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When you start out as a photographer, particularly as a freelancer, you have to know your worth. Your worth determines how much you can charge for your services, and it can be a very difficult thing to figure out. So here are some things to take into consideration when figuring out your worth in the photography business.
Skills & Experience
As you might guess, a lot of your worth is dependent on your skills and experience in photography. The more you have of both, the more you can typically charge because your client is paying a premium for your years of knowledge and technical know-how. It works the same in any other profession. Imagine you were hiring a carpenter to build you a gazebo (who doesn't need a gazebo?). Carpenter A has only had a year of experience while Carpenter B has had 15 years. Carpenter B is going to know a lot more than Carpenter A, and will likely do a much better job. Because of this, you would be more willing to pay Carpenter B more money to do the same job. The same applies in photography. A photographer who has been shooting for 10 years is much more likely to be able to charge more than a photographer who has only been shooting for 2.
But experience isn't everything. Just because you've been using a camera for 10 years doesn't mean you know how to use a camera. Your skills are another asset that can greatly affect your worth. Can you do portraits? Weddings? Sports? Do you know how to handle difficult lighting situations both inside and outside? Do you know how to use studio lights to make professional looking images? Though it can be good to branch out and learn a little of everything, most photographers will focus on a certain niche such as portraiture or sports photography. Focusing in one area is usually the most beneficial as you learn more and you can build up clientele in that particular field. Would you hire a wedding photographer who says he does mostly landscape photography but dabbles in weddings and portraits too. No. You'd want a wedding photographer who says he does mostly weddings.
Equipment & Expenses
Your camera equipment and expenses can affect what you charge. In fact, the reason you hear freelancers charging such high per-hour fees is that they have to take into account all their expenses. They don't have the benefits that come with a full-time job. This means that their insurance, equipment upgrades, and living costs all have to be bundled up into their hourly fee. This can be tricky because you need to charge enough to make a living, but your skills and experience may not be high enough yet to charge such a rate. This is the struggle that most freelancers go through.
However, if you can make it over the hump, get some experience, and start making a little money, then you can invest in new equipment which gives you the ability to take more kinds of photos and higher quality photos which you can in turn charge more for.
Supply & Demand
Sometimes your worth isn't determined by you as much as it is by your client's needs. If a client needs you to do a job immediately, or at a specific location, or with a certain style, then all of a sudden your worth has increased immensely. In situations where time, location, and other very specific shooting requirements are needed, you have the potential to charge more. However, if you're playing a bidding game and there are 10 other photographers willing to do the job for less than what you're asking, then you have a problem. The question you need to ask yourself is how badly do they need you. Oftentimes, you will not be their only option. But if you are, or if you are their top option, then you have some wiggle room to negotiate a higher fee. Just don't become too greedy with it.
Written by Spencer Seastrom