As a Creative launching herself from life as an Interior Designer, I was elated when business as a photographer began to take off. You mean, people want to pay me? I'd be lying if I said it wasn't the clients who first dictated my pricing, because as intern turned freelance newspaper photographer--it was. At the time I blissfully photographed anything and everything under the sun and charged very little if anything for it (I have to say pay for my shots at Creative Loafing wasn't too shabby considering). I was simply happy to be exploring my craft. It was a series of events throughout the years that jolted me in the industry, wised me up to business, and made me decide to take my passion--more importantly--myself seriously. My very first wedding collection was designed by a good friend who sweet talked a reluctant Ashley into photographing his celebration. I was undeniably hesitant to take on a wedding, after all I had never shot one! What would I do? And how much would I charge?!?! Does this mean I can't DRINK?!?! I didn't think I was cut out for such a gig, sure I could shoot food for cover pages and head shots all day long newspaper style but a WEDDING?!?!) . But tell me...what college student can refuse eight hundred dollars for photos they will "already be taking anyway"? (That's the line he got me with. Thankfully, I fell in love with being apart of the events and am grateful he was more confident in me than I was at the time--because here I am today!). From there, my confidence grew alongside my talent and I knew in order to be profitable I needed to put a more efficient price tag on my skills. Clueless where to begin (and now working full-time as an interior Designer), I again, let someone else decide my worth. "The Design Fee is $125... that's what I will charge per hour for my photos, too". And again, out of seemingly nowhere, a new photography price strategy was formed. Time passed and as my talent as a Designer grew, so did my passion and skill as a photographer, and soon I found myself *happily* photographing completed rooms and seeing them grace the cover of magazines---all for free. At first I chalked it up to loving what I did, but after time and doing what I should have done long when I got my camera in my hands (and began working in general), I finally wised up and crunched some numbers. Needless to say I was practically working at my own expense and handing out my hard-earned Design and photography like suckers at the bank. It was a tough blow to be taken advantage of, but my own fault for not putting a value to my talent (and costs!). Hawai'i was a fresh start, a time to leave what "every other photographer" was charging up to them and do the math myself. *Gulp*. It wasn't pretty, as never fully calculating time, overhead costs, travel, education, gear, second shooter fees, maintenance, and all those grueling hours spent behind the computer led to me, again, practically paying out-of-pocket for working. Imagine that--YOU, PAYING TO GO TO WORK. Who in their right mind does that? I'll tell you, someone like me who went far too long with arbitrary pricing pulled from what others were doing. One long, tearfully late night I sat down with a stack of crisp white pages, bills, a calculator, film costs and an incredibly helpful price guide and figured out my time and expenses, resulting in my current pricing structure. Again, I'd be lying if I said I went FULLY off of what the numbers dictated (because the "what you need to be charging per hour" was staggeringly correct, but exorbitant). In order to break into the island market with prices that were approachable but still paid the bills I instead decided to cut some costs, live with less, and make it work.
The Modern Tog has an exceptionally helpful "How to Price Photography" free overview guide, and you can also purchase some handy spreadsheets through them to make life easier and have math not turn your brain to mush. I'm more of a "do the math a hundred times on a sheet of paper" kinda gal myself. Regardless of how you work, you need to be working for profit (at LEAST covering your costs) and you most likely aren't doing that by just choosing a price point that just sounds good and running with it. Once you figure out your costs, pinky swear yourself you will stick to them. Running your own business is exceptionally daunting and costly with almost all of your potential 'profits' going right back into succeeding, so don't undersell yourself and wind up making .75 cents a hour. Because, it happens. You owe it to your passion.
Jon Canlas, who I just can never say enough great things about, has an incredibly helpful an eye opening business guide that lays it all on the table (sprinkled with some entertaining "oh no he di-in't!" stories). He also includes a basic pricing guide for those who like to just hop right in. FIND: The Biz guide is totally worth the investment.