All the time I hear about successful wedding photographers dabbling in portrait photography who can’t figure out how to actually make any money shooting portraits. It has nothing to do with their photography and everything to do with the way they run their businesses. And it’s no wonder, considering that it’s a whole different business model and needs to be approached in a different way. For weddings, we make most of our money up front by selling packages. Prints or album upgrades after the fact tend to be more of a bonus income stream. If portrait clients were willing to spend thousands up front then we wouldn’t need to worry so much about how many prints we sell. But unfortunately this just doesn’t seem to be the norm in the world of portraits. So if you are struggling with making portrait sales, here are just a few things you can change which will make a big difference in your ability to turn a profit (and a big one) with your portrait business.

Family Holiday Card by Justine Ungaro

1. Make your 8×10 and smaller prints all one price. If 4×6’s and 5×7’s essentially cost you the same amount to produce as an 8×10 anyway (which they do), why should you charge less for them? You shouldn’t. You can still make smaller prints for your clients if they specifically request them, but the price should be the same.

2. Your smallest print size price should be (relatively) expensive. Why? You will sell a lot of them. Your pricing needs to be structured so that you will still make some money even if your clients only order a few of your smallest size print. I charge $135 for an 8×10. So if a client decides that all they want from a session is 4 8×10’s, at least I’ve made $540. If you are charging $20 for an 8×10 then you’ve made a whopping $80. Not nearly enough money for all of your hard work, is it?

3. Don’t set your prices based on what you would pay. You are not your client, it doesn’t matter what you would pay for a print. It matters how valuable your work is to that client. Set your prices based on what you can get away with and try pushing the limits as far as you can. Trust me, clients will always complain about your prices, whether they are cheap or expensive, because they are always going to be more expensive than what they are used to paying at Costco or Shutterfly or wherever else they buy cheap, crappy prints. Your job is to create images that are valuable so that it is the images they care about and not the piece of paper. The piece of paper that it’s on is just a vehicle for presentation and delivery, no matter what the size.

4. Sell prints in person. If you really want to make any money, you should really have in-person ordering sessions with your clients. There are plenty of ways to go about it. These can be done at your studio or home office or at the client’s home via digital projector, flat-screen tv or even by iPad. If your clients are left to their own accord, they will likely never get around to ordering prints. If they do actually order, they will order a few small prints and that will be it. It’s not because they don’t love your work, it’s because they just don’t know what to do with them. They need your help in deciding how large their portraits should be, how they should be mounted or framed and where they should hang. If your only ordering option is online, you are not finishing the job you started and you are not serving your clients’ best interests or your own bottom line.

5. Know the value of your digital files. If you choose to make the digital files available to your clients, don’t give them away. They are valuable. Just because you shot them does not mean that your clients are entitled to them or should expect them for free. If you are willing to part them, make sure that you are charging enough to make up for your lost print sales as a result of your clients making their own prints. Remember, it is the image that your clients fall in love with, the image is the thing that is valuable.

I know that some of you are probably shaking your heads right now and think that I’m crazy. But if you are serious about being able to survive shooting portraits, you have to find ways to make every session profitable. I will prove this to one of you. If you’re serious about having a more successful portrait business in 2011, leave a comment below. I’ll randomly select one person to win my PDF guide about building a projection-based sales system for your portrait business.

**UPDATE FROM JUSTINE (Also shown in the comments section)**

Wow, everyone! Thank you SO much for the heartfelt responses and for sharing these tidbits into where you are in your lives and your businesses. We have randomly selected a winner for my PDF guide…and the winner is…Rebecca Ickes. Congratulations Rebecca!


The main questions posed here seem to be about the potential to lose clients and how do I charge so much for an 8×10. So here are the answers.


1. Yes, you do need to be prepared to lose some clients when you restructure, it just happens. But the good news is that it is YOUR business. If you have a few great clients (who actually spend money with you), it is totally up to you if you want to keep your old prices for them, at least for a while…or at least gradually nudge them up slowly. The clients you want to weed out are the ones that really aren’t profitable for you anyway.


2. How do I charge $135 for an 8×10? Well first of all I decided that it’s much easier to sell portraits to people who have the money to spend so yes, I do target a wealthier clientele but not all of my clients are wealthy. Some of them just really value photography and are willing to spend the money. I also include retouching in the price of each print and I deliver them matted and sleeved. So part of the value to the client is in the finishing. I’m not just giving them some loose print, I’m giving them something presented like a piece of art. I order pre-cut 8-ply mats from http://redimat.com. They only cost a few dollars each but they really add value to your print. I understand that some of you in small towns might feel that you can’t get this kind of price but there are portrait photographers like Jeff & Julia Woods and Lori Nordstrom who live in small towns and charge the same kinds of prices that I do. Perhaps more, so it’s definitely possible. If I wanted to really blow your minds, I’d tell you that my mother is a portrait photographer in the DC area and charges something like $485 for an 8×10. And people pay it. She likes to yell at me and tell me I’m too cheap. 🙂 So anyway, my point is that it’s all relative. You don’t have to bump up from $20 to $135. But try $40 or $50 to start…at least with new clients. You should always be at least a little bit uncomfortable with your prices.




Written by Justine Ungaro

photographer justine ungaro

Justine Ungaro has been photographing weddings in her own clean, classic style since 2003. A second generation photographer, Justine grew up in the Washington DC area and moved to Los Angeles in 2006 where she expanded her business to include children’s and music industry portraiture and soon after began giving workshops and speaking at photography conventions. She currently maintains studios in Los Angeles and DC.

73 Comments

  • Love your tips Justine! They make so much sense, I agree with them all! Thanks for posting this! PS: I love your work!

  • Betsy mcCue says:

    Great tips and inspiration for portrait work, Justine!
    This is an area of our business we definitely need to revamp…
    Thanks for sharing!!

  • Thanks for the great tips, Justine! Now to convince my family about #3 🙂

  • Monica Byrne says:

    Thank you for being so honest, Justine. I think it’s really just our own minds we have to really convince about this working, it’s changing our perspectives. Your points are so right on. It is definitely hard for me to switch gears from the wedding industry to establish my portrait business because it’s a different way of presenting and selling. But I do believe that by doing what you say, it will pay off. And if I can get myself to really believe I can do this, then I can sell it to others who see the value. Thank you for the much needed 20/20 vision. 🙂

  • Thanks for the nuggets of wisdom!

  • Eddie Marroquin says:

    Appreciate the info! Thanks, Justine!

  • Jashim Jalal says:

    wow. I never valued my digital files so much until after reading this. I thought it was the clients rights to have them (at a certain price of course), but come to think of it, I definitely should price them higher.

    Thanks for the insight!

  • #4 is the kicker for me. I know it is so important if I want to make decent profits in my portrait sessions. I just have no clue where to start! From the basics of what equipment to use to project images to the logistics–how to present, how to organize, etc. It is just overwhelming and intimidating to me. I need help–would love to see a demo of a sales presentation somewhere…

  • Great tips, and a post I really needed right now. I tend to give the files because I can’t stand dealing with the printing aspect (and I have a full-time job, and do photography on the side), but I need to figure out who to do that effectivdely.

  • Heather says:

    I need to look at my business model a bit and do some tweaking, thanks for the reminder. Although try as I might, I could never get that kind of pricing in my area. Pricing is tough, thanks for the tips!

  • christine says:

    Thanks for the tips, No. 1 especially! Would love to learn more about projection…

  • Melissa says:

    Thank you Justine! It scares me but I definitely need to move in this direction…

  • Sergio Ruiz says:

    Pricing could be tough if you don’t value your job but selling means profits. Thanks for the advice.
    Sergio

  • Meg nelson says:

    Your advice couldn’t have come at a better time! We are updating our pricing and what we offer in each package. Thanks for the encouragement to value our work even more!

  • Thanks for the tips Justine! I pretty much knew this, not I just need to implement it!

  • Dane Sanders says:

    Great insights Justine. I love how you framed this. Really helpful!

    – a fan

  • Amy Hoogstad says:

    Great advice, Justine! I’ve already implemented some of these tips in my business and I can tell you it would’ve been a poor year without them. I esp. like #3. I had a hard time with that, but once I owned my pricing and convinced myself it was worth it, I hardly had any trouble presenting my price list. We all have to get to that point on our own time, but once you do, there’s no stopping you!

  • Ty Hart says:

    Thanks, Justine! Great info. I want your PDF!!! …but I probably can’t win any contests since I work for Pictage ::frowny face::

  • Emily says:

    I definitely am going to try to have an in-house ordering session for next year!

  • Jason says:

    Hi Justine
    I have been shooting family portraits and giving them all the digital negatives… I book a lot of family portraits. I am interested in your approach. I would be interested to know how many portrait sessions you book annually and what your sitting fee is?
    Also what is your marketing and sales method?
    Regards Jason

  • Mike Moore says:

    Justine,
    Thank you for your insight. I will use this to increase profits for 2011 and beyond!!
    Mike

  • Joyce says:

    You rock! You have confirmed everything “the little voice in my head” has been telling me. 🙂 Thank you.

  • This was really hepful, thanks! I am going to take advantage of the slower/colder months and take a good look into my business to figure out exactly how I can improve! 😉

  • Kenneth Chen says:

    Justine,

    Agreed on all five points. I especially appreciate the math calculations on point number two “Your smallest print size price should be (relatively) expensive.” In additions we have found that the Work itself needs to be valued. It should not simply be a Custom Framed Work which commands a fair price but the image itself even if it is purchased as an Unframed Work.

    Keep the great advice coming. You are a gift to the world !

    – Ken

  • Great points! We certainly want our portraiture business to continue to increase!

  • Lisa says:

    I did an In person ordering session at the clients home for the first time just last night! I can definitely see the benefits and would love to learn more about the best way to structure these types of sales sessions.

  • amy says:

    I am just starting out, so your advice will be taken to heart. It reallly does help when you say not to sell my prints for what I would pay. I am not who I am targeting!

  • Thanks for sharing. I agree and need to remind myself sometimes. 🙂

  • Chelsie says:

    I really need help in this area so I’d love to have your PDF!

  • jamie says:

    I am going to implement #1 and #2 right now on my pricing sheet, I’ve been feeling the bite recently of not doing so! Thanks for writing these “tips,” they are wonderful…wonderfully simple and wonderfully effective!!

  • Lyle Brocato says:

    Thanks, Justine!!! Great insight! My wife and I have to constantly remind ourselves of tip number 3 when configuring our pricing. Happy Holidays!!!

  • Holli Weber says:

    Hi Justine, I just wanted to say that the issue you brought up with the digital files really struck a cord with me. When I was really getting started and trying to build my portfolio I was handing out digital files in exchange for their images being used… I’ve now realized that what I thought was a great idea at the time is now costing me in the long run. I’ve found several of my photos being used for modeling portfolios and being submitted to agencies (friends who work there have told me) and rather than getting the exposure I could have really used they are using copyright free images. I guess I learned the hard way, now I charge quite a fee for the images and set a limit as to what can be done with them. Great advice!

  • Chantelle says:

    Your insight is invaluable and inspirational – especially to those of us just starting on their photo business journey. THANKYOU!

  • Melody Y says:

    Thank you for the great tips! I’ve been inching my way up with those goals in mind. Next up, proofing sessions in person. I would love to read your pdf, I’m sure there is a wealth of information in it.

  • Bill says:

    Excellent article. You definitely convinced me I need to make the time for in-home projection ordering sessions. I have nothing smaller than 16×20 in my home, yet I haven’t pushed to sell them to my clients. I need to convince them that 8x10s aren’t LARGE prints.

  • Wendy Roe says:

    Right On. This is our biggest weakness right now and we are absolutely going to make changes for 2011. Our goal is to make the company successful so we can continue to do what we love 🙂 Would love to learn more!! Many thanks.

  • Alicia says:

    I know this works and it’s good to hear it, again and again. As an artist I always undervalue my work. Thanks for reminding us all how good we are at what we do and that we should get paid for it!

  • Lilianna says:

    Thank you. I am proud to say I follow 3 out of those 5 rules. The other two are simply lacking in my business due to logistics. I am looking at re-vamping strategies so this is perfect. I would love to consult with another photographer like you to make things more profitable.
    Thanks!

  • arslan says:

    very good read, indeed. thank you for sharing your experiences, justine!
    it hit the spot – i am establishing a new price list, and would love to see more info from you 🙂

  • Joe sApko says:

    Great points. Wouldn’t you say, however, that it is different for a photographer living in Laguna Beach than a photographer living in a lower income market? I don’t know too many people in my area who are willing to spend $135 for one 8×10. With your pricing model it seems like you are only targeting upper-middle class to the wealthy. I’m just not sure a market like mine could sustain it. Do you charge the same price for images taken in-studio as you do for images produced on location?

  • Robert says:

    You charge 135.00 for an 8 x 10 print?? How? We could never get that and we admire the fact that you can. We also struggle with not giving away the DVD and we are trying now to change that. We have only been in business for two years and we are still figuring it all out and are now working on the sales end of it.

  • Thanks for the great reminders. I need to remember that I can charge more.

  • Brittany Purlee says:

    Great article. I’m still figuring out pricing/starting up my business, so this was very helpful. Thanks!

  • Kennesha says:

    Thanks Justine. This article was a total reassurance that I need to up my game. I haven’t been in the field a long time and it’s been fear that has kept me from pricing the way that I should. I admit, I have been giving the digital images away, but as a means to try to establish good quality. But I know that at the same time, I am letting folks know that I am basically giving away the digital images. I’ve been meaning to do a lot to keep with with the other photographers and keeping the same kind of standard that the industry has provided. I mean, why demote my value and charge less than what i am worth?
    Sidenote: I really love the photography field because are so apt to helping one another out. Thanks again Justine. I will be keeping printed copy of this article as a reference.

  • Julie says:

    Thank you for the succinct insights. I hope to one day build up my brand enough that I can charge $135 a print!

    A great inspiration….

    Julie

  • Rachel King says:

    My portrait prices are extremely low, but I know that soon this will change. I just started becoming serious about my business last year & next year I intend on making some actual money doing what I love! 🙂

    Thanks for your advice!

  • jessica says:

    Thank you 🙂 these pointers should help me tweak my prices. I should actually change them by quite a bit according to what you suggest but I’ll need to think on that with confidence before I get there 🙂
    And by the way…Joe sApko Had a good point 🙂 I am interested to know as well 🙂

    Belssings and thank you!
    Jessica

  • Great advice and I love the photo in the article. What style would you say that is? Dramatic family portraiture? Great work!

  • Erin says:

    Thanks for some great info in a succinct format. As I’m gearing my revamping my business I have to remind myself over and over that I am not my customer…and if I was I would save up for my work!

  • Stephen Healey says:

    I very much agree with all these points but as I am just starting out I feel i need to guard against walk aways as much as possible. So maybe not 2011 but year after i may jump on board and start increasing prices to a larger extent, depending on amount of customers of coarse.
    Thanks heaps for all these great pointers.

  • Glad I read this just as I’m resetting my prices and packages for next year! Thanks so much for your insights.

  • dmitri says:

    Thanks I needed that 🙂

  • Love the challenge within your post! Gave me a lot to think about. thank you!

  • christie says:

    Great tips, Justine. I know you’re right, but it is scary to raise prices so dramatically. You have to start by valuing your own work, I guess. What do you do with past clients who are not going to pay those prices? Do you let them go?

  • Jenifer says:

    You describe me so well–a very busy wedding photographer in DC that hasn’t made the time to figure out the pricing/presentation of the portrait side. Clients love my images, but I need to make it easy for me and them to get the final product that shows off their family and my work.

  • Sunday says:

    Shoot, I left a comment a couple of days ago and now I don’t see it. I hope I did not miss out on the chance to win! This information is so useful and I am really looking to totally revamp my business for 2011! Thank you!!!!

  • Ron O says:

    Lots of very good comments here! I agree with the market-level question and comment. And the studio IS a better place to sell. What is your procedure when you have clients come in for post-shooting session? How do you elevate the prices for lower-end markets (since I also live in a rural area that leans heavily toward that economic population). What personal techniques would you say are your keys in the sales process? And finally, do you use an online proofing system at all. If so, how does it fit in the plan? Thanks for your time and expertise.
    Ron

  • Thank you for such great insight!

  • Justine says:

    Wow, everyone! Thank you SO much for the heartfelt responses and for sharing these tidbits into where you are in your lives and your businesses. We have randomly selected a winner for my PDF guide…and the winner is…Rebecca Ickes. Congratulations Rebecca!

    The main questions posed here seem to be about the potential to lose clients and how do I charge so much for an 8×10. So here are the answers.

    1. Yes, you do need to be prepared to lose some clients when you restructure, it just happens. But the good news is that it is YOUR business. If you have a few great clients (who actually spend money with you), it is totally up to you if you want to keep your old prices for them, at least for a while…or at least gradually nudge them up slowly. The clients you want to weed out are the ones that really aren’t profitable for you anyway.

    2. How do I charge $135 for an 8×10? Well first of all I decided that it’s much easier to sell portraits to people who have the money to spend so yes, I do target a wealthier clientele but not all of my clients are wealthy. Some of them just really value photography and are willing to spend the money. I also include retouching in the price of each print and I deliver them matted and sleeved. So part of the value to the client is in the finishing. I’m not just giving them some loose print, I’m giving them something presented like a piece of art. I order pre-cut 8-ply mats from http://redimat.com. They only cost a few dollars each but they really add value to your print. I understand that some of you in small towns might feel that you can’t get this kind of price but there are portrait photographers like Jeff & Julia Woods and Lori Nordstrom who live in small towns and charge the same kinds of prices that I do. Perhaps more, so it’s definitely possible. If I wanted to really blow your minds, I’d tell you that my mother is a portrait photographer in the DC area and charges something like $485 for an 8×10. And people pay it. She likes to yell at me and tell me I’m too cheap. 🙂 So anyway, my point is that it’s all relative. You don’t have to bump up from $20 to $135. But try $40 or $50 to start…at least with new clients. You should always be at least a little bit uncomfortable with your prices.

  • christie says:

    Wow! Thank you. This might be the first time I’ve received a response that actually addresses my comment! I appreciate it.

  • Kaitlyn says:

    I really loved reading this!

  • Thank you so much! Really looking forward to reading more of your insights and starting out 2011 fresh.

  • Daisey says:

    I really loved this blog because I am just getting started and I am one of those that MUST make this a profitable business because this is what I love and I want the freedom. Thank you for sharing. I just joing Pictage and I am loving every minute of it so far. Happy 2011!

  • Jackie says:

    I am finding myself pretty stable in the wedding photography world and am wanting to begin focusing on a small quantity of high end children’s work. Do you recommend starting out high or work your way up? Also, do you charge a session fee right away or give your clients the pricing before hand?

  • First of all I want to thank you for sharing your wisdom with all of us, it’s great to hear from a successful photographer who’s willing to give back to our community so willingly.

    I’d like to ask how you market to the more affluent families in your area specifically. Do you partner with businesses catering to that clientele, and if so what do you offer? Are you involved in charity fund raisers? These are some of the basic pieces of advice I’ve heard and am trying to implement as I gear my business more towards portraiture, but any other tidbits you might have from the two generations of experience you have would be greatly appreciated!

  • diana says:

    hi, just wamt to chime in here! i’m justine’s mom, and i charge $490 per 8×10. if i had lowered my 8×10 price during this recesssion, i wouldn’t have been able to stay in business. justine is 100% correct about your lowest price being substantial.

    most photographers fail to keep all our expenses in mind when we make our price lists. some of mine are the following:

    my time
    my assistant’s time (& pay, obviously)
    rent
    business insurance
    health insurance
    business license and city taxes
    lab fees or paper and inks and mats
    book-keeper fees
    my precious cpa
    cameras
    lenses and filters and flashes
    equipment repairs
    studio props
    computers
    software and updates
    continuing education
    advertising
    marketing
    alarm system
    auto wear and tear and fuel
    the creation of displays of my work
    and more things that i’m forgetting at the moment. only we can set our price.

  • Les Francis , FRANCIS PHOTOGRAPHY says:

    Great ideas and suggestions, Justine. Sounds very much like you attended that seminar that
    your Mom, myself and a number of D.C. photographers attended in Rehobeth Beach, De.,
    seven or eight years ago.

    Les

  • That’s awesome Diana! LOL. You must be so proud of Justine. My daughter is 3.5 and she already does little photo shoots of her favorite dolly.

    I have to chime in and 100% agree with everything Justine says. I use this model in my pricing (although I charge $90 for all 8×10 and smaller prints)…but same idea. Clients honestly have no problem paying it (perhaps I should raise it!). And you WILL lose some clients when you make this jump. I would recommend buying any of Justine’s literature on this, and also Served Up Fresh has a great “how-to” for portrait photographers. It took me 3 years of scratching my head to come up with my now pretty successful (and lucrative) pricing structure. Some of my clients fell off the map, some stayed with me, and my new ones don’t bat an eye. I make $1250-$2500 per session now…all with no in home projection. After the shoot I make strong recommendations and even offer to hang everything for them at no extra cost.

    Anyway…just wanted to chime in. Take your photography business from a glorified hobby to a real business and charge accordingly!

  • Justine says:

    Wow, the comments just keep on rolling in, huh?

    Jackie, if you have the portfolio to justify it I recommend starting out high as opposed to working your way up. It’s much easier that way.

    Michael, I started out by donating gift certificates to private school auctions and other fundraisers. Once I got just a few great clients, I just took excellent care of them and let them spread the word. I also put my logo small on the back of all of my clients’ holiday cards and I find that I do book additional work from those. I do think it’s a great idea to network with other high-end businesses in your area but nothing works better than getting those referrals from your delighted past & current clients who love you.

  • Thanks for the article! I really loved that you touched on the fact that portrait & wedding photography are two totally different business models. I way to many awesome wedding photographers in my area starting to do portrait work that are not charging what they are worth and are using a “wedding” business model to decide there portrait pricing. Wedding & Portraits are definitely two different animals and she be treated that way. Love your price structure ideas. I had a few questions. Do you only do À la carte pricing of do you offer packages also? Do you offer incentives if clients order more: gifts or discounts?

    Thank you,

    Sarah

  • David C. says:

    I just came across this website, and I am so glad that I did. I’ve been trying to figure out how to price my portrait and products. I always thought if I go too cheap then I get the cheap clientele but If my prices are too high then I don’t get any. The way you put hit it right on the head. Thanks for doing this it is a lot of help.

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