Photography is a tough business. Regardless of your chosen expertise with photography it is a difficult field to compete finding new clients with the amount of photographers developing with the emergence of higher quality point and shoot cameras. For the emerging photographers it is difficult to calculate how to price photography when so much of it is based on your time and creativity. One of the main draws to photography is the appearance of the low fixed costs. Once you have a camera body and a computer, most photographers begin working for new clients. Flash lighting can become quite expensive but you can get by with natural light, reflectors and a $400 strobe light for most situations. How do you price your product from there? How much should you charge for a standard portrait session? What costs should go into your pricing? These are all excellent questions I will answer from my experience pricing portrait photography.
The Obvious Costs
The first and foremost question you should calculate into your photography is the obvious costs involved in a shoot. Obviously you can't expect to pass along all $500 of lighting supplies you need to one customer, but you do need to consider any special additional costs required for a photo shoot. For example, I often am hired outside of my home city. I write estimates and invoices to include my travel costs. These costs are always communicated to my client prior to an agreement. This includes my gas, food and any hotel requirements. I do not charge a client for my time traveled, that is a difficult cost for clients to understand. Another example of an additional cost is if a client needs a specific item that may not be standard to photography, including a specific prop or backdrop you need custom for that shoot. If it is an item you can incorporate into other sessions I recommend prorating the cost. If it is special to one photography session - let your client know and include this cost in your estimate.
The Cost of Time
The most difficult cost to consider for emerging photographers is the cost of time. I break my time into three basic categories: (1) preview/scouting, (2) shooting, (3) editing. Your time for scouting and editing should be similar and consistent through all sessions. It is standard for my photography sessions to include 2 hours of photo scouting. This includes scouting different recommended locations from the client in addition to finding new locations. If the shoot is very specific or requires additional planning I include my time working with lighting in a location (typically 1-2 days before the shoot) in my scouting estimate. Anything over 2 hours of scouting time would be considered excessive. A majority of my sessions include one hour of scouting time for portrait photography.
Over time I have developed my personal routines and procedures for my editing process. I know that for every hour of photography I can expect one hour of photo editing in return. However, I do not charge the same hourly rate for editing as I do photographing. I skipped ahead to #3 editing because it definitely requires consideration for estimating a price. I have found over time listing a price with editing time does not always bode well with clients. I know my time required for editing and over time lump it with my photography time - the hourly rate for photographing includes my estimated time for editing. For emerging photographers I would recommend you separate these until you have developed your own routines.
The largest category to consider for your hourly rate is your time spent actually photographing. This is perhaps the most important to clients with portraits as they will often ask you: "How much for a one hour portrait session?" Which will lead to: "How much for a second hour?" Early in my photography career I was so uncertain on this answer I would often leave the time open for clients, refusing to bind them to an hour. Over time I realized separating my rate for time spent photographing was the easiest for both myself and my clients. It helps to separate your cost of time, that way clients know what it will be to add an hour compared to adding a new second photo session. (Example: setup fee for printing one t-shirt vs. 10 t-shirts).
I don't recommend a specific hourly rate to photographers because there are too many variables to consider - experience, geographic location, type of photography, etc. I will say my hourly rate is higher than most photographers due to my experience and high demand. My hourly rate is the same for all types of photography (portrait vs. wedding vs. commercial) but my time spent adjusts for the different genres.
The Cost of Creativity
I call the final cost the cost of creativity when pricing your photography. Think of how you will answer the question: "Do I get the digital rights to all photographs or a CD of the images?" This is important to consider - do you want your clients to have digital rights to all of your photos or a select number? I know professional photographers that give their clients 20-30 photographs of their choice, but charge individually beyond that. Other photographers give their clients all images, regardless if it is 20 or 85.
I personally include my costs with my hourly rate for standard photography sessions. For portrait sessions I include the rights to the images within my hourly rate. I only charge clients for printing photographs - this is entirely up to your style. For commercial photography we negotiate the images they need beforehand, if they intend to take all rights to the photograph I do add my cost of creativity here. An example would be I am hired by a commercial firm and the images will become the right of the firm, in other words - I won't be able to use them for my own use later. Typically, for portraits I do not charge for creativity - unless a client wants to "buy" a pose or scene.
The Equation: How to Price Your Photography
Travel Costs + Additional Costs + Scouting Time (Hourly Rate) + Photography Time (Hourly Rate) + Editing Time (if you separate this) + Digital Rights (per image) = Pricing Estimate
Travel Costs: $240 (Gas, hotel 1 night)
Additional Costs: $30 (Custom Props)
Scouting Time: $100 (2 hours @$50/hour)
Photography Time: $650 (2 hours at @$325/hour)
Digital Rights: $0
Total Estimate: $1,020