(Originally this post was going to be only about pricing & payments, but I felt it wouldn’t be complete without the background story – if you want the hardcore stats of where I’m at now, just scroll to the bottom)
When I first started out doing photography, I SUCKED. Big time.
Imagine all the tourist photos you see where the couple is composed bottom-middle, with some bland background behind them. Those were basically the majority of the photos I took when I first started out. Yeah, it was pretty bad.
So how did I get into photography? I’m glad you asked.
Back in 2008, I was working as a nightclub promoter for a company called 3D Entertainment. This meant bringing a bunch of people to a club so they would buy drinks & fill the venue. Along the way, I met my (now ex) girlfriend and decided to give up the single life. The problem was, my work – consisting of texting girls to go hang out at a nightclub each weekend – didn’t really fly with being in a relationship.
My buddy Tristan at the time was taking the photos for the events that 3D was promoting, and he happened to be moving to north county. I had been reading Rich Dad Poor Dad & was thinking of ways to acquire an asset that would bring me money…so I talked to Tristan, and things just made sense.
I picked up my first SLR – the Canon 20D with a 28-105 lens from my (now) friend Ramona D’ Viola of Ilumus Photography for $450 – it was a steal at the time.
Tristan showed me the ropes & got me all set up to shoot manual (I never learned AP or SP or whatever). When I first started, I shot for $50 a night. Yep, every Saturday night. 4 HOURS.
At the time I thought, “MAN, this is awesome! I’m making my money back in just 2 months time, I’m going to live the LIFE!”
(This was back in my college days, and student loans were covering the other part of my monthly expenses)
As time went on, I became more and more passionate and interested in photography. I met more & more people while out at these events, and this networking led to other jobs. Mostly other nightlife gigs, and one of the pivotal contacts I made was with my (now) friend Kathy of 944 Magazine.
944 is a national magazine, with regionally specific issues that feature photos from various events around each city. While a majority of the work I had done with them was in nightlife, there were other events like restaurant grand openings, media retreats at hotels, and various pop culture stuff around the city. *These* types of events led me to new contacts, including JPR – which was a huge catapult towards getting my name out to important contacts.
After awhile, I began shooting the resident event photography for hotels like Hard Rock Hotel San Diego, Andaz Hotel, Loews Coronado, Rancho Bernardo Inn, etc. In addition to the event side of things, I would shoot cocktails, amenities, new promotional campaigns, or just random ideas that worked within their photographic needs.
That brings me to where I am today. I still shoot amenity set ups for my current clients, but anything new will be referred out to friends looking to build their client base. (I’m at a point where any additional work non-related towards weddings or high end events will just add more congestion to the schedule, and the monetary value isn’t worth it. I’ve thought about raising rates for it, but my focus on quality is towards events, and the rate I would charge wouldn’t carry the quality I would expect if I were the client. Make sense?)
Throughout the time I grew my network, I went through 5 different styles of business cards, 3 online website portfolios, and narrowed down my specializations from 8 to 3.
Special Events, Weddings, and Portraits.
Now show me the MONEEEEEEEEEYYYY!!!! How did I grow from $50/night to $150 per hr? Here we go.
To tell you the truth, the first part of my photographic career & it’s salary – was dictated by my clients.
$75 for a night of photography. $50 for a gallery. $150 for the event. $100 for 2 hrs.
However, what was great about the whole process was that I figured out a way to do multiple events a night, and increase my income on a per-day basis. I’d shoot a gallery for 944 Magazine from 7-9 and then hit the nightclubs from 10-1 to get another gallery for a different company and make $100 or $150 for the night. As time went on, I found companies that were cool with me just getting a certain number of photos – so at times it could get hectic. (I think one night I had done 4 separate galleries!)
These days, I still work the same angle for certain nights, and usually bring home $150-$500 per night for nightlife events. I’ve worked it out with current clients to pay me on a per-hour basis, or a gallery basis so that I can get them what they need, but still be able to squeeze in time to hit other venues & get the quality I need from each event.
Nowadays, if there are any new companies that get in touch but have a lower budget, I’ll refer them out to other photographers I trust. When I make a recommendation however, I view that person as an extension of my brand – so if they mess up, on to the next. If my regular guys are booked, I might just tell the client I can’t help them rather than recommend someone with less-than-average quality.
Going forward, the next few months are going to be filled with portfolio shoots to start booking the kind of clients I want to work with. A few professional videos to go on the website – one or two of them being creative commercials to separate myself from the standard intro video I’ve been seeing on most wedding photographer’s websites.
Deborah asked if I have done any advertising & how I book my clients – in response, it’s almost *all* been from word of mouth. Meeting people at events and handing out the business cards, telling them to email me & I’ll send them the photo I took of them or something along the lines. With 944, I had my website printed along with my galleries that were published each month – however I don’t think I got a single lead from that. Recognition & reputation – FOR SURE. But solid gigs, didn’t really see too much. I’ve also had a couple full page articles/photos printed in certain issues, but again – nothing solid. To make the most of word of mouth – I’d suggest going by Jasmine Star’s approach – giving unbelievable service towards clients and let them do the talking for you. No matter what the pay of the event, knock it out of the park – you never know who’s going to see those photos.
(PS – A great book on word of mouth & online promotion – which has led me to some of the things I currently do – is “Crush It“, by Gary Vaynerchuk. My friend Brian introduced me to it & I was hooked after the first chapter.)
Another great way to book the gigs I have wanted to get – has *actually* been a little bit of a side benefit from posting on this blog so much. Since I post so many different shoots I’ve done, I can email a prospective client a link to previous work I’ve done that I think would be similar to what I would produce for them. This works a lot better than sending them to my portfolio page, as this way is much more specific & in tune with what they’re working with.
Social media…that’s a different beast. I’ll hit it on my blog on workflow later this week. But trust me – you WANT to focus on facebook.
Current Clients: $100/hr
Any future clients: $150/hr
Portraits: $350 first person, $150 each add’l for a 2 hr shoot. $800 for a half-day rate that would include multiple employees. (Base rate covers shooting time + editing time for 3-5 shots/person, full res delivered via yousendit or DVD if they really want it.)
Weddings: A-$1999 B-$2499 C-$2999 (These differ on hrs, engagement session, and number of photogs. Also have an “A-la-carte” option in case the couple wants to work around with different options)
To increase these amounts, I will probably add on about 30% of each type of work once its demand rises to the point where I feel it can support a higher amount. No going back.
*Note – right now I haven’t booked too many weddings for the year – about 5 on my own, and 4 more with second shooters. Instead of working my way up by filling my schedule like I have done with other events, I decided to just enter in with a mid-range price to avoid working with low-budget weddings. In the past, I’ve found that in a majority of cases, the low budget/low rate events are the ones that are most difficult to work with, please, etc. Since I’ve already got such a busy schedule with other types of work, I don’t mind being selective on the types of wedding clients I take on this year.
To ensure each of my clients security, I backup each of my events on an external hard drive + online storage via SmugMug’s pro account. The hard drives are about $100 or so for 2 terabytes, and SmugMug charges $150/yr for unlimited storage. They don’t store RAW files, but can store large format JPEGs. To get in touch, email email@example.com and he’ll get you set up. I met this guy at WPPI a year ago, and has taken great care of my account ever since.
Emilia asked if I have used ShootQ or Pictage. To be honest, I looked into Pictage and did a side-by-side comparison back at WPPI and Smugmug won on several issues. It costs less & works great, so I’m happy with it. As for ShootQ, I messaged Dane Sanders awhile back about it & he had gotten me set up with a year free – however I was confused on the functionality of the whole thing, thinking it was a community to book second shooters. Duhhhhh! My invoicing is quick & easy, so I’ve stuck with it – but might consider using ShootQ for organization/backup purposes.
I accept anything & everything. All major credit cards, cash, check, money order, paypal, you name it. (Paypal I charge a 5% fee to cover their convenience cost.)
For all my credit card payments, I use Midwestern Transaction Group’s touch tone service which deposits the full amount in my bank account a few days after the charge. The service costs $5 per month with a 2% transaction fee or something, but it’s so marginal & so easy that I don’t mind paying it at all. Make things easy for your clients! (To get in touch, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
For most of my clients, I’ll invoice them at the beginning or end of the month depending on how their payment processing system works. Some of the hotels I work with have a net 30 days process so I’ll invoice them prior to the work I will be doing for that month.
As for individual clients, anything over $1000 will be paid in half to reserve the date, then the remainder one month out prior to the event. With weddings in particular, the couple has to deal with a TON of unseen expenses the month prior to the big day, and you don’t want to come towards the end of all that – much more of a likelihood that your “package 3″ will get reduced to a “package 1″ in that approach.
When I was younger, I owed my mom a ton of money for my car & decided to pay her in a creative way. Instead of giving her a check for $2000, I thought it would be funny to take a bunch of stacks of $1 bills in a duffel bag and deliver it mob-style.
If you’re a client reading this, pay me this way & I’ll give you 10% off if you can pull it off with a straight face.
Anyways, hope this all helps in some way, if I left anything out – give me a holler!