How To Get Over Your Fears And Raise Your Prices as a Photographer

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A Guest post by Jenika McDavitt from Psychology for Photographers.

At all levels of income, the typical response is that one needs 20% more to be happy.” – Richard Easterlin

top-left-of-article.jpgThe photographer’s equivalent to Dr. Easterlin’s statement is probably “Whatever you charge for your work, the typical response is that you’re 20% too expensive.”  Like clockwork, I’ve been told my photography is too expensive at $75, $100, $300, $500, $1200, and $2000 price points.  But why?

Anchors Aweigh

First, photography is one of the worst victims of something called the anchoring bias: Our tendency to grab on to a certain number and weigh everything else against it.  Even if that anchoring number has been pulled out of the air, or is largely irrelevant to the situation, people will cling to it when evaluating everything else.  For example, a person from a small town might think taxis in their town are too expensive.  But a New Yorker who visits that small town will think “Whoa, these taxis are cheap!!”  It’s the same taxi and the same price – but reactions are different because the two people have a different anchor for how much a taxi “should” cost.

People are used to paying $5 for 50 prints at the corner grocery store and under $30 for a packet of school photos.  Thus, most people’s “anchor” for photography pricing is probably somewhere between $5-30.  So they wonder: Why would they want to lay down a hundred bucks, let alone two grand, for your services?
The hard truth is, no matter what you charge, you will always be too expensive to someone, especially those whose “anchor” is a grocery store.   You might as well price your work profitably, and in the meantime, work to “re-anchor” your potential clients to your price range.  Here’s how:

1.  Create your own profitable pricing list and stick to it

Raise Your Prices-2.jpg
Don’t steal someone else’s pricing because it “looks right” – you need to understand exactly how you arrived at your numbers.  If you take your pricing from some other photographer, it’ll be harder to stick to your guns when clients pressure you to accept a lower rate.  When you feel desperate for work, one price grabbed out of the air won’t be much different than another.  Understanding your own overhead costs and profit margins helps you be firm, because you’ll quickly see what that discount would really cost you.  (If you’re struggling with setting profitable pricing, I recommend Easy as Pie by Alicia Caine.  My highest sale before buying that e-book was $500, my first sale after implementing my Easy As Pie pricing list was $4000.  Well worth the investment.)

2. Spell out to potential clients exactly why your services are worth what you charge

Most people understand why taxis in NYC are more expensive than in their hometown.  But many people may not see the difference between your photos and a mall studio, except that your photos are taken at a park.  (But since using the park was free, why would you be more expensive?)  Make sure your website describes in lavish, dazzling detail exactly what they will get from working with you.  Blog regularly about the experience clients receive, how unhurried and fun each session is.  I recently blogged a breakdown of the time I spend on each client (23-34+ hours), and potential clients told me they had no idea!

Make it clear how much effort you put in on their behalf, and what that means for their life and family.  Only then will they see how their previous price anchors don’t apply to your business.

3. Don’t count on the quality of your work speaking for itself

 
Too many photographers fall into the trap of counting on clients to perceive the high quality of their photographs and thus believe that their services are worth more money.  But consider: when you started in photography, I bet you were more easily awed by professional photographs.  Now, after putting in hundreds of hours taking and looking at photographs, I bet you have gotten progressively more picky about technical sloppiness.

Your clients are not photographers.  They are not going to immediately recognize soft focus, clipped highlights and shadows, Photoshop overcorrections, etc.  Some may honestly not see the difference between your honed skills and your neighbor down the street who just picked up a camera yesterday.  There needs to be a more compelling reason for them to pull out the checkbook.  You might make it a part of your regular blog conversation to post a few SOOC/post-processing comparisons, do a “year in review” and talk about how much you’ve grown over the year.  Even non-experts can appreciate jumps in quality when they see things side-by-side.

4. Don’t change prices too often

Raise Your Prices.jpg
Your current prices are an anchor for past clients.  Wedding photographers are not aiming for repeat wedding clients (hopefully!), so they can raise their prices more frequently with less anchor damage.  But a mother who did her newborn session with you may be shocked to come back at six months and find that your rates have doubled.  It’s easier to set a profitable pricing list right now (which usually represents one significant jump), perhaps taking time to explain to past clients that in order to be around to serve them long-term you have made some adjustments, but that you value their business and look forward to working with them again. Then tweak only once or twice a calendar year thereafter.

If you set a profitable price list and find that you need to make an increase, consider keeping your session fee the same and adjust the prices of your products.  Session fees stick in people’s minds, so big session fee jumps can induce more sticker shock than nudging up the price of your canvases.

5) Don’t make this Mistake

People are not always explicitly aware that they have price anchors, or that they are using them to evaluate you.  They simply think “too expensive,” and move on.  Thus, it’s important that you make it clear to clients that you’re in a totally different category from mall studios or DIY prints so that they don’t simply think “photography” and grab on to their grocery store price anchor.

When you market to differentiate yourself, you may find it tempting to focus everything on YOU.  MY photography is better quality, I provide great service, MY business is better than their business, etc.  This is a mistake.  People don’t care about how great your business is if it’s not totally clear what’s in it for them. Ask them: Imagine what it would be like to have a relaxed, unrushed, 2-hour photography session where there was no stress, just family fun.  Imagine personal service, no waiting in lines, no hurry-up-and-decide pressure.  Imagine a professional retouching each image and ensuring that it looks beautiful.  Give them a clear picture of what they will get out of an experience with you. This will help them let go of those frustrating anchors and better see the value of your services.

Jenika McDavitt blogs over at Psychology for Photographers, helping photographers run smarter businesses through a savvier understanding of human behavior.  Wave hello on Facebook here!

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  • Maximo Almonte

    What an awesome Article. Very helpful as i too was stuck on what to charge and what to offer. Really helps out a lot.

  • Don

    This is information is very informative and can be applied to other businesses other than photography. Thank you for sharing, especially the last point.

  • Jenika, Why does what you write here sound such common sense when in reality, most of us through lack of confidence in our abilities would so readily grab on to the lowest anchor point that would make us feel comfortable. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not in a position to charge for making people happy, just yet. But in a couple of years time, I hope to be.
    I’m still learning, I like landscape and street photography, (some here: http://366andallthat.wordpress.com/ ) I feel comfortable shooting them. But that’s exactly why this Sunday, I’m attending a workshop on portrait photography, (It scares me somewhat). I don’t have much confidence in talking to people for the first time, or at least till I get to know them. So I’m going to get, uncomfortable, and get past my own psychological anchor point. So that when the time comes, I’ll be a success at whatever I take on photography wise.

    Thanks for the inspiring words. And I’ll check out the PSP website.

    Mike.

  • Hi

    One well known portrait photographer from LA said you have to sell your Style first, then the price is what you demand. One does not want to get into a pricing war.

    We charge $100/hr for environmental work – this one was jsut for fun

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/dont-mess-with-texas/

  • Oh man what perfect timing! I’ve just been scratching my head about how I’m going to up the ante for this year in offering my services.

    I do car and motorsports photography for http://CustomPinoyRides.com

    I’ve been doing a lot of research about how to raise prices and that type of information is not that easy to come by. So what you have right here might just help me in raising my prices! Thank you for sharing!

  • raghavendra

    This is the article many photographers waited for!

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com

  • Anything that increases my prices from $0 is probably a good idea. I’ve only taken donations to this point, but never felt I was consistent enough to charge beforehand.
    However, I get too much feedback that the images are worth something – I’ve got to set up a price chart.

    Flickr:

    http://bit.ly/oufr4c

  • Thank you Jenika for sharing your ideas and experience on photography. I have never heard the term “price anchor” before, but now I feel like I should have long ago. This will help me when negotiating with potential clients. I will definitely take your advice and put up some blog posts on the time that goes into delivering final images for clients. Thanks again.

  • This article just came at the right timing. I am in the process of setting my prices and this will help a lot

  • This is perfect, I’ve just quit my job as a head photographer at a studio and have gone into business for myself. The prices I charge for myself are easily $3000 cheaper then the studio rates for my work. Yet I spend more time processing images, consulting clients and give them a more personal approach. Its hard to put a price on your own work however this article reminded me that my service is worth paying for.

    Thank you.

  • Average Joe

    Such great advice! Superb article. This is definitely something I needed to hear- thank you so much.
    I’m very glad this blog is here because so much constructive advice and ideas come out of it. Loving dPS!

  • ccting

    Wow great…
    It just like comparing brightness of an object with surrounding.
    “I found the object is too bright for me ” when it is surrounded with dark background;
    ” I found that the object is too dark for me” when it is back-lit by sun.

    Same applies to pricing.
    hehe

  • This is a very insightful and helpful article. Many thanks for posting this information for everyone in the photography community. Pricing is probably one of the most sensitive and challenging aspects for photographers. If pricing isn’t the challenge, then defense of the pricing comes as a close second.

  • Wow, love this article. Thank you for giving this kind of advice of what I need to do. Some has asked me how much I charge them and I was like ummm I have to figure it out and do some research. One thing I dont like the utmost in the same church we go to. The lady who does her own business as a photographer and I’m also the photographer, plus I get tired of hearing the pastor mention her the best photographer as I thought I do the same thing just to show how brag she is. I’m more humble and dont show any brag or suck up my nose like she does. I’ve taken the family portraits right during the holiday.
    That title which I love/like what you post about >>>> “When you market to differentiate yourself, you may find it tempting to focus everything on YOU. MY photography is better quality, I provide great service, MY business is better than their business, etc. This is a mistake.” <<< I LOVE THIS TYPE AS SOMEONE WHO BRAG SAYING THEIRS IS BETTER THAN WHAT I see on her taking photos. That because I use Nikon and hers is Canon Camera. Whoa what a sucker camera is a camera.

  • When I first started charging I was getting $99 a pop and I always felt cheap doing so. I eventually realized that I was well worth more than that. Once I raised my rates my client base changed and grew for the better.

    I never charged more just because… I charged more because I am worth it.

  • Jenika,

    Good work.

    One way to reanchor our prices is to compare our fees with other products during the consultation. For example, I compare my centerpiece display portrait to a large tv, both are in the $2500 – $3500 range. A smaller display portrait, like a bedroom tv, is in the $500- $1,000 range. Likewise, a small Thomas Kincaide print is in the $1,000 range. “Mrs Jones, unlike the tv, you won’t want to trade in your portrait for a new one in 2 years; it is the only thing in your home that will appreciate in value.”

    As far as the marketing, as photographers, we overemphasize our work. It’s natural. We’re excited our work. It’s what we love. It’s a part of us. We think it’s the what the matters. It’s not; it’s the why.

    Focus – sorry – on the why first. Why do they want to get the portrait done now? Why do you love creating family portraits, children…? Why is it important to display something meaningful and beautiful in their home?

    Reanchor their prices and whys; the what will happen.

    Michael Adams
    michaeladams.net
    mamarazziworkshops.com

  • thank you for the article!

    if you don’t value yourself other people won’t either.

    discounts can be tricky too. we prefer to do free work for projects we really want to do, and charge full-price for everything else. you can always give a little extra – longer time, include a few extra images if you want to make a good impression. discounting devalues your work and makes your prices seem to high. plus, it takes away options – you tick off competitors who could help you, you can’t afford the best equipment, the best help, you can’t afford to advertise, etc. it is a downward spiral.

  • Great post!
    Unfortunately, #3 is so true. I can’t count how many times I have seen a terrible portrait somewhere and overheard people raving about how beautiful it was. I think it ultimately comes down to being able to create something that they cannot create themselves – which basically means you have to learn about lighting.

  • James Codding

    As I have recently taken up photography, and am still learning, I have not advanced to taking photos for others. I did recently take photos of our high school choir for a fund raising concert they put on, and “sold” the photos with the proceeds going to the choir for outfits. As I had never sold photos before, and knowing we are in a low income area, I set a fairly low price for several hundred photos, to encourage donors. No photo editing beyond basic light enhancing on some in the dimly lit hall. But we did a decent amount of sales for what we were expecting.

    But, looking at this article, I can have some idea where to start pricing once I do get further along in my skills.

  • My problem is that in a market like today where everyone and their mother is a photographer, it is so hard to compete.
    I charge $100 for a photo shoot, but some friends of mine have said I’m charging too little. But now a days there are so many people offering photo shoots for $50. I’m not going to lower my prices by no means, but it does make me feel like I can’t raise them.
    Private photography is a constant growing market. At least here in Virginia it is. Even in all the mom play groups I’m in.. there is at least eight other local photographers advertising their services.

  • Excellent article. We need to hear this stuff every day. I get so tired of justifying my pricing. People don’t understand the backside of the appointment that takes 30 hours to edit and prepare their photos and packaging.

    I’ve actually incorporated some of your wording from this article into my website pricing packages. I like the part of trying to have them imagine a no rush, no pressure fun play time family photo shoot. No immediate decisions and customized service. Very important words there. I like it. Thank you!

  • ABHISHEK ANAND

    thanks for this article, the biggest problem i am facing in my photography is when i meet my potential client for shoot and they often ask me to lower my charges.Now i can handle this situation better.

  • Juan

    Amazing post!! It feels like “I do not discuss my business. But consider you will have this and that, which are pretty nice to have”. Good marketing advice.

  • Some good points here, it doesn’t pay to discount….. and if they expect that; it shows they don’t value your work. Point 3 is valid, sometimes when showing work to a client, I will pause to explain and point out subtle things like rim lighting in a portrait.

  • Great information, well presented. There’s a saying that “you teach other people how to treat you” through your behavior. When I give the work away or price low I’m telling people they don’t need to value what I do. I recently participated in an art event where I set my prices closer to where I want them to be. It was a struggle to do that, but I’m so glad I did. I didn’t sell a lot, but I gained respect and let people know how I expect to be regarded. The people who did buy are delighted to have my work. That’s what I’m looking for.

  • This is such a FANTASTIC article. Thank you so much for sharing! Some of it I’ve learned previously, but much of it was written from a different perspective that was really helpful. Thank you for all the great advice!

  • This is a fantastic article!

Some Older Comments

  • tomas haran April 12, 2013 06:17 am

    This is a fantastic article!

  • Victoria Livingston August 27, 2012 01:36 am

    This is such a FANTASTIC article. Thank you so much for sharing! Some of it I've learned previously, but much of it was written from a different perspective that was really helpful. Thank you for all the great advice!

  • Brenda Lindfors February 18, 2012 03:40 am

    Great information, well presented. There's a saying that "you teach other people how to treat you" through your behavior. When I give the work away or price low I'm telling people they don't need to value what I do. I recently participated in an art event where I set my prices closer to where I want them to be. It was a struggle to do that, but I'm so glad I did. I didn't sell a lot, but I gained respect and let people know how I expect to be regarded. The people who did buy are delighted to have my work. That's what I'm looking for.

  • Paul February 15, 2012 07:36 am

    Some good points here, it doesn't pay to discount..... and if they expect that; it shows they don't value your work. Point 3 is valid, sometimes when showing work to a client, I will pause to explain and point out subtle things like rim lighting in a portrait.

  • Juan February 11, 2012 01:32 pm

    Amazing post!! It feels like "I do not discuss my business. But consider you will have this and that, which are pretty nice to have". Good marketing advice.

  • ABHISHEK ANAND February 11, 2012 03:58 am

    thanks for this article, the biggest problem i am facing in my photography is when i meet my potential client for shoot and they often ask me to lower my charges.Now i can handle this situation better.

  • Tammy February 11, 2012 03:06 am

    Excellent article. We need to hear this stuff every day. I get so tired of justifying my pricing. People don't understand the backside of the appointment that takes 30 hours to edit and prepare their photos and packaging.

    I've actually incorporated some of your wording from this article into my website pricing packages. I like the part of trying to have them imagine a no rush, no pressure fun play time family photo shoot. No immediate decisions and customized service. Very important words there. I like it. Thank you!

  • Hannah February 10, 2012 08:07 am

    My problem is that in a market like today where everyone and their mother is a photographer, it is so hard to compete.
    I charge $100 for a photo shoot, but some friends of mine have said I'm charging too little. But now a days there are so many people offering photo shoots for $50. I'm not going to lower my prices by no means, but it does make me feel like I can't raise them.
    Private photography is a constant growing market. At least here in Virginia it is. Even in all the mom play groups I'm in.. there is at least eight other local photographers advertising their services.

  • James Codding February 10, 2012 06:32 am

    As I have recently taken up photography, and am still learning, I have not advanced to taking photos for others. I did recently take photos of our high school choir for a fund raising concert they put on, and "sold" the photos with the proceeds going to the choir for outfits. As I had never sold photos before, and knowing we are in a low income area, I set a fairly low price for several hundred photos, to encourage donors. No photo editing beyond basic light enhancing on some in the dimly lit hall. But we did a decent amount of sales for what we were expecting.

    But, looking at this article, I can have some idea where to start pricing once I do get further along in my skills.

  • Larry Lourcey February 10, 2012 04:53 am

    Great post!
    Unfortunately, #3 is so true. I can't count how many times I have seen a terrible portrait somewhere and overheard people raving about how beautiful it was. I think it ultimately comes down to being able to create something that they cannot create themselves - which basically means you have to learn about lighting.

  • deborah February 10, 2012 04:35 am

    thank you for the article!

    if you don't value yourself other people won't either.

    discounts can be tricky too. we prefer to do free work for projects we really want to do, and charge full-price for everything else. you can always give a little extra - longer time, include a few extra images if you want to make a good impression. discounting devalues your work and makes your prices seem to high. plus, it takes away options - you tick off competitors who could help you, you can't afford the best equipment, the best help, you can't afford to advertise, etc. it is a downward spiral.

  • Michael February 10, 2012 04:08 am

    Jenika,

    Good work.

    One way to reanchor our prices is to compare our fees with other products during the consultation. For example, I compare my centerpiece display portrait to a large tv, both are in the $2500 - $3500 range. A smaller display portrait, like a bedroom tv, is in the $500- $1,000 range. Likewise, a small Thomas Kincaide print is in the $1,000 range. "Mrs Jones, unlike the tv, you won't want to trade in your portrait for a new one in 2 years; it is the only thing in your home that will appreciate in value."

    As far as the marketing, as photographers, we overemphasize our work. It's natural. We're excited our work. It's what we love. It's a part of us. We think it's the what the matters. It's not; it's the why.

    Focus - sorry - on the why first. Why do they want to get the portrait done now? Why do you love creating family portraits, children...? Why is it important to display something meaningful and beautiful in their home?

    Reanchor their prices and whys; the what will happen.

    Michael Adams
    michaeladams.net
    mamarazziworkshops.com

  • Jai Catalano February 9, 2012 01:08 pm

    When I first started charging I was getting $99 a pop and I always felt cheap doing so. I eventually realized that I was well worth more than that. Once I raised my rates my client base changed and grew for the better.

    I never charged more just because... I charged more because I am worth it.

  • Reddy February 9, 2012 12:32 am

    Wow, love this article. Thank you for giving this kind of advice of what I need to do. Some has asked me how much I charge them and I was like ummm I have to figure it out and do some research. One thing I dont like the utmost in the same church we go to. The lady who does her own business as a photographer and I'm also the photographer, plus I get tired of hearing the pastor mention her the best photographer as I thought I do the same thing just to show how brag she is. I'm more humble and dont show any brag or suck up my nose like she does. I've taken the family portraits right during the holiday.
    That title which I love/like what you post about >>>> "When you market to differentiate yourself, you may find it tempting to focus everything on YOU. MY photography is better quality, I provide great service, MY business is better than their business, etc. This is a mistake." <<< I LOVE THIS TYPE AS SOMEONE WHO BRAG SAYING THEIRS IS BETTER THAN WHAT I see on her taking photos. That because I use Nikon and hers is Canon Camera. Whoa what a sucker camera is a camera.

  • TIA International Photography February 8, 2012 12:16 pm

    This is a very insightful and helpful article. Many thanks for posting this information for everyone in the photography community. Pricing is probably one of the most sensitive and challenging aspects for photographers. If pricing isn't the challenge, then defense of the pricing comes as a close second.

  • ccting February 8, 2012 10:44 am

    Wow great...
    It just like comparing brightness of an object with surrounding.
    "I found the object is too bright for me " when it is surrounded with dark background;
    " I found that the object is too dark for me" when it is back-lit by sun.

    Same applies to pricing.
    hehe

  • Average Joe February 8, 2012 08:59 am

    Such great advice! Superb article. This is definitely something I needed to hear- thank you so much.
    I'm very glad this blog is here because so much constructive advice and ideas come out of it. Loving dPS!

  • Hilary Cam February 7, 2012 01:16 pm

    This is perfect, I've just quit my job as a head photographer at a studio and have gone into business for myself. The prices I charge for myself are easily $3000 cheaper then the studio rates for my work. Yet I spend more time processing images, consulting clients and give them a more personal approach. Its hard to put a price on your own work however this article reminded me that my service is worth paying for.

    Thank you.

  • james February 7, 2012 08:04 am

    This article just came at the right timing. I am in the process of setting my prices and this will help a lot

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer February 7, 2012 07:43 am

    Thank you Jenika for sharing your ideas and experience on photography. I have never heard the term "price anchor" before, but now I feel like I should have long ago. This will help me when negotiating with potential clients. I will definitely take your advice and put up some blog posts on the time that goes into delivering final images for clients. Thanks again.

  • gnslngr45 February 7, 2012 03:58 am

    Anything that increases my prices from $0 is probably a good idea. I've only taken donations to this point, but never felt I was consistent enough to charge beforehand.
    However, I get too much feedback that the images are worth something - I've got to set up a price chart.

    Flickr:

    http://bit.ly/oufr4c

  • raghavendra February 7, 2012 03:44 am

    This is the article many photographers waited for!

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com

  • THE aSTIG @ CustomPinoyRides.com February 7, 2012 02:58 am

    Oh man what perfect timing! I've just been scratching my head about how I'm going to up the ante for this year in offering my services.

    I do car and motorsports photography for http://CustomPinoyRides.com

    I've been doing a lot of research about how to raise prices and that type of information is not that easy to come by. So what you have right here might just help me in raising my prices! Thank you for sharing!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck February 7, 2012 02:51 am

    Hi

    One well known portrait photographer from LA said you have to sell your Style first, then the price is what you demand. One does not want to get into a pricing war.

    We charge $100/hr for environmental work - this one was jsut for fun

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/dont-mess-with-texas/

  • MikeC366 February 7, 2012 01:45 am

    Jenika, Why does what you write here sound such common sense when in reality, most of us through lack of confidence in our abilities would so readily grab on to the lowest anchor point that would make us feel comfortable. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not in a position to charge for making people happy, just yet. But in a couple of years time, I hope to be.
    I'm still learning, I like landscape and street photography, (some here: http://366andallthat.wordpress.com/ ) I feel comfortable shooting them. But that's exactly why this Sunday, I'm attending a workshop on portrait photography, (It scares me somewhat). I don't have much confidence in talking to people for the first time, or at least till I get to know them. So I'm going to get, uncomfortable, and get past my own psychological anchor point. So that when the time comes, I'll be a success at whatever I take on photography wise.

    Thanks for the inspiring words. And I'll check out the PSP website.

    Mike.

  • Don February 7, 2012 01:44 am

    This is information is very informative and can be applied to other businesses other than photography. Thank you for sharing, especially the last point.

  • Maximo Almonte February 7, 2012 01:31 am

    What an awesome Article. Very helpful as i too was stuck on what to charge and what to offer. Really helps out a lot.

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