That’s the very unsatisfying answer I always give to photographers after they ask me how much they should be charging for prints.
The truth is, every photographer is different. They each serve different markets, offer different products and services, and have different costs of doing business. As a result, the prices that a photographer should charge will vary.
Unfortunately, there’s no central print pricing database to tap into, so photographers are left having to figure this out for themselves. One very effective method is to ask other photographers how they figured it out, and use this as a rough guide.
To make this easier, I thought I would ask some photographers to reveal their secrets. Using PhotoShelter sales data, I made a list of photographers who are successful at selling prints – then asked them a series of questions.
The response was incredible. A majority of these photographers were willing to supply honest answers about their pricing and marketing strategies. I got so much useful information I decided to create a 4-part series, called “The Price of Prints.”
This wedding image, shot by photographer Jill Gately, is one of her best-selling prints.
Part 1: Pricing Practices & Motivating Buyers
Introducing my panel of photographers:
A photojournalistic portrait and fine art architecture photographer based in the Kansas City-area. The bulk of his business comes via word-of-mouth, and his use of Facebook makes the personal referral process much easier.
A full-time independent photographer for the past 7 years, he specializes in sports, weddings, portraits, and commercial work for smaller-sized companies. He has found that there is a potential for print sales from almost any assignment.
After working as a photojournalist in Philadelphia for about 6 years, she moved her business to Maui, Hawaii, specializing mainly in freelance commercial work, documentary, portraiture, and sports. In Hawaii, she has branched out into other types of assignments, while bringing a photojournalist-style to everything she shoots.
A professional photographer based in Los Angeles, California. For the past 4 years, he has been balancing assignment work while pursuing a degree in photojournalism. He specializes in sports and wedding photography, but his true passion is in documentary photography that focuses on the environment. Currently, he is spending four months in Asia working on self-assigned projects.
Working as a professional photographer for the past 23 years, starting with a daily newspaper in Florida when he was a senior in high school. Today, he’s based in Connecticut, half-way between New York City and Boston. His work mainly consists of both editorial and advertising assignments.
A photographer based in Greenville, Tennessee — a small town about an hour east of Knoxville. He has been working as a photographer for almost 20 years, specializing in a wide array of subjects, including weddings, engagements, babies & children, sports, family portraits, dance, church directory photography and even pets.
A photographer based in Alice Springs, Central Australia, has been working for 3 years as a photographer. He classifies himself as a “generalist” photographer, with an interest in landscape, concerts, festivals, documentary, and photojournalism. However, he doesn’t do weddings. :-)
A photographer based in Baltimore, Maryland, has been running her own business for the past 5 years. She spends most of her time shooting weddings, families, children, corporate events, on-location lifestyle sessions and some studio work.
A professional photographer based in Middletown, Connecticut. He accepts assignments and clients from all over New England and New York. Most of his work is sports-related, and he works freelance for several newspapers, colleges and universities. Most recently, he’s been busy shooting commercial assignments, portraits, basketball games, and even some one-on-one DSLR teaching.
A freelance photographer based outside of Charlotte, North Carolina since 1989. The majority of his print sales come primarily from shooting sports, teams, and action photography – including youth/middle school/high school sports.
A photographer based in South Bend, Indiana. He is primarily employed as the University photographer at Notre Dame but also does some freelance work. As the University’s photographer he shoots a variety of subjects, including editorial work, landscapes of campus, events, portraiture, sports, and some video work.
A wedding and portrait photographer based in Alma, Michigan. She is a self-taught photographer who got her first dSLR in October 2008. She studied online, scouring the internet for as much information as she could find, and have been in business since July 2009.
Is a fine art and editorial photographer based in South Carolina. He has worked as a staff photographer at a studio; as a wedding photographer; worked freelance and now considers himself to be “a hobbyist that is lucky enough to sell a few photos.”
JON van WOERDEN
A travel, sports, and commercial studio product photographer based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His sport work is primarily motorsports and international soccer, motorsports event photography (shooting car club rallies, concours & track driving events.) His print sales customers are generally car club participants and motorsport enthusiasts who purchase images of their cars at events.
How did you come up with your print prices? What factors influence the price of a print?
The only factor for me, right now is being reasonable. I want people to have the images I have created. I have to make a living, so I make sure I get a little something out of the print prices, but my strategy has always been to charge higher rates for the session and my time than for prints. What good are shots I have shot of your kids, if you can buy them all. Sell the prints and get grandma and grandpa to get some as well.
I have tried many ways of figuring out print prices. I think the best thing is to try and know your clients, what they will be looking for, and how much it is worth to them. With more and more people showing up at events and taking there own pics, you have to show them that you can offer something different than they can produce, but I also think they are beginning to understand that they may have to pay a premium for it.
Some factors that influence the price are; Is the base of customers for the event repeat, or will this be the only event they might see from you. For instance, I shoot a lot of events that my kids are involved in, so it is the same potential clients each time. I may price these images less, because they will be repeat customers, and also because they know there will be more down the road. If the prices are not economical enough, they will just wait until they see that one great shot that they want.
I use different print pricing profiles depending on the event that I am selling. For the action sports photos that I am currently selling I had to put a lot of factors. I had to research what the photographer the year prior had charged for prints, factor in how much time I was going to put into it and then factor in how much my cost would be.
So the previous photographer sold 4×6 prints for $5. Many customers told me that this is what they were willing to pay which worked out because it is a bread and butter print size that has very little cost and brings people to my site. Once at the site, I hope that people will purchase enlargements. I have found that many will just by bulk of 4x6s, but either way they are at the site and making purchases.
Now say I was working with a wedding client, it would totally depend on what contract I worked out with them. I often take a flat rate and offer mid resolution downloads as part of a package.
I also refer to John Harrington’s books when working with bigger clients. I first heard his business class about 6 years ago at an NPPA Northern Short Course and have attended, his same class over and over again because as I improve and my business grows, I learn new things from him. He is a guru of business.
Prices… Before switching to PhotoShelter for my wedding photography I had used Pictage to fulfill my print orders. Based off the average prices for the Los Angeles wedding market and the ones I had used on Pictage, I came up with my wedding print prices. Not to high but not to low either.
My prices are all over the place. I’m trying to standardize them now, but it really depends on who my client is and what their perception of selling prints is. Most of my print sales are because it is a value added item I offer to them.
As far as setting pricing, I try to ask a lot of questions of other photographers in my market and get a feel for what others are charging and what the market rate is. I’m speaking only for myself here, but I don’t think there is a perfect solution. I have to many variables across my client base to have one-size fits all price. I do have minimums for general print sales from my archive, but those prices are not for every client. I don’t rely on print sales and prices as part of my overall business strategy for my bottom line like some photographers do. If I did, I would base my prices on how much time I averaged on toning each image, etc., etc.
But there it’s all-relative as well. I may value my computer toning time at $200 hour where someone else may feel it’s worth more or less. If you used my calculations, we would all have different price points. That’s why it’s important to talk to your peers. Share the information. It can only help us all. I’ll start. I get $35 for an 8×10. Is this the right price? Who the heck knows. It is for some and for others it is to much. I’m still playing with formulas but I’ll repeat this I know, for my clients and me, one size doesn’t fill all.
My print prices have been a work in progress over about 5 years to get to where I am now. I think the prices I charge are average to high end but by no means the most expensive option in the area. My decision came after some clients of mine, that had used other photographers, told me what they had to pay. After that comment I ask them how my work compared to my competition and they said my work was just as good if not better than the highest end photographer charging nearly 3 times my price. After several random customers told me the same thing I started to change my business structure and pricing.
I find pricing the most difficult aspect. A few factors lead to pricing. Part of it is you must value your work for it to be valued by others. I have also researched pros who have many years experience with comparable work. Rightly or wrongly I factor in my time in the profession, but it mostly comes down to demand. It is a juggle and pricing will change until I find the right balance. I am new at this.
I tend to be even with the industry standard. Although some photographers charge double my print prices, some photographers also charge half of what I charge. So I am definitely average.
I surveyed the competition and looked at what some of the big time event shooting companies where charging and then took a step back and tried to determine what was fair. I’m still a little fuzzy on why a 4×6 is $5 and a 5×7 is $10. So I tried to price by the square inch but then a 20×30 came out to $126. So, I started at $5 for a 4×6 and went up from there. These are print prices for personal use prints.
Rights managed images are a whole different story. The Rights-Managed calculation method is one of the best features on PhotoShelter. Although I’ve never ended up charging the suggested price but it’s a great place to start.
Prices for prints are a bit fluid, meaning they do change over time. The prices are based on several factors (printing cost, local competition, and business overhead). I typically do not have much direct local competition, I try to eliminate as much as I can by what and how I shoot and what products I offer.
Sorry, not very creative here–some accounting and management types at Notre Dame made a spreadsheet with wholesale costs and a desired profit margin and came up with prices from that. Roughly, it’s based on $40 per square foot. For my personal sales I use that as a rough baseline but might adjust pricing if it’s a custom order or a batch of signed prints or a large quantity.
Before setting my print prices, I researched other area photographer’s prices. I wanted to be comparable for the area I live in. As I grow in my knowledge and talent, my prices have risen.
My print prices are based on what I would pay for a digital download or print that was available or marketed broadly, where exclusivity was not factored into the price.
JON van WOERDEN
It’s tough in this economy, but in general I strive to meet the prices most track and event photographers offer with their onsite services. One of the major factors influencing print pricing is that if the most customers are just looking for a few memorable images for an office wall or brag book and you don’t want to drive them away with elevated prices for the smaller prints, but if an image is considered worthy of a large print or canvas wrap the sale price should reflect its value to the customer. “That shot is awesome, so I really want to show it off… big!”
This image, an aerial shot of the Notre Dame campus, is one of Matt Cashore’s best-selling prints. Cashore is a staff photographer for the university.
What strategies or incentives do you use to motivate customers to buy prints?
If someone has taken a while to order prints, I will let their gallery expire. I will contact them and tell it has expired and tell them I need the space back for other customers.
I have also started using the coupons that are offered on the site and plan to use them a lot more next year. If I want to get people to order $100 in prints I can drop a coupon for 15% off or a free 11×14 with a $100 minimum order. It’s so easy.
I have started using the coupon option of PhotoShelter and have found that can really boost sales. If you offer a short term coupon for a percentage off, it will entice people to go look at the galleries, and also get them to purchase quicker.
Example, I have been the official photographer for a local production of the Nutcracker for five years as my daughter performs in it. I have offered images for sale every year with very little sales. This year I offered a limited time 15% discount on photos from this year as well as the previous ones and have grossed over $1000 in print sales!
Making initial connections with customers is important for driving them to your site. I give out a lot of flyers with my site to initially get people online and looking. Working in Maui is a challenge because this is not a computer friendly community. So it has been a challenge getting people to initially get to the site.
Once they have signed up, it is much easier to encourage a sale. I make use of the coupon codes. I give those who buy prints a coupon code that would be good for a month or two out from when they made their original purchase.
Also, once my customers have signed up in a cart, I send everyone a welcome letter. And if they have not purchased but have items in their cart after about a week, I will send a coupon for something like 10% off or $5 off $30. Something to get them to make the final order. I am still experimenting with what promotions are the most successful.
As a wedding photographer, I make sure to post the photographs online as soon as possible after the wedding. I have found that sales increase the sooner the photographs go live after a wedding. Other than that I make sure the photographs I post are the best possible ones.
Value Added – Because my pricing is client specific and because my business is not based on print sales alone, I can do whatever I want with them. Print sales were not even an option for me two years ago. Well, they were, but it was such a hassle, I didn’t want the bother. Neither did my clients for the most part. That is why one of the strategies I have used is to offer it as a value added service to my clients. They don’t have to deal with the aggravation of prints. I deal with it for them. It’s easy to create a separate gallery, set the price, send an e-mail and see if you get a few dollars deposited. Ok, it’s a little more involved than that-but not much. It doesn’t cost me anymore because 99% of my clients get their pictures directly off my PhotoShelter archive now anyway so they are already uploaded, captioned and waiting. I have a billing solution in place for that service so any print sale is just bonus.
Coupons- Wow. Genius thing. I should have figured this out and offered these earlier. I love discounts. Other people do to. I just recently did a fundraiser type thing. I wasn’t expecting a whole lot out of it except some goodwill for my business. Anyway, I decided to offer a coupon for 10% off if people went to my Facebook fan page, became a fan and then sent me an e-mail. Once I got their e-mail, I sent them the coupon code.
Wow. What a response. I think my largest single day of print sales was something like $450.00. Not bad. I had hoped to basically break even on the event, and truly didn’t know what to expect from my little idea for the Facebook offering. I figured it was a good way to get people to view my work and grow my social media presence.
Now, are these folks possible future customers? Sure. Even though I don’t run a traditional portrait studio, I have now exposed them to my other work and they may be interested in a print. Even if they don’t order a single thing from me, there is a very good chance they will look around my site, click on some images, get me some page views for my SEO and maybe, just maybe, link my site to a webpage or share their gallery.
These were all public galleries but not viewed on my website publicly by the way. Images and galleries were keyworded to try to maximize any SEO up-tick I might get. Think marketing as well as print sale. At least if you only can muster a 5×7 print sale at least you got a few clicks out of it.
Most of my customers are chomping at the bits to order because when I am taking the photographs I show them some of my favorites while they are there. In my opinion this peaks their interest enough to help the ordering process along. This doesn’t help with all customers so about every quarter I run a special giving my clients a percentage discount that runs for a 2 to 3 week period. I have been amazed of how many clients jump on this just for the little discount they are saving.
I am not a salesman that is for sure. Apart from following up with emails to everyone who signs up on the site I do very little. I offer discounts for multiple buys. I like to assure any enquiries that I am involved with the process the entire way to ensure quality.
After a photo session and the client pays the sitting fee, they have two choices on how to get the most from their images.
They can a) buy the cd of all the hi-res images a la carte, or b) order enough prints to warrant getting the cd.
For example they can buy the cd of the images for $400 (hypothetical figure, it’s based on the type of session) or if they order $500 worth of prints I will include the cd with their order). Most clients go with option b.
Ok, here’s thing. I don’t have any strategies or incentives other than creating images that parents can’t. Quality is my strategy. And creating demand is my motivator. I don’t really market or advertise so the second half of this exercise is going to be a challenge.
I’m embarrassed to say, not much. I rely more on the event and my images.
95% of my sales are to people who are connected in some way to Notre Dame–students, alumni, parents of students, faculty & staff looking to decorate their offices.
ND alumni are very widely scattered all over the country and the world and they don’t get to see campus as much as they’d like so they enjoy having nice photos of campus to remind them of special places and times. There’s a built-in demand–we didn’t have to talk people into wanting images of Notre Dame! The challenge was getting the pictures in front of people and getting the word out that we had a website to view and purchase photos.
Recently we’ve been better about embedding slideshows on websites, in electronic newsletters and Facebook and print sales have really spiked. The ease of turning galleries into embedded slideshows has been a big help.
I offer discounted prices for buying more than one print of the same pose. For example, 1 4×6 print costs $10, but 4 4×6′s of the same pose, costs $30. I am able to upsell this way and my customer is saving some money.
I market my website in places where I know my work is appreciated from past experience. As well, I use PhotoShelter’s “Coupon” feature to motivate the customer from browser to buyer.
JON van WOERDEN
I’m lucky on this one, as I prearrange the availability of prints and digital files with the car club offering them a selection for their use, for which they provide a bulk mail reminder to the participants upon my uploading of the completed galleries. I also utilize the club’s Facebook presence and in the future I plan to increase the galleries exposure with additional blogs and Twitter posts.
This image, taken from a youth football game, is a best-selling print from photographer Krystle Marcellus.
The Price of Prints: Part 3: 14 Ways To Increase Print Sales
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