Photography for Profit: Business Photography Tips & Techniques

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Basics of a Photography Business

Building a successful photography business requires photography skill and business acumen. The biggest pitfall of any business is not assessing the cost of doing business and offsetting the price of the product. Many photographers determine their photography prices either arbitrarily or by what others in the business are charging. The problem with this is that not everyone is providing the same service and their cost of doing business will be different than other types of photography (or even other photographers in the same area of expertise).

The Bidding Process

A photographer makes a profit when they make more money than what it costs them to do the job. This makes the photography bid the backbone of the business. Even if they are just setting prices, this is a form of a bid for customers. A bid is anything that sets a pre-determined price for services and products rendered. Because of the type of business and nature of the services offered, most jobs the photographer performs will be subject to bidding. Portrait photographers will vary their prices depending on how many people are in the picture, how many prints the customer wants, and where the sitting will be shot. This is the same for most types of photography, whether commercial or editorial.

Estimating the Bid

Correctly pricing the bid is important because if anything is missed it can cost the photographer money or at the very least, they may not make any profit. Photographic assignments and jobs breakdown into three major areas: the job description, fees and expenses, and licensing & rights granted.

Job Description

This is the most important part of the bidding process. If the photographer does not have all the specific details on what is required and expected for the shoot, then they cannot correctly bid the job. This means loss of revenue and even possibly ill will with the client. Always list out exactly what services are to be provided and review them with the client. If there is any area of the job that is unclear or undefined, ask the client what they want regarding that part of the job. Getting all the correct information in the job description makes the rest of the bid simple.

Fees & Expenses

This seems fairly simple, but many photographers overlook operating costs such as office/studio rent, utilities, staples, paper, and other items that are necessary to perform business. That is because these are not used in the actual photo shoot. When determining an hourly fee, all costs need to be included in order to get an accurate dollar figure on what it takes to run the business.

  • **Hourly Charge –**The first item to figure is the break-even cost and then calculate an hourly rate. Add a percentage of profit to this number and that will be the hourly photography rate. The percentage of profit charged will vary depending on the area and the competition. Remember to include all costs including advertising, website fees, and even paper clips in the cost of doing business.

  • Expenses – Make sure to find out any charges related to the shoot such as parking, ticket fees, or other unexpected charges. This includes travel fess and assistant fees.

  • Fees – Fees are charged to the client for add-on services such as digital imaging, special lighting, or other extras that are required for a specific effect.

Licensing & Rights Granted

This is another area where communication with the client is paramount. Make sure to get the specifics on how the client is going to use the images. This will determine what rights the client will need to purchase. Some jobs can be bid on a work for hire basis. Remember, the more rights the client wants, the larger the cost.


Getting accurate information and correctly assessing a job will make the photography business profitable. Always consult with the client and put everything in writing. This enables both parties to review the exact costs and services rendered. If something is missed in the bid, the photographer will have to eat the cost. This is why it important to take time to get all job specifics and have clear communication with the client.