Portrait Package Pricing – Say that 3 times quickly!

Richard Charpentier Notes from Rich, Photography, RLC Design 3 Comments

Since I’ve started doing shoots for people I’ve been studying on how best to structure my pricing for clients.  It’s actually not the easiest thing.  The standard model, the digital only model, some type of hybrid…..  I’ve seen it all.  There’s no real pattern, no rule of thumb that I can divine from what I’ve seen either.  Price where you can price and roll?  Hmmph!

So, let’s talk a little about what I’ve been seeing, and maybe you readers will have some input for me.

The Standard Model

Photo studios for a long time have employed an interesting pricing model.  Normally studios sell “packages.”  A one hour photo shoot plus X amount of prints to you the customer.  Packages could range from several hundred dollars to several thousand.  Normally wedding photographers also sell their services as packages too.  But nowhere can you find that consistent rule of thumb at how studios arrive at their pricing.  Obviously there has to be some part covering the photographer’s labor, some for materials (prints), assistant’s labor, post production time, gear replacement savings, etc.

Additionally, studios usually retain the rights to the images produced.  Consumers I talk to never seem to understand this part, but it continues to be a part of the industry.  The photographer owns the copyright of the image.  And the only place you can get additional prints is the studio where you had the images created.  Have you ever noticed the studio name in the bottom corner of prints that you’ve had created?  Yup, you get a print, but not the rights to the image.  Is this right or wrong from the consumer standpoint?  Well, it’s been the practice in the industry for a very long time.

The Hybrid Model

With the increasing competition in the photography marketplace studios and photographers have started modifying and adjusting their pricing model.  A hybrid has come into existence due to the Digital Model (covered below).  Hybrids are all over the place, but I’ll try and put some consistent features in here for you.

What I’ve seen in what I’m labeling “hybrid” normally offers some type of sitting fee to the customers.  For a one hour shoot you pay X dollars.  Sitting fees range from $50 per hour to $500 per hour.  The differentiation?  Normally well established photographers and studios have higher sitting fees.  I say normally because I’ve seen some examples (outliers in econometrician speak) where established studios are now offering super low sitting fees to the clients.

The second half of this hybrid has to do with print packages.  You’ve had your images created, the photographer has sorted out the good from the bad, and you now have a pick of the good images to get prints made from.  Normally the package prices run from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars depending on what you’re looking to get.  Once again, there’s no consistency in this pricing either.  It’s studio by studio.

Finally, in this hybrid world that goes beyond package pricing, the opportunity for the consumer to have rights to their images often pops up.  Studios are now offering a disk of your images to you for some fee.  Prices range from pretty low to pretty high from the consumer standpoint.  But it’s interesting to see that the digital imaging revolution has definitely impacted the old model.  Photographers aren’t always hanging on to their exclusive rights to images of their customers.

The Digital Model

This is the model that seems to be pushing a lot of the pricing changes in the photographic studio industry.  The advent of digital has really pushed a lot of competition into the marketplace, and by competition I mean extremely low ball pricing.  Folks get a digital camera handed to them and they hang a shingle out the next day.  In order to start building a client base they offer super discounted sitting fees and hand over a disk of images to the client when it’s all said and done.  No print packages, nothing, zip…….  The client can go get prints done wherever they like and they’re not attached to the studio / photographer at all.

Each month I see so many advertisements on Facebook for new photographers in my area.  Normally they’re offering prices ranging from $50 – $150 for a one hour session, and a disk of the good images handed over to the client at the end of the session.  Very reasonable price to the consumer, but I do find myself scratching my head wondering how these folks actually make money.  I mean, when the session is over the photographer has to get to their computer, select images, reject images, retouch, etc.  That one hour session actually takes 2 – 3 hours of the photographer’s time.  If they’re charging $50 and actually working 3 hours they’re making less than $20 per hour.  How many sessions do they have to do in order to make a living, and do they honestly have enough time in a week to really squeak it out?  I don’t know.

Last year Zack Arias covered a topic on his blog called, “Cheap Photographers Only Kill Themselves, Not The Industry.”  It’s worth a read, and I’d suggest you check it out.  The reason he covered it is simple.  Many seasoned pros are finding that the Digital Model has really impacted their bottom line.  The low priced new entries to the market place have been pointed to by many as the source of their own revenues being squeezed.

A Real World Example

As I’ve scoured the internet trying to understand pricing in my industry to make sure I’m in a competitive spot while not cutting my own throat I’ve found that the hybrid seems to be the direction many reputable studios are going.  A sitting fee, some package pricing offers, and even an offer (for a price) to release all images to the client.  Scouring my region I’ve found that the hybrid pricing is all over the place, but I’ve found one example who is in the middle of the pack.  While they offer services in my area they’re actually several hours away, so not giving anything away by discussing their pricing.  Below is a bullet list of how they price:

  • $225 sitting fee.  That’s gets clients one hour, an online gallery that they can view the picked images from, and a $50 print credit.
  • Individual prints.  Prints from the session can be purchased individually, not in packages.  Prints cost:  $10 per 4×6 or 5×7, $25 per 8×10, $35 per 11×14, $75 per 16×24, $120 per 20×30, and $180 for a 24×36.
  • Digital Images given to the client directly are $25 per image (with retouching included), or $400 for a disk of the full session.

As you can see, this particular studio would charge at a rate of $625 per session if they were strictly in the digital realm only.  Their pricing on prints reminds me of my pricing on prints in a gallery setting.  My 11×17’s sell for $35-$45 each depending on the media I’m printing on, and my 16×24’s run from $75 to $100 depending on media.  Very similar to this photographer’s pricing for the 11×14’s and 16×24’s respectively don’t you think?  So, what’s with the print price?  The photographer’s copyright and licensing of the images, that’s what’s built in there.

Where I’m At

The reason for this post has to do with a conversation I had with another photographer here in town last week.  He was complaining about all the Digital Model folks out there and their impact on his long standing business.  He’s recently re-adjusted sitting fees and package fees to deal with the digital competition.  His solution?  A low sitting fee to get folks in, and higher print package fees on the backside.  Additionally, if folks want digital copies on disk it’s a pricey proposition.  That’s an approach I’ve seen in a great number of larger studios and it seems to work.  The whole conversation with him reminded me of Laurence Kim’s article on the realities of the photography industry, another must read!

If you’ve read Zack’s article you know that he feels $250 per shoot nearly sank his business.  He had to be constantly shooting, editing, in motion, etc.  Well, my business isn’t just photographing people, I’m also a printer.  So at the moment I’m $235 per hour session.  At some point I’ll probably be looking for more on that hourly basis.

My model is in the hybrid as well.  $235 for an hour shoot, 10 retouches, and a disk of the picked images.  Clients can print wherever they want to, I don’t keep them locked to me.  My per print fee is also the same fee I charge anyone walking in off the street.  An 8×10 is $8, not $25.  Maybe I should rethink that.  But then again, I’m a professional printer as well, and wanted to offer my clients a real value proposition.  I want my time paid for, and then I’ll give them a value proposition on their printing.  Most of the low sitting fee studios capture their real income via the prints.  I’d rather be straightforward, capture the income for my time as such, and then print for my clients as that extra service above and beyond.

The one fun part?  Try getting clients to understand any of this!  LOL!



Comments 3

  1. that that that….

    Not as tough as I thought to say “that” 3 times quickly… *dodges tomatoes*

    I would rethink the print pricing though…you’re only recouping the cost of materials, not your skills or expertise (which is extensive) in the printing process…just my 2¢

  2. Pricing should reflect where you are adding value. There’s an old joke about an auto mechanic: “The customer was charged $100 after the mechanic tapped the engine with a hammer to fix the noise. When questioned, the mechanic said $5 to tap with a hammer, $95 to know where to tap”.
    Your sitting fee pays for you capturing the images – lighting, composition, artistic vision, photoshop skills, etc. If some wants a snapshot they can ask their neighbor’s kid with a point and shoot to do it. If they want a cheap print, Costco does a fair job. Rights to the digital images … that should be worked out in advance.

  3. Post

    I’m off to buy tomatoes Jason….. 🙂

    I like your $.02. You can send me more money if you like as well. I do think the print pricing will escalate on the portraits, and I might dream up a few packages as well.

    Dagny, LOL! On the Costco prints. Come by sometime and see the difference between mine & theirs. I’ve got a comparison up on the wall donated to me by a client.

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