When starting out as a freelance photographer, one of the most important questions asked is ‘How much do I charge for my services?’ and with so many factors to consider it can be quite a challenge to decide what the correct rate should be.
The best approach is to firstly find out what other freelancers charge, which means carrying out a bit of a ‘mystery shopper’ exercise. Call various freelancers, or ask friends to help you if you feel the need to remain anonymous – and then maybe ask for a typical price for a specific project. For example – photographing a wedding, or a three hour studio session to photograph a family with two children. Or if you tend to work on more commercial projects, maybe ask for a standard rate for a half day studio shoot or a one day location shoot.
The key thing with any pricing structure is that you must be able to live on your income. So work backwards. Decide how much you need to make per month (after putting at least 30% of all income aside for your tax) and then work out what your hourly rate for billable work must ideally be. Remember of course that not all your hours in a week will be chargeable, as you will need time for admin, marketing, attending meetings and so on.
Once you have all of this information you can then make sure that you pitch your pricing correctly, but remember to take into consideration the following:
Charging based on experience
A junior photographer with a limited portfolio, or one that has just left college, is of course not going to be able to command the same rates as a highly experienced one that has been working for 30 years and has an impressive portfolio of work. It is really just a case of being sensible and knowing what you are worth. It’s also true that some customers will pay more than others. As soon as you start talking to a prospect, you’ll instantly get a feel for whether they are expecting a full day shoot and 500 10” x 8” prints for a fiver, or have far more money to throw around!
Charge more for higher value services
The next thing to consider is that you might not want to charge the same rate for all your services. For example, many photographers charge one hourly rate for studio work but a different rate for location work. Likewise, children and pets are always going to take longer to shoot than adults and you will need to take this into account as well – either by charging more, or allowing more time. With commercial work, again rates may need to vary depending on how complex you believe the project is going to be.
As a guide, anything between £20 and £50 per hour seems to be around the right figure depending on the type of work, but this is of course just rough ideas based on our own information. It is definitely worth doing your own research – as rates may also vary depending on where you are in the country. For example, a freelance photographer in London will undoubtedly charge more than one in rural Wiltshire.
Consider different rates for consumer vs commercial work
Another thing to consider is whether you charge different rates depending on the type of client. For example, a consumer who just wants some nice pictures of their child might not have too much money to play with, whereas a commercial marketing department will probably not flinch at £50 per hour. With consumers especially though, there is always the option to ‘up sell’ once the images have been taken – and charge for each print supplied. In fact, some photographers will carry out the sitting for free on the basis that the customer will buy multiple images afterwards, for rates which are well over the physical cost of production.
Another thing to bear in mind is that, if you carry out commercial work for design agencies, you may need to charge slightly less than if you were working for a company’s marketing department directly – as the agency will be marking up your rates and selling your services on. The payback of this of course is that, with an agency client, you are not just getting one customer – you are in effect getting potential business from all of their customers – with no marketing effort or ‘cost of sale’ to you once the relationship is established. So it’s only reasonable that you might need to charge a lower rate.
It’s easy to agree a price verbally and then never get round to formalising that. But it’s essential that you do – as you need to avoid misunderstandings later. With commercial work especially, be clear about the price you’re quoting and how many hours of work that actually allows for. And also make sure that your Terms and Conditions include details of whether you charge for meeting time, travelling time, expenses and so on. Just so there are no issues when you send in your invoice!
Charging for stock images
As a photographer, you are bound to take many images over the years, for example, landscape shots or abstract studio shots which can be used for many purposes. These can then be sold to image libraries on a ‘royalty free’ basis, providing you own the copyright 100%. Charging for these is generally more about what figure the image library in question is willing to sell them to customers at. With so many of them on the Internet now, chances of making millions from a single image are sadly somewhat reduced. It can be worth a try though – especially as a good image can sell many hundreds of times.
Rather than taking pictures of weddings and children, or images for marketing materials – some photographers prefer to opt for a different approach. This is usually down to personal preference and which type of photography you are best at.
Freelance photographers who take pictures of newsworthy events will then sell these afterwards to any publication that is interested and can command higher rates for some images or something which is exclusive. Again though, this is more about having the right shot (thanks to being in the right place at the right time) than it is about charging an hourly rate.