A Photographer's Pricing Exercise

Here is an exercise you need to go through in order to understand the importance of pricing. Let’s start with an engagement session. We shoot our engagement sessions on location and usually spend about an hour and a half with the client. We then edit the images—let’s say that takes us an hour. Then, after about two weeks, the client comes in to see their pictures and we spend an additional two hours reviewing and picking their images. At this point, we have 4.5 hours invested in the shoot.

Now, let’s consider selling a 4×6-inch print. I start with this size because it’s where I see a lot of mistakes in pricing, but the concepts are the same for any print size or product you want to offer. In fact, we refer to 4x6s, 5x7s, and 8x10s as “gift” sizes and price them all the same. Why? Because, in all reality, it costs me the same to produce all three of them.

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When calculating the cost of that 4×6-inch print, you have to keep in mind that you have about 4.5 hours invested in it. Nonetheless, I see a lot of new photographers asking $15 or less for these prints. If you are in this range, you are without a doubt losing money! When your client comes in and says, “Well, we just want to buy a couple of 4x6s and a big print for the wall . . . an 8×10 or something,” your jaw probably hits the floor—or it should! You have invested 4.5 hours of time and the client just paid less than $100 for it. And, mind you, this doesn’t even factor in any costs associated with gear, insurance, or the other various overheads involved in producing the product—let alone a profit. You’d be better off working at the mall.

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For our engagement sessions, we run about a $1,200 average. How do we get them to that number? It’s really simple, actually—and we put no pressure on our clients at all. So, let’s walk through it. We start at $50 for à la carte gift-size prints (again, those are the 4×6-, 5×7-, and 8×10-inch prints). Now, I can hear you all protesting, “There’s no way my clients are going to pay that much for a 4×6!” That’s great—because you don’t want them to. In fact, it drives me crazy when clients do pay for items off our à la carte menu.

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Instead, we work on a package system and run a low-pressure sales cycle. We do not push our clients and we have no minimum orders. We let them decide what they want to spend based on what products they want and the quality of their imagery. They are free to go à la carte, but they are going to pay more if they do. If they go with a package instead, they will see discounts of 20 to 40 percent off the à la carte prices. Starting to get the gist here?

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Prices drive consumer behavior. If your à la carte prices are too low, there is no incentive to go with a package. And if they don’t go with a package, why would you want to reward them for buying four small prints after you have invested your time and talent for several hours?

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@ Sal Cincotta for Amherst Media

About the Author
Sal Cincotta, went from weekend warrior to full time professional just 4 years ago and today runs a million dollar studio. Focusing on the the importance of building your business and brand on a solid foundation, Sal explores the fundamentals of starting your business off the right way and ensuring long term success.

Like a lot of new photographers, Sal had no formal training as a photographer. Instead, he has relied on his business school eduction and real world experience from companies like Procter and Gamble and Microsoft to establish and grow his business.

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In Behind the Shutter, the Business of Wedding Photography, Sal shares a wealth of information pertaining to the business of wedding photography and includes the secrets to his studio’s success.

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