Moving from hobby photography to professional photography is a big jump. It’s a jump not just because your ability to pay your mortgage and feed your family will now depend entirely on your talent with a camera and your skills at marketing those talents. It’s a giant leap because you’ll also have to consider the true costs that go into creating those photographs.
That’s something that amateurs don’t usually have to think about when they sell an image.
Shoot a picture of a landscape for fun and the amount that you paid for your camera and lenses, the time you took over your shot and the gas you paid to get there aren’t usually considered expenses. They’re the price of your hobby, the fee you pay for the pleasure of taking good pictures. While photography is an expensive pastime, few amateur photographers consider those expenses as recoverable.
Nor do they attempt to recover them — even when they make a sale.
As you move towards professional photography however, those costs become more important. They have to be factored into the price of an image. That’s particularly true when you’re working on commission or when you’re shooting for the specific goal of selling the photo once it’s been produced.
There’s little point in creating a picture for the sole purpose of selling it if the image costs more to create than the amount you eventually receive.
When you’re not shooting for fun, the sales price has to be measured against expenses.
So what costs should you factor into the price of a photo… and what can you leave out?
Props and Models
Certainly, anything that you have to buy or rent to create the image should be included in the price of the photograph. If you have to rent special clothes, hire a model or charter a boat, then clearly that’s a price the buyer or the client should pay, not you.
If you want to buy a bowl of mangoes for the sole purpose of practicing your still-life photography, for example, that’s just the fee you’re paying to expand your skill range.
If you want to buy a bowl of mangoes to shoot them for a stock site however, then you have to consider whether or not you’ll see the money you paid for those mangoes again — and whether you wouldn’t make the same income by laying out less money for a bowl of lemons.
Time is always a tough element to factor into the expenses of amateur photographers. Hobbyists who don’t shoot professionally shoot in their own time. They’ve turned off their commercial stopwatch and the shooting isn’t replacing other income.
Take pictures to sell though and you do have to factor in the time. You have to consider how much that time is worth, and you have to remember to include the time spent on editing, uploading and archiving too.
All of those are expenses that you have to calculate and attempt to recover.
Travel too can feel free — even in the days of high gas prices. You’ll fill your tank anyway whether you’re driving to a location for a shoot or to the office for work. Because gas is just part of the regular monthly outgoings, it’s easy to dismiss a few extra miles as making little difference.
When you’re shooting for money though, those miles do make a difference. If you’re using the family SUV, you might still be able to dismiss the cost of the car as something you’d have to pay anyway — and take those expenses off your taxes instead — but count the miles and multiply them by your car’s mileage to include the gas price.
For hobbyists, insurance is also something that they don’t often consider a great deal. Their camera equipment, which might have cost thousands of dollars, might be included in their household insurance. That’s useful if the house burns down, but it’s not going to protect them if they bring in a model to shoot and she trips over a lighting cable, bumps her head and talks to a lawyer.
Nor will it be helpful if you sell an image to a client without a model release and forget to tell him.
Professional photography associations such as the Professional Photographers of America offer targeted insurance schemes among other benefits of membership — but again, membership fees are another expense that has to be recovered over the course of your sales.
Although photography equipment might be your biggest expense, it’s also one of the hardest expenses to calculate, especially if you’re only shooting for money occasionally.
A professional photographer will price his images so that over time he recovers the costs of new camera bodies, lenses and lighting equipment. He’ll calculate how much he spends each year on new gear, and factor those expenses into his prices. He has to do that because he won’t have bought those tools if he wasn’t hoping to make money out of them.
Because a hobbyist bought his equipment for fun though, the temptation is to write them off. The pleasure they brought paid for them.
In fact, that’s not just a temptation, it’s a positive market advantage, and it’s one that amateurs can use — together with write-offs of any other expense that aren’t directly related to one particular photo.
One of the biggest criticisms aimed at hobby photographers who sell their images is that they don’t understand the true costs of photography. That’s often true. But it’s also true that the costs for amateur photography often appear different than those for professional photography. They’re expenses for fun not just for business — and that means they won’t necessarily show up in the invoice.
On the other hand, nothing tells a buyer that he’s dealing with an amateur faster than a price that’s lower than costs.