Starting a portrait photography business is hard! That’s why I’m letting you in on my method of how I started to charge real money when I first started out as a photographer.
The Hurdle You Need to Get Over About Charging Money
The hardest hurdle to start charging money as a new photographer is that you always want to be better first. You feel like you have to be perfect before you could ever charge money for your photography services. It’s a hard hurdle to get over, but I always go back to the fact that YOU have talent and YOU have a gift. You are a gifted, gifted person who was born with a knack for photography – which is something that these people who you are photographing DO. NOT. HAVE. They cannot take these pictures for themselves. They do not have the equipment to take pictures. They do not have the knowledge. They do not have the editing software nor know anything about using it. They do NOT have all these talents that YOU have. They literally cannot do what YOU can do.
Just by YOU photographing them, even if it’s not perfect, even if it’s not exactly where you want your photography style and technical abilities to be, you are still giving one heck of a gift to these people. Without YOU they would have no photos to remember this season of their life by. So I want you to remember that when you are thinking about charging people for your photography services. You need to remind yourself “This is something that they cannot do for themselves and they are asking ME to do it for them”.
I know charging money as a new photographer can feel hard. Most new portrait photographers start by scouring the websites of other photographers in their area and compare their own work to these other photographer’s work. You search other photographers’ websites for prices to get an idea of what to charge (trust me, I did this a lot myself). But, I want to you develop your own plan for charging that YOU feel comfortable with right now.
I’m going to go over how I started charging money when I first started my photography business because I think it’s good to see a real life example from a person who was in your exact shoes only a couple years ago.
When I first started my photography business I didn’t have a portfolio or any images to prove what I could offer potential clients. I started off reaching out to my family and friends who I knew were at a stage of life that I was interested in photographing asking if I could offer them a session. Any of those sessions I personally reached out to people for, I offered for free because I just wanted to build my portfolio and get experience and confidence in how to run a photo session.
My rule of thumb for myself and when to start charging money as a new photographer was I would photograph at least 1-2 free sessions per photography category (ie. families, couples, newborns, etc.) before I felt comfortable charging anyone for my services. For example, I wanted to make sure I had at least 1-2 couples sessions under my belt or 1-2 family sessions that I had done before I decided to start charging.
I remember when I hosted my first set of fall mini sessions, I had literally photographed TWO families before I booked two full days worth of mini sessions with families who I had never met and this would be my first time photographing them.
When I charged money for my first newborn session, I had only done ONE newborn session for free for a friend’s family member. But, that one free session allowed me to have portfolio images to show my work and gave me enough experience and confidence to know I can do this.
This is a touchy subject with a lot of seasoned photographers. I know that seasoned photographers who have been in business for years can feel threatened by new photographers charging money at lower amounts for a photo session. Or they may think that you need a year’s worth of portfolio building experience before ever thinking of charging money.
Friend, let me tell it to you straight! Keep your head in your own lane. Your clients that you will be getting for your first paid sessions are NOT the ideal client for that more seasoned photographer. They are YOUR perfect client because they asked YOU to be their photographer.
You are not going to charge as much as a seasoned photographer for a family shoot because you are still gaining a lot of experience and knowledge and growing. But do not forget that you ARE WORTH MONEY because you are giving this client something that they cannot do for themselves.
My first ever session that I got paid for, I charged $100. I chose that amount because $100 was what I felt comfortable with at the time.
You do not have to pick $100. You can pick any arbitrary amount you feel comfortable starting off with. But, I’d like to remind you that YOU. ARE. WORTH. IT! Even if you want to be better, you are still worth some money right here, right now. So don’t hold yourself back and charge something.
My rule of thumb for increasing prices, was for every 3-5 sessions I booked at my current price, I would increase my rate by $50. For example, my first 3-5 families I charged them $100 each for their photo session. Then, when I received an inquiry for another family session, I increased my rate to $150. After I booked 3-5 sessions at $150, I’d increase my rate to $200 for the next 3-5 sessions. I followed this pricing method until I reached a price point that made the most sense for me.
You can apply this method to any area of portrait photography: family photography, newborn photography, senior photography, couples photography and wedding photography.
I know there are a lot of opinions from other “seasoned” photographers about how much you should be charging when starting out. And I know as a new photographer we get in our heads all the time about our worthiness and not being enough: That you have to be perfect before charging any amount of money. And, I want to tell you right now that YOU. ARE. WORTHY. You are! Right now!
Now I’m not telling you to go out there and charge $350 for your first family session because I do think that you have a lot of learning and growth to do which is a never ending. I’m just asking you to realize that you have a gift and that you do not have to be perfect and exactly where you think you need to be before you start charging clients for photography sessions. You can start charging people now. You are worth 100% of the money you receive!
Hey, it’s me, Larissa! I started my photography business three years ago with a one-day photography class, a craigslist camera and zero experience photographing people. I’m not a hot shot in the industry, but a real person who built a business that replaced my previous job’s income and a fire in my soul to share how I got my business off the ground with other newbie photographers. If you want more advice, how-to’s and tips on getting your portrait photography business off the ground, head over to my photographers page!