Let’s say you’re an amateur photographer who can take pretty good photos, or someone who is just on the verge of starting a freelance photography business. You’re not quite as good as the pros who have advanced skills and expensive equipment (yet), but you’re good enough that you get positive comments from friends, family and co-workers.
When should you start charging for your work? In other words, when is the appropriate time to turn your photography from favors into business transactions?
I always like to use cars to illustrate these concepts. Just as there are top pros and budding amateur photographers, there are Porsches and there are Kias. A Kia is not Porsche by any means, but it’s still a car. It’s still got four wheels, a few seats and a motor. A Kia won’t command the same price point as a Porche, but there are some people willing to buy them.
To put it another way, you should charge for your photographs for the same reason that you charged for the lemonade that you sold at the edge of your driveway in the summertime. You certainly weren’t a professional lemonade maker, but you provided a product that had real value to those who bought it from you. You put your time and effort into the process, and even if some of your customers were only your parents’ friends, the monetary intent of those transactions was real.
As an 8-year old, you could only charge so much for Dixie cups full of lemonade, and likewise, as a new photographer, you can only charge so much for your imagery. You’re not as good (or as well-known) as Chase Jarvis or Joe McNally, but your imagery may very well have some value to a certain type of customer. You probably can’t get top dollar for your work, but you might be able to get something for it.
How much, you ask? In some ways that’s for the market to decide. The laws of supply and demand will dictate how much (if anything) you can get for your imagery.
Most likely, your first paying photography jobs will be shooting portraits or events. I started by charging for head shots for fellow musicians when I was attending Berklee College of music. Do some research, find out what other photographers in your area are charging for this kind of work and go from there. Start anywhere from half to two thirds of the going rate, and then negotiate if you have to. Maybe you’ll negotiate for some sort of trade instead of for money, and that’s perfectly okay; I still do work for trade. In fact, I just did some last week.
But if you’re shooting assignment work or licensing an image for stock, don’t undercut your price too much or give away too many rights just to get those first few sales under your belt. This kind of thing hurts other photographers, and it will end up coming back to bite you later on. Just because you’re a beginner, doesn’t mean you can’t establish good business practices from the start.
Don’t be afraid to talk with other photographers about how much you should charge. We’ve all been there before, and we recognize that shooters like you represent the future of our industry. We may even surprise you with some advice.
One good resource for this kind of thing is the Earning with Photography forum at the Digital Photography School website. There are quite a few helpful pros there who are more than eager to help out the newer photographers. Remember, everybody had to learn sometime. Someone taught us way back when, and most of us are eager to pass along our knowledge.
So when should you start charging for your photography? I say right now. How much should you charge? As much as the market will bear, realizing that good negotiation skills and basic economic laws will sort that stuff out if you asking too much.
Dan Bailey is a professional adventure, outdoor and travel photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska. He just published his latest eBook, Making The Image- A Conceptual Guide to Creating Stronger Photographs. Follow his own blog at danbaileyphoto.com/blog, see his daily updates at facebook.com/danbaileyphoto and follow him on Twitter @Danbaileyphoto.
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