What Should Pro's Charge To Shoot Events?


DFZ

There’s so much I want to write about on the issue of pricing, but because it is such a broad subject, covering everything in a single article that might run a couple thousand words is probably not going to do it justice. Also, I don’t work in every facet of photography so I will have to limit myself to a single area where I do have a lot of experience, namely event photography. I’ve been working in this field for going on 8 years and in that time one thing has become very clear: my prices are under pressure.

 

Why is this?

 

THE UNDER CUTTING BASEMENT (A.K.A. “THE SWEATSHOP”)

 

The market has changed in recent years and there are now lots of new photographers around, many of whom are also reaching for a piece of the ever-shrinking corporate event photography pie. Sadly most of the new-comers to this business have little business sense or even understanding of how to price themselves, so they go in cheap. This increase in competition means that if I want to carry on working in this business I have to be competitive and reduce my rates too. Or improve my value offering. Or take out contracts on all the competitors who undercut prices. Well, there’s no Italian blood in me (omertà) so I’m really only left with one choice. It isn’t reducing my rates.

 

If I was to reduce my rates to compete with the under-cutters entering into the market all I would end up doing is heaping more pressure on myself. My rent doesn’t ever come down, nor do any of my other living expenses. I would have to work harder to make the same money I was making before. I’m old now. Working harder for the same things doesn’t really enter my thought space that much.

 

I understand that everyone has a different set of living costs and mine may not be the same as the new photographer who just graduated from college and still lives with his or her parents. But why should there be differences in the way we price ourselves? We are doing the same job and probably giving a similar output. The only things differentiating us should be our individual style and personality.

 

If you undercut your competitor’s prices to get a job the winner isn’t you, it’s the accountant working for your customer, because now they have leverage over you. They know that you’re a low-rent photographer and their exploitation engine kicks into high gear. Welcome to the world of the bargain basement photographer. If you’re undercutting on jobs because you can afford to charge less since you’re living in your parent’s basement paying hardly any rent, I hope you like that basement because you’re going to be spending a lot of time down there if your plan is to keep on doing cheap jobs for customers by undercutting the market. Those customers may keep you very busy, but you’ll never get any richer. You’ll just get worn out working for them. Trust me on this. 

 

Once you set a price benchmark using basement living overheads, getting customers to move to a new benchmark outside of the basement (when your overheads inevitably increase) is going to require smooth talking from you on the intensity level of Spandau Ballet love songs to keep those customers. That is unless you have an X factor that they are prepared to pay more for. Not many photographers have an X factor, especially not in event coverage.

 

Around the time I made the transition to being a full time pro I had a conversation with a guy who used to be a moderator on the ODP forums (and he was also a member here), the late Mark Thomas who worked in Pretoria as a commercial photographer. Mark mentored quite a few of us on ODP and his advice on turning pro has stuck with me. He told me this story about how after being a pro for a few years and not really getting anywhere he decided one day to double his rates. He lost half of his regular customers immediately but he managed to keep the other half by promising them more attention to their individual needs and turnaround times. He didn’t shoot events (that I know of) as he was a commercial photographer, so his work was already at a certain level that those customers had come to appreciate and were prepared to pay more for. He also had the X factor in what he did. As a result of this decision he subsequently worked fewer hours, but made the same money he did before. This move however, improved the quality of new clients calling on him. He wasn’t being seen as a low rent photographer anymore and he also then had more time to explore other photographic interests, one of which was to start selling fine art prints and copyright of stock he’d taken to corporate customers. Back then I recall he sold a photograph he had taken to a company for a lot of money. He would never have had that opportunity if he’d been grinding away day after day for peanuts as a bargain basement photographer.

 

You have to think big picture if you want a long term career in photography. Trying to build up a business on a price offering is 100% dependent on volume and in these days of corporate cutbacks volume is fast becoming Unobtainium. Loyalty means nothing to customers who have made their purchase decisions on price. Don’t try and run your photography business like a supermarket, because there is always going to be somebody who will do it cheaper than you. You simply won’t last very long if your customers run out on you to go and use the next bargain basement photographer they find.

 

SETTING THE PRICE BENCHMARK

 

At a recent workshop I held for photographers looking to build their own WordPress websites we got onto the topic of price discussion amongst pros. How come so few of us publish our rates on our websites? We seem to have this totally unfounded paranoia about sharing what we charge with other photographers that doesn’t seem to exist in any other service industry. Plumbers and electricians are all pretty open about their rates and the medical profession have the Prescribed Minimum Benefits (PMB) system to work from (in a South African context). They all know what the benchmark for charging for their services is. Some go higher, some go lower.

 

If we professional photographers playing in the same markets set some PMB’s ourselves, we might make our lives a little easier. We will never get consensus on what that benchmark figure should be in an unregulated industry such as photography, but I reckon we should at least be looking to establish a minimum hourly rate for event photography, especially if we are to help new photographers avoid falling into the “bargain basement” trap and thus becoming a problem for the entire industry. Them being stuck in there hurts us all, so it would be better for us if they never went into the basement in the first place.

 

So, let me be forthcoming and reveal my personal pricing benchmark for event photography (please note that these are based on the South African market, photographers in other countries will have different benchmarks, but the principals used should apply to all markets). 

 

When I quote on an event I first look at the timing and location of the event. I have developed a hourly pricing model (labour only) that is based on weekdays or weekends, daytime hours or evening hours. If it’s a weekday and the hours are between 7am and 5pm I charge R1000 ($65) for the first hour and then R600 ($40) for every subsequent hour, or part thereof. If the event is after 5pm the first hour is R1250 ($82) and additional hours are charged at R750 ($50) each. If it’s on a weekend my first hour is R1500 ($100) and additional hours are R900 ($60) each regardless of the time of day. Please note that this is purely for corporate events and only covers labour. If there are any extras like prints or disks those are billed for separately. 

 

I choose to charge more for the first hour and less for extra hours because it makes it worthwhile for me to do short 1 hour jobs and it also gives my customer the impression that they are getting better value by having me around on an event for longer. However, I find that longer jobs are not as plentiful as they used to be, so if I am out for 3 hours on a job I am getting at least R2200 ($145), whereas if I was charging (say) R600 ($40) flat rate per hour I would only get R1800 ($120) for the same job. If a customer wants me for a half day or a full day they can easily work out the total costs using these rates. I don’t offer half and full day rates anymore.

 

For travelling costs if the event is outside of the Durban Metro area I charge R4.50 ($3) per kilometre from my starting point. I don’t charge for travel if the location of the event is within 30km. In light of recent fuel and insurance price increases I should probably re-look at that policy.

Sometimes I might get a project in another city that requires me to fly there. It doesn’t happen often but when it does I charge an S&T rate that covers my meals and any other costs arising (like parking at the airport, which can be quite expensive long term). I try not to gouge my clients and base this on reasonable expenses. Usually my client pays for the airfare and overnight accommodation if it’s needed, otherwise I’ll just add it to the quote.

 

always ask for a 50% deposit on events, unless I have already got a long established relationship with the client. The balance of my invoice is due on delivery of the photos, not 30 days from delivery like how some customers (particularly certain ad agencies) like to pay. I make this very clear upfront for new customers. A new strategy I am adopting to avoid this “shoot now pay later” practise is to offer a 10% discount off my quote if payment is made in full upfront. You’ll be surprised at just how effective this has been! Solves a lot of admin and cash flow problems for me.

 

There are many photographers who are charging more than I do for corporate stuff and if they are getting their price then that’s great. My rates are based on Durban events. I’m sure photographers in Gauteng and the Western Cape are able to charge much more than I do. I’m happy with where I am price wise, provided the work keeps coming. I don’t expect to be busy every day, but at least when I am busy I don’t feel like I am being molested by some corporate accountant who’s only motivation for living is to bleed every supplier he can totally dry. I at least retain my soul when I am working on events and I enjoy them rather than spending my time feeling resentful towards the client who beat me down on price.

 

WHAT IS MARKET RELATED PRICING?

 

So what about those photographers charging less than me? How much less is considered reasonable to charge for events these days?

 

I reckon no photographer anywhere in South Africa should be working for less than R500 ($35) an hour for event coverage. If you’re going in under that price point you’re going to be in the low rent basement because these jobs don’t happen every day. You can’t rely on them for all your income, so you may as well make the most of them and charge a healthy hourly labour rate.

 

“But what if I’m not good enough to charge that much yet?” I hear you say. Oh dear. If you want to do photography for a living you have to be good enough before you get in the game. End of story. Roll credits here. There is no room for hacks in this business so please get “good enough” before you set up shop and print your business cards. Skilled work requires skilled workers and you need to have those skills in order to be able to charge for them. Horse. Cart. Order.

 

AND ON THAT BOMBSHELL…

 

If you’re already “good enough” but you truly have no idea on how the photography business works, yet you want to be a part of it, find yourself a good mentor who isn’t shy to share their experiences and business wisdom with you. There are many successful photographers around, some of whom offer internships, assistant jobs or workshops. Seek them out and tap their knowledgebase.

 

A good professional photographer will never be worried about you stealing business from them because they already know the value of their own ability and why their customers are happy to pay them for it. Don’t be afraid to ask and don’t be afraid to charge when you’re ready to call yourself a professional.

 

If you're a pro working in the events market outside of South Africa, please share your thoughts on billing in the comments. I'd love to hear them. 


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Pros should charge ~100 Euros per hour. It is up to the situation if that includes taxes or not. This depends on your tax status and the tax status of your customer.

 

Small previews are delivered without rights of use before the bill is paid in full. Large JPEG files  are delivered with the license to use the files AFTER the bill is paid in full.

 

All these terms in written contract before the event.

 

One example from my practice.

 

Large company event for key accounts, rougly 150 people. Starting at 8am ending at 1am. Food and cigarette breaks in between.

 

Reception, fair, presentations, candle light dinner, stage show and lots of single, double, triple portraits and group shots. Difficult light, two cameras two bounced flashes, a  collection of glass.

 

1325€ IIRC ... delivered ~450 pictures on DVD

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Thanks for sharing your version, Frank. I wish I could still charge that much in this local market, but alas the local market won't bear that rate (R1680) unless you're doing other stuff with it. Wedding photography yes, but not corporate stuff. 

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I'm currently working on creating a "menu" pricing structure that I'll be publishing in my website.

 

Like at a restaurant, you look at the menu for your type of event and choose the services you want...add them up and that is the price for the shoot.  

 

I'm a PPA member, so working with them to get the pricing right for my market.

 

Some jobs/clients are fixed price and others are by the hour.  Once I get everything finalized, I'll be sure to share them along with my reasoning behind it. 

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I can create "packages" using my online billing system, but usually I treat each customer differently based on their history with me. Also, I wouldn't consider a wedding the same as a corporate event, so my hours are billed at a higher rate for those. I have outlined how I bill for weddings here.

 

I had a wedding inquiry yesterday but the chap didn't give me the hours he wants me for. The first thing he said in his email was that he couldn't afford my rates but would like my "last minute" special, even though his wedding is still more than 4 months away. ::)

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I've had a rash of people calling me for weddings in the last 6 months:

 

Scenario

caller:  how much do you charge for a wedding?

me: when is the wedding

caller: in 1 a week

me:  I'm sorry, but that is not enough lead time to properly prepare for a wedding

caller:  well, what is your cheapest package?

me: again, that depends on a lot of factors like location, duration of the shoot, style and prints/album selection just to name a few.

caller: just tell me your cheapest price

me:  I can't give you a price unless I know what you want

caller:  it's for my daughters wedding, so I don't know what she wants.  It's on (month/day/year), are you available?

me: I thank you for calling, but I don't believe that we can accommodate your request for services.  The lead time is too short as I've stated before, we are booked on the day you've mentioned(which I usually am) and prices depend on a lot of factors that are unknown.

caller:  so you can't give me a price?

me:  I could if I were available and had the information to give you a proper estimate.  Given the short time frame, my recommendation is that we end this conversation so you can spend that time on trying to find another photographer that can meet your time frame.  The shorter the timeframe is, the harder it will be for you to find someone with the availability to help you.

 

End Scenario

---

 

I've had to put in place a 30 day minimum lead time for weddings.  I've had 1 too many situations where I try to accommodate the shorter time frames and they never go as smoothly as they should, and put me at risk of not being able to deliver the type of service that I think my clients deserve.

 

I've also am close to switching the wedding services over to the "menu" system, where the price is the price and I only am going to shoot in photojournalistic style with formal portraits.   Too many requests for the 5000 Pinterest board images per session.  That is not my strong suite and people don't realize the amount of time that will take to setup all these images - not to mention the added stress that goes along with the shoot for both photographer and bride/groom.

 

I tell clients that if that is what they want, I recommend that we book that as a separate portrait session and do that on a different day.

 

So my new model will be 30+ days lead time, pick what you want from the menu, we meet, discuss.  If we agree to work together - we put everything down on the contract, sign it.    Good to go.

Less stress on me - less stress on them.

 

Portrait shoots are a different pricing structure, but I think it will work well with the same pricing method as weddings.

 

Events for me are generally a per hour shoot time and a fee for the deliverables - which for most clients now are digital JPG delivery.

 

Commercial Shoots are a whole different ball game still(I don't get many of these - my location does not lend itself to a lot of these kinds of shoots) and I have a bidding method for that - which I can look up and share here in the future, same as sharing the "menu" style and pricing.

 

Sorry if this droned on - but I thought that having some method behind my madness would help give some perspective as well.

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Thanks Andrew, that's a good share. Its typical of the modern customer to approach photography that way. I guess the thing we have to do is decide whether as photographers we are going to let the market dictate to us or us to the market. Unfortunately I think we may not be able to do the latter in the current circumstances where "professional photography" has such a low barrier to entry. 

 

I was contacted by another local pro yesterday and asked if I would cover two days of a major conference coming up in a weekend in July for R5500 ($360) because he couldn't do it himself. The sad thing is some other bottom feeder will jump at that opportunity and hurt the entire industry. I say hurt because there is no way they will be able to deliver an acceptable level of service for that kind of money and impress a client. 

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OK, so here is my current pricing.

 

Keep in mind the following:

  • Location
    • Central Ohio/Midwest USA - we are not talking NYC or LA, things here are a lot more laid back.
  • Client Purchasing Power
    • My prices are not top tier, based on the pricing of other professionals in my area.  I place myself within the reach on 80% of the market, which are lower/mid class families, mom and pop businesses and per hour government agencies
  • Deliverables
    • 99% of the client base want images for their social media or websites.  Try as I might - and regardless of what the PPA gurus are pushing - no one wants prints anymore - at least not enough to make the old photographers billing model viable for me.  I need to charge more for the upfront work and a digital delivery than I do for prints.  Even for weddings, I'm lucky if I get a few 8x10s and an album request.
    • I do offer a custom website or the clients for events/weddings which I build out for them on a "free" blogging site if they chose.  And when I say custom, I mean not a gallery on my website, but a dedicated sight for their event.

All prices in USD as of January 1, 2016

 

Print Pricing:

Print only (this is for photographic paper prints, nothing special like canvas, acrylic, metal, wood, no frame - all that would be a different charge.

 

4x6 = $5

5x7 = $7

8x10 = $10

11x14/10x20 = $15

20x30 = $50

30x40 = $110

 

Portrait Sessions:

Headshots = single individual, 1-2 poses, studio style portrait, digital delivery (web size image) = $75
This is a popular one for corporate headshots for websites or real estate agents, students that want just a headshot for the yearbook.

 

Formal Portraits = multiple images to choose from, 1 location, 3 clothing changes = $300

Popular with Senior portrait shoots, engagements, family portraits.

 

Additional locations to the portrait sessions above = $100 per location

 

Event Coverage:

Small event (under 100 people), photojournalistic coverage of event, no formal portraits, digital delivery of images (minimal processing) = $35/hour

 

Large Event (over 100 people), photojournalistic coverage of event, no formal portraits, digital delivery of images (minimal processing) = $50/hour minimum 4 hours

 

Weddings:
The way this works that the client orders what they want from the menu, getting their entree and then adding in their sides as they want them.  I'm working on getting the final pricing and the formatting down...but this is pretty close to what I am currently charging.

 

"Entree"

Half Day Coverage of wedding venue and reception, 1 hour initial consultation - Just the shoot = $800

All Day coverage of wedding venue and reception, 1 hour initial consultation - Just the shoot = $1500

 

 

"Sides"

Wed size images for social media = $50

Print your own images (post processed by me) = $500

Album - hardbound or dust jacket book = $175

Album - leather = (ask me - usually between $300 and $500)

Instax reception prints (20-30 delivered by end of reception on a padded memories board) $100

Rehearsal/rehearsal dinner coverage = $300

Additional shooting location (outside the reception/sanctuary) = $200/location

 

 

Other information:  I usually get 4-5 weddings per year, 10 formal portrait sessions, 2-4 event shoots per month(ranging anywhere from 2-4 hours each)

 

Doing some quick math, with these numbers - just he shoots alone I'm grossing between $6000-$8500/year

Take out the taxes I need to pay on it, roughly 30% which nets me between $4200-$5950.  So, after that, I need to take out business expenses, like cost of materials, office supplies, print deliverables and so on.  Again, this is without adding in anything extra - pretty much a shoot with a digital delivery.   Income will go up a bit with any prints.

 

Thankfully - I'm not depending on photography for for my sole income.  My marketing and advertising budgets are pretty minimal.  The work I get is from my personal networking or word of mouth from previous clients.

 

Hope this helps others out.

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Well that just shows what's happened to photography - in the 1980's I was charging (and getting) $25 for an 8x10 (in 1980's dollars - call that $50 today).

 

That was the industry standard as well, others were charging more......

 

Earlier when I worked in advertising (1970's) our studio was charging $400 per half day per photographer. Again, that was standard, and 1970's dollars. So.... $1200 in 2016 dollars?

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Yeah....but back in the 1970's photographer's didn't need to compete with high school kids who think its cool to have their other high school kids take their senior pictures or that their cell phone was "good enough".  I have a feeling these kids will be sorry when Facebook, Instagram and the other social media place go out of business and take all their data and images with them.

 

Heck, I've even had a few people tell me that I'm holding their images hostage and try and convince me that since they are in the picture that they own them just becauce they are in them.

 

Ignorance is a funny thing.

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On 02/07/2016 at 9:13 PM, Andrew L (gryphon1911) said:

Yeah....but back in the 1970's photographer's didn't need to compete with high school kids who think its cool to have their other high school kids take their senior pictures or that their cell phone was "good enough".  I have a feeling these kids will be sorry when Facebook, Instagram and the other social media place go out of business and take all their data and images with them.

 

Heck, I've even had a few people tell me that I'm holding their images hostage and try and convince me that since they are in the picture that they own them just becauce they are in them.

 

Ignorance is a funny thing.

 

Basically what I was alluding to - when I entered the profession, in order to get a job as an assistant photographer with a studio you had to at least have a tertiary qualification in photography, and preferably a diploma/degree in a full-time photography course (or an an arts course with a major in photography, which in turn was pretty much the minimum). Photography was a seriously involved subject, qualification was involved and respected, and the profession itself was regarded as both glamorous and almost elitist. Other than the hang-over street photographers issuing business cards after taking photos of passers-by and the few that would congregate outside churches to photograph emerging couples after the wedding ceremony and try to coerce them back to their "studio" (usually a lounge room or garage) for a formal shot, the world of amateurs and part-timers, and these days armed with digital auto-everything cameras simply didn't exist as any serious form of competition.

 

Everything in photography involved climbing a professional ladder, just the same as any other profession, from university/Technical College or a professional cadetship, through internship, assistant-level jobs and on to junior and then senior positions was required before any thought of starting your own business could occur. Sure there were a few (extremely talented) exceptions, but for the rest of us that was a path that had to be trodden. Press photographers usually started as copy boys (it was virtually 100% male) and went up the ladder from there, through darkrooms to assistants etc.

 

The fees I quoted from that era reflect that, whereas the fees these days reflect a business (I'm hesitant to call it a profession any longer) that involves little more buying an interchangeable lens camera that looks expensive and printing business cards, advertising online through a website or social media, then shooting jobs at times outside their usual employment's business hours.

 

Picking on Wedding and Real Estate photography as the obvious illustrations of this simply because those branches of the original profession were amongst the first to be hit by, and at present have almost been demolished by this new business model, the Internet and phone revolution is putting paid to much else that people once specialised in as well (press photography perhaps being the main casualty).

 

While I still have an erratic market for my speciality in photo restoration, that, too, is a shadow of its 1980's-90's heyday, and as with any branch of photography in real $$ terms I'm charging far less today than I did for similar work 30 years ago, even though the work is just as time consuming and in hardware/software costs far more expensive owing to the continual upgrading that occurs. My old film-based C&R setup lasted well over 20 years without spending one cent on upgrading or repairs, and was still as current the day I last used it all as when I bought the equipment initially. Clients understood paying extra for film and paper, but these days the expenditure on computers, software and storage isn't even considered as chargeable, and prints are in competition with 30 cent 8x10 special offers from department stores or perceived cheap production home printers, something that didn't exist in the late 20th Century - a pro lab was required to process and print the base-line medium/large format professional standard gear of the day back then. Clients simply expected to pay extra for this.

 

Whilst all of this is pretty obvious and for those attempting to earn a living out of photography today is also irrelevant, it is of historical interest as to just how much a profession that I entered in 1971 as a student has flared and died all within my working lifetime. From being an assured long-term and respected profession to one on its last legs with an unsupportable base of participants scrabbling over an increasingly diminishing pie in a business that these days demands as much respect as its basic entry fee of buying a camera and a couple of lenses and putting the word "Photography" after their name on a business card would apparently indicate.

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I have decided that if I am going to do weddings I am only going to look at the top end of the market. Since I wrote this article I have effectively doubled the amount of money I was asking for wedding photography and I re-wrote all the copy on my wedding offering page. Why? Because I think I am worth it and because I am not already established in the wedding market it isn't a part of my business that I have to rely on. So, if it is going to become an important part of my business then I want to be in the upper echelon and I don't want to deal with people who are looking for bargains. 

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9 hours ago, DDFZ said:

I have decided that if I am going to do weddings I am only going to look at the top end of the market. Since I wrote this article I have effectively doubled the amount of money I was asking for wedding photography and I re-wrote all the copy on my wedding offering page. Why? Because I think I am worth it and because I am not already established in the wedding market it isn't a part of my business that I have to rely on. So, if it is going to become an important part of my business then I want to be in the upper echelon and I don't want to deal with people who are looking for bargains. 

 

Although everyone is looking for bargains these days, and probably don't need to have the embarrassment of actually having to negotiate price by booking purely on web searches.

 

I last advertised in 1985 (other than my standard White Pages private listing), and have never had a web site - I figure if people are going to find me, word of mouth is the best carrier service as the price of things is rarely (if ever) raised and usually I volunteer the price information without actually being asked to. They already know it won't be cheap, just through that word of mouth conversation.

 

Granted the exposure is limited, but the booking rate on such queries is 100%. :)

 

Admittedly it's a long time since I did a wedding (quit by my own choice), but I follow the same rule of thumb for any of my current fields of service, and the method worked just fine during the decades I was active in the wedding field, which started from scratch again the year after I moved to my current location in 1995 and the entire 16-year long business grew out of word of mouth from the first wedding I did, which was the result of a recommendation by a friend to one of his relatives.

 

If you're good at what you do, people will seek you out.

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