Going Pro: 8 Questions You Are Dying to Ask a Professional Photographer

If you are just starting to think about setting up a photography business, read this interview style Q & A to get some insight from seasoned pro Lara White. To learn more about the business I am discussing, check out Geoff White Photographers. Let’s dive right in to the questions.

Q: When you say all packages come with digital negatives…what does that mean exactly?  Is that a fancy way of saying a photo dvd?

A: Digital negatives are in place of film negatives. I would expect a photo DVD to be for Facebook or otherwise very small files. All our wedding packages include the wedding day digital negatives in both high and low resolution, and we factor that into the cost. We designed our pricing so that we get paid on the front end. We do sell prints, but that has never been our strength. We designed packages as a front end model instead of a low hourly fee to start with the profit coming in on the back-end, traditionally through print sales.

Either model works, but you want to set your business strategy to play to your strengths.

Q: How many weddings do you shoot a year and are you happy with that or do you want to do more or less?

 A: We shoot anywhere from 25-45 weddings per year, and the answer is, ‘it depends’. On the one hand, I love when we have an especially rewarding year financially, but it takes a tremendous toll on your personal life and it’s very physically demanding. These past few years we’ve tried taking fewer weddings and providing a higher level of service. It’s a constant balancing act.

Q: Have you ever shot maternity or newborns or is that just not your thing?

A: Yes, wedding clients naturally lead to long term relationships and after they get married, so it’s a natural fit. It’s important to think about how you’ll approach things like print pricing and digital negatives before it comes up. Your wedding clients will expect a similar set of studio polices, so you want to be prepared for how you’ll handle this. For example, our session fees are $500, but for the amount of time and effort put into a session, there does need to be a product sale in order to make the session profitable. It’s not an area of focus for us, but its always nice to have something different.

Q: Where is a good place to start in terms of marketing?  Do you place ads, if so, where?

I can’t recommend print ads for wedding photographers as the pricing is usually beyond reach and the return (in booked weddings) is minimal at best. It takes more than one full page ad to be an effective wedding marketing campaign. You’d need at least a year of ads, and unfortunately with the pricing model, it’s difficult to justify those costs when you are working with such a limited budget. You are better off to network and build relationships within the wedding industry. Instead of ads, put the marketing dollars into vendor albums.

Also look for smaller bridal shows in your area. Bridal shops, certain department stores and local venues will often have small showcase evenings that all the vendors invite their prospective brides to. With any marketing effort, you have to remember it’s going to take time.

 Q: What are you using to edit your images?

We shoot in RAW, and found Lightroom to be a bit clumsy initially and we haven’t looked at it since. We color correct in Capture One. I edit in iView, but Breeze Browser works too.

Q: You mentioned that you started out charging $5000 for weddings – did you lose any business up front by setting your price in that range?  

A: We decided to set our prices high right out of the gate, because we knew that was the market we wanted to go after. However, we dumped money into the business from the get go, and had professional brochures, album samples, wall samples, etc. and strong work. We made sure that no one would ever guess we were starting out. So the lead time for building up a business and clientele was pretty quick, but we had the cash and the business experience that allowed us to go that route.

Looking at the wedding industry now, I think everyone tries to go after the ‘high end’ client and that’s not necessarily the best route for everyone’s photography business. The costs involved are much higher in serving that segment, and all that pretty packaging, customization and customer service costs add up very quickly.

In the Bay Area, I see a real need for a talented professional to provide more mid-level pricing while keeping their costs low. In a big city market like San Francisco, someone could really differentiate themselves by offering packages in the $3500 range if they can compete quality-wise with the more expensive photographers. Be careful to not give away the farm.

Q: Any ideas for how to stand out in terms of style?

A: You need to differentiate yourself somehow through style, pricing, services, etc. look at your local competition in order to see how you might do that. We did it through high pricing, extreme technical capabilities and strong use of color and lines. While our prices are high, we do include a lot of products and value for the money. We also go above and beyond in terms of customer service.

Q: I’m not sure if I should go after weddings or build a portrait business. What has been your experience?

A: With weddings it seems like there’s more money in the beginning, but over time, the amount of hours you put in call your earnings into question. When you break it down into an hourly wage, it’s not pretty, and I would say that’s pretty honest across the board for wedding vendors regardless what they are charging. Weddings are incredibly time intensive, so you really have to love it.

With portraits, you do a tight edit, you only retouch a small selection or what the buy, and you can do a lot more sessions, and over time, build up a client base and product base in order to maximize sales. It takes much longer to build up a portrait business, but in the long term the return for your time will be much higher.

If you choose to get into weddings, you will work a lot of evenings and a lot of weekends. It’s unavoidable. You won’t be able to book jobs without meeting people at night, and you’ll probably meet with twice as many people as you book. For us, that’s about fifty-eighty two hour meetings on weekday evenings throughout the year. That’s over 100 hours in consultations alone. And then you’ll also probably want to go to lots of evening networking events with planners and such to get your name out there. So the time commitment is much greater with weddings, although there is a natural slow season for weddings during which most wedding photographers try to schedule their vacations and family events around.

Do you have any burning questions you are dying to ask? Let me know in the comments.


Facebook comments:

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim June 8, 2013 at 10:37 pm

Laura,
We are just starting out our photography business and can’t find any info on collecting payments for after sales! Do you make the client pay in full at the ordering session? Pay when they receive their products? Half now, half later??? And what do we do if someone orders products following a wedding or portrait session, and then changes their mind when we deliver the products? Refund? No refund? Do we just eat the cost of having ordered the (possibly quite expensive) albums/prints/framed artwork for them? How do you guys deal with this???

Thanks!

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Lara White June 9, 2013 at 7:33 am

Hi Kim,

when products such as albums are custom made, there are no refunds, simple as that. You would definitely want to take a deposit at the time of the order, so you know your costs are covered even if they end up flaking. I would suggest getting the deposit, prepping the order, and getting final payment before placing the album order. That way, you can still break the payment up for them, but you are assured payment.

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Mariah Renken October 28, 2012 at 7:50 pm

Thanks for the information! I am just a sophomore in High School, but i take family, senior, and children portraits, for the people in my small town. I have tried to look up how much to charge for sitting charges, and for a DVD with 50-100 pictures on it? Could you help me out?

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Robert Ash February 11, 2012 at 1:30 am

Very straightforward information. I’m not a wedding photographer and don’t aspire to be one but most of what you’re sharing is applicable to any style of photography.

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Robert Ash February 11, 2012 at 1:36 am

And also one thing that’s important to add is that if you want to charge a lot, you usually have to be very skilled. People who spend a lot tend to want the best. Regarding your Macy’s analogy, Macy’s has really fine, high quality merchandise overall. Not always, but definitely overall. Macy’s can’t just peddle cheapie Walmart-caliber merchandise, slap a Macy’s price on it and expect to last very long as a business.

Same with photographers. Photographers can’t just set prices wherever they want. If you set your price high without the quality you’ll starve. There are exceptions, there always are, but the rule is “high prices require high quality work”.

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Lara White February 11, 2012 at 5:48 am

that would be true, most of the time. But I have also seen many mediocre photographers that book consistently because they have fantastic personalities and are great sales people.

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Robert Ash February 11, 2012 at 11:18 pm

Hmmm. Intriguing comment. I know there are some but didn’t know there are many…..

The mediocre photographers you know who are booking consistently, how many are high-end, charging high-end prices? Any in the same price range you and Geoff charge?

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Lara White February 12, 2012 at 10:15 am

Yes, actually, and it boggles my mind!!!! Like old school, heavily flashed type stuff, sit at the very back of the church with the camera on a tripod and just press the button every once in a while. But super friendly, great personalities.

Lara White February 11, 2012 at 5:49 am

that’s good to hear, because my experience is within weddings but I aim to be helpful to all types of photography business owners.

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Robert Ash February 11, 2012 at 11:22 pm

You are helpful. The fundamentals of business are the same, regardless of the style of photography. In fact, regardless of the industry. We have to adjust what we hear to our specific situations and target clientele but the core of each good point is the same or very similar.

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Lara White February 12, 2012 at 10:15 am

thanks Robert, that is my hope, that while my background is weddings, people will hopefully be able to relate the core ideas to other areas.

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Jenny November 15, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Hi Lara, I had a question. Im new to the wedding/portrait world. Just finishing photography school a few months ago. Unfortunately the school didn’t really provide me with a very good business back bone. I was wondering how you go about figuring out your pricing? How to justify my prices to a costumer who wants to know what the prices entail? Im having a hard time coming up with that. Thank you for your time!

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Lara White November 15, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Hi Jenny,

I wish that photography schools focused on business more. In terms of your pricing, you do not need to justify your prices to your customers. You can choose any price you wish and you do not need to ‘justify’ your pricing in any way. This is really key to understand. You can set your hourly rate at $100 per hour or $1,000 per hour. That’s part of the beauty and struggle of being an entrepreneur. When you go into Macy’s you don’t demand that the sales person justify the price of the shoes you are looking at, right? You might be able to afford them if you want them bad enough, right? If you aren’t all that interested in the shoes, it doesn’t matter what bargain price they are offered at.

When you are just starting out, it’s critical to set your pricing to ensure that all your costs are covered and that you are actually making a living from your work, in the form of a profit. I recommend starting with a salary that you aim to earn, and then work backwards from there, figuring out how many weddings or sessions at what average price you’d need to clear (in profit) that salary. So, for example, if you offer a disc of images and a 1 hour session for $300, you have to assume you’ll never see any after sales (as you are giving away the product at that price). So let’s say you feel $40,000 is a fair salary to begin with, and you’ll work from your home to keep your costs low. Let’s conservatively say you will have about $10,000 in business costs (website, business cards, insurance, lenses, brochures, etc.) So that’s a total of $50,000 you need to gross. Going back to the $300 for a session and a disc model, that’s going to be 166 sessions (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) you’ll need to do that year to earn a decent living. Not a good model. You can play with some different figures to see how things would look for you financially at different price points.

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Colin Mountford November 1, 2011 at 11:02 am

Hi Lara

I have been a passionate amature photographer for 40 years, I read, visualize everything as a picture in the making, from film through to digital era, I knew that this was what I wanted to be. But, something has always stopped me from achieving my goals. Excuses! Until now!

The information you are passing on is so helpful, I think you are a God Send to the industry, anyone thinking of entering into Wedding Photography SHOULD READ THIS INFORMATION FIRST.
Thank you Lara for all you are doing

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Henning Ras October 11, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Hi Lara.

Just signed to Photomint and is blown away how much info you share here for free to help fellow photographers…
I apply most of the tips and find now reason to raise my fees. When I explained the fees to a client, mostly they don’t understand the amount of time taking to edit and process the images taken on a day….

By any chance, do you use a specific type of gear for your images and what brand?

Kind Regards

Henning Ras

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R Brewster October 22, 2011 at 12:47 pm

It’s really not brand or specific type of gear but what you “see” if you learn to see your images will speak for them self.

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Wayne Leone October 11, 2011 at 3:49 am

Love the openness of your information and wisdom, many thanks.
Just skimmed the Get Published PDF so looking forward to reading the this evening.
Any plans to produce some training videos?

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Lara White October 11, 2011 at 9:47 am

thanks Wayne! Yes actually, I am planning to do some training videos soon.

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Diane McClamroch October 9, 2011 at 11:18 am

Thank you so much for your straight forward answers. It’s a breath of fresh air to finally have a professional photographer not beat around the bush and give you the real deal.

I have just recently skimmed the Get Published .pdf and LOVED the fact that you gave the equipment used and the techniques, that is such a huge help.

For me, I have been doing photography for about 25 years, on and off, but mostly for start ups and corporations and would now love to just go full time and I’m sure your articles will be very beneficial. I can’t wait to read more.

Thank you so much, your a God send Lara!

p.s. I put the name of my site in, however it’s about 2 weeks from completion, just finishing up some SEO.

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Lara White October 9, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Thanks so much Diane, and nice to meet you! By putting out realistic and honest information, I hope to make a positive impact. You can expect to see lots more here!

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Sara K Byrne October 7, 2011 at 10:17 am

Great questions and answers.. we find ourselves asking many of these to ourselves almost daily!

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Lara White October 8, 2011 at 12:03 pm

i know, right?

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tobiah October 7, 2011 at 5:55 am

Really good advice and article. Thanks for taking the time to write this

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Lara White October 8, 2011 at 12:03 pm

no problem Tobiah, thanks for reading!

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Alyssa Schroeder October 7, 2011 at 12:17 am

Great collection of tips and info for those looking to start weddings.

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Leah Muse October 6, 2011 at 6:15 pm

These are some really great questions to ask! Super insightful.

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Lara White October 6, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Thanks Leah, I figured since these are the real questions I am getting from new photographers, why not share the answers so everyone can enjoy them. Building a photography business is not something that comes naturally to most people. You can go to school to learn photography, but the day to day photo business operations are a different thing altogether.

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