I get this question all the time. Relatively new photographers or existing photographers who are new to a particular type of photography (like weddings) ask what they should charge for a wedding, for an engagement shoot, etc.
For those looking for a quick answer on what I think, scroll down to the bottom of the post, but for the best results, read everything I have to say on the topic!!
Though I do always help the younger shooters when I can, it's hard for me to give a straight answer to that. It is probably a bit frustrating when I tell people they have to put the value on themselves, and it's not something someone else can assign to them, but it's the truth. It's useless to tell you what I charge for a day in any vertical because every photographer and every artist, in general, is different. Not saying I'm better or worse than anyone, just different.
Going to keep this short and to the point, but I have a lot to say on this topic since it's one that so many people are asking about and probably Googling all the time like I was in the beginning before I started to grasp my value and what I want to make me happy.
*side note: we're using photography and photographers as the topic and terms here, but this works for videographers and many other artists who wonder how to price themselves.
How to assign yourself the value and know what to charge as a photographer
You're different from every other photographer. You might be there at the same moment, in the exact location, shooting from the same spot with the same kit, but you'll get a different photo from the next guy, right? You probably think yours is better, maybe you don't. That's the starting point to understanding your value, but the art itself, believe it or not, is only part of the value of a photographer.
Think about it hourly.
My best advice to anyone who asks how much they should be charging as a professional content creator is to think about their time hourly. There's a reason that most full-time, "normal" jobs will pay you this way. It's just the easiest way to think about it.
Why do some wedding photographers get paid ten thousand for the day and some get paid five hundred?
There is a complex formula that is a lot more than just the art. You might know a wedding photographer who is doing extremely well financially and whose work you feel is just ok - it's not bad, but it's not anything extraordinary.
That usually means you're capable of doing the same work, so why are you not commanding the same rate?
Let's say that person is a wedding photographer. Are you a wedding photographer or a general photographer who does weddings also? Usually, those people you see at the top of their given vertical of photographer, whether headshots, weddings, or anything else, are leaning 100% into that vertical. When you look at their Instagram, website, or whatever, that's all you see. That's all they do. Or at least, that's all that brand of theirs does.
Not every photographer wants to box themselves into one form of photography because they like doing them all. There's nothing wrong with that at all, but you need to break off into different brands which all have unique identities if you want to appear to be laser-focused, which generally is what clients want to see. Start a wedding brand, an event brand, a studio photo brand, etc. If you know what you're doing with Photoshop a little bit, you can easily make yourself a little logo for each and put up a web-based portfolio for each.
Who knows you? Do you have a fan base? A client base?
The quality of your art will not bring people to knock on your studio door. A lot of local photographers have been doing their thing locally for a long time by the time you get into the game. That's the nature of business, and their clients are loyal to them. That's the way it should be.
Their price is often a function of their business, which has been increasing slowly over time since they started doing their art professionally. That's why, alot of times, even though you might not think their work is amazing to you, they are busy and have a ton of people working with them. The clients are never going to notice quite as much of the "flaws" with another person's photos or videos. They like that person because they are consistent, reliable, and quick on the edits. That is rarer than you might think. You need to focus on those things if you're a great artist and you don't feel like you're busy enough. Being unorganized tends to be a downfall of many great artists, which limits their business potential. Get someone on your team who can help you organize yourself if you don't feel like you can be organized yourself. Most of us can't. It's the whole "left brain right brain," thing, and it happens to be true, at least for me.
How to know when you haven't charged enough
That's one of the few questions here that is easy for me to answer for you.
Are you ever working on a project that you just aren't feeling at all, even though by ever metric its what you've always wanted to be working on? That's usually a big red flag to tell you that you aren't charging enough. you feel that to be dealing with what you're dealing with on that particular project, the money wasn't worth the time you're spending. If you want my advice, suffer through and get it done to the best of your ability, hand off something to them that they love, and raise your prices for the next person. It's honestly not a bad problem to have if this is where you're at.
So, what should you charge?
You should charge what you're worth, and you have to figure that out for yourself, sorry! That's part of becoming a great artist is learning your value. You'll thank me later when you're forced to think about it yourself and you start to know your own worth.
I was the same way, asking everyone what they're charging. It can help you get some market data, but it's not a fool proof way of pricing yourself and your work. That's like asking someone what settings they're using in their camera - it rarely helps you actually compose a better photo and it kinda makes everyone who overhears it think you're an amateur.
Just so I can give you an answer that you came here looking for
If you're just starting out, do work for free! If there's a local store that you'd love to shoot some content for, buy something there and then talk to the owner. It's rare, in my experience, that they're not willing to do a free shoot to help get them new content and to help you get some of your own work out there in your locale. That's pretty much what I did with Richmond Hood Co in Staten Island when I was just starting out, and it led to what is still some of my favorite photos to this day that I've taken and some great experiences.
If you want to know a bit more about how I wold calculate what to charge for a day rate, half day, and so on...
When you're just starting out, a day rate of 400 and a half day rate of 250 is usually a pretty sweet spot for clients who are local, looking to hire you for an event, and so-on. That's just my experience and roughly what I was charging when I was just starting out and not working for free.
When you get super busy at those rates or you start to feel like you're unhappy because you're not paying yourself enough, then just up your prices slow and steady until you get to where you feel better and more comfortable. There is no limit to how far you can go and how much you can charge once you're in demand. The sweet spot will make itself apparent to you the more you deal with people, price jobs, and come down here and there to make it work. There are enough clients out there for every photo and video person who wants to work doing content. Never be afraid to start high and see what happens! You can always come down in price if it seems to not be working.
As time goes on, an easy way to figure out what you should charge for content captures like photos and video is to think of it hourly. There is a reason many employers do it this way. If you want to make 50 dollars an hour, for example, you know that an 8-hour shoot should be roughly $400. As time goes on, raise your price.
In summary, you can do it! Pricing is not that hard. I can tell you what I charge, what you should charge, etc, but the best way to get more comfortable with pricing, in my opinion, is to make all the mistakes yourself and learn your value slowly over time. That is the way, to me, that it stays the most solid in your mind. If your price is lower than someone is willing to offer you to work for a day, congrats, the higher price is your new price!
I hope that this has helped someone out there learn to price themselves better. It's one of the hardest parts of doing business, but when you get that invoice paid, it's all worth it!