Monday, May 2, 2016

Why $300 Should Be A Professional Photography Minimum

I've run the numbers from here to the moon on what it takes to operate as a professional photographer for myself in multiple areas of the world, as well as for dozens of other photographer owners who've consulted with me, and one thing remains the same no matter how the numbers are crunched... it never makes sense to take a gig/job/headshot/portrait for less than $300.

The biggest reason for this bottom line is to make sure you've covered your costs, backup, insurance, and fail-safe options that allow you to operate as a professional, no matter what life throws at you.

For example, let's say a photographer charges $200 for a portrait shoot and they've collected half up front upon booking the shoot, but two days before the shoot, their apartment is robbed and camera equipment is gone.  The insurance deductible to replace everything is $500, but the photographer's credit cards are maxed out, and they were counting on this portrait shoot to provide a little cushion to get by.  The client can't reschedule their shoot because they need the images for a conference presentation in two days.  The photographer doesn't want to disappoint the client, so they need a back-up solution, and fast!!

The photographer figures they can use computers at the local library for processing images and uploading, but since the camera and lenses are in some thief's car trunk, they have to rent a kit to be delivered the next day.  How much will that cost?  About $240 for a very basic kit without any additional lighting, which is $40 more than the client is even paying for that $200 shoot!  On top of that, the photographer needs to pay for mileage, parking, and the online services to help make that shoot happen.  That $200 shoot may also have included all of the files as well, so there won't even be additional sales on the back-end to help pay the insurance deductible to replace equipment.  The price point has created a no-win situation for the photographer who can't operate as a professional and a disappointing situation for the client who counted on the professional they hired.

When creatives charge less than it takes to even RENT the gear needed to do the job, it puts the creative business in an UNPROFESSIONAL position of not being able to serve a client who has expected professional service.  When not charging enough to have easy access to backup equipment, is almost better to not charge anything at all, because at least then it won't attract the expectations that come with being a professional.  Once money is exchanged, a professional exchange is also assumed.

Now yes, there is always an exception.  For example, photographing 4 Rental Property Shoots for $75 each in one day with minimal post-production, which still ends up at $300 for one day of work.  Or doing 10 mini sessions at 15min each for $50 each in the same time and location, with the same amount of post-production as it would normally take for one $500 session.  Most often the frequent exception to the $300 minimum is in the case of guaranteed volume within the same day.

There is one more exception for the advanced professional - those who are really great with post-shoot sales can consistently take a $0 - $200 booking fee and turn it into an average of $1200 in revenue during a sales process after the shoot, with plenty of sales acumen to make up for a client who walks out and pays $0.  When a creative knows how to generate more revenue after a shoot, even when the starting price is low, they are also probably operating a business in such a way that they're already covered for emergency situations from previous sales.  However, this is not the case for most people who are in the under $300 category.

Now, when I wrote about this bottom line in another group, someone mentioned that they thought this would be considered industry "price fixing".  There always is and always will be room for discount pricing, sales, specials, and portfolio building individuals who charge less than a professional rate.  It's impossible to fix prices in an industry with millions of independent sellers.  However, it shouldn't deter individuals from establishing what would be considered a professional pricing strategy.

Being a professional means operating under the professional expectations of delivering your service and product no matter what life throws at you.  If you can't afford to rent all of the gear you need with the price that you charge, than it's time to take another look at your pricing and consider what it would cost to operate professionally in the face of unplanned circumstances.

Take Action: Know your rental options and costs in advance by pricing out a rental package that would be needed if everything you needed to do your job was stolen.  Below are some of the most popular national photographic rental companies: 

Lens Pro To Go
Based in Concord, MA

Borrow Lenses
Based in San Fransisco, CA & Boston, MA

Adorama Rentals
Based in New York, NY

Please take a moment to share this information with others to help inform the general public about what it takes to operate as a professional photographer so that together we can raise the expectations of what being a professional means in the photography industry.

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. With over 12 years of success as a full-time photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, and now architecture and interiors, she spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

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