Do Professional Photographers Really Make Money?

I’ll never forget within the first week of quitting my newspaper job (in February 2006) I was at the gym and someone asked me what I do for a living.

“I’m a wedding & portrait photographer” happily rolled off my tongue.

They perked right up and said “oh that’s a GREAT job! I bet you make a lot of money, since most weddings are like TWO-grand! And you have the weekdays off!”

Even at that point, I knew I wouldn’t be technically be pocketing that much per wedding and I knew I would be editing and marketing Monday-Friday.

But I had NO idea how the actual breakdown of a professional photographer’s fees would be.

I get a lot of inquiries asking about business tips or photography tips. I even have a workshop that allows these eager minds to pick my brain for a day.

But I wanted to set the record straight right here on my personal blog about being an artist: it isn’t glamorous (unless you become very, VERY famous).

I stick to my career because it is my passion and I can’t NOT do it. It’s how I think and everything around me inspires me to continue doing it.

With that being said, here’s a breakdown you may have never thought about.

Taxes – Remember when you were a teenager and you got your first paycheck?  I do. I was getting paid around $5.10/hour and after doing the math was expecting a paycheck for a certain amount.  As I opened it, I thought “what…on…earth?!”  It seemed short. Very short. Looking at the bottom of the stub, it showed the breakdown of why my check was about 30 percent shorter than I anticipated. Good ol’ Uncle Sam.

When a bride & groom cut a check for their photographer, about 30 percent of that check AUTOMATICALLY isn’t the photographer’s for the keeping.  It’s Uncle Sam’s.

My husband (the numbers guy) is diligent about transferring over this set percentage to a “tax savings” account. So at year-end, I have that tax money ready to hand over.

*added note: I realize that this seems like a high percentage. My husband & I agreed on his amount as a goal (not obtained 100% of the time) because we would rather have too much left over than not enough. If there is money left over, it goes into owner’s draw or towards a nice luxury overhead item at year-end.

Overhead – Being a professional photographer is DARN expensive. Beyond the normal phone, fax, computer, office supplies, website, etc. overhead, there’s membership fees, license fees, marketing, cost of prints & albums*, massive backup drives, insurance, seminars to stay on top of the latest trends, Adobe Lightroom & Photoshop software (and yearly upgrades) – I could go ON & on about this category.  It’s kind of the invisible category that people tend to overlook but it allocates a whopping 30 percent of every dollar that comes my way.

*a note on COGS*: I realize that cost-of-goods-sold is another category all together, but to me it is a percentage related to money that comes in & it is money that I “spend” to do business… that’s why I have it roughly plopped it this category.

Even with a home-office & studio, my overhead is upwards of several hundred dollars a month.  And this doesn’t include attending any awesome workshops or upgrading my computer. These are what I consider “luxury overhead” items and I only get to do them if I I have covered the essentials, have given myself a cushion for the next month, and make over a certain amount each month.

Equipment Savings – This is another overhead, but it’s so critical, it has it’s own category.  It takes a LONG time to save for a new camera body when you stash 10 percent at a time away.  Let’s put it this way:  a Canon 5D Mark II (with insurance & a warranty) is approximately $3,000.  That is 10 percent of $30,000.   If each wedding is $2,000, that’s 15 weddings. Or, if each portrait client spends $300, that’s 100 portrait sessions.

I realize equipment is a tool, but I also don’t advocate credit card debt (even though society does)…

I personally cannot actually handle that kind of volume (alone) without outsourcing or sacrificing quality of product.  (So, obviously, I need to make up for that in sales… that’s another blog post all together).

So when you hear a photographer getting a couple new big-ticket-items: camera body and nice L lens, you know they have either

a) saved for a year to do so

b) invested much more than 10 percent (borrowed funds from another “category”).

I guess there is another option there:

c) they have a sugar momma or fund their business with personal funds.  (And last I checked, I think they call that a “hobby”…)

Retirement – Ya, I want to retire someday and I thank my lucky-stars that my husband is so patient with me finally realizing I need to always, always put 10 percent of each check that comes in the door into the 401K.  Seriously, I can’t be hauling around 20+ pounds of gear in my senior-citizen days.

Taking retirement, college/vacation savings & the owner’s draw: money in your pocket category, that totals 30 percent. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a corporate employee putting 1/3 of their “take home pay” into their 401k.  So it does feel like a lot to save, because it is (proportionally speaking).

Savings College Fund (-or- Vacation Fund) – Maybe you don’t have a kid [yet], so you can call this your vacation fund. Either way, you will want to have a little nest-egg and 10 percent* is a nice round number to work with.

*a note on this: if you don’t have kids & don’t go on vacations, yes: this amount goes into your pocket… it is owner’s draw, but most people would love a getaway to recharge their batteries. Consider this percentage an investment in your mental health. 😉

Owner’s Draw – Owner’s Draw means money in your pocket. It’s like you are taking cash out of the business cash drawer. This is the category people often assume is the big one.  Nope. Maybe it is for your business model, but it isn’t for mine. Of course if I have a really good month, I’ll do the Happy Dance and want to spend a little extra on something my husband and I have been saving for, but in general, 10 percent is what I actually get to “pocket.”

Owner’s Draw isn’t always for fun things, however: this is also to pay our personal bills (*sigh* adult responsibilities).

So in case you haven’t been adding all this up in your head, here is the breakdown:

  • Taxes 30%
  • Overhead 30%
  • Equipment Savings 10%
  • Retirement 10%
  • College Fund 10%
  • Owner’s Draw 10%

Equals 100 %

For ease-sake, let’s drive this point home with a cut & dry example:

$2,000 for a wedding:

  • Taxes 30%  $     600.00
  • Overhead 30%  $     600.00
  • Equipment Savings 10%  $     200.00
  • Retirement 10%  $     200.00
  • College Fund (or Vacation Fund) 10%  $     200.00
  • Owner’s Draw 10%  $     200.00

Even when you lump Retirement, College Fund (or Vacation Fund) and Owner’s Draw into ONE category, that is $600 for a $2,000 wedding.

If you are doing the math and thinking, Heather: stop complaining! $600 / 8 hours of shooting = $75 per hour…. erase that concept from your mind!

There’s countless behind-the-scene hours that go into a wedding. I don’t just say that to make it sound like “so much work” goes into what I do, so I can charge more.  It’s completely and totally legit.  I tend to invest 60 hours of time in one wedding (start to finish: i.e. consultation, engagement portraits, travel, preparation, wedding, editing, album design, etc.). Most of that time is editing each image, but that’s my style and business model.

So, if you confirm that math $600 / 60 hours = $10 per hour.

And for every $30 dollars of that, I’m not even touching $20 (into 401K and college fund it goes…)

One more example. It’s pretty common for NEW photographers to charge for a session and images on CD. Let’s be generous and say they are charging $200:

  • Taxes 30%  $    60.00
  • Overhead 30%  $    60.00
  • Equipment Savings 10%  $    20.00
  • Retirement 10%  $    20.00
  • College Fund 10%  $    20.00
  • Owner’s Draw 10%  $    20.00

Hmmm, “pocketing” $20 for one session is kind of depressing.  They probably spend 6-8 hours (maybe longer) on shooting and editing this session.  For example-sake: if they spent 6 hours on it, they are making $3.33 / hour.  YIKES!

If you made it this far, you are either really excited about numbers, you are curious why photographers are “so expensive” or you are struggling with finding a balance with your photography business cashflow.

My answer? It’s not easy but I hope this breakdown helped put some perspective on what you need to do.

In the mean time, you can check out my work and help me send Little Dude to college by clicking over to my photography website and photography blog. 🙂

PS- Feel free to share this blog post & give credit to me by linking back to this post.

PPS- I realize everyones business model will vary, but many pro photogs will agree (once they crunch their own numbers), this is pretty accurate for the industry.

Please leave a comment below & share with your friends. All comments await my moderation.

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Amy - January 13, 2011 - 12:00 pm

Thank you for breaking it down! I still haven’t figured out how to do it as a single mother of two, so I work two jobs, one I love and one pays the bills.

brooke - January 13, 2011 - 12:13 pm

So true…great post! (I saw this on Amy Wadlington’s facebook feed – hello from another CO photographer, though – your work is beautiful!)

karen - January 13, 2011 - 12:15 pm

This is one of the best blog posts I’ve read on explaining why we have to charge what we charge. People don’t realize this is not a hobby and that our lives and families really depend our work. Amazing post Heather! I will be sharing it.

Heather - January 13, 2011 - 12:33 pm

Hello Brooke! 🙂

Heather - January 13, 2011 - 12:33 pm

Awesome, please do share!

Amber Gregory - January 13, 2011 - 12:50 pm

Thank you SO much for posting this! I relate very much.

Ray Prevost - January 13, 2011 - 1:04 pm

Cool post, Heather. Very logical, and SHOULD make hobbyists think twice before making this a business. Unfortunately, being the cynic that I am, I bet most will say “But it will be different with me!” 😉

Heather - January 13, 2011 - 1:11 pm

I totally agree Ray!

Brenda Blatz - January 13, 2011 - 1:15 pm

Thanks for the posting, very informative for newbys for sure. I’m sure glad I’m past buying equipment, saving for retirement and have grown children so I can put more in my pocket.
One other point, I never (in 17 years) have paid that much in taxes, but also saved for it by putting away 10-15% and always got by.

Andy Hastings - January 13, 2011 - 1:32 pm

Wow, I’m gonna be poor forever! Thanks!

Lindsey - January 13, 2011 - 1:41 pm

Yup, that sounds about right. Thanks for sharing, and helping put it in perspective.

Airika Pope - January 13, 2011 - 2:21 pm

Great post, Heather! And I agree 100%. So few photographers actually charge enough to stay in business and so few clients understand the high costs that go in to running a legitamite, successful photography business. Thanks for sharing!

Callandra - January 13, 2011 - 2:43 pm

What a great blog post! As a wedding planner I often have couples ask me about the cost of photography, and now I have a much better answer! Thanks!

Diane - January 13, 2011 - 3:27 pm

Excellent post and said so very well!

applehead studio - January 13, 2011 - 3:53 pm

well said. I’ve done workshops that say pretty much the same thing. bottom line is being a photographer means being in business. being in business means understanding that you are actually a business.

what bothers me most is why we feel the need to have to explain all this, either to clients or to other photographers. why do we need to justify our costs? why do we care so much that we feel compelled to break down our expenses for everyone online? why do we we’d to show the world this is hard work and we work ridiculous hours? I’m guilty of it…I just don’t know why.

if someone down the road wants to become a wedding photog why the hell do I care if they fail or succeed?

great post! hope it gets everyone thinking.

susan patrick harris - January 13, 2011 - 5:56 pm

Well said indeed. There still other costs too that aren’t luxury but this is a good place to estimate!

Erin Woodgate - January 13, 2011 - 7:08 pm

I’m so glad that i’ve seen this post! I hope a lot of people get to see it!

Mike Tinholt - January 13, 2011 - 7:38 pm

One thing’s wrong with your math… half these newbies haven’t registered their ‘business’ and aren’t paying taxes. So make that an $80 net off a $200 session 😛

Catlin Humes - January 13, 2011 - 7:57 pm

Thank you so much for posting this. My friends always say “Wow you must make so much money!” and I’m like…um, not really. lol.

Heather - January 13, 2011 - 8:42 pm

You are so right Mike… its going to sting pretty hard when that comes to bite them in the rear. 😉

David Grupa - January 13, 2011 - 9:23 pm

AWESOME POST! I have reposted this link at least a dozen times in various places . . . I hope every current and aspiring photographer can read this and understand why we need to price at a level that will not only sustain our own business, but the entire industry. Thank-you! – David

Sheila - January 13, 2011 - 10:00 pm

I tried to comment earlier, but the internet denied me. So here I am – back to try again! 🙂

I have this very topic on my to-do list for my blog. I’d love to link back to this post for more info!

Heather - January 13, 2011 - 10:09 pm

Cool, I’d love to see your post when it’s live [Sheila]. 🙂

Ray Prevost - January 13, 2011 - 10:18 pm


It’s because 1) prospective clients only observe the tip of the iceberg—they see the photographer at their friend’s wedding and assume 8 hours is all that there is, and 2) most of them have never run any kind of business, so have no idea of the costs involved.

sarah backstrom - January 13, 2011 - 10:28 pm

This is so true!! Thanks for sharing!

francine - January 13, 2011 - 10:45 pm

Thank you…. in so many words

Anthony Perez - January 14, 2011 - 1:44 am

Well said and and some very good insight.

It seems to me that Wedding pho-togs are re-inventing the wheel, that wheel has been created and every new guy, or gal wants to invent that wheel again..

There must be a business model out there where Wedding Pho-togs can collaborative and share expenses to lower and cut costs for the same thing (so to speak) they are all doing the same way every day, and yet maintain that sense if independence of having your own business.

Don’t reinvent the wheel, it’s been done, and I did it, now let’s move on, because somebody it getting rich off of us. Let’pull our resources together and get rich at their expense.

Salwa - January 14, 2011 - 5:33 am

Great breakdown!

Marvin - January 14, 2011 - 7:25 am

Wow, it is kind of depressing when you break it down like that! Be we love what we do and we really don’t do it for the money…. But it IS nice when we get paid! Thanks for sharing, great article!

Lorraine Daley - January 14, 2011 - 7:31 am

I agree with your point that what we keep is a small percentage of what we bring in, but this seems like your expenses and not indicative of other photographers. Is this an article about you or a general article about photographers? Living on 10 percent would be absolutely impossible for anyone making less than 150,000 a year.
You have to factor in that you don’t actually need 30 percent for taxes, because you are really taxed after your expenses come out…my accountant wants me to save 20 percent per year and I always have enough for taxes (this is not including sales tax, which should be charged separately from package prices and put directly into the tax account…).
30 for overhead is on the money for photographers across the board.
10 percent for equipment is high. this is true if you only bring in 40,000, but as you make more you don’t necessarily spend a greater percentage. and some years you do not buy almost any equipment…2010 i bought all new cameras, lenses etc…this year i will not buy any. in 3 years, i will probably buy new bodies, but not new lenses,so i don’t 10 percent is a accurate at all.
10 percent for retirement…on the money.
10 percent for college fund….this is only true of you and some photographers…you can’t really factor this in, if you are doing an general article…some people do not have kids. some people do not save this much for them.
PPA wrote an article, which i cannot find, which says that photographers keep about 40 percent of their gross. I have been a photographer for several years, and this is exactly what i keep at the end of the year.

Karen McKinnon - January 14, 2011 - 7:53 am

Well Done Heather, saw this in the pick pic FB, and glad I did, you have laid it out so well, is it cool if we share on our blogs – with full credit to you of course?

Heather - January 14, 2011 - 7:56 am

Absolutely, Karen!

Darbi G - January 14, 2011 - 8:18 am

Great voice, Heather!
I follow a similar, though more simple model… (I consider saving for vacation and college funds–though no kids yet– to be part of the owner’s draw because if you were working any other job other than for yourself, that money would be in that same paycheck). So I just do 1/3 to taxes, 1/3 to the business and 1/3 to me.

I wrote my own take on this awhile back, in case you’re interested:
I wish every photographer would write their own version so we can educate our prospects!!

Heather - January 14, 2011 - 8:28 am


Yay! Happy you shared your breakdown on your blog – thank you!!

Liane Bergen - January 14, 2011 - 8:34 am

This breakdown is totally accurate! That is why I am having a hard time leaving my other job, because I need it sometimes to pay the bills, but sometimes this other job gets in the way of being a full time photographer. Where is the balance? I try to keep positive and keep doing what I am doing cause I know in my heart that I am doing what is right for me. Something did click my I starting photographing weddings, but it is not cheap and I personally am not about to sell myself short by undercharging. Maybe now more people can understand why photographers charge what they do.

LaurenBrimhall - January 14, 2011 - 8:37 am

Well said, it’s a really depressing reality, but every word of it is true. It’s insane what we really have to charge in order to make money.

Joshua Gull - January 14, 2011 - 10:09 am

Fantastic breakdown. I’ve had to explain similar to so many friends, family, and potential clients. I think the pie chart is brilliant.

Chelsey - January 14, 2011 - 10:30 am

Very good read! Thank you!

Tim Willoughby - January 14, 2011 - 10:45 am

I swear I’ve been going over this all morning and at the end of it I am asking myself, how the hell do I make so much money and have none of it left. I agree with everything you wrote but that giant pie chart doesn’t even include health insurance, car insurance, mortgage, cell phones, groceries, clothes, health insurance deductibles when you have a baby, and a billion other expenses. I really don’t know when it became so expensive just to get by! And ps, my expenses as the sole bread winner are way higher than 10% of what I make.
Thanks for posting. I needed someone to commiserate with about this!

Britt - January 14, 2011 - 11:39 am

Very interesting….while the numbers can fluctuate slightly from photographer to photographer, this is a great place to start if you are thinking of bringing in the “big bucks”.

Susan - January 14, 2011 - 12:24 pm

Fabulous and slightly depressing breakdown on the expenses as a photographer. I am not a money making one at this point…but am leaning in that direction. This helps me to think about whether or not it really is worth it financially. Thankfully I wouldn’t have to support myself doing it but on the other hand, I don’t want to waste my time. The issue is that I am totally smitten with photography and I can’t help but share my abilities with others! So I will need to make some money doing it at some point.

Jennifer Gilbert - January 14, 2011 - 12:33 pm

@Lorraine – don’t you think it’s better to over-estimate than under-estimate though? Heather did indicate this in her post also.

Heather – great article which I shared on my FB page. Thanks for the detailed breakdown!

Kristie Nicoll - January 14, 2011 - 12:37 pm

Nothing less than fabulous! And said so much better than I’d have the patience to do! Thanks!

Hillary - January 14, 2011 - 1:10 pm

Thank you for the inspiration to raise prices & be comfortable doing it!!
I currently do anywhere from 2-4 sessions a weekemd, while also working 36 hours a week at my full-time job, being a mommy to a 2 1/2 year old and carrying around a baby, due in April. I am tired!
Just opened a studio in my town to take it out of my basement, but holy moly, the cost of that!!! OUCH!

Thanks again for sharing!

Maria G. - January 14, 2011 - 1:30 pm

Great post! I’ve been wondering about prices for later if I dare ever go professional, thanks!

Rachel@IdahoCheneys - January 14, 2011 - 4:37 pm

I agree with Ray. Most of the people I photograph think all of the work I do is what I do in front of them. Ha! I compare it to college. You might be taking 12 credits, but you have to factor in the 30+ hours of studying you’ll be doing!

Rachel@IdahoCheneys - January 14, 2011 - 4:37 pm

PS: I found your blog though a post on Morgan Kervin’s Facebook page.

Ro - January 14, 2011 - 5:51 pm

this is fantastic. perfectly written! I will be posting on my facebook!

nita - January 14, 2011 - 7:06 pm

AWESOME STUFF HERE! thanks for sharing!

Andree Caron - January 14, 2011 - 7:51 pm

This post is absolutely perfect! I’m going to blog, tweet and facebook this article! This was a fantastic “reality check” moment, for all us photogs, but for all our potential clients too! Thank you!

Emily Wilson - January 14, 2011 - 8:27 pm

This is soooooooooooo aptly said. Thanks for writing!!!!!!!

Katherine Post - January 14, 2011 - 10:25 pm

Thanks for posting this. I’m a pretty new photographer trying to get my business started. This has helped me with alot of financial management questions. I only wish others realized what a deal they get from me. Maybe I will stop feeling guilty for charging average prices. 🙂

Karen McKinnon - January 14, 2011 - 10:38 pm

Heather, I have to say again, in my 10 years as a photographer, you have said it better than ever! I am looking forward to passing it on…

Brooke - January 14, 2011 - 10:39 pm

…and this is why I’m an assistant!

Linda - January 15, 2011 - 3:43 am

Wow, you haven’t even touched on other expenses like licenses, professional memberships and the biggie….insurance!!! Good read!

elizabeth larson - January 15, 2011 - 6:28 am

you nailed it!

Heather - January 15, 2011 - 7:48 am

Linda – there are all a part of overhead but just didn’t list everything in that category. It’s so extensive! 🙂

yvonne - January 15, 2011 - 9:49 am

wow, thank you for posting this breakdown so eloquently. This also applies to fine artists of various disciplines. People’s eyes often light up when they hear I sold a painting for $1,000, they don’t realize the hours, training, workshops, supplies and overhead needed to make the painting and when people come along and try to talk the price down as if I’m overpricing on purpose!? Thank you, I will definitely be reposting 🙂

Chelsea - January 15, 2011 - 10:06 am

I love hearing when other people don’t advocate credit card debt, and I love other people who actually save for the future. I swear people like us are super rare. Right on!

Joe Ciarcia (Gamut Prints) - January 15, 2011 - 11:09 am

Hi Heather,

Kudos for the post. I’ve been thinking about doing something myself. Everyone seems to advise against it but I see nothing wrong with educating both clients, as well as folks considering going into the photography business. At a wedding last year I was chatting with the father of the bride and we were talking about how expensive weddings were. He said “yeah, you put wedding in front of it and the cost automatically gets jacked up”. He was specifically referencing catering costs. Most people seem to think “gee, a restaurant doesn’t charge this much” and that was his angle. I explained that while true, a restaurant could have turned around the tables at a wedding at least 6 times. While the caterer may be charging $100/plate which typically gets you decent food here, the same meal with a drink might cost $35 without tip. If they’re turning around that table 6 times that’s $210 they’re making. Because the wait staff isn’t getting tipped, the caterer has to account for that and pay their staff a bit more. I also explained that in my own business I could only book a max of 25 weddings so all of my income had to come from those 25 booking.

Of course that didn’t make the bill any easier to pay but he really had one of those “wow, I never really thought about that” moments. For clients the explanation might not make the bill any easier to afford but I think they have a better understanding and less animosity towards wedding professionals as I often get a sense that many people think we’re just trying to take advantage of them, as if the whole wedding industry had gotten together to concoct some massive price fixing scheme.

So again, thanks for the post. I think I may finally do the same on my blog.

I’m not sure this was covered in any of the comments but one piece of the puzzle, at least if your business is mostly weddings is how many days of the year you can actually “work”. In my market the “season” runs from about mid May through the end of October. That’s about 24 weeks or 48 days (Saturdays and Sundays) that we can potentially work. Of those 48 days, Sundays are less popular as most couples don’t want to subject their guests to a part when they have to be up early the next day. In addition July through mid August tends to be less popular as well.

I know some people can handle a larger work load but when I was shooting weddings (I still shoot weddings but getting the new lab going is taking up more of my time right now) 25 weddings was pretty much my limit. Maybe I could handle 30 but that would drive me insane. That said, all of a wedding photographer’s income must be derived off of 25 bookings.

In my market I’d say $4000 used to be the mid-range but with the recession that’s gone down quite a bit… maybe $3000ish now. The gross on that would be $75,000. One expense I didn’t see you mention is advertising. Boston is a very competitive market and I would spend around $10,000 to $13,000 per year on just advertising alone. That breaks down to $400 to $525 per wedding in advertising fees.

You did mention albums but I wanted to put some numbers to that to make it a little more real for anyone considering a photography business. If every client gets a 30 side 10×10 from a quality album company with quality printing, that will run you about $450 per album (that includes shipping from the album company to me and from me to the client). The total for that is $11,250.

So that’s just two expenses and that adds up to $21,250 to $24,250 per year. Now if you don’t book that 25 wedding goal, fortunately the cost of albums scales with that but the advertising expenses do not. Anyhow, if we take our $75,000 gross and don’t account for any other business expenses (rent, domain registration, web hosting, ISP, phone, accountant, attorney fees (every time I want to change something in the contract, I have to call up my attorney to make the actual changes), liability insurance (many states require $1,000,000 of liability insurance if you are shooting on state owned property (think parks, beaches, etc.), sample albums, etc.) that means our net income is $50,000 to $53,000. Once Uncle Sam gets his cut you’re left with $37,450. Depending upon what part of the country you’re in that may sound like a lot (maybe $3000 per wedding sounds like a lot) but we live in Massachusetts. The average listings for a new home where we live (and we do not live in a ritzy area) was $446k to $545k as of January 5th ( we live in the yellow area ). If you take the lower end of that estimate and figure 10% down, that’s a loan for $401,400. For a 30 year fixed loan at 4.8% that’s $25,272.12 per year. Add property tax at $4818.91 and you have $30,091.03 per year. Let’s say you’re splitting that cost with your partner. We’ll call it $15k per year. Now you have $22,450 and you still have to pay for home owners insurance, budget for house repairs, pay for health insurance, food, etc.

Cheers, Joe

Heather - January 15, 2011 - 11:12 am


You are so right on & I truly appreciate your comment! 🙂

Have a great day!

Mom - January 15, 2011 - 12:09 pm

have you read all of the comments?
Anyway, nice article. You did a lot of research.

Jonathan Ivy - January 15, 2011 - 3:58 pm

wow, great breakdown heather! I have been a full-time wedding photographer for a little over a year now and these numbers are pretty accurate. You really have to watch out for the taxes, they will get you in the end.

Angela Van Horn - January 15, 2011 - 4:36 pm

Wow, this is so true!!!!! Thanks for sharing 🙂

Shannon Grant - January 15, 2011 - 4:42 pm

Love this. Informative and helpful – all without being pretentious. Great post!

Kathryn Denelle Stevens - January 15, 2011 - 10:33 pm

This post just blew my mind! Daunting, yet somehow this breakdown of the numbers makes me feel better. It’s realistic. Until now it seems others have sugar-coated it, which isn’t a help at all! Thanks for this!

Nan - January 16, 2011 - 5:06 am

Very well put. I’ve been a hobbyist for a handful of years and I am currently enrolled at NYIP to improve my skills while working full time and caring for the livestock on my hobby farm. Hobbies are expensive! It always makes me smile when I hear someone has bought a new “expensive” camera and are going to be a professional photographer. As a bookkeeper I understand the concept of the overhead attached with any business – and you’ve detailed it wonderfully. Someday, maybe, I’ll find myself doing more than shooting to make me smile; but in the meantime, I’m not giving up my day job! Kudos on verbalizing the reality of being a professional photographer!

Trish Tritz - January 16, 2011 - 6:53 am

I don’t know what else to say, but “THANK YOU” for taking the time to write that wonderful blog. It’s so hard to explain to people in a few minutes how very expensive it is to be a photographer, but you put it into words perfectly! I work a full-time job, and have a ton of bills to pay, and people keep asking me why I don’t do this for a living. I just want to scream sometimes. It’s not that I don’t WANT to do it for a living, it’s that I CAN’T. What I would end up with would never pay my bills that I have right now. Also, they don’t understand why I turn down a job that they think is only one day, when I really don’t have the energy for all the editing after my regular job. This is my passion, and they say there’s a time for everything, but now just isn’t the time. For now it has to be mostly a hobby. Thanks again for the breakdown! I wish you luck in the future with your business.

Grace Ehlers - January 16, 2011 - 8:23 am

Love this post, I have always struggled with the amounts that should be put back and handle all the breakdowns. I will be putting these percentages to work. Thanks

Bob - January 16, 2011 - 10:21 am

With the advent of good, inexpensive digital cameras life is getting even harder. Everyone has a “good friend” who is a photographer. That puts more downward pressure on your own pricing. The term “poachers” is sometimes used. I don’t like that term. Everyone has to start somewhere, and discounted prices is generally that point. I’ll deal with the upstarts as they come along. Explain to my clients the need for composition, lighting, proper angle and backgrounds.

Just like a few other commentors, I need to keep two jobs, photography and that other one that pays for the insurance, the kids college, and whatever else it covers. Some say that makes a person an “amateur” photographer when you keep your day job. OK.

juanita smith - January 16, 2011 - 12:19 pm

Wow! I am definately saving this post to look over again. It was great to see this info put into perspective. I am a newbie, trying to get the ball rolling. Although I have a creative side, I’ve always loved math and crunching numbers… this helps me alot! I’ve been shooting for just over two years now and am trying to get my ducks lined up to make everything legit. I knew this info but it’s good to see it in black and white. I will definately share this post with my fellow photogs, and maybe with some clients too. 🙂


Carol Lynn Coronios - January 16, 2011 - 1:38 pm

WOW. Between Heather’s blog post and Joe’s comment, you’ve given us a LOT to form a response of our own to our clients or potentials.

I’m an equine photographer, so on one hand, we face different challenges – but we all have the same basic reality. Unfortunately, for many, that reality is that we have NOT done our homework/crunched our numbers. Ostrich behavior.

Thanks for yanking our heads out of the sand! I intend to share this link with my PPA affiliate colleagues. AND I will ‘can’ a response to clients who question why our prices are what they are when so-and-so at the show last weekend gave them everything on a CD for $50.

Thank you again. I’ll be back! And thank you to my equine photog colleague who posted a link!

RST - January 16, 2011 - 5:20 pm

You hit the hammer on the nail!!! but you forgot marketing, Professional Photographers work thier bu– off thank you for your input you rock

Alicia - January 17, 2011 - 10:03 am

This is a great post and why I will continue to do this as a hobby. It’s just not feasible for me to start out all the initial costs are to much for me to handle. When you have so many newbies trying to get into the market with their DSLRs they don’t know how to use it makes it hard to get an clientele. Thanks for the post!!

Dancer Burns - January 17, 2011 - 10:58 am

Thanks so much for taking the time to post this and for sharing it on DWF. Great article and also a good lesson for newer photogs who give their work away! I know I still have acquaintances expecting me to just “pop over for a few photos” pro bono. I simply can’t do it if I want to pay my bills. My refusal is not a reflection on our friendship. That time could be spent on the business even if I’m not actively shooting something else. Thanks again!

Maureen Cassidy Photography - January 17, 2011 - 11:01 am

Right now my averages are the same as your examples. Wedding $2000 portrait session $300.
And I know I am not making any money because this is not enough to out weigh business expenses. I really think it is so hard to make a living from being a photographer! sucks

Jerry Frazier - January 17, 2011 - 4:15 pm

I have always thought, that for me, I needed to charge $6,000 per wedding and shoot about 45 of those per year, for weddings alone. This didn’t count portrait sessions. What I found was that I could get close to $5,000 by charging an avg of around $3,600 and then having add-ons to the packages as the couples decide to add things, like an e-sess, or parent albums, or whatever else. But, the problem was two-fold, I could not quite hit $6,000 per wedding on average, and I could not hit 45 weddings per year at that price point.

I decided to throw in the towel on weddings because I just couldn’t get to where I needed to be financially. I live in Los Angeles, and it is very expensive to live here. Unfortunately, many photographers charge much less, and they have some advantages, like no kids, no mortgage, etc. The problem, as I see it is that these folks are going to one day want kids, and want to buy a house, and one day, retire. And, it’s at that point where they are going to realize that they don’t charge enough. At some point, they’ll realize that they need to charge more, and then there will be other young people coming in behind them and undercutting them.

I’m not complaining, but it’s a vicious circle that cannot be won. It’s just a shame that people don’t take more time and think about this. But, I think this is an awesome blog post.

Heather - January 17, 2011 - 4:52 pm

Thanks Jerry! 🙂

I’m hoping people will realize they need to charge a certain amount to sustain their business AND family-life – and then the industry. But the undercutting continues…

Jill - January 17, 2011 - 5:04 pm

well stated.

johnna brynn - January 17, 2011 - 7:42 pm

thank you! I’ve shared your link on my fanpage!

Des Moines Wedding Photographers - January 17, 2011 - 9:30 pm

Down here at Imaging USA there seems to be a lot of buzz about this subject. In a class I was in this morning we were asked to “Raise our hand if you know what your studio’s profit was last year?” The result was SHOCKING!!! I was one of probably 20 or so photographers out of an estimated 300-400 people… That is SCARY!

How can you expect to have a sound business model if you don’t even know what your studio’s profit was last year? How can someone be worried about marketing, the latest and greatest gear, other peoples prices, and getting more clients if you don’t know what you’re working towards.

This discussion could go on forever, but I’m glad you’ve brought this to others attention…


Reggie Banks,Sr. - January 17, 2011 - 11:03 pm

Some interesting topics of discussion! Thanks Reggie

Arianne Lapine - January 18, 2011 - 6:49 am

Thank You to all my new wonderful photog friends that have inspired me to keep my full time job and do photos as my passion! I work for the auto industry full time, which brings in great money and it’s secure. So for now, All my money I bring in from doing photos part time goes into backdrops, lights, cameras, supplies and samples and anything else related to my passion. So when I’m ready I have a little bit to work with. A few weeks back I wanted to quit my full time and buy this little shack tear it down and rebuilt a little studio with the help of my “business owner” boyfriend (he knows money a little better than myself).

And a few friends broke it down to me–and this BLOG really helped me realize….I AM NOT READY for this full time!

Although, most don’t do it for the price check. It’s in our hearts, our soles to capture those cute little smiles on their first birthday with that cupcake! But we still have to pay the mortgage!

Thank YOU!!


Fuzzy Duenkel - January 18, 2011 - 7:10 am

Excellent! I’ll link to this on my blog.

Deb Anderson - January 18, 2011 - 7:34 am

Very well written and accurate!! Thanks. We’re looking forward to SYNC in a couple of weeks (a conference). I know this time of year is full of them–WPPI and Imaging USA. –Another business investment! Have a great day and thanks for sharing. Hope to meet you sometime.

Rafael Sotomayor - January 18, 2011 - 7:35 am

With this formula you will need to raise your prices soon or do a LOT of $2K wedding…

Drew - January 18, 2011 - 11:44 am

Wow! I had no idea it was this tough, so I guess I’ll just keep it as a hobby!

Shannon Murphy - January 18, 2011 - 4:18 pm

great article!!

Jessica - January 18, 2011 - 11:45 pm

I am just an amatuer photographer just taking pictures of my little ones, but your business model totally holds up. I design and bake wedding cakes on the side and there are so many similarities. I hear all the time, “How can you sleep charging $2000 for a wedding cake, when you get Betty Crocker Mixes for $3.00?!?” But it is the same as your business model. When you account for the basic supplies (flour, butter, sugar, fondant) well over a third of your cost is spent. Then when you set aside money to buy more ingredients for the next cake, there goes another third. It takes a week of preparation plus time consulting and researching. The cake decorater walks away with very little profit. And when I make one for a friend and agree to it for just over cost, I usually lose money on the deal (especially when I have two “helpers” who eat more than they help!) So if anyone continues to question your prices, have them look into any business like this and they’ll see it’s par for the course!

Lisa S. - January 20, 2011 - 8:28 pm

I heard it said at one of my professional photog meetings that you you need a minimum of 70% of the income from your current job (your ‘day job’)to support yourself when you switch over to a new business such as photography. Hope this guideline helps someone.
Great article! Thank you!

Jodi - January 21, 2011 - 9:31 am

Brilliant article! I’ve been contemplating writing something similar but don’t think I could say it any better.

Nanine - January 21, 2011 - 2:37 pm

Beautifully written article – could not have said it better myself – so much goes into a business that is “hidden,” and this article sheds light on it all. thank so much for taking the time to research and put it out there in an easy way to understand. It’s the combination of artistry and business acumen that makes for a successful photography business.

Janelle Dahlgren - January 21, 2011 - 10:28 pm

Couldn’t have put it any better! I hate having people question why I price stuff a certain way….but here, you hit the nail on the head! Thank you…but sadly…so many people still can’t see the worth in something so special. I posted on my FB fan page, and made a little note that I’ve been doing my ‘job’ for almost 7 years, and still have yet to make a profit! Thank you again for putting it down into words so well!

Josh Newton - January 22, 2011 - 3:01 am

I actually COMPLETELY disagree =)

I think your post is great in that it definitely lays out a lot of useful information and I can see you were trying to be very helpful in your post, and I can appreciate your time.

However, I think some of your percentages are completely wrong! For example, you never have to pay 30% of your profit to taxes. I write off a lot every year and taxes only end up being about 5% of my total profit. It works out like this: I make x amount, subtract 60% from that (your 30% overhead, owners draw, equipment savings) by writing off travel, food, business expenses, new equipment and software, prints/albums, my CPA, editing of my photos (I don’t do any editing anymore), branding supplies, cell phone bill, health insurance premiums, gas, miles on my car, watching movies for inspiration, etc etc etc.

So that leaves me with another 40%, 20% of it I write off for “fun” “business” traveling – your vacation money. The truth is, as a photographer, you’re always working even when you’re traveling for fun bc you’re taking photos, blogging, editing, etc. I’ve traveled to over 19 countries and 31 states for photography and all of it has been for work!

So then there’s just 20% (which equals $6,000) that the government can actually tax, and if you’re making $2,000 x 15 = $30,000 a year, then thats only 30% taxes on $6,000 – which is only $1,800 – which is SIX percent of your total income! (not 30%) That leaves you with $4,200 left over to save. That’s 14% of your savings, and you can travel less and add up to $6,000 more to that which is 35% savings. There’s no way I’m saving twice as much as you =)

And 60 hours you invest in one wedding? I think thats way over exaggerated =) it sure sounds nice to your clients but no way do you spend that much time on one wedding! And if you do, you’re living behind your computer screen when you SHOULD be spending time with friends and family. I spend about 1 hour writing an email to “consult”, write up an invoice and contract. 3-4 hours doing an engagement shoot. Travel time – whatever, everyone wants to travel for work =) but fine, I travel on average 5 hours a wedding since most of mine are flights. So then 8 hours shooting, 1 hour editing favorites, and 2 hours designing their album/canvas print DVD case/follow up emails. I have a full time editor that does all the rest! So thats 20 hours total for ONE wedding! 15 weddings = 300 hours out of the 8760 hours (5781 hours if you sleep 8 hours a night) you have out of a year. We photographers have an AMAZING life. Thats 15% of the time MOST PEOPLE in the world work!!

Same thing with your portraits – all the tax break down/etc just isn’t right =P But I understand thats your business model, I just think if thats REALLY it, you don’t have a good CPA or you could just spend your money a lot more wisely! Truth is most people want to spend money on lattes, theaters, and going out to eat. They can’t “life an exotic life” or save anything at all because of that – but life is really only about what you want it to be about.

And for all the people whining about “newbies” taking over their business/not paying taxes? Really? Its a free country, no one is ever “poaching” your business! You are only accountable for yourself. And there are way too many weddings going around and just not enough good/artistic business men and women.

Just my two cents =)

Unc Bill - January 22, 2011 - 8:09 am

Keep up the good spirits girl and thanks for tell it “Like It Is” for all those skeptics that consider Photography a “HOBBY” and not real work. A professional is a person who takes their job seriously and yes, you do improve with age (length of time BEING a professional).

You forgot a category – Advertising – and you really do need this if you are to “get ahead” in any profession even if it is only a “one liner” in the phone book.

And tell you other half, WELL DONE in the support department and may you both keep your spirits boundlessly high.

Claire - January 22, 2011 - 12:42 pm

I have a handy excel file that I update every year with new cogs and what-not. I include the cost to pay my assistants, travel, hard costs, and then add a little percentage to cover things like taxes and insurance. Excel does all the math and that’s how I set my prices. If anyone thinks I charge too much, I can show them the breakdown. It really makes me confident in my prices to see exactly where the money is going.

Tim Halberg - January 22, 2011 - 7:04 pm

great article.

my one note, reduce your overhead and quick. not an unrealistic figure, but I really think you can reduce the percentage on overhead pretty easily in most cases if you’re careful about things.

this article has my head spinning, as I totally agree with it, but also just can’t believe that it pulls through in my business. (not doubting it does, but just not wanting to believe it)

making it a goal this week to crunch these numbers on our business more specifically than I have in the past.

I’ve heard others talk about having a 60% profit in their business, I really want to run those guys down and see how true it holds for them and how they’re making it happen if so.

Heather - January 23, 2011 - 2:18 pm

Hi Josh,

Thanks for posting your thoughts. The percentages I shared are not concrete every month, but a percentage to strive for. I used the $2,000 & $200 figures as examples. They are not my rates (mine are higher), but very common “budgets” in my geographical area.

As for the time I put into my work – the 60 hours is an AVERAGE spread out over a year. With 52 weeks in a year, I don’t think this is unreasonable. Designing a 20 page wedding album takes me 4-6 hours and I don’t outsource editing.

A couple people e-mailed me with their formulas/breakdowns. I think it’s important to take a step back and evaluate (learn from each other) but this article was intended to be a response to new photographers or hobbyists who think being a pro photographer is easy and sustainable without much effort.

Lynn - January 23, 2011 - 6:59 pm

Oh, I agree that professional photography is about the lowest paid “profession” out there. I have been a professional photographer since 1961. This is 2011. That’s 50 years. I’ve worked in Rolla, Missouri; St. Louis, Missouri and now in Oklahoma. I have owned radio stations, printing shops, and now a newspaper. . . so I could afford to be a photographer. At times, I’ve had two photography studios going. I have three full time and three part time employees at my one studio. I consider professional photography a dying business. This is not whining. This is telling like it is. The digital revolution is creating lots of dying businesses. The CD music industry is almost gone. I think we’ve seen two major DVD rental store chains go belly-up in the last year or two. In both those cases internet downloads are the competition. The digital camera revolution has made it easier for professional photographers, but also for amateur photographers. Virtually every guest at a wedding is now carrying a digital camera (most in cell phone shape). We have been forced to schedule routine wedding photography scenes well before guests are around or we have to contend with the paparazzi. In a small town, I do lots of specialized photography that individual camera owners can’t quite handle. I have an aircraft, so I do aerials. We do lots of print/audio/video restorations as one format dies and another takes its place and the content needs to be moved from a dead format to a live format. Ma and pa print shops have virtually disappeared. Each person in America now has their own print shop in the form of a color laser or ink jet printer. Back in the early 1900’s, this community had five livery stables. Those were businesses who sold buckboards, wagons, while they shoed horses, and sold all the accessories needed for people whose transportation was horse and buggy. And even though those livery stables did an excellent job, not a one is in business today. The horseless carriage did away with the need. The digital camera revolution has created lots of new “professional photographers” in our town. We probably now see one for every 500 people of population. If the town’s business was equally divided among all the “professional photographers” this means it would be like having a studio in a town of 500. No one will make a living. So they will need to have other jobs. I hate to be so negative in this post but I think we are at the end of several eras.

Dr Starbuck - January 25, 2011 - 9:24 am

Wow. Thanks for breaking it all down into easy-to-understand terms. My partner is studying photography and I have a much better idea of what to expect in the future.

Heather - January 25, 2011 - 9:35 am

Rock on sister!!!! Seriously, you did a great job at explaining it, thank you!

Josh Newton - January 25, 2011 - 12:07 pm

Hey Heather!

Thanks for your comment back =) I totally understand 2k isn’t what you charge for weddings, but no matter what you charge the percentages you and I both gave hold true.

So firstly, do you really spend that much in all those areas? BC like I explained with taxes, it doesn’t have to be that high. I’d love to meet up with you sometime and talk about it all with you – that way I can show you how you’d save 25% of your overall profit and invest that into other areas of your life. I would also like to show you the cost/benefit to having a full time editor do your photos. I still edit my favorite 80 or so but hand off the majority to a company/person. I would definitely recommend it, just because your life isn’t worth wasting on something that anyone can do! I know its hard to give that up especially in an artistic sense but you would make SO much more money and be much happier without having to do that aspect of it. I can also go over all that if you want!

I think you’re right about the “work” part of being a photographer. You definitely don’t get to have an “easy” lifestyle in any area of work if you aren’t willing to put in the time and resources to do so. It takes a LOT of work, determination, courage, and commitment. So in that way you’re definitely right =) It’s also a lot of money to invest in everything and its not just picking up a rebel and shooting that makes you a professional.

But, I just think photography is one of the greatest jobs in the world. The opportunities that are out there are amazing and it doesn’t have to be hard to do photography. I’ve trained 5-6 full time photographers now and I love giving advice and helping people realize their dream.

To Lynn – it’s DEFINITELY not the lowest paid profession out there! Hahahaha that just makes me laugh =P This could be taken as bragging or whatever, but I make 2-3x more than all of my older/younger friends in “real” professions, and I’m not chained to a desk 9-5 every day of the week. I’m sorry, but it just annoys me when people are so negative nancy about a gig thats SOOO phenomenal if thats what you want it to be.

I hope you’re well Heather, you’ve got amazing stuff and its been fun chatting with you! Thanks for your time,


Teresa Nicole - January 25, 2011 - 12:24 pm

OMG! I’m so glad I found this and I think I’m the 3,000th liker! Anyways, I think it’s an awesome breakdown. Since starting my business I’ve had to make some changes because of “reality.” Thanks for putting this into perspective. 🙂

Lora - January 25, 2011 - 4:27 pm

Thanks for this article. I am just starting to get some basic workshops together for photographers in the Portland Oregon area and this is the type of thing that I think folks are really wanting (and needing) to hear.

I do work full time as a portrait photographer with studio outside my home and the expenses for running a BUSINESS are high. Which is why so many “shoot and burn” photographers out there don’t last long. You can’t undervalue your work and your time and expect to be able to follow your dream.

I found a quote a while back on a photographers blog that really sums up pricing for me:

“If you want piece of photographic paper, it’s $2. Of you want an image on it, it’s $165.”

Thanks for your insights!

Courtney - January 25, 2011 - 4:30 pm

Completely honest, and awesome! Thank you so much for putting this out there and I have put it out there in return! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Becky Reichman - January 26, 2011 - 12:35 am

great article. thanks for putting it into perspective.

Kelli - January 26, 2011 - 2:01 pm

Awesome breakdown, great perspective!

Holly Baumann Photography - January 26, 2011 - 3:33 pm

Fascinating, fascinating discussion. I imagine there’s some connection between how finances are managed and the degree to which a photographer is supporting him/herself and their family with their photography. Necessity is the mother of invention (i.e. when the pressure’s on, money gets managed better). I am so, so blessed to be a photographer and despite the challenges, wouldn’t trade it for the world. My problem is resisting my evil-twin-gear-fanatic’s urges to spend, spend, spend! 😉

nathan kelly - January 27, 2011 - 1:44 pm

“If you want to be a rich and famous photographer it is best if you start out rich”
Henry Cartier-Bresson

Becky Gallego - January 29, 2011 - 9:36 am

What an eye opener. Thank you so much for writing this.

Joy - January 29, 2011 - 6:26 pm

Excellent post……thanks!!

Louise - January 30, 2011 - 3:33 pm

Thanks for sharing – good to see it broken down 🙂 I’ll be sharing this for sure!

Paul Retherford - January 30, 2011 - 4:54 pm

Cheers to the life of a Photographer! Great points. Photography has to be first about business or you will find yourself out of business sooner than later.:-) You layed out a very nice monetary business plan.

Emily - January 31, 2011 - 11:52 am

I am sorry to go against what you’re saying a bit. I do agree that owning your own buisness in any sense offers less finicial reward, but allows you to do something you are passionate about. I also allows you to choose your own hours and be your own boss. Certainly not everyone could do this and with it comes sacrifices.
With that being said I don’t understand why you put college fund into something to do with your buisness. Isn’t that where you have chosen for that money to go? We all pay taxes, and those of us who choose to save for college, all take it out of earned income. Who makes enough money? Who is actually paid what they are worth?

Heather - January 31, 2011 - 12:02 pm

Hi Emily,
Thanks for your thoughts! I do categorize college fund, retirement & my paycheck into the “owner’s draw” category. 🙂
The basic jest of this article is approximately 1/3 goes to taxes, 1/3 goes to overhead and 1/3 goes to “owner’s draw” – of which I also divide into thirds to have a college fund for our kids, retirement fund for me & hubby and also pay myself. 🙂

Cameron Freshwater - January 31, 2011 - 2:46 pm

Thanks so much for all of that info, its great to find a true opinion all in one area. My situation involves deciding between continuing with graduate school to become an Occupational Therapist or stopping now and pursuing photography, it is a true passion and couldn’t even imagine having that as my day in day out job!! Thanks for the info again, any other advice please send it my way!! thanks!!

renne - January 31, 2011 - 6:30 pm

EVERYTHING is expensive, not just photography. EVERYTHING is. If it’s too expensive for you then maybe you need to find a different line of work. Try working a full time job working for someone else and doing photography on the side, taking care of kids, paying bills, taking care of the house, cars, animals, finances, and anything else that comes your way and doing it all as a single person. Anything you get into is expensive and if you ask me, charging $2000.00 for a wedding is really ridiculous. and I don’t know anyone that would pay that for a wedding. i just hate hearing people say they do photography for a living. that’s not a “real job”

Michelle Ocampo - February 1, 2011 - 9:43 am

AMEN! So simply put! Love it… just linked to you from my Facebook Fan Page! Thanks…

Christopher - February 1, 2011 - 11:00 am

So, have you ever had to bust out that pie chart on a client that is “just shopping” you?

Heather - February 1, 2011 - 11:59 am

haha, nope! That’s why I posted this on my personal blog – not my photo blog. If they are just price-shopping, they are not my ideal client, anyways. 🙂

Amanda - February 1, 2011 - 2:08 pm

“Renne”-You sound a bit jealous. Does your day job bore you so much that you’re sitting around stalking blogs in an attempt to bring people down? There’s no whining here, just a factual breakdown showing that while we may charge what can seem to be a lot, we’re not just sitting around raking in dough.

As a professional wedding photographer, I work harder than I ever have in any “real job” in corporate America. When I quit the “real job” world after working at a law firm for 5 years to pursue my passion, I increased my workload drastically, increased my hours worked, and also increased my happiness. Tremendously.

You may not know anyone willing to invest $2,000 in wedding photography, but my average bride spends $5,000 or more. I work the hours I want, charge what I want, and work with who I want. I’m my own boss. And maybe you won’t consider it a “real job”, but it’s the best job I’ve ever had 🙂

So tell me…what’s your “real job”?

hillary - February 1, 2011 - 2:26 pm

SUCH a great article Heather 🙂
@Rennne— are you kidding?? I agree with you… charging $2000 for a wedding IS ridiculous in the sense that us photographers can’t even make a PROFIT charging that little. Don’t be jealous about a career you are not in and don’t understand.
And you don’t call what we do a REAL job? That’s funny because we work much harder then plenty of professions and provide you something that a lot of people can’t— a memory for instance. Think your parents remember their wedding cake from 30 years ago? No but I’m sure they have pictures to remember it by. Remember during family portraits when grandma looked over at her granddaughter and had the biggest most genuine smile ever? Oh no.. you don’t because you didn’t hire a professional photographer to capture those moments because you don’t think we have a REAL job.
Cracks me up. YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR 🙂
Heather you rock.. I love you 🙂

rhondda - February 1, 2011 - 3:21 pm

Renne…I am so sorry that you feel that what we do and what we charge is so ridiculous, and not a real job. I know for my business (and it is a business) I work 60+ hours a week on average to give my clients something that they would save in a flood or fire. It is something that will live way past them and generations to come will look at the faces of these family members and see their love.

Anyone can pick up a camera and take a picture, but a professional photographer creates something much more intrinsic.

So, let me break down a wedding the way I shoot it and probably others do as well and see if this is not a real job. To the shoot I have bought 2 Canon 5ds plus a back up to shoot the day. I use only L series lenses and all primes. These are not only costly but fragile. I stand up the whole day making sure to not miss anything that tells the story for my bride. My shoot day starts at 7am usually but it starts before that for me, as I have to get all my gear ready, run through the day in my head, plan the shots in my head, find locations that are different to the last wedding I shot. I have to meet with my bride and groom more than once to make sure that we have all teh ideas and vision for their day set. Then I shoot it…and that is usually a day without food or breaks and up to 18 hours sometimes more. I do it not to get rich, though that would be nice. I do it because I love it, I make my own hours, I choose my clients as much as they choose me.

So please don’t you dare say that this is not a real job or undervalue the clients that value my images or these other photographers. I can’t image a world without a picture. No magazines, no memories.

Heather…your article is excellent. Good work!!!

renne - February 1, 2011 - 4:55 pm

Well of course you are gonna work harder for yourself in your own business than if you worked for someone else. ANYONE that owns their on business works harder than they would say if they worked for someone else. and not just photographers. (ANY BUSINESS OWNER) i just get tired of hearing that people (photographers) gripe about things like this. I love photography and do it as much as i can but i would never charge someone 2000.00 EVER! I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. i could understand if it was a “REAL PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER” and by that I am talking about people that are having ALL their photos published in magazines. like cosmo and such. those are the REAL PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS. For everyone else it’s just a hobby. you don’t have to agree with me. this is just my belief on the subject. 🙂

Heather - February 1, 2011 - 5:39 pm

My original post was written to inform new, aspiring photographers that you don’t pocket the amount clients write the check for. People overlook that, then they go into debt or under-price to try to make up for it – well that hurts the overall industry.
The point is to create a solid business plan/structure that sustains the business…
While I appreciate another point of view, it’s pretty bold to say that I don’t have a “real job.” It’s very “real” and it isn’t a hobby because I make money from it.
A hair stylist who works full-time ALSO has a “real job” even though she doesn’t cut hair for the rich & famous of Hollywood.
You get your hair cut, right?
Pretty much any ma & pop shop, small business owner – not just creative artists are in the same boat… you’ve categorized them as not having a “real job” because… WHY?
Maybe it would be more like it if you said you didn’t RESPECT most professional portrait & wedding photographers. You could back that up until the cows come home.
Large corporations have much more money come IN the door than they put out…. you don’t hear them talk about it, but it’s there. SO are you going to resent them, too?
You said you are tired of photographers griping about things like this. Well I am doing business legitimately. I pay my taxes, and I can sleep at night.
Good luck with life’s endeavors. With that attitude, you’ll need it.

Amanda - February 1, 2011 - 5:43 pm

Renne-who is griping? In case you missed it, an overwhelming theme in the article and the comments is that we’re all very happy doing what we do. Maybe if you actually read the article, you’d understand what it’s about.

I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I charged $2,000 for a wedding either. Largely, because I wouldn’t be able to afford a bed or my house.

Professional is defined as someone who makes a living doing something. Hobbies generally do not generate income. You may want to go back to basic English classes to learn the difference, and that your “opinion” is just that. There are plenty of people making a wonderful living doing what they love-I’m sorry to hear you’re not one of them.

rhondda - February 1, 2011 - 6:12 pm

Renee…i am dumbstruck by your reply to Heather. You are right. When you own something you take ownership of it, and work your ass off for it. But I can tell you, I have worked for other people and I gave 110% to them too, winning them awards and bringing in clients. It is so unbelievable to me that someone could be this ignorant but this wouldn’t be the first time I have been surprised by people. It is obvious what you value and that is sad.

Not everyone can afford to pay loads for photography but you know what, the clients that walk in my door at my studio save and scrimp because they know the value of what a really beautiful image means. My clients, like Heathers clients, don’t look at it as money, but as their history. I have had one client pay me off for two years and she told me she would do it again for the value that she got from our shoot. To capture a moment that will be gone by the next breath, that is worth so much more than the shoot fee.

I feel sad for you that you are so blinded by your obvious dislike of anyone creative making a living that you can’t see that being a pro means more than being on TV or in a magazine. We are all so much more than that. And as Heather said, good luck.

Petra Hall - February 2, 2011 - 5:11 pm

Wow, I guess I’m not a real photographer, as I have to support myself in other ways than just photography, as I can’t charge as much as I wished, to pay the bills. But I do work with photography in my other professions too, I just happend to have 2-3 jobs to make ends meet. Oh and I have been published… but not in Cosmo. I didn’t know that was the standard for “real photographers”. I even won awards. Hmm…

But like someone said here above… you get what you pay for. And I know my clients are happy with what they get. How about you Renne, do you think you’re getting paid what you’re worth?

Natalie Licini - February 2, 2011 - 7:26 pm

Hi Renne! I think I just figured out how to get to #16…
I’d like to thank you here:

Drea - February 2, 2011 - 9:16 pm

thank you!!

Stacy - February 3, 2011 - 12:47 pm

I think most photographers don’t realize they are also the CEO of a business just as much as an artist. I’m currently building my business at the moment, and found a great resource called the Fast Track Photographer Buisiness Plan by Dane Sanders. Don’t let the name fool you into thinking it’s going to help you create an overnight successful business, it’s not that at all. However, it is an excellent look into what you need to do to build a business plan. It’s not only for beginner photographers, but a good place for those of us who need to back up a step or two and cathc the ‘business’ up with the photography.

This book really talks about how to make things work in todays real world where taking years of school, years of apprenticeship, and paying your dues is highly old fashioned. Whether we like it or not, there are people popping up with a dSLR everywhere we go and passing out cards saying they are a photographer. This book really helps you decide how to either move ahead in todays time, or stay in your current rut and get passed over. However, if you have a good plan that is working remember “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is always a good option. But if you are one of those 19 out of 20 people mentioned in an earlier post who can’t tell you exactly what their business is bringing in, what your cost are, what your vision for the future is in 10 words or less (not just I want to make money) then this book is something you should check out.

Many photographers are embarrassed to talk about money, feel ‘guilty’ for charging high prices, and honestly do not feel in control of their business. Todays world is changing daily with gadgets, books on how to be a great photographer with your iPhone and customers are living month to month. The competition for that business is tough. We all need to know how to deal with this an build a strong business on top of taking stunning images. We have to be a CEO too.

Personally I was one of those photographers who kept thinking I’ll work on all the ‘business stuff’ when I’m in my slow period. At the moment I’ve decided to take control of myself and get a clear goal. My customers need to feel confident that they are dealing with someone in control of things and can show them why they should pick me. Let’s face it, our business is largely built on reputation and giving the customer a feeling that they got what they paid for, just as much (or maybe more) our ability to take stunning pictures. This is not always an easy pill to swallow, but it’s true.

I’m not getting any kickbacks out of this, I just wanted to put it out there that there is some useful information to check out. Here’s a link to this guys website:

David Grupa - February 10, 2011 - 10:00 pm

I’m pretty sure that there are too many photographers giving away their work because “that’s how my friend does it” or “my client complained I was too expensive.”

Do you remember the cereal commercial? “You’d have to eat TEN bowls of their cereal to equal the vitamins/fiber/whatever else that’s in just ONE bowl of our cereal!” What we do is actually very similar.

Since there are only 24 hours in a day, do you really want to work 20 of them? There are just 5 days in a typical work week (bet your spouse/partner/kids are already thrilled to see you working nights and weekends). With 52 weeks in a year, you probably had paid vacation at your other job and enjoyed the benefits of that.

Suddenly, it’s not so awesome if/when you figure out that you’re actually making less than minimum wage. You’re probably not even making enough to pay for the gear you own (not to mention the “wish list” of toys you want to buy!) The goal here is to make a living while creating awesome images for our clients. They, in turn, will compensate us appropriately for the portrait and lasting enjoyment they will receive!

This is not about selling 80 square inches of photographic paper, it’s about the time and talent we put into the creation of each portrait. It’s about the image, the emotion, the art.

This isn’t about giving family, friends or frugal clients a cheap way out. It’s about making a living doing something we love.

While a great deal of my time is invested in this industry, photography is NOT my life. Photography is what I do so I can actually HAVE a life!

Take a look at what you are doing. What do you need to change to have a great life?

– David Grupa

Michael Stagg | Maikeru Foto - February 11, 2011 - 12:41 am

Wow! Thanks so much for sharing this. I’m new to the world of photography and I do wish to pursue it as more than a hobby one day. This is a fabulous testimony as to what one needs to have on the brain before going into business as a photography.

Tabatha Heavner - March 6, 2011 - 1:18 pm

Thank you for this post! I am glad to learn about this as I am in school for photography right now, unfortunately after seeing this breakdown I may never get school paid off doing photography alone.

Penny Tucker - March 13, 2011 - 6:05 am

This was very helpful:) Thank you!:)

Lisa Hensley - March 31, 2011 - 5:42 pm

If only I had this post at my disposal this morning when I gave someone a huge break on my pricing and she said “Holy Cow, that is still sooooooooooooooooooooooo expensive!” I wanted to fall out of my chair.

Sweetpea's Dreams Photography - April 1, 2011 - 11:39 am

Thank you for breaking this down! I’m just starting out so this helps to give me a little incite as to where I need to go from here! Thank you so much!

Mara Blom schantz - April 9, 2011 - 11:42 pm

No one should be giving away CDs of their images. You can not do anything worse to undermine the professionalism of this business or your own profits. Your cost of sales if you work from home should not be more than 30% and your time spent editing, etc., should be included. I just saw something that was a “pro photo tip” advocating ” shooting as many images as you can since “they are free in the digital age”. I would say that this will cost you a lot of extra time and money, way less than actually thinking through your shot and knowing what you are doing. Probably every person reading this should raise their prices. My parents raised three kids and sent us all to college with their professional photography business and taught me that although you can do what you love, this is definitely a business and you should treat it like one or you will struggle for a long time. $3,000 for 6 hours on a wedding ( with an album, I assume) is CRAZY! $300 for an average portrait sale us CRAZY. You are making nothing if your prices are that low!

Beth Benoit - April 14, 2011 - 9:06 am

Thank you for this great post! I’ve linked back to you.

Jessica - April 14, 2011 - 9:38 am

Wow! Great breakdown, thank goodness this is my passion as well and I’m not really in it to make a ton of $!

Amy Zellmer - April 18, 2011 - 9:28 pm

Heather I am SO glad to see someone driving this point home!! It is tiring to here “outsiders” say things like “$3000 for a wedding? Wow, you must be rich”! Can’t wait to have you on my show to share this wisdom with my wonderful listeners on May 23rd!!

Marisa - April 25, 2011 - 6:02 pm

I agree with this article, but at the same time, I don’t think many people, photographers especially take into account that there are different clients and areas and budgets. I charge 1400 for a wedding, but I know that in my area, my clients dont have large amounts of money to spend. But that doesn’t mean they value photography any less. It also doesn’t mean that I am not able to make a living with what I charge. It’s about being smart in business and in your home life. Saving money, not splurging on unnecessary things, having savings accounts that build interest, etc. I look at it this way, charge what works for you. Not every photographer can charge 5000 for one wedding. Not every client can afford that for one wedding. When I got married, there was no way in hell that I could afford 5000 for a photographer. I think that in the photography community, there is an elitist mindset, in which many think the more money they charge the better they are. And as far as quality, that may or not be true. But in the end, we all have clients that want our images, and those clients vary when it comes to price.

Marisa - April 25, 2011 - 6:20 pm

I mean, just think of it this way. If you go to the mall looking to purchase a pair of jeans, you have many stores to choose from. Some stores charge $20 per pair, others charge $400 per pair. The styles may be the same, the quality may be the same, it’s usually the name that makes the price jump. But no matter what store you buy from, both stores are open and still in business.

Yes, being a full time photographer means being a business, but everyone, every photographer has a different cost of living and different expenses and such.

Im not trying to maintain a 5 bedroom house, a BMW, and vacations to Hawaii each year. So what I charge works for me.

And even with what I charge, I am a licensed business (LLC) with the state. I pay self employment tax, withholding tax, and LLC taxes. I also pay for general, liability and equipment insurance, and yet I am not a 5000 wedding photographer. And gasp! I am one of the photographers that includes a CD with images (not all mind you) for my clients.

Even with all that, does it mean I am not a professional because my prices are lower than others, and I don’t offer albums and such, because my clients don’t order albums?

Heather - April 25, 2011 - 8:45 pm

Thanks for your thoughts! I can appreciate that you charge what works for your market.
The jeans analogy is interesting but I think that would be more comparable to selling a two different fine art prints with different labels…
In our neck of the woods, there is a HUGE difference in quality between a $1400 photog and $5000. (Better gear, more experience, better lighting techniques, better editing techniques, etc.) While both are professionals, hopefully they both understand how much to save from each client payment so they don’t keeping their business running off credit cards, personal funds or loans for any extended period of time.
I doubt the $5000 photogs are driving BMWs. 🙂 I’m guessing they have a modest lifestyle, especially if they have a family to provide for.
Even a $5000 photog can be under-priced. Are they spending 20 hours on the wedding or 90 hours on the wedding? After taxes & overhead, that paycheck doesn’t seem so large.
In some areas, I am guessing $1400 a wedding can be profitable if you: shoot the wedding, don’t spend much time editing the images, burn it to CD, mail it to clients and you’re done.

Arnaldo Martinez - April 26, 2011 - 6:45 am

I would like to thank you for this outstanding article. You have opened my eyes. Again thank you.

Me - April 29, 2011 - 7:39 am

Your numbers seem a little high. First, forget the college fund and let the kids pay for their own college, don’t spoil them. Then, take off the retirement fund, because the world is going downhill and no one will probably be here years from now. My husband and I have no retirement fund because we’re too darn broke to waste money saving it. Third, your numbers for overhead are way too high. I have talked to pro photographers before. At least they’re too high for my area.

Heather - April 29, 2011 - 8:40 am

Hi “Me” – I wish you would have used a real name, real e-mail address and perhaps be so bold to share your website url… but it’s your choice to hide in cyberspace.
It is also your choice to not save for retirement… which really puzzles me. It isn’t a “waste” to save for retirement… unless you are willing/able to work until the day you pass away.
College fund is a personal choice but a wise one. Our kids will be better for it and since you don’t know mine or my husband’s work ethic (one we will pass on to our kids), I won’t even get into a response on “not spoiling” our kids.
I know what my overhead is. When a new camera body costs $3,000, a L lens $2,000 and workshops start at $800, you can’t say estimated overhead is too high. Sure if you go dormant and stop investing in new/better gear or stop attending workshops, overhead goes down… but I want to constantly re-invest in my company, so prospective clients can rest easy investing in me.
I wish you the very best!

Jennifer - May 20, 2011 - 8:03 am

Such a great post! I think it’s worth it to educate people. The only thing I see slightly off is taxes — you don’t always “pay” 30% because of writing off business expenses, but I suppose it never hurts to anticipate 🙂

Jayne - May 20, 2011 - 8:15 am

Great breakdown! I am in my first official year of business (after photography school) and I am finding out the costs of bussiness! This has really helped put things in perspective for me and have given me a great guide! I plan on sharing this with my fellow photographer graduates and students. Thanks…off to raise my prices!! lol

Kendra Stoner - May 20, 2011 - 8:15 am

I very much enjoyed this article. I am recently trying to break into moving my hobby of photography into an actual business, and having a professional’s point-of-view has helped me greatly. My Husband keeps telling me I’ll be making big bucks soon, and I keep trying to tell him that it will take a LOOOONNNNGGGG while if it ever does happen. I appreciate your honesty. I also wanted to ask if you have possibly taken Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class…because a lot of your views line up with his. Just wondering. It is refreshing to have others out there that don’t conform to the world standard of debt, and instead choose to live on what they have and strive to live “free”. Thank you so much for sharing! *PS…your photos are beautiful!*

Stacy McPeek-Smith - May 20, 2011 - 8:26 am

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Heather - May 20, 2011 - 8:29 am

Thank you Kendra 🙂 No, I haven’t taken his class (had to Google him to see who he is). 😉 I arrived at this via experience and doing what makes sense for me and my husband.

Heather - May 20, 2011 - 8:30 am

Thanks Jennifer! You are right – taxes will vary but my husband and I prefer to error on the side of caution and have a cushion for the end of the year. 🙂

Amy - May 20, 2011 - 8:40 am

This is totally the reality. I really appreciate how you laid it out so clearly what pro-photographers make (unless you’re ubber famous, like you mentioned). I don’t think people have a real concept of how much is involved time and expense wise. They just think wow she just made $5000 on a wedding or $220 session fee from a one hour shoot. Sooo NOT the case people. Thank you for writing this and enlightening the minds of hobbyist or newbies who just don’t grasp it yet.

Becky H - May 20, 2011 - 11:51 am

great blog! Thanks for sharing!

Maggie KAye - May 20, 2011 - 12:14 pm

I love this post! It is amazing how many people ask us if they can have a cd of all of their proofs before they’ve even spent a dime on prints! We started our business within the last 6 months, and obviously have plenty of overhead to get started. Our prices are very competitive, and we spend more time editing and communicating with our clients than most people should expect. If we break it down, we’re making an hourly minimum wage if we’re lucky! We may not have the same amount of time to devote to future clients as our business grows, but I am simply shocked at the number of people who just ask for the rights to all of the proofs without having ordered a single print! We’ve researched our competition and have seriously undercut everyone in our area. No, we should not have to explain our costs to clients, but what you’ve shared is a wonderful tool for people intending to start a photography business. Like most others, I have two other jobs (Flight Attendant and Massage Therapist) The free flights help when we need a break or want to shoot an out-of-town event. I’m also given discounts at many companies as a perk of working for a major airline. Still, it is a financial struggle to get the business off of the ground. Thank you for sharing this. It makes so much sense!

Nathan - May 20, 2011 - 4:55 pm

PERFECT!! this is going to Facebook right now!!

Vittore Wedding Photographer - May 21, 2011 - 1:22 pm

Great article. I always try to explain that to my assitants. They always says that I ask too much money to my client and they strat they own business. After 4 years they start to understand that they have to change business.

Karen Linsley, Cr. Photog., CPP - May 21, 2011 - 10:18 pm

Thank you! You said it much better than me! I was just trying to write something about this a couple of days ago and ended up being so negative I put it away for a while. I’m sharing this.

Tyger Maffei - May 23, 2011 - 5:36 pm

Saw the blog link on a friend’s Facebook group. Provides good information from Heather and even the additional rebuttals. Great starting point for newbies and hobbyist alike. I haven’t read through all of these comments; but why do so many of you spend so much time editing images? If everyone shot digital they we we had to shoot film – they’d actually have better quality images and no need for editing in software.

Tina Ryan - May 24, 2011 - 7:48 am

Very nice! I posted this on my blog today and linked back to you as well. I think my readers will enjoy it and thank you for sharing!

Kaethe Richter - May 25, 2011 - 8:29 am

Ugh. Why is it so hard to convince people $2,000 is inexpensive for a wedding?

Dawna M - May 26, 2011 - 7:03 am

Thanks you – I’ve stared getting inquiries & have found it hard to know what to charge. I want to be fair to my customer & fair to myself – & after reading this – fair to other photographers, too!

David Grupa - May 29, 2011 - 10:17 pm

Heather –

I can’t count the number of times I’ve shared this article. Thanks for writing it, thanks for posting it, thanks for continuing to share with people in this industry who need this type of assistance.

Awesome stuff.

– David

Mandi White - May 31, 2011 - 8:54 pm

Thanks for putting this together. I will somehow find a way to permanently link this from my website. Great info 🙂

Jane Cato - June 1, 2011 - 7:27 pm

Enjoyed the post. Thank you.

Sherry Johnson - June 8, 2011 - 8:23 am

Really enjoyed your post as well as the NUMEROUS comments after it… We are a full time sudio…been in business 17 years… we don’t photograph weddings and our main market is high school seniors. We DONT give a CD they can print from, just a CD slide show as a bonus with a purhase of $1150 or more. Personally giving a CD of files is just money walking out the door AND giving away the artistic control of how the image is printed. It irks me to death that new photographers just want to shoot and burn. My only hope is they realize that they are loosing money with every client and either quit all together or change their module. Sure we were cheap when we started but nothing like the newbies today. Great article that I will most definately repost!!

Ed Conner - June 9, 2011 - 9:58 am

Well said. Needs to be required reading for all wannabees.

Edith - July 27, 2011 - 3:57 pm

Thank you!! I need to print out that pie & tape it to my computer desk, my fridgerator and the inside of the binder I take with me to client meetings. I think the hard part about doing this is that I have a heart to serve. I constantly battle serving others and recognizing that I also must serve myself as this may be the way the Lord is providing for ME and by brining me clients instead of ME serving all of my clients with free photos 🙂 Thank you so much. I knew this going in and was ok with the minor take home. I just have to get comfortable with actually standing firm 🙂

Deanna - July 28, 2011 - 3:45 pm

I really enjoyed reading your blog. I have to say, I am very impressed. As an accountant, I have so many sole proprietor tax clients who don’t do any budgeting or financial planning (just spend it all). Then come tax time, they are shocked and wonder how they are going to come up with all of the money to pay their tax bill. They then spend the next year paying last years taxes (plus penalties and interest) and find themselves in the same situation year after year. It is rare I see an artistic person who also has a mind for business.

Julia - August 17, 2011 - 12:16 am

Excellent and true- couldn’t have said it better myself. I posted the link to facebook and it is now making the rounds among my old classmates from photo school!

Caitlyn - August 17, 2011 - 11:54 pm

I am not a photographer, but really enjoyed reading this post. I have always looked at photography fees and felt like they were a little expensive. I will never think this again. As a seamstress I’ve always figured that I make about $3 an hour by the time I’m done with a product and that’s not including all of the things that you just included.

Mary - August 18, 2011 - 11:08 am

THANK YOU!!! I was redoing my prices and scared that $2000 for 8 hours and an esession was too much for my area (they’re usually 2300 with album) but i know what i need to make and that’s basics…

John P - August 22, 2011 - 6:38 pm

This is the very best explanation of why we are so stinking expensive I’ve seen so far. Oh I’ve seen the technical ones but for a quick from the hip, pretty close to right on the money example … you rock!

Charisse - August 30, 2011 - 1:12 am

Love this! Thanks for the breakdown & keepingbit real!

Russell Moskwa - September 8, 2011 - 1:35 pm

Thanks for these guidelines. One thing I additionally believe is credit cards presenting a 0% rate often lure consumers in with zero rate, instant acceptance and easy on-line balance transfers, nevertheless beware of the number one factor that will probably void that 0% easy neighborhood annual percentage rate and also throw one out into the poor house rapid.

Debbie Centerfitt - June 9, 2012 - 11:51 pm

I just saw this blog and I can’t thank you enough about breaking this down. I posted this on my fan page:

This helps explain a lot to my customers… better than I ever could. Thank you.

Gabe - September 14, 2012 - 3:18 pm

this is why charging $2000 for a 8 hour day including products is not a smart business plan. there are easier jobs out there that will take up less time, less stress, pay more and allow you to shoot for yourself.

Animesh Ray - June 26, 2013 - 7:10 pm

This was really a very logical breakdown. Love how you are thinking so well ahead, and not worrying about the present.

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