“What should I charge for my photography?” “Where can I go to find out how much to charge?” Commercial photographer and long-standing educator and mentor Don Giannatti says that of all the things he’s ever asked about photography, pricing related questions are by far the most common. He tells it like it is in this video about how to approach pricing your work.
There’s no place to go, it’s as wacky as you think it is
– Don Giannatti
Don says that contrary to popular belief, there is no one size fits all pricing structure, particularly for commercial photography. He gives an example saying that a headshot today photographed by this photographer might be $350, meanwhile, somebody else is taking another headshot and might be making $25,000.
How is this possible you ask? They are both headshots! How is one photographer able to charge so much more than the other? The answer it seems is a little bit complicated. According to Giannatti, when you shift your thinking from “how much do I charge?” to “What value is this to the client?” you begin to understand how it works.
Don refers to this as ‘Sustainable Pricing’ explaining that this is where a photographer makes enough money to thrive. “That means that you cover your expenses, pay your bills, put a little profit back into the business, and the client spends enough that they get back what they need to make their business grow using your images.
Don is at pains to mention that sustainable pricing is not ‘getting one over on your client’, or that you feel ripped off by your client. It is always a win-win where both of you come out on top.
Don says that pricing isn’t based on what we do as photographers. In fact, he even goes so far as to say that a traditional Cost of Doing Business calculator is rarely of benefit to a commercial photographer. It’s because he says, that’s not how photography, advertising and marketing works.
Don gives an example of a new model coming to you for a headshot for her model agency website. You might charge $350 for this. Three weeks later, the model agency calls to say that Maybelline saw the image on their website and want to hire you to basically do the same image with the same girl to launch a new product. Are you still going to charge $350 for this? No, of course not. That image if placed in 11 glossy magazines and used internationally could net the company over 800 million dollars for launching a new product.
You’re going to charge more likely in the region of $20,000 for that image. Same model, same lighting, same camera. Different purpose and therefore a different value to the client. That is why according to Giannatti, a CODB calculator cannot possibly work.
So what you need to do, says Don, is find a place where you can balance the value of what you do for the client and the value of what we do for us. The pricing at our end can vary dramatically. What usually doesn’t vary much is how much the client is spending on their images in each instance. Don says that this is where you need to do some research and find out what they think your image will do for them. That is where the perceived value lies. If you have great perceived value, then the client will be willing to pay whatever it takes to get that image.
Don also gives an example that destroys the myth that the lowest bid always wins the job. With large budgets at stake, the clients and agencies hiring photographers are usually more concerned with the job being done well than they are with the lowest possible bid. By pricing appropriately you are demonstrating that you have done your homework, you know what the job entails and that you will be taking it seriously. If they think the value is there then the job is yours.
The other thing that Don recommends is setting your own minimum rates for particular types of jobs. That way you can give relatively quick, informed answers when clients ask what your pricing is, and it gives you a good place to start from for adding and negotiating the bid.
Pricing your work is never easy and even at the best of times can feel like a stab in the dark, but using a value-first approach will help you price appropriately for the job.