Pricing yourself right for the industry and sustainable growth of your business

13 06 2009


In my last post I discussed affordable means of marketing your new photographic business, this issue I’m going to discuss pricing as well as some of the major errors new businesses make.

I get asked regularly what the “right price” is to charge for photographic shoots; the truth is however that there is no “right” price as the SA photographic community isn’t regulated, and in order to formulate a workable rate for your business one needs to understand what your personal running costs are.

It’s become a common perception among clients that since the coming of digital age photographers have it easy as there aren’t costs for film and developing – if only this were true.

Photographers nowadays are an abundant species and in order to get the paying jobs we’re forced to stay on top of the game, this means having the latest camera equipment, best lenses, suitable processing hardware and software, comprehensive marketing strategy, office facilities and perhaps a studio to name a few.

Unfortunately few of the above costs are once off, technology needs to be upgraded on average every 2 years and as the business grows more advanced technology is required.

This means that photographers who are prepared to charge a minimum fee to “get the work” may not have a sustainable business plan and will likely struggle when it’s time to upgrade.

So let’s do a quick rundown of some of the costs to factor in (these will differ depending on the type of photography):

  • Camera equipment: Camera, Back-up camera, Lenses (make a full list of all the lenses required in future), Batteries & chargers, Speedlights, Carry bags/cases…
  • Lighting equipment: Flash heads, Modifiers, Battery packs, Studio packs, Lightmeter, Carry bags/cases…
  • Editing: High end processor with good graphics, Monitor(s), Editing software…
  • Office: Rental, Telephones, Internet connection, Fax machine, Printers, Ink…
  • Studio: Rental, Maintenance, Facilities…
  • Vehicles: Fuel, Wear & Tear, Branding…
  • Marketing: See previous business article + annual increases…
  • Storage: Hard drives, Off-site backups, Indexing…
  • Maintenance: Cameras, Lights, Studio, Office, Computers…
  • Insurance: Be prepared for the shock…
  • Upgrades: Cameras, Lenses, Printers, Computing, Studio, Flashes…
  • Staffing: Salaries, Budget for expansion…
  • Day to Day: Printing, Stationary, MUA fees…
  • Living costs: Personal debts, Food…

And there’s much more.

Now as an exercise take the total monthly expenses and multiply this by 24, add the other costs and you’ll come to a total figure.  Add an approximate escalation rate of about 20% at least on equipment costs if you’re hoping to improve your current levels and total your results.

Divide this amount by 24 to get an approximate monthly running cost (bear in mind these are simply approximates and I’m no financial guru myself).

Now that you have an approximate base monthly cost calculated it’s important to ascertain how much work you are currently doing and how much must be charged in order to earn a living (no point simply covering costs).

There are a number of ways to do this but the simplest is probably to calculate an hourly fee: in order to do this it’s important to ascertain how many “chargeable” hours you have available.

A wedding photographer for instance may spend 4 hours photographing a wedding; but they spend an hour getting to and from the venue, 20 hours processing, 2 hours in pre-shoot meetings and extra time running around with sourcing albums, printers etc.

They can therefore not simply charge for 4 hours work but have to calculate the entire working period and divide that cost over 4 hours. Don’t forget to add your profit on afterward as well.

Remember that the above is based on “working hours” only; when calculating your final hourly costing you need to cover your “non-working” hours as well – these hours include admin, marketing, and even time sitting doing nothing if business is slow.

You may find you get quite a shock at the end result of your calculations, and hopefully you’ll start to understand why so many photographic businesses fail and can equip yourself accordingly.

It’s unlikely that based on these required rates a new photographer will make a fortune to begin with, but if you stick to your principles and don’t fall into the trap of undermining your business by undercharging, and market yourself well, then you should be well on your way to long-term success.

TFCD: its’ place in the industry and how it can affect your business

TFCD stands for (Trade For CD), also see TFP (Trade For Print)

When starting to create a portfolio, photographers often enter into TFCD agreements with models, make-up artists, etc. Each party enters into the agreement with the idea that the shoot will be mutually beneficial to all parties in order to build a portfolio without incurring excessive costs.

Usually each party gains and at the end of the day can use the images for portfolio purposes.

It’s advisable to keep agreements such as these separate from your business where possible (hobbyists are excluded here) as you may create the impression that you’re not confident enough in your work to charge. If client “B” hears that client “A” got a trade/discounted rate they will expect to get the same, if you aren’t prepared to do so then they feel that you regard them as less important and will likely shoot elsewhere.

The alternative is that you keep shooting “Trade” shoots and sacrifice earning potential.

Having said that there are a number of instances where trades can work; one such instance is stock photography, where a photographer potentially can generate an income over a long term from the images created. It’s important to understand the contractual agreements and releases involved here though (we’ll leave that for a future discussion).

To clarify the differentiation between business and personal portfolio work; I encourage personal experimentation and trades are often a great way to achieve a good result without breaking the bank but this need not jeopardise your business principles.

Small mistakes can damage a business and often in times of financial strain business owners tend to bend to the whims of what they perceive to be their clients’ needs, only to suffer later as a result. Try to plan for the rainy days so that you can enjoy the sun while it’s shining.

This has probably been a pretty sombre article for many readers who currently enjoy photography and had hoped to jump into the deep end and start shooting; the point is simply that you should be prepared adequately so that the business grows well and profitably.

It’s a great industry to be in and the awards are numerous if you are among the few who break through the first few years alive.

For feedback and suggestions on further articles visit the “Photography Business Advice” forum on


Marketing a new photographic business

8 03 2009

Matt Raven

Possibly the greatest challenge a photographer faces when starting up their photography business is marketing correctly.

There are countless methods to use when promoting oneself; some better than others, some with pit falls, some costly and some that require many man hours. Different segments of the industry will respond differently to marketing strategies so it’s important to determine which strategy works best, often this can only be determined through trial and error.

Before you begin to market yourself there is necessary groundwork that is often overlooked:

  • Create yourself a relevant business image. Spend time creating quality logos, a professional website, slogan and the necessary admin forms your business will need. Get these professionally done as you’ll want to use the same material for as long as possible so that your brand becomes recognised.
  • Spend some money to get your business cards professionally printed – first impressions last.
  • Ascertain your target markets and specialities and match the two – your success rate will increase drastically if you have a structured marketing plan aimed at genuine potential clients.
  • Ensure you are equipped to provide a value service and quality product.

Once you’re ready to begin marketing you need to strive to achieve the following; you need to be remembered First, Well and Often. I’m not going to go into great depth regarding the philosophy behind this but the basic explanation is that you need to reach a point where you’re well regarded in the industry and the public and your customers are doing a great deal of your marketing for you.

I attended a marketing seminar where the speaker said that a buyer needs to have over a million interactions with a brand before it’s regarded as a “household” brand. This means you need to get your “identity” out there constantly, whether in the form of adverts, your business cards, magazine articles, exhibitions, word of mouth referrals or direct marketing, your customers need to be exposed to your brand regularly which often takes years to achieve.

Statistics show that most new businesses fail in the first two years of operation, this is largely due to a poorly structured marketing plan – let’s face it, if people don’t know about you how can you be expected to earn a decent income.

Then you get the businesses who come out with a bang but close down soon after..

The trick is consistency, far too many businesses neglect their marketing efforts as soon as business picks up (and businesses often commit to greater overheads due to affordability in this period) – and subsequently find their business slowing down again after the boom.

In order to stay ahead your marketing strategy (and budget) actually needs to increase with growth.

Marketing is a scary word for many new businesses as budgets are limited and people much prefer to spend money on a physical asset than something that is “wasted” at the end of the month. Often people spend large amounts on advertising once off and get absolutely no return on their investment too – so why bother?

Once again, marketing is about consistency – your brand needs to be out there for people to see. You might find you only get a response on your 4th advert placed in a specific medium, but that client turns out to be a regular income source for the business – it’s eventually worth it.

Ok, so you’ve set your business up and you’ve spent your entire budget already, what now?

There are numerous “free” channels available to marketers; I say “free” in inverted commas because these channels are usually time-intensive and require manual labour.

Some of these “free” marketing initiatives are in fact more effective than the paid channels as well.

  • One route is online networking sites for instance:

Networking sites are a fantastic way to meet people on a personal level; you can find target specific individuals and approach them directly through your online profile. By doing so your contact has immediate access to your profile, portfolio, contact information etc but more importantly they feel they are dealing with a real individual and not just an advert. Most sites are free, some have “premium services” that allow you to add certain features or get in touch with more people easier.

Visit if you haven’t already – a great example of a networking site dedicated to the South African photographic industry.

Even though there are plenty free portfolio sites I still suggest also setting up a dedicated web page of your own, more important though is a “real” email address. Too many scamsters use free mail addresses such as the ones ending in or – most commercial clients expect persons from an established business to have a business email address i.e. for instance.

Little things like this (along with well designed and properly printed business cards) add to the credibility of a business.

  • Another route is listing your business service on directories:

Again there are several free directories available, some offering “premium” listings so that the listing ranks higher. The advantage of this route is that the customer comes looking for you. Remember to link your listing to your website – having several active links to your website increases your website rankings on search engines such as Google – this in turn can generate you additional leads from people browsing the web.

  • Door to door or pamphlet distribution:

This isn’t really free; you still need the pamphlets or business cards of course. This method is very erratic and will depend largely on where the pamphlets are distributed. On average you should however get a minimum of 1% response from this sort of marketing which actually isn’t too bad, and it’s good for brand awareness – be cautious however, this sort of marketing can be irritating for the recipient and if done incorrectly can damage your brand.

  • Online mail shots:

Again this isn’t really free as you pay for your bandwidth and mailer program or facility.

It’s an effective means of keeping in touch with your customers though, and I’d recommend creating a newsletter with interesting content to remind your clients of your capabilities. Building a database of potential clients is important and there are several ways to do this:

  • Search for people who might be interested in what you have to offer and ask them if they would like to be added to your database.
  • Put a link on your website inviting people to subscribe to your mail shots.
  • Create a viral campaign such as this one – – where people are invited to refer their friends.

Just remember to always allow your clients to unsubscribe at any point to avoid being accused of spamming.

  • Networking meetings:

I still believe firmly that face to face marketing is extremely important; many people want to look you in the eye and feel that firm handshake before they spend their money. Not everyone has embraced the digital age, and some that have are made sceptical of doing online business due to the abundance of 419 scams and faked internet profiles.

Meeting someone in a networking environment allows you to interact on a much more personal level and generally you get to meet people who are in your business region and passionate about marketing.

Remember the marketing phrase “Own Your Post-Code”; try to get to know as many of your neighbours as possible. The more people you have speaking positively about your business, the easier your marketing job will become.

When marketing be as professional as possible, your “first impression” can just as easily prevent your business from growing if presented poorly. Don’t overpromise either, be sure that your customers get more than they expect as they will become part of your marketing team if they are impressed with the quality of your “product” and the service they receive.

As they say – “a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush”, so make sure you treat your existing customers really well and prompt additional business from them where possible.

And (I hear people sighing “not again”..), PRICE YOURSELF CORRECTLY!

Under-pricing a competitor to get work is a very short sighted strategy, not only do you damage your competitors income source but you also cheapen yourself in the industry and make enemies – never a good thing when you’re starting out.

Eventually you’ll be working your behind off for peanuts while others make a decent income and still have time to market themselves properly to sustain a constant growth.

Establish yourself as an expert in your field

The last rule of marketing is to start NOW, if you don’t then someone else will – making your job even more difficult in the long run.

Marketing your photography business on the internet:

22 01 2009

A question I get asked daily is “how do I generate more business as a photographer”?

I wish there were a simple answer to that question, fact is there isn’t but I’ll outline a few ideas that have worked for me.

As a start out photographer your marketing budget is usually fairly limited so one searches to find cheap . A general rule of thumb is that alternative marketing strategies require manual labour and as you get busier, and your marketing budget increases, the trend is to rely on paid advertising more and more.

A good place to start is the internet:

  • Most internet directories offer free listings (beware of getting convinced to sign up to a “premium” service unless you’re sure of the true benefits associated, too many sites promise leads and don’t deliver but tie you into lengthy contracts that can cripple a new business). If you search properly there are hundreds of local directories available. Try punch IVOK into google for instance and see all the sites that appear in the search results.
  • Generate a web presence; to begin with it’s not necessary to create a website – sites like offer a free facility for photographers to load their portfolios and interact with customers and the public online.
  • Join photography forums and communicate within your community – the larger your network of “associates” becomes, the more opportunity you will have for collaborations and common growth. (Don’t fall into the trap of isolating yourself from other photographers, rather network as much as possible).
  • As you start to grow, remember to increase your advertising budget accordingly – you’ll soon be able to afford ‘adwords’ and other proven web advertising.

Once you’ve created a market presence on the web it’s important to find alternative avenues to drive traffic to your business, this could be via direct marketing, flyer distribution, shopping store exhibitions, magazine adverts and face to face networking.

A common mistake businesses make is slowing down marketing efforts when they are busy, resulting in a flattening growth curve.

Try to maintain consistency in your advertising; if you’re advertising in a magazine for instance then budget for at least 5 recurrent (and similar) advertisements before gauging the response – ad agencies will tell you that your average client needs to see a logo thousands of times before they recall it as a household brand.

Model tips – preparing for a shoot..

27 11 2008

I’m regularly asked by models/clients for tips regarding preparation for the shoot, so here’s a very basic summary..

There are no hard and fast rules of what you must and must not do before a shoot, everybody is different – IVOK STUDIO have tried to summarize some of the most popular tips into a quick reference checklist dating down from 1 week before the shoot (can begin before that of course) till shoot date. Most of the tips are pretty obvious; hopefully there are a few that you can use…

1 Week Before Shoot:

Confirm shoot with photographer, including specifics like type of shoot, deposit, outfits to bring, location & directions. Ensure that the photographer understands what you expect from the shoot.

Research poses which will compliment the shoot type and you as an individual – get examples of photos from magazines/books which are similar to the look you are going for, practice the poses in front of a mirror and make sure that you can pull them off confidently and that they suit you. (Take the photos with to the shoot as a reference for the photographer.)

If you’re exercising then follow your regular exercise routine, don’t overdo it just before your shoot.

Try to eat healthy but don’t starve yourself.

Stay away from new makeup/skin-care products just before a photo shoot, don’t risk an unforeseen reaction.

Plan your outfits (and test that they all fit) and think of “props” you’d like to incorporate in the shoot.

3 Days Before Shoot:

Wax/shave your legs and armpits, bikini line & facial hair if necessary – do not wax within final 3 days prior to shoot, in case of irritation. If you need to visit the hairdresser be sure not try anything too radical (unless the shoot demands it). If your hair is dyed be sure to remember to check your roots, preferably don’t experiment too much with colour.

2 Days before shoot:

Confirm shoot with photographer and agency (if necessary).

Get your nails done (fingers and toes). Generally, fairly short and neutral colour. If you need colour then your make-up artist will most likely do it for you.

Drink plenty water, avoid salty foods and alcohol, get enough sleep.

Day before shoot:

Get an early night, being well rested can make all the difference in a shoot. No alcohol.

Don’t starve yourself, the pale “I’m about to faint” look only sometimes works on ramp.

Exfoliate to remove dead skin and moisturize. Remove remaining unwanted hair using a blade, not wax or chemical hair remover.

Shoot date:

Eat light meals throughout the day; a shoot can require a great deal of energy.

Wear deodorant but stay away from the white powder types which can leave stains on you and the clothing.

If you must wear perfume then ensure it is a gentle fragrance.

If MUA (make-up artist) and/or hair stylist then arrive with no make-up and hair product (hair spray etc).

Wear loose fitting garments to avoid marks on the skin. If possible don’t wear a bra (you can put one on for the shoot if necessary), and wear a front button top to avoid messing hair and make-up.

Take along make-up cleanser, hair clips/elastics, lip balm & eye drops (if your skin tone is specially dark or light then take along your own foundation to suit your skin colour – just incase the MUA is unprepared).

Leave early for the shoot; try to arrive at the shoot location at least 15 minutes early (know exactly where you are going before the time). If you get lost on the way, phone the photographer immediately for assistance (before you leave be sure that you will be able to call the photographer. I.e. you have the number and call-time on your cell).

If you are supplying the outfits then ensure they are on hangers and ironed.

Speak openly to the photographer, let him/her understand exactly what you expect from the shoot. If you feel you have a better side or a strong feature then advise the photographer. If at any stage you feel uncomfortable with a pose or any aspect of the shoot then speak up. If you are particularly embarrassed about one aspect of your body (eg. your smile, nose, a birthmark), let the photographer know for angles and editing purposes.

Outfits to look slimmer:

There are certain handy tips when selecting your outfits too if you want to appear slimmer.

Dark colours and solid colours generally make a person appear slimmer, and it’s best if the top and bottom are the same colour. Vertical lines are slimming, such as pleats or a chain.

Cool, neutral colours remove focus from problem areas while bright colours attract attention.

Wear the right size outfit, tight clothing can make you look uncomfortable and unflattering.

Avoid bulky pockets, drawstrings or flashy designs that might draw attention to the waistline.

Heels add height and can make you appear thinner in full length photos, as well as improving calf definition.


The most important tip is to relax, speak freely to the photographer and say if a pose is uncomfortable or doesn’t feel natural.

As mentioned above, practice your poses often and test which ones work for you well before the shoot date so that you become comfortable with them. If you’re still nervous then use props to help you pose if necessary.

To appear slimmer it’s best to turn your body slightly away from the camera and rest your weight on your back foot.

An experienced photographer will use angles that compliment your body, extreme angles generally tend to distort the image and (if done incorrectly) can appear unflattering.

Don’t pull your head toward your body, in fact try push it forward slightly to remove the appearance of a double chin.

Posture is important; shoulders back, chest out and stomach in but avoid it appearing too obvious.

Be careful not to press your arms against your body, it flattens them and makes them appear wider. Also be careful not to let your elbow “lock” (when leaning on it) to avoid appearing double jointed.

Hold a pose until after the flash or you hear the camera shutter before moving and remember to use a variety of facial expressions unless told otherwise.


Be sure to use a photography studio that is respected and preferably referred to you by a friend or has a good online portfolio that you can view beforehand. Good editing can make the world of difference to an image and can make you appear slimmer and better toned.

Avoid over editing though, images that are too “soft” or “smooth” can look fake and will not be accepted by agencies. A good photo-retoucher will remove blemishes while retaining skin detail, airbrushing should be a last resort.

Tips for running your photographic business successfully:

28 10 2008

Are you pricing yourself out of the market?

Most photographers start out playing the pricing card and end up under-quoting their competitors in an attempt to get additional work.

Even I fell into that trap a few times thinking that it would be a once off “discounted” rate…

This doesn’t work unfortunately; all it does is cheapen your name in the industry. People have a perception of paying for quality, so by under-pricing yourself you advertise that your photography is “sub-standard”.

The next problem is that ongoing work is referral based, if you charged X the first time then you’re pretty much stuck with that pricing – if you suddenly start charging double you’re going to have upset customers on your hands… Essentially you prevent your business from further growth.

When calculating your fees for the first time you should consult with your peers, or get advice from members of networking sites such as

Also consider checking prescribed rates by some of the photographic organisations, these should be used as a guideline only however. It’s important you charge according to your personal situation by calculating a rate based on costs and time spent.

One must remember that the time spent shooting is only a portion of the overall time; you should calculate in travelling, preparation, pre-shoot meetings, post production, printing (if any) and delivery of images.

I’m not saying “rip your clients off” by any means, but be sure to charge what your photography is worth and not undercut – it’s detrimental to the community as a whole.

Remember if you only get half the jobs you quote for but you charge double then you’ll earn the same amount and have much more time to market yourself to additional clients.

PiX article – about Matt Raven

25 10 2008

We were recently interviewed for an article in PiX Magazine, South Africas leading photographic publication:

Some questions from the PiX team:

  1. How did you get into photography?

I’ve always enjoyed the arts; I come from an artistic family, my mother’s a drama teacher and my father’s a wizard with a paintbrush, pens and a guitar – I fell off the bus and pursued a profession in the corporate world that I despised and in 2005 I decided to combine my interest in photography with the business skills I’d acquired.

  1. What do you enjoy most about your job?

It’s very rewarding watching our business grow so successfully and eventually reaping the fruits of our labour. Challenging shoots and travelling to interesting locations keeps me inspired.

  1. How would you describe your photographic style and how it has developed over the years?

I like to think I don’t have a particular style and if I do it’s constantly evolving.

  1. How has digital photography changed commercial photography?

From a processing perspective it has improved quality capabilities drastically, however access to equipment and instant gratification has led many advertising agencies to believe they can do their own commercial shoots and avoid the costs of using a “professional” photographer – often to the detriment of the client.

  1. What’s your main workhorse camera system and why do you like it?

99% of my work is shot on SLR format for ease of use but we do have larger systems available if needed for commercial work. I’m very happy with my Nikon cameras and looking forward to yet another upgrade in the next few weeks, my trusty D200 has over 155 000 actuations without a single service and is still going strong.

  1. Are your images digitally altered?

Of course they are! Just as film prints were processed, nowadays it’s just a bit more precise and editing (whether simple crop & adjust or full edit) is an important part of professional photography. As competition increases photographers are forced to keep up to date with the latest editing techniques.

  1. When taking a test photo, do you use a meter or the histogram?

Ah, the age old light-meter debate. I don’t even own one! Just as I refuse to shoot according to text-book photographic rules, so too do I prefer creating an image based on outcomes rather than calculated inputs. It’s important that one has a very good understanding of light though.

  1. What programs do you use for editing and conversions?

Chanti is the edit master; I just click the camera buttons. She uses Photoshop and Aperture mainly.

  1. Do you have any words of wisdom to offer someone aspiring to become a commercial photographer?

Be ready to spend a lot of money on equipment, facilities and marketing. Be prepared to spend long hours and weekends while you build up a reputation. Do an apprenticeship first if possible to build your portfolio and improve your skills so that when you’re ready to market yourself you can handle the type of work you’re taking on. In this industry referrals are by far your biggest marketing tool so be sure to keep your clients absolutely happy – even if it means putting in more work than initially anticipated. And probably the most important lesson to learn is not to undercharge when starting out. I’ll go into more about that later.

  1. How is digital photography affecting the industry?

Every “Tom, Dick and Harry” has a camera nowadays and can take snaps. This benefits the industry in terms of equipment costs being reduced due to consumer numbers and technological improvements developing at a rapid rate to stay ahead of the competition. It has however also taken a chunk out of the professional photographers market share though as companies often feel they can take the shots themselves.

Top end photographers haven’t been affected as much due to it being a largely skill based industry.

  1. What do you think of the level of photography in South Africa?

South African photographers are among the best in the world in terms of photographic talent – unfortunately some of the most artistic photographers are largely undiscovered and lack the skills to market themselves to the industry.