It’s been a while since I blogged “Do Professional Photographers Really Make Money?” and I wanted to thank everyone for reading, sharing the link and commenting on my blog.
While most photographers roughly agree with my figures, there were some who didn’t think they added up and some who still retaliate against charging enough to sustain a living from photography alone.
So here I am, once again, asking photographers to charge enough to sustain their lives. Do not supplement your business with personal income to charge a smaller rate.
If you are QUICK, you probably spend 6 hours on one portrait client. Let’s be honest and say you probably take longer, but for the sake of another example, we’ll show the best-case-scenario.
How many portrait sessions a year can you handle? One a day? One a week? Two or three a week?
Running a photography business is SO much more than taking pictures and editing them, so let’s say you can handle three portrait sessions a week and you take two weeks off a year.
3 x 50 = 150 portrait sessions for the year.
Since minimum wage (in the state of Colorado) is currently $7.36, you want to make more than that. You have a SKILL that is worth more than that, right? (right!)
$7.36 (minimum wage) x 6 hours of work = $44.16
HOWEVER, you need to #1 set aside approximately 1/3 for taxes AND #2 set aside 1/3 for “running your business.”
So you actually need to earn three-times minimum wage to MAKE minimum wage.
$44.16 x 3 = $132.48
So, to earn minimum wage, you need to charge $132.48 for one portrait session.
But you can’t be ok with earning minimum wage, can you? If you are, you could go out and find a minimum wage hourly job.
When people say “Heather, I’m OK with being a starving artist. I do this for the love of doing it! Making a little money on top of it is just a bonus!”
Actually, if you are not charging enough to sustain your business and your family, you are teaching consumers that it is possible to obtain a professional at this rates. (*dislike!*)
Let’s talk about the national poverty level. For a family of four it is $22,350 for the year. That is $10.75 per hour at 40 hours a week. That is $3.39 MORE per hour than minimum wage. That’s a HUGE difference, percentage-wise.
So, as a “starving artist” you should at least make the national poverty rate – let’s hope so!
$10.75 (national poverty rate) x 6 hours of work = $64.50
Again you actually need to earn three-times $10.75 to MAKE $10.75.
$64.50 x 3 = $193.50
So, if you are charging LESS than $193.50 for a portrait session, that (start to finish) takes you no longer than six hours to complete, you are paying yourself at the national poverty line (as of 2011).
So let’s say you feel “set” at your price of $200 for a session, with a CD of edited images.
$200 x 150 sessions for the year = $30,000.
That sounds like a decent little starter income, right?
Nope… remember this doesn’t go into your pocket. 1/3 is set aside for taxes. 1/3 is set aside for equipment, marketing, website, computers, CPA fees, samples, business insurance, etc. THEN a 1/3 is your take-home pay.
$10,000 doesn’t go far in the DSLR world.
Photography equipment is VERY costly. People will ask what the “bare minimum to get started” is and I honestly feel there isn’t a “bare minimum.” I will do another breakdown in a future post, but you can easily invest $10,000 upfront and keep investing $3,000+ a year to your gear bag.
The $10,000 that is left for your take-home pay for the YEAR can easily get erased by the expensive of running your business. It has for me, which is why I’m just being upfront and real.
150 portrait sessions x 6 hours each = 900 hours of work JUST on those sessions.
That’s 18 hours a week for the year… which sounds like part-time work, but you don’t get paid unless you see clients. So you actually have a full 40 hour week on your plate (marketing, office work, customer service, scouting out new locations, social media time, etc.).
Are you really ok with earning less than HALF the national poverty line rate? ($22,350 vs. $10,000)
You would need to do 340 portrait sessions a YEAR at $200 each to earn roughly the same… $22,350 vs. $22,667.
The solution here:
- Start your session fee at $200 but you don’t include the digital files on CD.
- Offer print packages at a minimum investment amount so you know you will get paid more than minimum wage & the national poverty line.
- Don’t offer the digital files for purchase until that minimum print investment is reached.
- If you feel you aren’t experienced enough to charge these rates, then take some time to assist an established photographer (for weddings or portraits, it doesn’t matter).
Let’s say you make the leap of faith and start charging $200 for the session, then your print packages start at $200. That’s a $400 minimum investment from your client.
$400 x 150 portrait sessions a year = $60,000
$20,000 set aside for taxes (you may not need all this for taxes, but you won’t know until year-end)
$20,000 set aside for equipment, cost-of-goods, computer, marketing – “overhead”
$20,000 your take-home for the year. Save it & spend it how you see fit. Just be kind to yourself and account for mortgage/home rent, feeding & clothing your family on top of retirement, college funds & vacations.
Will $20,000 a year do it for you?
How much do you want to make?
$40,000? Then your 150 portrait sessions a year need to average $800 each.
$50,000? They will need to average $1,000 each.
Again, I am not a financial advisor and I didn’t learn this from a book… my goal is to share my personal experiences as [barely] “making it” as a professional photographer.
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