Have You Done the Math?

Photographers are cool. They always look like they’re in charge. They get to walk around with a nice camera on their hip. They’ve got a blog, a website, and a fancy logo. They show up at the photoshoot with all that great gear in their car. And they even have an assistant! Wow! Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to quit my day job and do that? Or even better still, wouldn’t it be nice if I just did that instead of getting a real 9 to 5 job?

It often looks so glamorous, but like owning and running any small business, it’s a ton of very hard work and long hours that the average person simply wouldn’t be willing to invest. The bottom line is that in order to make real money, you’ve either got to work really really hard at it, or you’ve got to charge big prices. And to charge big prices you’ve got to offer clients something that nobody else can offer them. That can be many things such as the variety and scope of your images, the quality of your images, your packaging and convenience for the client, or the total customer experience of being photographed by you.

But how many photographers or wanna-be photographers have actually done the math? Do they know with reasonable accuracy what it costs to be a photographer or what kind of expectations for income they might have? Once you sit down and actually spend a few days going over the figures, you just may be a little shocked. But if you’ve been running a successful photography business for awhile then you obviously have a good grasp of your costs and what you need to be charging in order to make ends meet.

Break-Even-Analysis

Let’s look at an example of some real math. In diagram 1, Miss Molly wants to be a newborn photographer. She has already made an initial investment in her business and purchased a good camera, a few lenses, a computer, software, and a nice studio setup with strobes, lightstands, wireless transmitters/receivers, and a good supply of inventory that she would use on a daily basis. This initial startup cost can be huge. In fact, I’m almost certain that the average photography client has no idea how much this stuff can cost.

Miss Molly has calculated that she spends about 2500 dollars per year on stuff like rolls of paper, backdrops, computer software/upgrades, DVD’s and flash drives, and various advertising materials.

She’s going to charge 500 dollars per session which includes 30 digital files, about 4 hours of photography, and quite a few hours of post production work.

Out of this 500 dollars per session, she expects to re-invest around 100 dollars back into the business by purchasing new props, baby blankets, hats, headbands etc. All of these costs can really add up as any newborn photographer knows.

As you can see from the diagram, she needs to do 6 sessions before she can break even with her costs. And if she only wants to photograph 1 newborn per week for 40 weeks of the year, her annual salary will be a measly 13,500 dollars.

Let’s say Miss Molly lives in a small town where there just aren’t that many newborns around. In the course of a year she may only get 1 newborn every 2 weeks to photograph.  In that case, her annual income will be a whopping 5,500 dollars after expenses.

But Miss Molly is good and she has aspirations of working very hard making at least 70 grand for an income. She’s worked so damn hard that she rightfully deserves 12 weeks off every year for her vacation and/or opportunities to go to seminars, workshops etc.

That means she’s going to have to do more than 4 sessions per week every week for 40 weeks of the year. And, she’s going to have to keep a strict watch on her budget making sure that she does not exceed her anticipated costs of running the business. So if she drops her camera and needs to buy a new one, well that only means more work.

Many people are quite happy doing photography simply because they enjoy it. They make time for it in their off hours and really have fun.

Others are struggling trying to do it full time and often undercharging for their services because they don’t know what they need to be making in order to break even with their costs. But the bottom line is that it’s only simple math – simple math that may make you rethink the way you want to do things or develop a strategy that actually works.

Happy Shooting,

Doug

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