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The Simple Shift You Need to Make Money with Photography

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“I want to help people who can’t afford it, who can’t pay much for services.” I hear this all the time in my DM’s, my coaching clients mention it, and even when I’m just chatting with other business owners.  I want to say I think it’s super admirable, I love that you think this way and I truly love that you want to help others.  We need more of this in the world.  But you can’t MAKE MONEY in your photography business if you’re worried about saving people money.

This mistake really triggers me and I want to talk about a few things in this statement today.  So let’s talk about why this isn’t a good idea for professional photographers, and what you should do instead.  🙂

And by the way, if you’re struggling with this or if you’ve had this thought before, please don’t feel bad about it. First of all, you aren’t alone.  I struggled with exactly what I’m talking about today for far longer than I want to admit, which is exactly why I’m talking about this now.  I don’t want the same thing to happen to you.

This way of thinking actually hurts your industry.

Before I get started I want to say I had this same thought when I first started my photography business.  I think many photographers start this way.  We have a 9-5 so we don’t necessarily need the money.  Honestly, though, I did at the time, but hadn’t yet realized it. I was super broke when I bought my camera.

We just truly love this hobby and want to work on it all the time.  That’s cool and all, but I want you to realize that this HURTS all of us.

When we are devaluing the service we provide, we also devalue the service OTHERS in the industry provide.  That’s not cool. We want to thrive as photography business owners, right?

It’s like gas prices in towns.  Growing up in my small hometown, we had five gas stations.  One is far cheaper than the others by 10 cents most days.  This has caused the other gas stations that were more expensive to change ownership over and over through the years until all but a few have closed down, and those that remain were bought by chains.   

This can happen in any industry.

That’s what happens when you have a bunch of cheaper photographers, or web designers or VA’s, hair and makeup artist, or whatever your industry might be. It brings the other businesses down to the point that they potentially go out of business.

We don’t want that.  Small businesses and competition keep the economy healthy.

Affordability vs. Perceived Value

You see people of all income levels at Starbucks, carrying name brand purses, and wearing designer jeans, lash extensions, or high end makeup.  They have their nails done.

I’m definitely calling myself out here with Starbucks, lash extensions, and nails.  I was doing all three back when I definitely couldn’t afford it.

Please think about this when you think about pricing your photography services, or makeup or VA services, or web design services.

Can they truly not afford our service? Or is it that they just don’t value what we offer?

Marketing has changed so much in the last few years.  We have so many options of what we can buy that NOW it’s super important to make sure an ideal customer knows exactly why our offer is so valuable.  They have to understand why it’s way more valuable than everything else they are spending money on.

If you’re a photographer, they need to understand what you’re providing is memories.  Not just pieces of paper with pictures on it.  Lasting memories that they can pass on for generations.

If you’re a virtual assistant or social media manager, they need to understand you’re SAVING them time.  This in turn can make them MORE money.  

If you’re a makeup artist or lash tech, you’re giving them confidence. 

It’s all about perceived value. Consumers and clients have to see the value of what you offer in order to pay the prices you need to make to leave your 9-5 or hit those big revenue goals or charge more so you can work less.

To have a successful photography business, you have to make money.

Why is it not a good idea to just want to help people who can’t afford it?

I want to tell you again.  I appreciate your kindness and your big heart and I don’t want to take that away from you. 

At the same time, I also want you to know that by choosing this business strategy, you’re going to hurt yourself in the end.  From personal experience, I want you to know burnout is a guarantee.

I had this exact thought when I first started my photography business because I wanted to give my clients memories that lasted a lifetime.  By charging photography rates of $25-100 regularly for 1-2 hour sessions and hundreds of photos, I thought more people would get those lasting memories. And while it’s true that they did, it wasn’t fair to me, my body, or my health.

How to make money as a photographer or creative in business

I didn’t value myself though.

Thinking back this makes me sad that I didn’t value myself at all, but it’s also not surprising considering where I was in life.  I didn’t even love myself honestly at the at point.  I hated life, and I just wanted others to feel better about themselves through my photography.

Because I was charging so little for my photography services, I was doinga ridiculous amount of sessions 1-6 hours from where I even lived.  Literally. When I wasn’t working my 9-5, I was driving to photography jobs, culling photos, doing photo editing, and PERSONALLY DELIVERING them.

Seriously, WTF was I thinking?  There was absolutely no way I would have been able to make moneywhile racking up unnecessary business expenses.  In fact, I was basically paying those clients to let me photograph them in the end.

I was going above and beyond and losing money in gas alone, not even taking into account all the time I spent actually on my sessions.

The amount of hours I was putting in caused exhaustion and depression. Besides that, I was broke and spending any money I was making at my 9-5 trying to keep my business going, and I was very close to giving up.

This lasted 2 years before I had a wake up call in the form of a business workshop.

Higher end clients are the ones who truly appreciate what you offer.

With this approach, you end up overbooked, putting in crazy hours, and honestly working with clients who don’t really appreciate you. The clients who typically want cheaper services are the clients who think you owe them everything. 

They want multiple edits or more photography time without paying for it or they’re just never happy with what you provide.

On the other hand, the higher end clients TRUST the service you provide.  They are willing to pay for what you offer and they know you are the expert so they don’t have to nit pick every single thing.

When you have the cheaper clients, you have to work with more of them to make the same amount, whereas if you have the higher end clients, you can work with fewer clients and make more by charging higher prices.

The one simple shift for a thriving photography business

Base your pricing on math!  

Instead of choosing pricing FIRST, and more or less pulling pricing out of our butts, we want to choose our life first.  When we do this, instead of working like crazy we can enjoy life and actually enjoy our chosen career as well.

Let’s work through an example of both pricing models though.  Here’s an example as a photographer.

The “help people” scenario

Let’s say we want to “help people” so we charge $150/session for all digitals, but you want to make $3500 a month. Here’s how we calculate that:

$3500/150 = 23 clients

And on average it takes about 8 hours per session.

23 clients x 8 hours = 184 working hours a month

This pricing model means you’re putting in 46 hours a week. Hopefully you don’t have a 9-5…

The “make money and live a life you love” scenario

What if we decide how much we want to work?  Let’s go with 10 hours a week total.  Here’s how we calculate that:

10 hours a week x 4 weeks a month= 40 hours a month

And again, on average it’s 8 hours per session.

40 hours/ 8 hours per session = 5 sessions a month

We still want to make that $3500/month.

$3500/5 sessions a month = $700/session

With this pricing model, you’re making the same money but working way less hours.  You can have your time and your sanity back. 

Plus with this strategy, you actually have room to grow in your business so when you leave your 9-5(if you have one) you will be able to increase your income quickly and easily.

All you need is a marketing funnel that brings clients in on autopilot.

It’s not your job to save people money.

If you get anything out of this, I want you to remember it’s not your job to save people money.  It’s your job to show people the value in what you offer.

People afford what they want to afford.  If you base your photography pricing on what you want out of life, you will come out ahead, with clients you love and more money in your pocket.

Get help pricing your photography services.

So, now you’re wondering, well what’s next? How CAN I price my photography services correctly and still make money?

I’ve got the perfect solution for you…

In The Photography Pricing Course, I will teach you everything you need to know about pricing your services and tracking your finances as a business owner.

What are you waiting for?

How to make money as a photographer or creative in business. See more at


Tracy Lynn is a boudoir photogapher for brides-to-be in the St. Louis area, and a mentor + coach for photographers looking to level up their businesses with better systems and processes.

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