How to Figure Out What To Charge For Your Portrait Photography

One of the biggest mysteries that any photographer that wants to go pro and semi-pro is what to charge for their portraiture services. It’s pretty tough and a lot of it is usually figured out by the company we keep. Many photographers will sit around asking their friends, parents, peers, colleagues, etc what to charge. But that’s one of the worst things to do because you’re probably not going to be targeting or trying to get money out of these people!

Instead, you’ll need to target a completely different demographic of folks. This isn’t an end all solution post, but it will surely help.

My Personal Process

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 80D portraits of Erica (1 of 7)ISO 1001-800 sec at f - 2.0

So before I go into how I figure out my prices and everything that determines them, let me explain to you my portraiture process.

  • Initial talk (my time)
  • Book me for a pretty long time, sometimes up to six hours
  • Spend time on Pinterest curating ideas and sketching them out based on our initial conversation (My time)
  • Pack gear (My time)
  • Travel. If I’ve got over $3,000 of gear, I’m taking an Uber. Not going to risk the subway. (My time and travel expenses)
  • Walk around neighborhood a bit to get location inspiration
  • Show up unless they swing by my place
  • Relax a bit first and grab a drink (if I bring whiskey, that’s a price. It helps people relax a bit.)
  • During the relaxation period I talk to them to really have them define who they are to me and go over what they want in the images, IE how they want to be portrayed. (our time)
  • Show them Pinterest and sketch ideas (time)
  • Go through wardrobe (time and my specific knowledge)
  • Grab gear while they’re changing (my knowledge)
  • Go to location around their place (time)
  • Shoot (my knowledge, conversation skills, posing skills, lighting skills)
  • The first session is usually a throw away because we need to get comfortable
  • Go back to their place
  • Get a new outfit
  • Go back out to shoot and maybe pick new gear
  • Repeat
  • Grab dinner or leave
  • Go home
  • Cull images (my time and knowledge)
  • Do initial basic edits and sync
  • Cull
  • Do fine tuned edits
  • Cull
  • Deliver

This is a typical process for me if it’s a proper portrait session. But with bigger clients, it’s often different and it will vary accordingly. Sometimes I may just port to my phone, edit there, and be done with it.

Taxes, Expenses, and Factors to Consider

Chris Gampat La Noir portrait in color (1 of 1)ISO 4001-160 sec at f - 1.8

Now here’s where this all gets very interesting; you’ve got your expenses but you also need to consider that in NYC, you’re basically forking over 50% of your profits over to Uncle Sam. Of course, this means that you incorporate your expenses into it first.

Think about this: If you charge $500 for a gig, then that means that all the time you’re spending will only mean you get paid $250 if you have no expenses. If you’re okay with that, then so be it. After an Uber back and forth, my expenses may bring the overall profits down to $450. Then take that and divide it by two and you’ve got $225.

There’s no way in hell that I can afford to be paid $250 or $225 per portrait session considering what I’m capable of.

Can you? Further, can you truly justify to yourself that what you’re doing is worth $250 not only in your time but also your talent?

The Questions to Ask Yourself

Green, Orange and Yellow

Green, Orange and Yellow

  • Can you deliver a unique product to your client that other people can’t really deliver?
  • How much are your expenses?
  • What about insurance?
  • What about LLC or business owner fees?
  • What are your weekly expenses?
  • What about your retirement fund?
  • How good of a shooter are you actually? Are you confident enough to state that you’re better than most other people in your area?
  • Will you have rental fees?
  • How much time is this gig really going to take away from you?
  • Will it dip into your doing other gigs?
  • Will this person pay your price?
  • Do they see the value in what you’re doing?
  • Do they see enough value in what you’re doing to actually pay the prices that you’re charging?
  • If no, then who would pay this price?
  • How do you go after that clientele with the coffers to pay what you can charge?