Portraits Versus Weddings: What Type of Photography Should You Offer?

Today, I’d love to share some pricing strategies with you, because I’m really passionate about the business side of things, and most photographers do live at or below the poverty line, which is not cool. It’s PhotoMint’s mission to help photographers run profitable sustainable businesses.

The main thing I want to express to you is that it is important to think long term when you set your pricing and your focus. Once you put in the time to develop a certain type of clientele, it will be challenging to change directions. You’ll have established yourself in a certain market, with certain pricing, and your entire referral network and business style will be based on that approach. So think long and hard about the salary you need to create, the hours you can work and if you are willing to give up at least half or more of the weekends each year. These are the types of questions you need to ask yourself when determining what direction to go in and how to set your pricing.

Should You Go Down the Weddings Path or Portraits?

I do portraits occasionally, but weddings are my bread and butter. For a time I explored the idea of doing portraits as a new business venture, and I thought we’d focus on high end clients just like we have always done with the weddings market. My goal was to design portrait sessions that led to a minimum sale of $1200 (plus session fees) for highly custom designed artwork. However, I found my clients really balked at pricing and wanted everything for free or cheap. It simply didn’t make sense to do all that work for a session fee and a couple of 5×7’s.

Then I looked at a different model, more of a shoot and burn style. I considered doing sessions with a disk for $750 or so, expecting that by including the disk, there’d be no hope for any product sales. I figured I could probably do about 50 sessions per year with a strong marketing campaign. But when I began thinking about the amount of time to drive to people’s houses, processing time, marketing budget, etc. I realized it wasn’t worth that much effort to only bring in about $35,000 gross. With no clients to begin with, it would be a lot of effort towards marketing in order to book 50 sessions, and it might realistically take 2 years to build up the clientele for that many sessions. Basically, it would be starting a whole new business from scratch. The high end clientele was definitely out there, but this was a completely different market than my high end wedding clients.

When I compared that to our wedding bookings, I quickly realized that the amount of time and money needed to invest in starting up a whole new division of the business was not going to make sense for us.

I could put that same amount of time into booking 3-4 weddings and still make the same amount. Honestly, if I were to do things over again I’d probably focus on portraits instead of weddings, because I think it is a stronger business model and the hours are not so intense. At first I didn’t mind all the weekends, but when you consider the many evenings that go into consultations, engagement sessions and networking, it starts to take its toll on your personal life.

I also believe that portraits may be less stressful than weddings-You r clients are happy kids and babies rather than stressed out brides, overspent couples & demanding wedding planners asking for more time for less money. Of course, there are days when I see how moved families are by the emotions I’ve captured for them, and it makes it all worth it.

People making a full-time living at portraits typically offer low sitting fees but no disc. They can expect product sales in terms of albums, prints and a la carte items. Some use web galleries and disks of images as incentives for bigger packages. Clients usually want the disk and they want everything online, and if you give them everything they want without charging for it, you end up with no after sales, which if you have a low sitting fee and no after sales, you are on your way to financial ruin. If you start out offering the disc and then stop offering it, your clients that got the disc way back when will always expect it. With portraits, its all about repeat business, so don’t set yourself up for failure down the road. It’s hard to make a big switch like that a few years into a business as your clients will not accept it, and you just create headaches for yourself and your clients. Advice? Give these considerations a lot of thought; be really sure of how you want to do it.

The Keep It Simple Approach

If you want to just offer sessions in the beginning and not get involved in the production required for wall art, albums and other products then you’d need to set a price for the session & images that you are happy with down the line. Just think it through in terms of being work (not just something fun) and what you will want or need to earn in the long term. If you price yourself too low now, a year or two into it, and you’ll be fighting an uphill battle with your client base and everything you’ve built up in order to move things forward. You can add on products pretty easily with labs and some vendors such as GNP will streamline the process, getting the print order directly from the lab so you receive the product framed and ready to present to your client.

Value Your Work or No One Else Will

As an artist, setting your prices appropriately is the hardest thing about being a photographer. It’s something everyone struggles with. You have to respect yourself and your business, otherwise your clients never will. Just because you enjoy your work, that doesn’t mean you should do it for free. You don’t see your dentist ringing you up and offering free dental services because it’s such a joy. You have to treat your business like a business. Otherwise it’s just a very expensive hobby.

If you are considering building your business around portraits, I highly recommend you find a mentor in your area that can give you some suggestions for growing your business. Working with a mentor is a great experience, because you get to learn from someone who’s been there before you.

What are you trying to figure out right now?


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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Rama November 24, 2014 at 10:51 am

These are some awesome insights! I want to ask what you think in the portrait world at least about building your name up with exhibitions and gallary shows first to establish your self as a recognized artist with a unique style before going “into business”. I feel this way might work better for people who want to perceived as fine artists being commissioned for portraits.

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Amie Booth May 24, 2012 at 10:54 am

Hi Lara,
I just wanted to say Thank You for all of the info you have posted here. I’m a newbie as well and this has been a HUGE help!!

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Nic February 17, 2012 at 6:36 am

A very helpful post Lara.

I’ve only recently come across your site and have already found your advice to be both informative and practical.

Your personal reflections on doing portrait, as opposed to wedding photography, in view of time demands and client expectations, were particularly useful too and have given me food for thought.

Appreciate the value you add to newbies like myself…

Thanks

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Lara White February 17, 2012 at 9:13 am

I’m glad you’ve found us Nic!

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Photographer Glenwood Springs CO November 25, 2011 at 4:04 pm

I’ve been doing both weddings and portraits for many years. There aren’t enough of either one around here to just focus on one type.

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Lara White November 28, 2011 at 9:22 am

I think that is a smart move, that way you have two types of photography income.

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Oleg Katchinski November 22, 2011 at 1:42 am

Very good article indeed but this line “find a mentor in your area that can give you some suggestions for growing your business” put a doubt in my mind. I cannot see someone out there who would be willing to look after a fresh competitor for him/herself in the same area. I personally get a lot more support from people leaving quite far away from me (including this blog 😉 ), although meeting someone in person is always better than communicating online.

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Lara White November 22, 2011 at 9:28 am

Hi Oleg,

I have made many photographer friends in San Francisco. This has been a part of my success, to learn from others and also to share mistakes. Many photographers successfully set up a lead sharing program, where if you are booked, you pass on a bride to a few others who also recommend you when they are booked. The relationship shouldn’t be one sided, where you just pick their brain and constantly suck them dry of ideas. That’s not a good relationship. It should be give and take. Even for new photographers, that doesnt mean you cant help an established photographer learn something new like Facebook pages, etc.

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Wedding Photographers Denver November 29, 2011 at 6:07 am

Hi Oleg,

When I first started, I helped another photographer build his business. I quickly became “valuable” to him and generated income for his business. Most photographers recognize the need to acknowledge other photographers and while its hard to meet them at first, don’t give up. I am now a member of several groups who meet for coffee and talk about the industry and some personal stuff. I would encourage you to keep trying to connect. Find some local groups, join a few forums, create a group of your own.

All the best with your efforts.

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Lara White November 29, 2011 at 8:08 am

awesome Photocratz, thanks for jumping in with that. I’m glad to see it’s not just San Francisco that photographers collaborate!

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