The 50% Rule of Being a Professional Photographer

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Olympus Pen F product images (1 of 1)ISO 4001-40 sec

Professional Photographers have one really big goal: to make money. It’s the goal of every commercial business and it’s become more of an issue over the years when it comes to sharing images. But that’s not necessarily what we’re here to talk about.

Instead, one of the biggest things that photographers consider when it comes to pricing themselves is what’s called the 50% rule. In essence, what it means is that more or less half of what you make is going to go into taxes, expenses, etc. To that end, you need to find a way to price yourself accordingly.

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So let’s look at this a little closer now from a more conventional and understandable way that most folks will get then move up the line. You, yes you, reading this article probably have a day job of some sort. Most of the Phoblographer’s readers are semi-professionals and aiming to make money in one way or another with their photos. So let’s look at your day job. Let’s say you’re a Social Media Manager, you’re probably making for argument’s sake $85,000 a year. Now that’s before taxes. After taxes it’s probably more like $60K. Again, saying this for argument’s sake.

Considering this, can you sit there and say to yourself that you’re alright with that pay? If not, then you’ll probably look for another job or supplementary income. If you’re satisfied, then cool! Stay where you are.

Let that settle in right now.

When you go full time pro, you’re probably going to open up an LLC depending on whether you’re working alone or with a team. At that point, you’re the one in charge of getting all the expenses paid, compensating for travel, upkeep, etc. What you need to keep in mind first and foremost are your costs.

Let’s say you make $100,000 for the year. It is very highly possible that you’ll make $50,000 after you consider the expenses which include taxes, insurance, commuting, website fees, copyrights, marketing, business dinners/lunches, etc. Again, this is for arguments sake–sort of. In NYC, taxes for LLC owners can be around 47%. It’s pretty nuts.

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So how does this factor into your pricing structure. I’m going to break this down into the relation that I for some odd reason wanted to get back into wedding photography.

If I charged $2,000 for a wedding then I theoretically am only making $1,000 from it. And that $1,000 is what I’m getting paid for shooting, editing and delivery. Then you have to factor in the quality of my work, the time I’m taking to both shoot and edit, etc. If I take two weeks to really get all of this done, then that means I’m getting paid essentially $500/week. There is no way in hell that’s worth it to me. It’s tough to make it by on $200/week in NYC. In fact, I’d deem it nearly impossible.

If I get all that done within one week, then let’s equate that to the average American work week of 40 hours. In that 40 hours, I can shoot the wedding, edit, etc. It makes sense for me, just barely.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Think Tank Retrospective Leather Camera Bag review prodcut images (6 of 11)ISO 4001-100 sec at f - 1.4

Now that’s if I’m doing one wedding a week. In between, I need to meet with people, have negotiations, etc. Sometimes work weeks will be over 40 hours. Then it becomes the issue of whether or not I can justify 80/hr at $1,000/week. The answer: no way.

So with this structure, you need to be able to figure out what you can afford to live on, what you have to bring in on a monthly basis, and what will help you to grow and put money in the savings account.

Then, you need to justify your prices to a client.

That part is a whole other story.