Pricing For Profit

Posted on 12/4/2014 by John Harrington | Printable Version | Comments (1)

John Harrington is an award-winning Washington, DC based photographer who covers the world of politics as well as doing a wide range of commercial assignments. His success is due in no small part to his excellent business skills. His books, Best Business Practices for Photographers, and MORE Best Business Practices for Photographers should be in the library of everyone who hopes to earn a living taking pictures.

The following is some advice regarding the pricing of your work.

Raising Rates

It's impossible to charge too much. Period. If you provide a client a figure for your services, and you outline all of the up-charges, add-ons, rush fees, and so forth, regardless of the price, and your client accepts the fees and expenses, then you are not charging too much, as they have agreed to pay that amount. If they don't want to pay that much, then, well, you can't charge them for that. Thus, while a bit of word play, it's impossible to charge too much.

Dialing that back a bit, take a minute to examine what you're charging. First things first though, it's important to remember, that the main goal of being in business, is not to be doing lots of work, but, instead, it is to be profitable. For whatever you are charging, if you were to double your fees and licensing, and that resulted in a drop of 50% in your work, not only would you be earning the same in fees, but you would have more free time, and have to carry much less in expenses for each job. Now, this is a risky proposition, and, frankly, much too risky for me, but there are many photographers out there, at the $15/hr, $25/hr, and yes, even $50/hr, or, doing assignments for just $200-$400, that could easily do this, with much less risk.

Surely, a raise in rates will cause your more price conscious clients to drop off. That's ok, that just makes room for better paying clients who are less price conscious. I can't recall the last time a colleague said to me that he was slow and didn't have any money because he or she was charging too much, but I hear all the time from friends who aren't making any money because they aren't charging enough.

Further, low rates will wreak havoc on your profit margins and will damage your credibility. More than once, I was the only photographer, among three considered, that was priced appropriately, the others were so far below me that the client knew - they knew - the assignment could not properly be completed for those low figures, so I received the assignment. In addition, when you expect clients to hire you because you're the cheapest, you'll have just that - cheap clients - wanting to do business with you. That's no way to succeed, let alone, get ahead.

There is a general rule in business, which is that if 20% of your clients are not complaining about your fees, you're not charging enough.

Consider Pareto’s Principal that states, “It is a common rule of thumb in business that 80% of your sales comes from 20% of your clients.” The same is true of the productivity of your business, focusing on the top 20% of your business priorities yields 80% of your production. It is therefore critical that you identify that top 20% of your customer base and top 20% of your business priorities, cultivating, caring and spending time on them accordingly.

Copyright © 2014 John Harrington. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-251-0720, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

A 2007 recipient of the United Nations' Leadership Award in the field of photography, his work has appeared in Time, Newsweek and Rolling Stone. His commercial clients have included Coca-Cola, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Lockheed Martin, and the National Geographic Society.??

John has lectured to numerous trade groups on the importance of solid business practices and currently sits on the national boards of the National Press Photographers Association, American Society of Media Photographers, and White House News Photographers Association where he is also President Emeritus after having served two terms.

Learn more about John by visiting and his blog at Photo Business Forum.


  • Bill Bachmann Posted Dec 4, 2014
    I have always charged more than the people I compete against. I am not sorry for that. I have many clients that realize this and I have a "perceived value".... something I am proud to have. I have seen far too many people who want to be photographers over the years that charged too little to stay in business. It was not lack of talent that made them leave --- but poor business practices.

    That being said, I imagine many will read this and say, well I need to charge less to get the job. I choose to NOT want those jobs, but to build my business based on what I can deliver, and that has kept me in business for a long time with really terrific clients.

    Suit yourself, but I choose to be paid well for being good rather than being cheap!

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