Earning a Living in Photography

Society has created a huge shift in the way people view professional photography. The true artists who have put so much of themselves into their passion are having to struggle with decisions on how to price their services to compete with people who simply own a nice camera and call themselves a business. It's very confusing for the customers when shopping because there is such a huge variety of rates.

So, you post the question on Facebook - "I need a photographer, who do you love?" And you get tons of responses and everyone can't say enough good things about whoever they worked with. As you begin looking into the options, Photographer A is charging $100 for a session and selling prints for $40+ or a disc for $500. And now you look at photographer B, they are charging $50 for a 1 hour session and a disc is included. Wow, now THAT sounds like a deal! 

This is the problem. Photographer A is charging the realistic amount they need to make a living while the other guy has absolutely no idea what to charge so they pick a number that sounds good. Sure, I'd like to make $50 an hour! The problem is, it is super unrealistic. Someone trying to make a living would NEVER make it on that amount because there is WAY more time put into someone's session than the 1 hour of shooting. It's not the customers' fault for looking for a bargain. It's the people with the nice cameras who start a Facebook page and claim to be professionals. They are devaluing the industry and making it worthless, just trying to make a quick buck. 

True professionals often have had some sort of education in either photography, business, or both. They have devoted time and money into learning their craft. They have invested thousands of dollars in the best equipment necessary to make beautiful artwork. They have insurance. They pay taxes. They have legalized their trade name. They have an Employer ID Number. They have a portfolio. They have experience. They have assistants, a real website, a logo, marketing materials, packaging materials, a CONTRACT. 50% of their income goes into the cost of producing your images and to pay taxes. At least 25% goes back into their business. And the final 25% is the actual profit. So what does a photographer really do other than spend an hour taking pictures? 

Well, here's what I do:

1. I get your email and send a reply.

2. We schedule your session.

3. I mail you the portrait contract; you mail it back with the retainer payment.

4. I record the payment in my accounting software and print a receipt.

5. I mail the receipt, a copy of the contract, and a welcome packet full of information for you and then record the shipping and welcome packet expense in my accounting software.

6. I email you the client consult form so we can finalize the details of your session.

7. I schedule an assistant for your session.

8. Two days before the session I send you a reminder email.

9. I print an invoice for your final balance.

10. I meet you on the session day, receive your payment, and we take your pictures!

11. I record the payment in my accounting software.

12. I go through the photos and select the best ones.

13. Within a day or 2 I edit and post an image from your session on Facebook and tag you.

14. I email you a blog form to fill out, which gives me ideas of what to write about in your sneak peek.

15. I edit half of the pictures and then blog your sneak peek within a week and send you the link.

16. I finish editing the pictures over the next week, rename/organize and upload the photos to my website and send an email with information on viewing and ordering your pictures.

17. I order your proof portfolio and record the expense in my accounting software.

18. I send an email reminder of your ordering appointment.

19. We get together to order any custom products.

20. I design your custom products (books, cards, boxes, etc.) and send you the proofs so you can approve your custom products.

21. I place the order with the professional lab and record the expense in my accounting software.

22. Once I receive your order, I check it over, load your images onto a USB and package it along with your print release, ordered items, and rep cards for you to give to your friends.

23. I deliver your order in person or ship it if you’re out of the area.

24. I will check in a final time with you to make sure you’re happy with your items and then mail a thank you card because I truly appreciate your business!

25. I pay the assistant who helped me with your session and record the expenses in my accounting software.


So many people think a professional photographer gets paid bookoo bucks when they are actually charging very little compared to the time commitment it takes to provide you with quality images, quality service, and an overall great experience. I easily spend 15 hours on a single session. If I charged $50 for everything, $12.50 would be my actual profit. That's .83 cents an hour. Who would want to work for .83 cents an hour?? Even with the rates I charge now, I'm still making less than minimum wage. My packages range from around $250 - 500. 

Undercutting, which is pricing far below the fair market value, driving out competition, is actually illegal. But it's not like any of these people are legally in business anyway. I have no problem with people who are new to the business charging less while portfolio building. I was there once too. But PLEASE tell your customers that is why they are getting a deal. Don't make people think that all photography is worth is .83 cents an hour! And if you just love taking pictures, DO NOT call yourself a business. Take pictures for FREE and call it what it is...a HOBBY.