How Do I Set My Prices?

Image courtesy of bplanet at

“How do I price my prints?” and “How do I price digital files?” are two big questions from anyone new to the photography business.

Let me tell you the wrong way:

For prints, find a nice pro print lab, then take the price they charge and double it.  Easy math. This results in things like $4x6s for $2, with 8x10s for $10… and the photographer figures since they doubled the price they’re making profit because they covered the cost of the print.

For digital files, the CD cost less than $1, the case was $1, and you won’t charge for the Sharpie you wrote the name down on the CD with.  Or, if you really splurge, you got nice printable CDs and printed on them, or bought a USB drive… basically, you covered the cost of the media storage, so you’re good!  Or, even worse, I just sent my client the photos by Dropbox, so it didn’t cost me anything so I don’ t have to charge much!

The assumption in these situations is that the physical delivery method of the images is what determines the price of the photos.  This assumption is WRONG.

What’s ON the paper or CD or USB drive or in that Dropbox file is what matters: the image itself.

You’re selling the image; the creation of which took your time (in the preparation, the shoot itself, and the post processing) and your talents (through education, training, practice).  Your image took not only you, but your equipment, quality camera, lenses, flashes, (maybe) studio lights and backgrounds, as well as computer and editing software.  And don’t forget your other overhead: insurance, business license, advertising (biz cards and web hosting too), utilities (if you have a separate studio or the portion of your home if in home), gas for travel to locations, and all the incidentals from props to packaging.

Put this way, how in the world do you figure out what to charge?

Here’s another wrong way: Google your local competition, see what they charge, and then set your prices to match theirs.

Why is this wrong? Because a whole lot of them are doing the things listed above, instead of valuing their time for creation.

Secondly, they aren’t you.

Here’s how you set your prices:

You figure out how much money you need to make a year: how much you need to gross to cover all your business costs and still pay your salary, and put money away for retirement in an account, and put money away in a business account for upgrades and still pay your taxes at the end of the year.   Then you divide it by the minimum number of sessions want to do that year.  That’s how much money you need to make off each session.

Looking at that, you may realize that your $2 4x6s are just not going to cut it.

You double the sessions. Still the same problem.

Welcome to reality.

There is no business model out there for portrait photography that lets you price based on the cost of the paper and be financially successful.

So what are you pricing on? INTANGIBLES.

An experience.

A memory.

A moment.


You’re selling art – and art is priceless.

So value yourself. Value your training. And your editing process. And your unique style.

You are more than a camera.  You are more than a button pusher.

What does your pricing say you are?



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