View Full Version : Pricing Portraits

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06-26-2010, 05:32 PM
Hi Guys- I have been doing some experimentation and I am thinking that I want to start doing portraits both on location and possibly with a mobile studio set up. I was wondering, what is a reasonable price for doing portraits on 4x5 and or with a Rolleiflex. I don't know if I should line up with the average price of the digital photographer to start with and once I gain quite a bit of confidence and customers I should get a price more in line with the service I am doing. I am probably going to specialize in black and white which I will defiantly be developing myself.


Mike Wilde
06-26-2010, 06:01 PM
I do family portraits/ couples portraits with a semi mobile rig about every 4 to 6 week. Either at the family's home,or a local park, or nature reserve.

I take along a flight case of stands, reflectors, reflector arms, bounce umbrellas, shoot through umbrellas, and a few modest sized soft boxes, a few black flags and gaffer tape and good assortment of A clamps and a tripod.

For light I use natural mostly, or use a Metz 60CT1, or an equally powerful old Braun flash. Most of the time this is used for fill rather than main lighting.

It is usually on 120/220 roll film with a Mamiya, and then I deliver a legible size image 6cm sq 8x10 contact sheet. The average session is 3-4 120 films - i.e about 30-48 images. Usually C-41.

I aim to deliver contact sheets along with an order form within 2-3days of the shoot.

I process my own film, and process my own prints. I usually do an 8x10 to show how a cropped enlarged image can look, and a second 8x10 on portra b&w paper to show the client what b&w can look like.

For this I charge a sitting fee of $60 presently at this stage if the shot is local to me, just to cover my costs.

I require a model release from all before the shoot begins, to allow me to market with their images and to attempt to give me a cause to chase/shame them if they want to just order one image, and clone them themselves. I have not had this problem to date.

I sell enlargement prints for 5x7 $7, 8x10 $10, and 11x14 for $25 for the first of an image, and about a 40% discount for reprints of the same image.

I offer mounting, custom vignetting, and other services on an ala carte basis to meet the client desires.

Sometimes I will get interest in the B&W and then do a session of just that priced at a premium, and will do 4x5 if they tell me that they are looking for 20x24, etc.

I'm not trying to get rich on this, just cover my costs, and keep my finger active in this scene.

06-26-2010, 07:06 PM
You are cheaper than some bad di**tal photographers prices that have no idea how to take photos! I would prob go alittle less than $60 as a base fee since I am younger and I'll see where it goes...I might do $40 as a base fee but 5X7 $8, 8X10 $15, and 11X14 $32. For 4X5, I'll give them a proof on the spot with Polaroid...

06-26-2010, 07:07 PM
I would probably include either 2 or 4 4x5s and one roll in the Rollei.

06-26-2010, 07:24 PM
What do you do with the negatives?

06-26-2010, 07:31 PM
You guys are both working for sub minimum wage, even when they order a couple prints. The only way to make this not lose money would be to go digital and preview on a laptop and make the prints they want from a dye sub printer on site before they leave. Get your money and part ways. No darkroom time, no time to take and process their order. Your materials easily eat up what you charge, especially darkroom costs.

If you are truly talented at this (more than the average wannabe portrait photographer), you could charge 3x as much no problem.

If you don't want to go that route, tell them film is getting expensive and you need $75 up front for film and processing, and the sitting is actually free. They will then have an understanding of what they are paying for.

Someone else asked about the negatives... The photographer keeps them. In a digital system, I'd have no problem sharing a set of full sized full quality jpegs as an alternative to a large print order. For film, nobody knows how to store or organize negatives like the photographer.

06-27-2010, 01:13 PM
jp498- I'm going to start with these prices and see how people respond to the prices and the quality of my work and go from there.

06-27-2010, 02:48 PM
You could have a session fee that includes print(s), quantity depending on size. Then you could get the client to review the images, giving you the opportunity to decide on the print included and sell more. I have a few examples in my studio that most won't find in a retail store, a couple example, prints made with canvas and prints made with an aluminum sheet rather than paper. I also suggest that 8x10 prints are for an album, an 11x14 print is for a bookcase or on a piano and then I suggest that a 16x20 and larger is for a wall. If you only show them small print examples, you will find that's what you will sell. There are many ways to show the clients just how this works but an LCD projector would help you get larger prints sold. Sometimes I will show a 40x30 print frame then have a 8x10 print inside it and the comment usually made is, "gosh, that's a small print!" Larger prints=larger profits. Why not strive for a good sized order? After all, it's your art and your time & talent getting the end result for your client.

06-27-2010, 02:58 PM
Those are ridiculously low fees...if you don't value your work, then who will? Don't sell yourself short.

In my town there are a few photographers who are quite popular among the middle-class clientele (I say this so you don't think that everyone in LA is some kind of millionaire), and they charge $250 for a sitting of about 1 1/2 - 3 hours, all digital, on location...small proofs are made by a service like Miller's, and prints are ordered after seeing the proofs. If I recall correctly, a 5x7 is $65, and 8x10 is $105, an 11x14 is around $150. Average order plus sitting grosses around $600.

The photographer's time encompasses the first meeting, the shoot, post-processing, proof presentation and final print delivery.

06-27-2010, 03:15 PM
For digital portraits, I usually charge $250-350 ($250 for friends, but it's always friends).

Film is a bigger risk to you for things not turning out well, much greater time commitment. I would price accordingly.

What I don't do is charge craploads for prints. I will make a nice 13x19 print for $100 or so but I'm happy enough to give the files to the customer and have them make drugstore prints if they want.

06-27-2010, 04:16 PM

how much $$ do you want to make / hour ?
you can always do it that way ...

or ..
sitting fee + cost of film and materials up front.
price for finished prints back end.

go to a pro-lab and find out how much they charge
for the sizes you want to sell, and then triple them ( or at least double them ),
and come up with some sort of package deal, like they do at
kiddie candids or jc penny or ... ( fill in the blank ) for 'sheets" ..

i wouldn't waste your polaroids on portrait proofs, polaroid film is too expensive + rare these days
to do that with it ;)

good luck!

06-27-2010, 06:27 PM
Thanks for more of the advice guys....Its all still rolling around in my mind.

06-27-2010, 08:24 PM
Pricing is always hell until you decide to be honest with yourself about what you are trying to do.

So I'll ask this question. "Are you really doing this with the hope of making money as a viable business?"

- If no, pricing properly doesn't matter, cover your costs and go have fun.

- If you are trying to build a body of work you can show off as a portfolio, trading your work as a photographer for your "client's" work as a model is a fair trade.

- If you are testing your market to see if your work will sell at a certain price then you can't give it away or all you learn is that it will sell cheaper.

- If you really want a viable business then as I remember, Professional Photographers of America (PPA) says that your "cost-of-goods-sold" should be about 30-40% of your sales price when using film and doing business as a home based studio.

(Side note: For comparison, digital cost-of-goods-sold is about 20-30% PLUS about 10% for depreciation. For film based studios depreciation is only about 1%. So essentially film and digital studios stand on an even cost basis in the real world.)

PPA puts it pretty bluntly too if you ask for their help; if your cost-of-goods-sold is greater than the norms, your business is in trouble and it is not sustainable.

These percentages are real numbers based on the real experience of thousands of photographers over many years.

So you need to figure your real costs and do some math, here's an example.

For my portrait jobs the film goes to Richard Photo Lab. I have them process, color correct, print proofs on 5x5 paper, and put 40mb scans on a disk.

After I add the cost of a roll of film and postage both ways, I figure it's about $35 hard cost per roll on average.

I can't do all that work any cheaper in house unless I give my time away.

So for me, the math is simple, $35 cost divided by 35% (which is my target cost-of-goods-sold) = $100 per roll (135 or 120), and so that's my going rate.

I also charge $100 a flat fee just to show up for an on-site shoot (even if the job is close you'll probably have 1-2 hours in travel, mailing, sorting, and setup time).

Don't sell yourself short.

06-27-2010, 08:39 PM
Add up the total time you will spend on the thing, and multiply by the hourly wage you would like to be paid. Add for materials and other expenses. That is your fee. If they don't want to pay it, let them go somewhere else, and put that time into your real job instead. (HINT: Catering pays well - about $15 to $25 an hour - considering that it has virtually no requirements except that you don't look like a total scumbag.) I would do a "quick" digital head shot for a FRIEND for $60, maybe...with no printing, and no carrying of equipment other than what I could carry on my back and in my hands, and no more than two hours computer work.

When I think about these things, I consider $25 an hour to be an absolute minimum for simple work (e.g. a whole lot of products on a uniform white background, intended for Internet only), and $40 or $50 is really more like it for involved work. That includes lab time. (Even these are more like semi-pro rates that professional rates.) Otherwise, it is absolutely not worth it. I'd rather catch up on my sleep.

At any rate, the most important thing is making sure that the actual time and money you spend on the thing divided into what you make for it equals a decent hourly rate. You improve your hourly rate by making accurate estimates of your time, and then actually finishing within the estimate.

06-28-2010, 12:39 AM
At this point, still being a student, my goal with this is to
A. To have some fun with this
B. To make a little money to keep buy more film paper and chem and save up for more gear
C. To make others enjoy portraits I have taken
D. To gain experience doing this on a very small scale.

06-28-2010, 12:59 AM
At this point, still being a student, my goal with this is to
A. To have some fun with this
B. To make a little money to keep buy more film paper and chem and save up for more gear
C. To make others enjoy portraits I have taken
D. To gain experience doing this on a very small scale.

Then you have what you need to get started with your plan.

06-28-2010, 01:05 AM
I'm going to grab some people to model for me to test with....I have kind of a long way to go....Does anyone use reflectors often outdoors?

06-28-2010, 01:08 AM
Reflectors are perhaps more important outdoors than they are in studio, because your control of light is limited to location, time of day, and positioning of your subject. In studio, you can arrange lights however you, so that reflectors are not as critical.

All this being said, only use a reflector if you want the effects that a reflector brings. Do not use one just because.

06-28-2010, 01:23 AM
I will have to pick up a couple....I have done some experimenting with a studio set up and some light and I had lots of fun!! I guess I will want to eliminate shadows on someones face without fill flash if I am in that position...so I'll try reflectors.

06-28-2010, 01:37 AM
I will have to pick up a couple....I have done some experimenting with a studio set up and some light and I had lots of fun!! I guess I will want to eliminate shadows on someones face without fill flash if I am in that position...so I'll try reflectors.

IMHO, it is important in being a good photographer to not to apply a "blanket" technique to your shooting. Think about why or why not you would want to eliminate shadows on someones face in each situation, before just deciding that this is what you are going to do all the time. Everything you do to take the picture and make the print is going to affect what the print does emotionally, conceptually, and what have you. That is your starting point, not "I use fill for portraits." Light is your only seriously important tool. Use it to manipulate the image in order to achieve the desired effect, not just to make use of your tools for sake of making use of them. You must free yourself from predefined boxes to be a good photographer. You must go into each image fresh, and consider each image individually. Instead of worrying about gear and what situations you will use it for, think about light and what it does for the image...then think about what you can do to manipulate it to get the intended effect. I suggest that you quit getting so much into gear in your thinking, and really get into learning and thinking about light and how to use it. One thing I would do is to get some basic shapes. Sphere, cylinder, and cube. Get three hot lamps, a table, and a backdrop or two. Get some bounce cards and some black cards. Get some diffusion. Get some barn door material (black foil - A.K.A. cinefoil - works well). Then spend your time lighting those stupid objects in every way imaginable until you understand light and can control it to get what you want. Spending your time doing that will help your goals far more than worrying about what camera to use or what other people do with reflectors.