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Why $150 Sessions aren't Profitable

What’s wrong with $150 per sessions? (Here I am referring to an all inclusive session that includes 15+digitals)

Well, for one, it’s pretty dang hard to run a profitable business at that price…. Let alone pay yourself a livable wage after taxes and expenses.

Some of you are saying “Wait, what? Why not?”

Well my friends, Math is Why not. (I swear, I NEVER thought I would love math this much…)

If you hate math, don't worry. I have done it all for you!

Let’s say you live in a perfect, magical world where you are able to book, manage, plan, shoot, edit and deliver FIVE full sessions per week at that price and somehow still have time to do all of your overhead tasks like website maintenance, accounting, marketing, etc…. You would only be making $750 a week…. IF (and this is a BIG if) you are some kind of magician, and can be booked out fully all year long without taking off holidays or sick days, that’s only $39,000 per year…..BEFORE TAXES AND EXPENSES…. You can expect to give at least $13,000 to federal and state taxes, and spend another $13,000 on expenses. Leaving you a whopping $13,000 for an ENTIRE YEAR of working full time. No holidays, no sick days, no vacations. No slow periods. And to shoot, edit, and manage, that many sessions per week, you can expect to not have much of a family or personal life. That’s 260 full sessions PER YEAR. Would you take any other job for that salary? Would your spouse?

But this isn’t a perfect, magical world. There are only 7 days in a week in this world. In actuality, if you are a one person business, it’s pretty hard to do that many sessions per week. Partly because it would take an incredible amount of marketing to book that many clients per week. On average, full time photographers spend 10 hours per week marketing to bring in 3 sessions per week. So you may even have to do almost double that do bring in 5 per week. That doesn’t leave much time to take care of your clients.... So let’s break that down. Shall we?

30-40 hours per week is considered “Full Time” like a 9-5 Job. So let’s say you do 5 sessions per week. After your 10 hours per week spent on marketing to bring those clients in, you have 30 hours per week left. That’s 6 hours per session. Typically, photographers drive 30 minutes to the location, arrive 15 minutes prior to the session, spend 2 hours shooting, and drive 30 minutes home. That’s 3 hours and 15 minutes. Let’s assume you need at least 15 minutes to pack and unpack your gear before and after the session too. I know I spend at least 15 minutes just making sure I have all my batteries charged and all my SD cards ready to go, back ups, etc are packed and ready to go before I leave. And this doesn’t even include steaming maternity gowns and washing them after the session. And for studio sessions, I spend a lot more time than that making sure my studio is set up and ready for each client… But for the purpose of this argument, we will assume the bare minimum. So that brings us to 3 hours and 3 minutes per client so far and you haven't even taken your SD card out of your camera yet. This gives you only 2.5 hours to cull all the images, edit them, upload them to Shoot Proof and deliver them to your client. This doesn't even include the time it takes to actually BOOK the client. How many of your clients want to email back and forth about what to wear and what time works best for weeks before they book? What about the time it takes to plan each session? Most clients have questions about themes and props and outfits.....It sounds exhausting and overwhelming...And then you have to turn around and do it all again the next day. 5 days a week. Every week. Even Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Spring Break. I'm sorry but unless you are outsourcing (which costs money) this just isn't possible. You better hope that all your clients are super low maintenance and never have a question or concern after their session because you will have zero time to respond to them. Which is eventually going to lead to upset customers and bad reviews. All for $13,000 per year after taxes and expenses at MOST. This is the important part right here: IF (remember I said this a BIG if) you have a PERFECT year where you book 5 days a week EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK, $13,000 is the MOST you will be able to take home. But again, can you really do all of that with that little time? Even most established photographers can't.

If any other employer paid you that little for working full time, they would be breaking the law. Oh and be prepared to work over time. Because you also need to account for things like accounting, (see what I did there?) renewing licenses, purchasing new gear (can you imagine how quickly this many sessions is going to wear out your shutter?) and professional development (you know reading blogs like this, watching editing tutorials, taking workshops, and following all those photography groups on Facebook). Is there going to be any time left over for your kids? For your spouse? When the heck are you going shower? I know a lot of people start their photography businesses to be home with their kids more… but at if you are out shooting 5 evenings a week and glued to your computer 50 hours a week just to make less than someone who works part time at McDonald's, what’s the point? Wouldn't it be better to not have a photography business at all and just enjoy your kids.... Because at this price, you aren't making enough to cover day care or your baby sitter. Oh and don't forget there would also have to be perfect weather year round for this to work since there is no time to reschedule sessions due to rain, snow, or extreme wind or heat.

If you wanted to make $30,000 per year (which is still considered low income in many areas), you would most likely need to do at least 600 $150 sessions per year. That’s almost 2 per day! So if you work all out doors, you need to remember that golden hour only happens twice per day. You would have to work sunrise and sunset 5 days a week and do everything else in between. I don’t know about you. But I’m a human and I would run out of steam REAL QUICK. Especially in the summer when sunrise is 5am and sunset is at 9pm. Most sane human beings would much rather work a 9-5 desk job than a 5am - 9pm photography job.... No one can keep that up for long. And no one should have to. Because even if photography is your passion, (if so read this blog too), working yourself to death is going to take all of the fun out of it.

We all also need to take into account that our market is INCREDIBLY saturated. There are almost more photographers than there are clients at this point. In a market this tough, are there even enough potential clients in your area to take 600 clients per year?

This is why it’s important to price yourself professionally. It’s totally understandable to not make much your first year in business when you may not be booking much. But it’s not wise to set yourself up to make less than minimum wage even if you are able to book yourself out fully. As photographers, we can only do so many sessions per week, which is WHY there is an industry standard for a minimum client investment. If your full sessions including several digitals are in the $150 range, even if you have a PERFECT year of being booked out solid AND can magically handle that work load, you are still setting a very low ceiling for yourself and lowing the ceiling for other photographers in your area. We are human beings with careers and families to feed and we deserve to pay ourselves a livable wage even if we love what we do. And if you don't value photography enough to believe that photographers deserve to make a livable wage, then you are definitely in the wrong business.

Bonus Material:

Not charging $150? Maybe your max client investment is $100 or $200. Find your max gross sales on this chart based on how much you make per session and how many sessions you take per week. Divide that number by 3 and that's the MOST you will be taking home per year....

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