Pricing for services isn’t rocket science, but when you’re just starting to lean into your career as a professional photographer, sometimes trying to find the right number to quote potential clients can seem really intimidating. If your quote is too low, you’re either going to get taken advantage of, or seen as low-value. If your quote is too high, you could be laughed at and dismissed by potential high-value clients who know better. Let me take the mystery out of it for you – it’s all about session fees, not the hourly rate. But that’s where we have to start. Get out your pencils and get ready to do some math to figure out your own session fee.
Start with this basic formula to figure out your Minimum Acceptable Rate:
- Decide how many Hours per Month you want to work
- Calculate your Monthly Personal Overhead (rent, utilities, groceries, student loan payments, etc.)
- Calculate your Monthly Business Overhead (cloud storage, internet, phone, business insurance, etc.)
- (Monthly Personal Overhead + Monthly Business Overhead) / Hours per Month = Minimum Acceptable Rate
Now that you’ve done that, time for some additional factors to figure out your Desired Hourly Rate. Such as, if you’re a great photographer, at least once a year you’re taking a course or workshop in a new technique. So what was the average cost of your professional development the past three years? What’s the cost of those workshops you’ve been eyeing to sign up for next year. You’ve got to get your laptop, lens, or camera body repaired from time to time. What was the average cost of repairs? What new gear to you plan to purchase, and how much does that cost? Average transportation costs? Meals and entertainment? And there’s no point in working until you’re exhausted and burnt out – factor in the cost of a vacation.
Take those projected averages for next year, divide it by 12, then divide that by the number of hours you want to work per month. Then then add those results to your Minimum Acceptable Rate.
Desired Hours/Month: 120
Monthly Personal Overhead: $3000
Monthly Business Overhead: $650
($3000 + $650) / 120 = $30.42 Minimum Acceptable Rate
Projected Costs of Professional Development: $1000
Projected Repair/Maintenance Costs: $450
Projected Acquisition Costs: $2500
Projected Business Travel Costs: $900
Projected Meals and Entertainment Costs: $2000
Desired Vacation(s): $3000
([$19,850 / 12] / 120) + $30.42 = $44.20 Desired Hourly Rate
Eyes crossed yet? Still with me? Good! Get ready to cross them some more. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and get back into the dirty work that comes with being a professional photographer.
I mentioned the term session fees. Here’s why: it simply isn’t profitable to commit to a shoot unless you’re charging for a minimum amount of time, and that chunk of time is what we will refer to as a session. Before we dive deeper into setting session fees, however, let’s calculate your kit fee.
Think of a kit fee as a rental fee that your clients pay you for the wear and tear on and use of your equipment. On film shoots, an art director’s kit includes paper tape, measuring tape, scissors, hammer, nails, glue, etc. A makeup artist’s kit includes their powders, brushes, makeup wipes, moisturizers, makeup chair, etc. Pro photographers charge for their kit, too. In order to calculate your own fee, make a list of all the equipment and software you use – your flashes, lenses, bodies, diffusers, laptop, Adobe Creative Cloud, etc. Then, go to websites like Samy’s or Adorama, check out their rentals sections, and look at how much they charge per day for the same items. Add it all up, and you’ve got your daily kit fee. Mine currently stands at $353, so we’ll use that amount for this exercise.
There are four session fee types I recommend you calculate:
- Half Day – Studio
- Full Day – Studio
- Half Day – Location
- Full Day – Location
As you can imagine, it’s all about the embedded costs, how many hours it takes for you to prepare for a shoot, time spent consulting with the client, and the minimum amount of hours you want to put in. Personally, I define a half day as 5 hours and a full day as 8 hours, so we’ll go with that.
Step 1: Calculate Session Minimum
Clients like to negotiate, and that’s fine. What’s not fine is that you devalue your time so much that you’re not being paid your minimum worth. Your session minimum is the lowest you’ll go when quoting an estimate for a potential client, and in my opinion, is best saved for non-profits and charitable organizations. You’ll get that number by multiplying your Desired Hourly Rate by your hourly minimums. In the last post, we calculated a Desired Hourly Rate of $44.20. Using 5 hours and 8 hours as our time standards, that would give us the following:
- Half Day Session Minimum: $221
- Full Day Session Minimum: $353.60
If you ever find yourself invoicing a client for your minimum rate, don’t forget to think about your kit fee – use your discretion on a case-by-case basis to decide whether you’ll include it.
Step 2: Calculate Prep + Wrap Hours for Studio Shoots
Again, there’s a lot that goes into properly preparing for a successful shoot. These are the main elements of prep you need to take into consideration. Think about how long it takes to accomplish them, and factor it in. The following time estimates that come included in my session fees are based on my personal experience:
- Client Consultation: 1 hour
- Pack & Check Equipment: 1 hour (if you’re renting studio space)
- Equipment Setup: 1 hour
- Roundtrip Travel: 1.5 hours (if you’re renting studio space)
- Shoot Wrap & Pack: .5 hours
- Memory Card Dump & File Management: .5 hours
- Photo Editing: 1 hour
Total time: 6.5 hours
Multiplied by the amount of the Desired Hourly Rate: $287.30
Step 3: Calculate Prep + Wrap Hours for Location Shoots
There are different factors to consider when you shoot on location, and they mainly have to do with location scouting ahead of time, setup time, wrap and packing time, and travel time. Here’s what comes included in my quotes:
- Client Consultation: 3 hours
- Pack & Check Equipment: 1 hour
- Equipment Setup: 1.5 hours
- Roundtrip Travel: 2 hours
- Shoot Wrap & Pack: 1 hour
- Memory Card Dump & File Management: .5 hours
- Photo Editing: 1 hour
Total time: 10 hours
Multiplied by the amount of the Desired Hourly Rate: $442
Step 4: Put It All Together
The next formula you have in front of you is Session Minimum + Prep/Wrap Rate + Kit Fee. And using that formula, coupled with the calculations we’ve made so far, here’s your finished fee schedule:
Half Day: Studio = $221 + $287.30 + $353 $861.30
Full Day: Studio = $353.60 + $287.30 + $353 $993.90
Half Day: Location = $221 + $442 + 353 $1016
Full Day: Location = $353.60 + $442 + 353 $1148.60
Whew! There you have it folks: a reality-based way to calculate the rates you should be charging your photography clients. If seeing the numbers laid bare like this intimidate you, then that’s a good thing. It forces you to value your time highly, and lets you know that you’ve got to only dedicate yourself to producing quality work. If these numbers laid bare like this look a little low to you, maybe your living expenses are higher because you live in an expensive city. Or maybe you’ve been overvaluing your time.
In any case, it is always worth it to stop, and spend some time thoughtfully setting your rates as session fees. There is power in knowing that there is no mystery to it; in fact, now you’re able to explain to skeptical would-be clients why your fees are what they are. Session fees ensure that not only your time is honored and valued, but also that you can professionally thrive and make a profit. In this world, the powers that be have decided that time is money. When you’re a talented professional, you’re entitled to every last cent that you’re worth for your time. Don’t be afraid to take a moment to define that worth in clear terms.