Photographers: Pricing Your Work

Cemetary Spooky BW Framed

Dia de la Muerte – Isla Mujeres

(Click here for presentation & pricing info)

(Click on image to enlarge)

This post is for my many photographer friends.  Many of you are amateurs, a fair number of you are very ‘talented enthusiasts’ and a few of you are professionals like me (we strive to make a living doing this).  I turned professional about 4-1/2 years ago in 2009. A few of my amateur and enthusiast friends have expressed to me their desire to sell their work from time to time.  Photography can provide any number of different revenue streams, including:  Wedding Photography, Portrait Photography, Pet Photography, Fine Art Photography and Stock Photography to name but a few.  Wedding Photography is probably the most lucrative, but it is fraught with all kinds of responsibility (financial, legal and ethical).  I am fortunate to be retired, so any revenue I earn from my photography is incidental and supplements my retirement income (it allows me to more freely enjoy my world travels).  Therefore I don’t do photo shoots—I don’t need the hassle (except rare shoots for friends).  I stick to Fine Art Photography which I enjoy, further specializing in Travel, Wildlife and Nature Photography.  So, when I talk about pricing my work I am talking about Fine Art prints to hang on a wall (typically printed on canvas), not about wedding packages.  I also sell my work through three stock photo agencies, but the marketplace has become so saturated that there is very little money to be made in stock photography these days (and it’s labor intense).

Before you try to sell your work ask yourself this all-important question:  Is it good enough?  With digital photography came a mindset that anyone (and everyone) is good enough.  The simple truth is it just ain’t so.  I’ve been shooting for almost 60-years now, and its only been in the last few years that I’ve produced images truly good enough to sell. Have you mastered composition, subject matter, exposure and focus?  Have you mastered the digital darkroom for post-editing your work?  I find the production split generally runs about 30/70.  30% of my effort goes into capturing the initial image, and about 70% turning it into an image that someone would actually pay their hard-earned money to hang on their wall.  Be very critical of your work.

And if it’s good enough:  DON’T JUST GIVE IT AWAY.  By doing so you not only denigrate your work, but also the work of countless others.

So how do you ‘fairly price’ your work?  These guidelines may prove helpful (or not).  To my professional friends, you already know this.

1.  Determine your total production cost (labor, printing, inks, canvas, paper, matting, frames, etc).

2.  Determine your hourly rate (yes your time is valuable).  It usually takes me about an hour to bring an image to a point where I am satisfied with it and can proceed to printing it. I currently charge $20 USD per hour (which equates to $41,600 USD annually if I were working a full forty hour week … which I am not).  Here is the formula (you can work it forward or backward):  $20/hr x 40hrs/wk = $800/wk x 52 (wks per year) = $41,600.

3.  Determine your profit margin (at least 50% at the retail level—if you’re selling through a gallery you also need to figure in the gallery’s commission).


(a) $112.50:  3 x 5 foot canvas print – no frame (15 sqft x $7.50 sqft = $112.50 printing cost)

      (b) $15.50:  Canvas stretching & mounting cost

      (c) $20.00:  1-hour photographer’s time (photographing & editing)

 $148.00:  Total Production Cost (a + b + c) 

 $370.00:  Sales Price

(Sales Price = Total Production Cost divided by the reciprocal of 50% profit margin + 10% gallery commission.  In this case study the equation would be $148 divided by 40% … the reciprocal of 60%)

$370:  Sales Price

– $148:  Total Production Cost

– $37:  10% Gallery Commission

$185:  Photographer’s Profit (50%)

Remember that these are just general business guidelines for one particular revenue stream in photography.  Factors such as:  venue, commissions and market conditions can (and will) affect pricing considerations.  For instance, if this case study image were truly a spectacular image (limited edition quality) and it was signed & numbered I might ask $1,000 USD or more.  If I was selling the image to a family member or friend I might sell it ‘for cost’ (or even gift it).  My online gallery has a different pricing structure than when I sell at a brick & mortar gallery, cafe setting or face-to-face.  It all depends.  If you sell to a wholesale venue (where they in turn sell it) your profit margin may be closer to 30% … when selling retail it should be closer to 50% (and don’t forget seller’s commissions … you don’t want them coming out of your profit margins).

Rule of Thumb Markups

Wholesale:  Total Production Cost x 2 = 50% profit margin to the photographer

Retail:  Total Production Cost x 4 = 50% profit margin to you the photographer, and 50% profit margin to the store when they resale it (less any discounts they may offer)

In summary my photographer friends:  I am not ‘THE’ expert by any means.  So many of you take images far superior to my own.  But I did spend almost 50-years in the business community, the last 30-years as a Vice President in Commercial Banking.  If it’s one thing I do know it’s business, and its core principals and concepts.  If you want to be commercially successful in photography you have to market yourself, and intelligent pricing is a big part of that effort.  I hope this post will prove helpful to some of you.  Best regards – SFD

Special note:  To my many customers, both here in Mexico and worldwide, I always endeavor to price my images fairly.  The case study I used in this post is pretty typical—and to get a large 3 x 5 foot ‘original’ piece of wall art for $370 USD is pretty reasonable in any market around the world.  It’s no secret that photography is both an art and a business.  If an artist neglects either side of the equation he or she will not last long.  I strive to provide quality, professional grade images for sale reflecting my travels around our beautiful planet.  I also try to provide the backstory whenever possible—every quality image has a backstory.  In providing this pricing information to my fellow photographers I am not divulging any trade secrets—this information is just a short recap of some very basic retail business concepts and practices.  When a customer receives a fair value for dollars spent, and the artist is compensated in a fair way—it is a WIN-WIN SITUATION.  Successfully marketing my business allows me to continue with my travels and passion for photography.    


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