When you’re just getting started with photography, practice is the number one priority. If you have ambitions of being a wedding or portrait photographer then you’re going to have to find yourself some people to practice photographing! Luckily for you, friends and family are happy to support your efforts, and kindly volunteer as test subjects.
Or is that really so lucky?
This is something that many photographers face when just starting out. You begin by shooting family and friends to practice. And you shoot for free. Why would you charge to do something you love?! Amateur shooters also figure they are still learning, so what they’re doing isn’t worth anything.
It doesn’t take long to realize that you possess a valuable skill, and one that others seek out. A lot of friends will magically come out of the woodwork when they hear about what you can do!
Before long you realize that new equipment, portfolio websites, blogs, and further education cost money. If you want to take that next step, you need funds. You now have to figure out how to price your work.
The difficult question is how much to charge, and how to handle your existing client base consisting mainly of family and friends. The even more difficult situation is how to handle the friends of friends and friends of family, who are now coming to you expecting similar discounts (read: free photography).
When people start coming to you because of how much (or how little!) you cost, instead of the fact that they like your work, then you have a problem!
How much to charge is a topic in itself (which will need to be saved for another day!), but one thing is for sure – you can’t get by shooting everyone for free. At some point you’ll have to draw the line, otherwise your business will fall apart.
Determining how you’ll handle discounts is a personal thing, so all I can really do is share our experience with the subject. Hopefully it gives you some direction, or points to consider.
Creating A Policy
Faced with the above situation (as well as several frustrating mistakes) Lauren and I have developed a policy for discounts:
We only give discounts to immediate family (luckily we have small families, otherwise this might need to be revised) and very very close friends.
The reason for the discount is that, quite simply, we WANT to photograph them. We love to shoot the people we love, so it’s win-win for us.
However, if discounted sessions start time take up a lot of your time, you may want to rethink your policy. You have to put just as much work into a discounted session, and end up making less money. This can very quickly damage your business, since you now have less time to shoot full-paying customers. Be careful.
It’s also a good idea to let those family and friends who are receiving a discount know that the price you’re charging is confidential and not to speak with their friends about it. Of course their friends will end up seeing their photos and if they find out about a big discount they’re not going to take your prices seriously when they inquire!
A couple times a year we’ll have a sale on our portrait session fee. This is a great way to offer discounts fairly. Everyone has an equal opportunity at a discount, not just family and friends.
This is something we admittedly haven’t been great at yet – though it’s worth paying attention to.
Photography is a referral business!
When you shoot a client that you absolutely love (everything goes perfectly, they’re a dream family or couple, etc.) then chances are good that their friends will also be your ideal clients. You want referrals from them to continue to build your business with the right clients.
We’ve done a few things here, but there is plenty of room to think creatively about potential solutions. For us, we’ve established a referral program that gives a discounted session fee to the friend, and credit to the original client as a thank you for bringing us business (important to think win-win here!).
The other thing that we’ll do is give discounts on session fees to repeat clients. We want clients who will be coming back to us every year; rewarding their patronage is a priority!
Weddings vs. Portraits
A note on session fee strategy and weddings: We don’t offer a discounts on weddings, as they are simply too much work to not be paid in full. Brides also talk, and it’s best they don’t hear that you offered one of them a discount and not the other! Bad news bears!
Portraits on the other hand are different story. We charge a portrait session fee and then they order products and prints after the session. Since we’re not aiming to make a big profit off the session fee, it’s something we feel we can judiciously discount for sales and referral purposes, and still make enough to make it worth our time.
This is a topic that is very frequently talked about, and stressed about. In my research I’ve come across a couple pieces of wisdom that can also help:
- If you want to “sweeten the deal” for a client, offer additional products rather than reducing the price. Reducing the price takes a good chunk of money right out of your pocket. Adding in products costs far less due to proper markup, but still adds value for the client!
- Rather than shooting for free, shoot for a small fee. When things are free people tend not to value it. Even if you’re just charging a bit, they’ll realize that what you’re doing is worth something. It’s a small thing that tends to make a big subconscious difference.
- Treat it officially. HAVE A CONTRACT! Schedule meetings, viewing and ordering sessions, etc. Show them that you are serious about this profession.
- Above all, consider how many hours of time what you’re shooting will REALLY take you. And be honest. A portrait session does not take 1 hour. It doesn’t take 2 hours. It takes a lot of very precious time, and you really want to be compensated for that.
Hopefully this provides some insight to new and beginner photographers in how to transition out of the practice phase. While this is a business, handling discounts is a personal matter that each photographer will manage differently. Just keep in mind that photography is a valuable skill and that your time, effort, and expertise deserve proper compensation.
Big thanks to Lauren (not our Lauren!) for suggesting this post.
Do you have a discount strategy that’s worked well for you? Share it in the comments!