Pricing Your Photography Products

February 11th, 2011 by Adrian Klein

By Adrian Klein

Well I can assure you this will not be the most visually stimulating blog post. That said I can also assure you it’s one that is worth the time to read for anyone that struggles with how to determine pricing of the work you sell. Pricing your photography products is an important decision that everyone from the hobbyists to the full time professionals need to analyze and determine what pricing points work best. Zack touched on this briefly in his great series on this blog about art shows. I want to delve into this a little more. Pricing is completely up to each person and we will not all have the same prices. That is a good thing. What people should understand though is that you need to have some level of thought and analysis on how to come up with pricing. You don’t want to just pick a price because you think it sounds good or because it’s inline with what your best friend (and #1 fan of your work) is willing to pay. If you are selling your work for next to nothing you are doing the industry and yourself a disservice. You are honestly better off giving away your work than charging ultra cheap prices. I give a number of prints away each year and I am fine with this. If you donate or give away occasional work it still holds value in accordance to the investment you ask of your paying customers.

There are really two models to go with, high volume and low price or low volume and high price, most of us cannot have high prices and high volume. There are a very select few like Rodney Lough Jr and Peter Lik to name a couple, that can sell high end work at high end prices and high volume but they are the exception. Pricing was something that I was mentored on more than once when starting out with portraits and weddings, and of course is no different moving into the landscape nature genre. What you see below are expenses to consider that many people seem to forget plus a couple examples how pricing at different price points can greatly impact the bottom line.

The following are expenses you might need to take into account (definitely not an exhaustive list, there are more but this gives you a good starting point)

Travel: Gas, food, wear & tear on vehicle, oil changes, lodging
Camera Equipment: maintenance, replacements, everyday wear & tear
Office Equipment: computer, software, Internet, phone, general office supplies
Operations Expenses: bank account fees, credit card merchant expenses, website costs
Misc: Equipment insurance, business license fees, postage & shipping, photo organization dues, taxes

Example 1 – The Photographer Keeping Expenses In Mind

12×18 Print priced at $120 inlcuding shipping
(consumer bought online, pays by credit card and is being shipped within the contiguous United States)
– 2.5% to credit card merchant (at minimum)
– $20 lab charge (print expense incl shipping)
– $15 in package/presentation materials
– $10 shipping

Example 2 – The Photographer with little Concept of Expenses.

12×18 Print priced at $60 including Shipping
(consumer bought online, pays by credit card and is being shipped within the contiguous United States)
– 2.5% to credit card merchant (at minimum)
– $20 lab charge (print expense incl shipping)
– $15 in package/presentation materials
– $10 shipping

Example Product Pricing by Adrian Klein

Two Different Pricing Examples - 12x18 Print

 

Okay, this should give you a good visual of how much different the same type of image with very different pricing can end up after the sale. Pretty different, huh! The interesting or sad part is we are not done yet, this was just the cost we took into account for this one sale. Thinking about all the other expenses I noted earlier on, this will cut into the final profit. Let’s also assume with a transaction like this that you have limited phone and or an email time corresponding with the customer to complete the order and answer questions. This does not always happen but it’s likely and I always want to help my customers out as much as I can. This will be more time spent on the order. And you will need to think about the time it takes you actually fulfill the order. Is all of this getting your mind going? I hope so. Here is a list of items on how your time might be spent for an order like this:

1. Receiving order and processing payment
2. Additional editing before it gets printed or goes to the lab for printing
2. Placing the print order or printing it yourself
3. Input transaction into tracking software or spreadsheet (accounting)
4. Putting package together for mailing and drop off at mailing facility
5. Correspondence with the customer before, during and after the order

By the time you take all of this into account for Example 2 you are working for basically minimum wage. You might say this is not a realistic scenario. Well I can say it is. I have seen many photographers pricing work at fairs or online sites at very low prices that make me wonder how they can truly make a profit, even as a part-time professional. You might also be saying to yourself that my expenses are more, or less, than what you have in your examples. Very possible. You might have tiered pricing where you offer cheaper open edition prints and more expensive limited edition prints. There are a myriad of ways this might be slightly different for you. This is meant to be an example.

This is my take on it to help provide all of you reading this some insight on this topic. There is much more that can be discussed and covered. I encourage you to research this topic or send me an email if you have questions.

Oh and one last thing I will also mention is sometimes we make mistakes and need to eat the cost of that mistake. As an example; do not go back to the customer to change amounts after you have given a final price (unless it’s some bizarre/unique situation). Over the holidays I had a client order a 30×45 canvas that I accidentally under priced the shipping and packing. Even though I have sent products out many times I wound up paying more for shipping and packing supplies than I charged this client. Do you think I went back to the client to ask for more money on this transaction? No way. I feel this would be a poor way to do business. Do the best you can and when you miss the mark try to learn from it for the next time.

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  • Great blog Adrian. Very well written and on the mark. I’d say the person using the pricing from example 2 isn’t even working for minimum wage…rather, working for a loss.

  • Great post. Really important to remember all those little things and overhead expenses. And to put a value on your time.

  • I just had my first event selling, so this is a topic that’s of interest to me. I thought I would throw out some observations and assumptions I had, and see how the experienced pros agree or disagree.

    First of all, I think that evaluating the expenses is only a part of deciding on a price. It has to be a price that people will pay. If nothing sells, that’s a problem. And on that subject, I think that the prices people are willing to pay vary widely depending on the event. I think it’s important to distinguish between the “craft” fair and “art” fair. For example, the event I participated in was a craft fair that was advertised locally only. Although it was a craft fair, there were 7 photographers present, so it was a good opportunity to compare how others were doing (and a friendly enough environment that the other vendors were happy to talk to me about it). My largest prints were framed 12x18s for $245; I did not expect to sell any and indeed I did not. I also had a large stack of matted 12x18s. Although these were priced at far lower than your suggested price (I had them priced at $40), I only sold one the entire event. It was just more than the buyers were willing to spend on anything, and I don’t think any of the other photographers present sold anything of that price. Since I only sold one, it didn’t matter much anyway, but in the case of the 8x12s, which I had priced at $13, I sold many of these. They made up the bulk of my profit. However, if I had priced them according the expenses scheme you have, I would have had to price them higher than I was pricing the 12x18s, so I don’t think I would have sold any. However, I’m guessing buyers at juried art fairs are willing to spend a bit more money.

    Another thing is that you can really bring down the expenses by buying in bulk. I ordered all prints in one large box. I also ordered all the matting and packaging materials via the internet from another company. This means shipping for one item instead of shipping for hundreds. Shipping per item was negligible, although I did take it into account. From the beginning, I set out to sell at a price that was double the “tangible” expenses of my product. So I took under consideration the cost of the prints, mats, and fees required for selling at the event. In the case of the 12x18s, the price of the print, mat, backboard, bag, fraction of shipping, and fraction of event fees added up to just under $20.

    I did not take into account things like time/money spent getting to or from a location, or time/money spent out hiking. While I agree that it’s a business, the actual process of getting the photos out in the wild is also much like a vacation (and if it doesn’t feel like one, I don’t know why someone would want to do it). I do not mind not passing this “expense” on to the customer. For example, I haven’t considered one cent of my 2-week Grand Canyon trip this summer into the prices of the prints from there. It was probably the most enjoyable time of my life, and money well-spent even without the prospect of selling prints.

    On the other hand, I agree that there are reasons not to sell too low, even when your expenses are exceptionally low. Pricing something far below the competition gives the impression that your product is inferior, even if the customer can’t see a reason why it would be. So if/when I eventually move up to juried art fairs (I want plenty of experience first in the less intense craft fairs), I suspect I’ll raise my prices a bit to avoid giving that impression.

    I’m wondering if you would consider the quality of the other photography at the event in considering your prices. For example, you might take a look around the first day and see that other photographers’ work is, how to put it tactfully… not so great. Would you raise prices the second day? And conversely, if you find yourself at an event where the other work is clearly on a level above your own, do you consider competing with them by lowering prices?

    Sorry for the long reply, since it’s not my article. I’m not meaning to challenge your information as much as seek clarification on some things. Thanks! You guys are always very helpful!

  • Hi Justin – Thnaks for the great input on this topic. You make some excellent points and I’ll let Adrian reply at length. I did want to jump in with a couple of quick thoughts. First, I agree that you need to price according to the venue. However, if a venue can only support sale of items less than $20 you might want to consider finding different venues depending on the quality of your work and the value you place on it. Second, while you are certainly free to develop your business plan anyway that works for you, I would argue that all expenses need to be taken into account in determining actual profit. If, in the big picture (hey, that’s a pun), you spend more money creating your images than you make selling them then your business is operating at a loss and will need to be subsidized by another income source. If you are OK with using your photography sales to partially cover your expenses knowing that you will need another source of income to make up the difference then that’s fine. On the other hand, if you hope to not only cover expenses but also generate a net profit then you can’t have prices where the more you sell the more it costs you. The only way to run a truly profitable business of any kind is to bring in more money than you spend. One of the difficulties that hobby businesses create for people trying to make a living is that selling for prices that aren’t actually profitable brings down everyone’s market value. It is a common dilemma for Photographers, especially at a time when selling anything, for profit or loss, is increasingly difficult.

  • Sean, thank you very much for the response. After I sent the previous comment, I realized the obvious “then sell at events where you can make more” response. If I may pick your brain with just a couple followup questions…

    Is it wrong to think that when you’re just getting started selling, that it’s reasonable to pass on the more-profitable fairs in preference of the less-intimidating smaller fairs? I’d like to eventually focus on juried fairs, but since I had never sold anything before, I decided I would do the smaller fairs (even though people are willing to pay less) for a year or two to get used to talking about my work and the process of selling. I discovered at the end of my first event that there were a lot of things I could improve on (“3 for x” deals on the 4×6 size, need for a sign to put on my table, bad to share a table with another vendor, need to get a credit card machine, etc.), which were things that might have led to greater losses if I had tried to start at a juried event.

    My second question… I agree about not wanting to hurt the sales of other photographers. However, I wonder if there isn’t a market for lower priced photography that doesn’t hurt the higher-end stuff. As a comparison, no one would argue that McDonald’s is taking away business from the high end NYC restaurants. I think I can be pretty objective in saying that my work, while attracting some oohs and ahs and being salable, is not quite on the same level as the best, many of whom run this website. Obviously I want to improve as much as I can in the quality of my work, but for the time being, should I factor in the quality of my own work in comparison to other work at an event when determining price?

    Thanks again for all the advice!

  • adriankleinphotography

    Hi Justin, it’s great when I see people expressing there questions and points of view on these blog comments. That’s what this is all about!

    And I appreciate that Sean jumped in with some comments too. And since I pretty much agree with his response I will focus on your most recent comment.

    I would disagree with starting with lower level non-juried art fairs if that is not your intent long term. I don’t sell at fairs so I may not be the best to speak on this piece, yet it cannot be that different than other aspects. What I mean by that is when you start selling at a certain price that is what you become known as to other photographers and clients. You cannot start selling 8×12’s for $15 and then change it to $45 after you are established and expect the same clients will buy from you. You will be starting over. I have heard this over and over again. I personally experienced it with portraits and weddings. My early clients never came back once I become a real photography business.

    That said I know we all need to start somewhere. You just need to be very cautious how long you stay in a certain market with your work. Too long and that ends up as your target market with a longer battle to move into a different market.

    I wish you and everyone selling their work best of luck. At this time I am choosing not to put my energy that route. It’s very tough but it can be done successfully.