30 am

    Very good advice. I went to look at the book as I figured it must be worth owning until I saw the price. Ouch!
    The best photography book I ever bought didn't cost but $29.95.
    There's way too many other books and even free advice if one searches for it on this subject.
    Thanks for sharing anyway...

  • Jeni August 20, 2010 11:24 pm

    I sell my work as fine art locally, and have established a price structure that works for me. I always charge 2.5 times what it cost to produce, including the shipping as I don't print "in-house". Then I add what ever the mark up is going to be where I show - if it's a gallery that adds 20% then I add that. This way I get my cost, plus some, plus profit.

  • Jacqui Watson August 20, 2010 09:26 pm

    Once again Elizabeth, you are informative and a great contributor!!! I aim to be as professional and sought after as you one day. Love all your posts. Thank you!!!

  • Robin August 20, 2010 12:48 am

    I'm having a hard time with this, I think I have a session fee, at least for now but I have no idea what to charge for prints.

  • Azriel Knight August 19, 2010 10:26 am

    A deposit implies that it can be taken back. I was told in a photography class, for legal purposes it should be called a retainer.

    Thanks for helping me figure a few things out!

  • Elizabeth Halford August 18, 2010 07:42 pm

    @Jason: Oh I see. Yes, I was talking about a contract purely to state that they understand the deposit is non refundable. As I suggested, I just make sure they reply to my email stating that. But I don't shoot without a general contract. Maybe I should write a post about that!

  • Chaminda August 18, 2010 01:58 pm

    Thanks for this tips friend. i used to shoot sport events like motor cross races. When i put those images to my facebook picture gallery with a small watermark on the picture corners, for preview purpose (Actually i am selling those photographs) - most of the riders crop that image to remove my watermark and put that image to their profile pictures instead of buying the original photographs. from now on I'll put watermark all over the images.

  • Jason Collin Photography August 17, 2010 08:57 am

    @Elizabeth -- thank you for your detailed and quick reply.

    In point #2 of the bottom set of points regarding the contract:

    "ALWAYS make sure that you make it clear that the deposit/prepaid fee is non-refundable. They can sign a contract (a little too formal for me) or acknowledge receipt of your confirmation email by saying that they understand the fee is non-refundable."

    I took the words "a little too formal for me" to mean that you did not have the client sign a contract, hence my surprise.

    Using my current pricing & models, and having photography as my only job, I have been able to make a full-time income for the past 6 months, though not "far more than full time" at this point. Often my portrait clients are from out of town (I am in Florida). So I just wonder the logistics of getting them to buy prints, etc when they live in another state and how to get the prints to them, other than to use a backend like SmugMug that handles it all.

    I know one local photographer who gets $1,000 to $3,000 per portrait session, selling the session time and large canvas prints. He has a high end studio in the richest part of Tampa. I do not have a studio, not even a home based one. I meet clients and shoot on location only.

    I believe you that you have to charge more and work on high profit from a low volume of clients as the only way to be able to get to the $100k+ a year in income, it's just that it's a digital world now and I guess my biggest question is what do you do regarding digital files for your clients? Do you offer them at all? If so, in what form, with what rights and for (approximately) how much?

    If someone pays 100 pounds for a session fee, then 30 pounds for an 8x10 print, do your clients not also ask how they can share that photograph with friends and family?

    Do you have a required minimum order for portrait clients? Or in your experience is that not necessary because all clients always order enough to make each job highly profitable?

    Sorry for asking so many questions, I guess I am just hungry to grow my business!

  • Elizabeth Halford August 17, 2010 08:10 am

    @Jason: Hello! Thanks for reading. I'm not sure where you would get the idea that I don't use contracts. I'd be an idiot not to :) That wasn't part of this post.

    Yes, clients pay the session fee when they book, no matter when that is. If they want me, they will (and do) pay. Also, with this in place, you weed out the time wasters and the ones who don't have money to spend anyway (and obviously with a business, it's about money and we want clients who have money).

    Why would I leave the gallery up forever? Do I want them to take forever to order? The goal is to shoot and sell in a short space of time. If they want to order now and pay later, I have something in place for that. You could be making a lot more money if you did the "session fee/prints pricing model". Photographers who use this model can end up making over a thousand on a session while I see that you're only charging $325-$475 and giving up the copyright for that price. Alicia who wrote the ebook I mentioned made $100k in her first year implementing the type of pricing strategy I'm talking about.

    You asked about studio: I use this pricing model in my studio. I don't know of a thriving studio in the UK who doesn't.

    And yes, this is all about making a full time income. Far more than full time actually. This is about aiming high, being professional, knowing your prices, your products and your business model inside and out. I meet my clients through word of mouth, on the playground and in Starbucks. Then they drop £1200 on canvases. Aim high!

  • Jason Collin Photography August 17, 2010 07:18 am

    First, something I am very surprised about: you do not have the clients sign a photography contract. How does the client know what her/his rights to the photos are? Or are you only providing printed photographs? No digital versions/copies? How do they know what you will do with their photographs, i.e. used on your website, marketing materials, etc?

    How far in advance are clients willing to pay the session fee in advance? Do you have clients booking 6 months in advance paying in full? Longer than that?

    Why not leave a client's gallery up forever? Are you manually taking their print orders, then going and making the prints yourself, then hand delivering the prints to them or something? I would imagine such a model would require very high end clients, with low volume as that is a lot of legwork. I use SmugMug and leave the galleries up forever, and the client can order whenever he/she feels like it and the prints are sent directly to the client. However, I do not use the session fee/prints pricing model. I include everything in a single fee, allowing printing rights to the digital files they get, but encourage them to print through the SmugMug gallery. I am thinking to change my model and require that clients print through SmugMug only, which would be a twist on the session fee print model.

    I provide resized (600px width) watermarked versions of each image the client is allowed to put on Facebook, etc. The full resolution images they are only allowed to print, not display online.

    I wonder how many photographers doing the session fee/prints pricing model have studios as well? Are any non-studio photographers able to make a full-time income using that model? Not that they need to only shoot in studio, but that they have a dedicated space for their business in which to meet clients and thus are able to charge more than someone meeting their potential clients in Starbucks.

  • Aaron Patterson August 17, 2010 05:15 am

    Where I tend to agree with a lot of points in this post (and practiced them at one point) I have actually started to have a better experience in not doing some of the things above. After my price points started to get higher, I started to move towards a financial system centered around the client rather than centered around me. I stopped charging for reservations and stopped taking deposits (before the engagement shoot) and haven't lost a client. In fact, when I did that, I started getting more business. When I talk to a potential client about a date, I focus on that client and their needs, believe it or not, people respond to that and appreciate it. Their response to that appreciation has been booking me and telling more people about me. Same thing happened when I stopped putting a time limit on on weddings and charging for every hour after-wards. I let me clients know that I don't do that because the wedding is about them and their day and not about how long I am there and my money. Their response to my lack of harsh pricing schedules and "non-refund reservations fees" is gladly paying the $5k bill and telling more people. Where pricing and contracting is important. If you put your client above your prices, you will always win and they will reward you with money.

  • Elisha Frey August 17, 2010 03:23 am

    Wonderful article! This reminded me of a time when a friend of a friend told me that after she got married, she copied and pasted all the photos from a viewing gallery that her wedding photographer provided. She felt entitled to do so because she paid the photographer to shoot the wedding. I was horrified. Hopefully the photographer was smart enough to put very low resolution photo in the gallery so that the 'thieves' could not print any decent photos. Do you have any advice on how much to charge for fine art prints?

  • Will McA August 17, 2010 03:15 am

    The reason many photographers making their first ventures into paid work advertise no sitting fee, and the reason I did when I started out. Is that you aren't so confident in your own work, and don't want to have to deal with a client who has paid a sitting fee complaining that none of the photos are good enough and demanding a refund.

    I found it easier on to do this on my first commissioned photoshoot, because it meant at least, if the client didn't like any of the photos, she could just not order them, I'd only have myself to blame for not taking better photos but at least I wouldn't be facing any kind of legal action.

  • Tyson @ Digital Photography Department August 17, 2010 02:20 am

    Hi Elizabeth,
    This is really great advice. I like the part about posting your prices online to avoid sticker shock. Also Great advice about family and friends. If you start giving away your services you are correct that people will not vale your work. There is a fine balance here between pricing and getting enough jobs (I try to make sure I dont price to many people out of my range). I think I will enjoy reading Alicias ebook. Thank you for the great post!

  • fortunato_uno August 16, 2010 10:03 pm

    Thanks for the heads up on all the topics you covered. I have to wonder though, how do I set my price? Should it be based off of the amount of images that I shoot (and how many shots does the average portrait session consist of)? Do I include an extra charge if I travel to them (compared to them traveling to me)? What should the average package consist of (12x16-8x10)? I really have to consider the wal-mart factor to. They have packages as low as $15.00. Rather hard to compete with that.
    Just some questions I have. Perhaps you could cover these in your next post.
    Thanks again, Fortunato

  • Wani August 16, 2010 07:25 pm

    Thanks for sharing Elizabeth - this is great. I'm a big follower of DPS and your blog and I actually bought the Easy as Pie pricing guide after you raved about it on your blog. I must say it was indeed very helpful and once I figure out what my COGS is, I'll be good to go. My biggest issue now is figuring out the cost of my time especially as a newbie...do you have any tips on a base I can start from? Thanks.


  • johnp August 16, 2010 01:28 pm

    Yes I find its best to get paid upfront. The value of the wedding photos as far as clients are concerned diminishes rapidly with every day that passes since the wedding day. I got caught badly once, the couple got divorced before ordering their photos - not a lot of interest in paying after that.

  • Matt August 16, 2010 12:42 pm


    The session fee is covering your time, access to equipment and studio/location. I believe a charge here implies a certain professional and ethical approach by ensuring your serious and undivided attention at this time.

    Your costs in post processing, proofing and delivery (i.e. whether it is a studio meet to determine which prints/packages a client wants, or whether on an online gallery) are added to the raw print cost of the prints themselves. What margins you need to cover these costs and make a wage will aid determination of price. There needs to be no feeling of price gouging at all.

    Put it another way, if you know the cost of a session to yourself and can estimate the costs to produce an image, then you are providing a fairer end product to a customer than someone with no sitting/session fee. How? Because the cost of a free session has to be factored into the prices per print and also in a conservative manner to cover no-shows, customers who do not order prints and those only producing minimum packages. Therefore if someone orders a standard package, then they will be paying a lot more than just their sitting and image production fees.

  • karen gunton August 16, 2010 09:04 am

    right now i am struggling with the friends and family thing - i actually don't mind giving my closest friends and family free photography sessions or a discount on the prints but what is really getting to me is that they don't value my time - they show up late, or cancel at the last minute, and expect a lot of your time and attention for free. way more so than a paying client - when people pay time = money. i have realized recently that i just don't think i can give away freebies to friends anymore, which makes me sad but there you go.

  • Andy Mars August 16, 2010 08:32 am

    Good advice! Interesting that you charge upfront the entire fee not just the deposit!

  • Jeni August 16, 2010 08:05 am

    Thank you so much for reminding me of Alicia's idea on the friends/family. I recently have been working on my pricing like she suggested, but the friends and family seem to gouge me out of making any money at all and all the while acting like they are doing me a favor!

    As far as the comment a poster made about not charging much for prints but in the session fee, I don't think you can make enough money to stay in business that way. You would have to charge a heck of a lot of money in a session fee to only charge prints at cost. -In my opinion anyway.

  • Kim August 16, 2010 06:39 am

    @Chris, I guess the way I feel about is that a potter isn't going to only charge the cost of the clay, a painter the cost of the paint, or a glass artist the cost of the glass. This is your art, and you need to charge accordingly. If you're able to make up the difference with a high sitting fee, then terrific.

  • chris August 16, 2010 05:32 am

    Great post. Huge fan of DPS, and then this post showed up in my rss feed today-- it was EXACTLY what I was looking for, since I'm working on getting a price structure down myself.

    A lot of photographers in my city advertise "No Sitting Fee!" (session fee) which bugs me to no end (and will be difficult to compete with as I get more established). In my opinion, I think the money bit of it should focus entirely on the "sitting fee", and prints should be pretty much at cost. After all, the print company does all the work of making the prints-- my work is shooting and post-processing. I feel that gouging the price of the prints is a great way to make some cash, but I have a hard time reconciling it ethically-- it's like you're making money from someone else's labor.

    How do you handle this as a professional photographer?

  • Wendy August 16, 2010 04:40 am

    Nice article! Good insight and I want to get that book! LOL!

  • Shaq Melamed August 16, 2010 04:03 am

    Good article. I liked your point about expiration dates for galleries. What I also found to be very effective is giving time-limited coupons off the official price on the gallery. Here's my strategy: my client galleries are open for 90 days from the date of the shoot (many clients didn't like the 30 day timeframe, especially if you consider the fact that families go on vacation and can't/don't want to be pressured).

    I noticed that many clients tended to procrastinate and only place order towards the end of the 90 days - so I started offering a15% discount for early birds - i.e. any order in the first 15 days. Lo and behold: not only did the size of the order grew by about 25% because of the discount - now more than 90% of the orders are made within the first 15 days!

    Once the gallery expires, there is a 30% premium (and a minimum order of $100) for pulling the gallery back from archives. I find it valuable for clients to know I am archiving all shoots for 3 years (naturally, I've been archiving ALL my work, forever), but that there is a cost for not ordering during the lifetime of the gallery.

    My two cents.



  • Garry Meus August 16, 2010 03:42 am

    Great advice! I do think though that the use of a general contract with clients also shows a degree of professionalism that is also beneficial. Thanks for sharing!

  • Jen August 16, 2010 03:11 am

    I have been reading your blog for sometime now, and this is simply some of the best advice I have gotten from anyone in a long time. Thank you, I am off to search for this book, and print out your suggestions, memorize them, and learn to be firm.

    Muddy Boot Dreams

  • Frank Kautz August 16, 2010 02:14 am

    A lesson I learned a long time ago as a lawyer. If the choice is between doing the work for someone else and not getting paid and not doing the work and not getting paid, take the second every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Oh, and the other lesson I learned is called the prostitute's principle. The value of a prostitute's service is dramatically less after the service has been completed, get the money up front.


  • Greta S. August 16, 2010 12:50 am

    Great advice, thank you!