All photos © Sansom Photography
It’s one of the most commonly asked questions in our industry: what should I charge for my services? It’s quite the open ended question, and one for which the answer differs depending on the business in question. Sometimes, a photographer needs to be instilled with the confidence to push their pricing up to enable them to achieve the work/life balance they desire. For others, it’s recognizing that they may be charging a little too much. Pricing is likely to be a topic that will continue to pop up throughout every photographer’s career, but if you can get your head around a sensible and maintainable pricing method in the first few years, then you are almost certainly saving yourselves a whole lot of headaches down the line.
New businesses asking this question are often met with this old cliché: Charge what you’re worth.
But what ARE you worth?
Our start-up story is a little different to most businesses we speak to; in our first year we shot over 70 weddings. I should probably point out that those weddings were at the kind of prices that we wouldn’t even want to disclose. Twelve months in and we were tired out, struggling to pay the rent, and looking at another year of 50+ weddings with the kind of financial reward we could have gotten doing a whole host of other jobs. What we didn’t fully appreciate at the time was the non-financial value of our hard work those first couple of years.
One way or another, we had survived two years in business, and in that short time, we could already say we had shot more weddings than many photographers shoot in 4-5 years. Overworked and underpaid we may have been, but we were also confident, experienced and prepared to handle whatever a wedding day could throw at us.
We had always raised our prices regularly, but fear held us back from pushing the prices up enough to not just survive, but thrive as a business. As we began our third year, we felt our attitude towards pricing change. Our experience and confidence in our own abilities allowed us to increase our prices to a level that we would not have dared to aim for before then. We weren’t pricing based on a whim; we were doing it based on demand.
As we upped our prices, we realised that the increases weren’t being dictated by our wants or needs, but by the most basic of all business principals – Supply and Demand. It made the process of revising our prices simple, predictable, and, best of all, totally stable.
You are worth what your clients are willing to pay.
Now, I’m not for one moment advocating our initial – extremely flawed – business plan. In fact, for your own sanity, I’d strongly advise against it. But it seems there is a growing trend of new photographers jumping right into the higher pricing brackets, an approach that is as unpredictable as it is risky, and all too often a totally misunderstood practice.
Imagine for a moment that your business is a car. Starting out is like getting the car moving, with the end goal being cruising along in sixth gear. It doesn’t take much to find out what the pricing brackets are in your market; look at the cheap end of the market as first gear and the luxury end as sixth. Now, imagine trying to get your car going from fourth gear. It’s certainly possible, but you’re just as likely to stall completely. Even if you do get going, it takes a long time to get up to speed. Compare that to starting in first gear and moving up through the other gears as fast as possible.
Starting out with a lower price is an incredible way to kick-start your business, getting much needed experience FAST while building up a solid portfolio that shows potential clients that you are a wise investment. With so many photographers to choose from, clients are becoming increasingly savvy when it comes to photography. One of the first things that exposes inexperienced, overpriced photographers is their portfolio. The more a client is investing, the more proof they will need that you are experienced enough to handle whatever the day throws at you.
If you’re not moving forwards, you’re moving backwards.
More often than not, the hardest part about all of this is keeping your prices moving upwards, especially when you know that your current pricing gets bookings in at a rate of knots. Rather than looking at it like this, try to use those bookings as confidence builders, encouragement that you are indeed ready to charge more. As your confidence and skill grow, so too will the demand for your work.
Keeping track of enquiries and bookings is a great way to see how high the demand for your work is. It varies for everyone depending on how many weddings you would ideally like to shoot, but we always try to have a fully-booked year by at least June. If it’s later than that, then perhaps it’s time to see how you can add value to your work, improve the look of your site, or address any other issues that might be holding potential clients back. If you’re ‘fully-booked’ significantly earlier than that, it’s safe to say you could increase your prices.
Are you charging what you’re worth? Is it time to increase your prices?
Meet Your Contributors
We are Chris and Verity Sansom and together we run our wedding photography business Sansom Photography as well as our mentoring/teaching business ‘Work it Out’ (Launching soon). Over the last 5 years we have shot more than 240 weddings and we’re honoured to have received such awards as Junebug Best Of the Best (Weddings and Engagements 2015) and have been named as two of Rangefinder Magazine’s ‘Rising Stars of Wedding Photography’ 2015. We’ll also be speaking at the incredible Mystic Seminars 2017 as well as the Wedding Photography Select conference 2016.
We live in Yorkshire, England with our two cats called Ponyo and Angel as well as an energetic black Labrador called Kaya. We love exploring the countryside with our cameras and Chris was a finalist in Season 2 of Ninja Warrior UK. He’s working hard for series 3 already!