Sharon Elizabeth Photography
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March 23, 2012

Starting a business... the ugly truth

I
get a ton of emails and messages about how to 'get' into photography! I'm always asked how much to charge when you're first starting out and how to figure up your prices!!! I know that this topic has been written about a lot, but I wanted to share my own experience and opinions! 
 
So for me personally... I want you to do as I say NOT as I did!!! I started charging next to nothing for a shoot - I think it was somewhere around 40.00 for an hour session................. (hides head) SO. with that being said.. this is what YOU should do if you're just starting out in photography - and what I SHOULD have done.  
 
I learned things the hard way... and I'm still trying to recover from the mistakes I made..... 
 
First things first... ask yourself this -- are you going to do this for FUN or are you looking to create a business?!?! If you want to do this for fun - then keep it that way.... let people know that you're not a professional and you won't be holding 'mini sessions' or building a portfolio!!! You don't even have to finish reading this if that's the case!!! =) 
 
If you want to make this a business -- do it legally.... get a business license and follow your town/county's regulations for owning and operating a legitimate business! This will ensure you're taken seriously AND will ensure the IRS doesn't hunt you down in your sleep! =)  
 
If you plan on creating a business from this, you need to not only have the proper licensing and insurance, but you need to find a business mentor - preferably someone in the photo industry. You need to know what you're doing and what you're getting yourself into. Business is HARD and running a business is even harder. Sadly, this whole photography thing isn't all 'fun'.... especially the accounting part -- thank goodness I hired someone to do that for me! Beyond having a business mentor, you should take workshops, classes, find a photography mentor or take online classes.You need to be able to run a successful business AND have the talent and knowledge to know your camera and take great photos... because I think we can all agree, that - not everyone with a nice camera can take pictures.... BUT just because you're new to the industry, doesn't mean you aren't meant to be a photographer! You just need to do everything you can to learn, grow and continue improving! 
 
So you've taken the appropriate steps to being legal, you've been taking workshops and you've learned your camera inside and out! Next you'll need to figure up your 'goal' prices -- tally up your expenses, your time's worth, prints/products etc -- and that will be your price.. let's say for when you're 'ready'... When someone contacts you to book a session - send over that pricing sheet.. but say... "these are my rates, but I would like to offer you a portfolio building discount -- you're getting a great deal, and you're helping me build my portfolio in the meantime." I can't stress this enough, this is SO important to ensuring you're not charging someone an arm and a leg for a service you cannot offer just yet.... BUT - this ensures that when you ARE able to offer an amazing service, your clients aren't completely enraged by your new pricing! Trust me - I had to learn this the hard way.  
 
My first three weddings were 250.00 -- yes 250.00 for an 8 hour day, dvd of images, my time, my gas, a second shooter... you get the idea. I was an IDIOT..... After I realized this and felt like my skills had improved, I began charging more.... I lost SO many clients. They didn't understand that a 2 hour session with me wasn't 50.00 anymore.... and it was all MY fault. To be honest, I am still trying to get my name out of the 'cheap photographer' pile. I still have clients who come to me saying this: 
 
"Hey Sharon, I heard you were just starting out in photography, and I heard you weren't very expensive...." 
 
I smack myself every single time. Sometimes, I don't even know how to respond... "Well, actually, I've been doing this for 4 years now.... and my prices have changed quite a bit since my first year" HA! I wish I had known then what I know now.... things would be SO different! So take it from me - do as I say not as I did! =) 
 
I hope this helps, and I would be happy to answer any other questions you may have in a future blog post.  
So feel free to leave a comment with some questions or even email them to me (using the contact section)!!!!! 
 
Want to see my very first 'head-shot'....... I set up my little kodak point and shoot, put on my biggest 'kit' lens - zoomed it out as far as it could go and put on my brand new 'flash'........... washed my hair - put on a cute shirt.... and voila... 
I was a professional photographer who charged 50.00 for a 10 hour portrait session! 
AHHH!!!! If you need me, I'll be in hiding!