Should I charge high sessions fees and low prices for products, or vice versa?

PIN-photographer-pricingOne of our Backstage Pass members recently posted the following question:

“Currently my session fee is high, print price is low. My question is…. Should I lower my session fee to bring them in, then charge high print prices to make up the difference? HELP!”

-Tammy N.

Over the next week my mind kept going back to this question…

Which method is really better?

  • Securing client at a high session fee on the front end, and offering products at a low prices later?…
  • …Or getting more clients in the door with more affordable session fees, and selling them higher priced products?

We have talked a lot about how to go through the process of creating prices in the past, but what about choosing a bigger-picture model? I began poking around the Internet and have found plenty of photographers that use both methods.

While searching, I found a photographer that charges around $350 for most children’s sessions and up to $1000 for an evening beach session for a family. This photographer’s print prices run from around $15.00 for a 5×7 up to $80 for a 16×20 and there is no print credit, digital files or any portraits included.

As you can see with this example, the photographer charges a hefty session fee upfront, but then gives prints away at a low price.

This sounded like a decent approach as I was reading it, but when I mentioned these high session fees to my wife Barbara, who does all the sales at our studio, she had an interesting response, which I will get to later.

But first, if you had to guess, which approach would you say is best?

I should start by saying that it is possible for photographers to be successful with either method if they set them up correctly.

However, is one easier to pull off than the other? Does one method result in higher sales? I know the method I prefer, as I have always done it this way. But before I let you in on my preference, let’s break down the pros and cons of each method.

(I’ll use the term Product Prices to cover whatever you sell to your clients, be it prints, canvases or digital files.)

Pros & Cons: Higher Session Fee/ Lower Product Prices

Let’s use the photographer I mentioned above as an example of this high session fee method. Let’s break this strategy down:

First, most photographers would agree that $350 for a newborn session is good money up front.

Then, this photographer has the $1,000 beach session. This session may be simply there to set the bar high- to make her work appear more exclusive. Perhaps she doesn’t intend to do many beach sessions, but to instead make her $350 sessions appear more affordable.

It is wise of this photography not to include any products with the session fee, because it ensures that clients will have to make a product purchase in addition to the session fee.

However, the major problem of this method is that the high upfront fee will definitely eliminate a lot of potential clients. If you are targeting very high-end clients, this could be great for your niche, but you will have to do a good job with your marketing to reach these types of clients in order to keep the pipeline filled.

Pros:

  • More guaranteed money up front
  • Helps minimize working “on spec” (not knowing what clients may spend)
  • Helps target only serious clients that can afford these fees while at the same time establishing a highly-premium studio image

Cons:

  • High session fee may turn off clients that may have been able to spend a considerable amount on products, but who do not want to commit a large investment upfront before seeing the results
  • Marketing efforts must be much more precise to attract such premium ideal clients
  • Low product prices may result in lower overall sales in the long run

Pros and Cons: Lower Session Fee/ Higher Product Prices

This method is more in line with the traditional studio model from the days before photographers could sell digital files.

Back then clients never asked, “do I get to keep all the negatives so I can make my own prints?” It was simply understood that these were the “raw materials” used to create the portraits that they would display on their walls or tabletops. These prints were seen more as artwork, and it was expected to pay a bit more for these products.

I find that some new photographers disregard this method because they think it is “old fashioned,” now that it seems to some that you must offer digital files to clients in order to stay relevant.

But this is a myth!

As you may have guessed by now, we use the Low Session / High Print Pricing Method at my studio…

Why do we do this? We have learned over the years that lower priced session fees do NOT necessarily mean cheap session fees.

For example, our usual session fees for in-studio or on-location specials average from $49 to $99. Highest-priced session fee is $225 – this is for private on-location sessions, like a family session at someone’s home or at their favorite beach. If the home or beach is more than 40 miles from the studio or if it is a family reunion or large gathering, additional fees would apply.

Now, $225 is not a huge fee, but it is large enough that it will discourage any “discount” shoppers from booking with us. This is good! We consider ourselves a premium studio, so we don’t want to attract clients who are looking for shoot-and-burn photos.

Also note that all of our session fees only cover the time we take creating images for our clients, and do NOT include any product or credits.

After a client takes their session, they come back to our studio for an image consultation where they can choose their favorite images and purchase products. We only offer print products (no digital files!), and we keep our print prices relatively high.

Pros:

  • A larger pool of potential clients to market to
  • Lowers the level of entry – not as much of a “big decision” to book a lower-priced session
  • Can achieve larger sales overall sales by offering higher priced products
  • Most people forget about the money spent on the session fee by the time they see their images and select their products, and are willing to spend more on products now that they have seen the results of their session

Cons:

  • Occasionally can attract clients that can’t really afford portrait products
  • Sales numbers can widely vary from client to client

A Sales Professional’s Take; What Barbara Thinks

I have to admit that I was impressed to find a local photographer charging $1,000 for a beach session. That could be a very profitable system if you have enough people book it. But at those rates, how many actually would?

I explained this photographer’s approach to sell high priced sessions and low priced products to Barbara, my wife who happens to be in charge of sales at our studio. After thinking it over for a moment, she said,

“I still think I can make more money with a lower session fee up-front by selling more products after the session. Once they see their photographs and see printed samples of our work, they understand the value of investing more in portraits.”

After she said that, I realized she was right. Many times, clients will come in saying something like, “I only want an 8×10” and a few 5×7”s,” yet once they see their images and are taking through Barbara’s sales experience, they leave with a large wall portrait – spending five or six times or more then they had originally estimated that they would spend.

In other words, the higher priced products leave you open for unlimited selling potential!

Let’s test this theory with an example:

Let’s assume there are two interested clients. One hires Photographer A, and the other hires Photographer B. They both purchase exactly the same items from each photographer. Which photographer comes out ahead?

  • Photographer A: $1,000 session fee + (four 16x20s at $80 each). Total Revenue: $1,320
  • Photographer B: $225 session fee + (four 16x20s at $400 each). Total Revenue: $1,825

The Winner: Photographer B by $505 (the low session fee, high product price photographer!)

Will all sales be that good? No. Some will be much smaller, but some may be even bigger, and those big sales can make for a very profitable year.

Final Thoughts

My advice for you is that the lower fee/higher product model is more realistic for beginning photographers. Being able to command huge session fees in the beginning can be very difficult.

Perhaps your work is very unique and you have a knack at marketing and sales. If so, then have at it! But by lowering the level of entry into your studio, you will have a much easier time bringing in new clients, which is beneficial in getting your name out there in your community.

Another thing to consider is to not include “print credits.” I’m not really sure where this came from, but I think it’s a bad idea. I see many studios online that have a $200 session fee and then have a $150 print credit and THEN even include digital files. This leaves very little need for your client to purchase more, and once you deduct your lab fees for the prints you’ve included, you will find you are just about working for free!

Your Turn!

What do you think… do you agree with my pricing model? Have you seen results with either of these? Let us know in the comments below!

***

Want to learn more about how to profitably price your work, attract your ideal clients, and get your photography business off the ground?

I’d love to invite you to join me for my free online training:How to launch your photography business in 4 simple steps… even if you don’t have any clients yet!” 

Interested? All you have to do is click here and register to save your spot!

I’ve also created a free workbook to go along with the training. You can download that now so you’re ready to fill it out during the live training (you will see it when you sign up for the training).

So, go ahead and sign up for the training and workbook here!

  • Hi, I have been getting your emails now for a few weeks and I really appreciate the information you are sharing. I set up my business exactly one year ago and have far out weighed my client expectation. However, I started out by offering a session price of under £100 with all digital files included… Needless to say that has all changed this year. My session prices on average are £70 with digital files and prints extra. TBH my products are still very cheap, (starting from £10 for a 7×5) and going up to a whole set of digital files for £300) but for my second year I am happy to gain more experience and then put my prices up again each year. This post has made me realise the change I have made is the right one. Thank you. Lisa

  • Hi, I have been getting your emails now for a few weeks and I really appreciate the information you are sharing. I set up my business exactly one year ago and have far out weighed my client expectation. However, I started out by offering a session price of under £100 with all digital files included… Needless to say that has all changed this year. My session prices on average are £70 with digital files and prints extra. TBH my products are still very cheap, (starting from £10 for a 7×5) and going up to a whole set of digital files for £300) but for my second year I am happy to gain more experience and then put my prices up again each year. This post has made me realise the change I have made is the right one. Thank you. Lisa

  • Hi Lisa, thank you very much for your kind words and for sharing your story! This is very inspiring. I’m very happy to hear you are making such great progress. The fact that you took action and began raising your prices show promise, and I would definitely suggest continuing to raise those portrait prices.

  • I’m really glad I read this tonight. I just worked up my price list and showed my mom and was a bit discouraged by her response. “I would never spend these prices”. I love my dear mother, but I also know that she doesn’t value photography the way I do. I spent a long time working up my product list so I can have my ducks in a row before pushing hard in marketing. I was doubting myself tonight. I feel renewed confidence now though. My prices aren’t so far out there (my 16×24 canvas is 360) but high enough that I will make a profit and have enough to put back into my business to grow. I haven’t actually met with real clients yet, so I honestly don’t know how potential clients will consider my prices. I was about to rush to my price sheet and rework it all based on a slight discouragement. I will wait on that, and begin focusing on my ideal client. Thank you, Scott. 🙂

  • Kristina, thank you for your message. I am very happy to hear that this post was able to give you the confidence you need. Although parents of course usually mean well, they don’t always fully understand our endeavors. Like you said, the price should be based on what your ideal clients are interested in investing!

  • Kasey Levine Hilleary

    Pricing has been the biggest challenge for me. I always thought it made sense to have a lower session fee and charge for the product. This article really helped me make my final decision. Thanks!

  • Ty

    First, I’m very thankful for this information. I received your pricing guide a few weeks ago to find that I was under estimating my pricing. So…. I started 2016 out with new fee sessions. I brought my fee up to the standard 75-155, this do not include prints and then I implemented a second rule to have the client come in to review the photos. The out come they purchase more product increasing my sales almost by 20%. Thanks!

  • So glad you found this helpful, Kasey!

  • Ty thank you so much for the kind words and for sharing your story. Wow, this is such a great success story! Keep up the good work!

  • Hector Zamora-Camacho

    First I want to thank you for all the valuable information you sharing. I started my photography business in June 2015 and pricing was always a challenge. I started pricing very low to start getting new clients, and all of them make a great part of my marketing because they love my job and that word of mouth is bringing me more clients. Thanks to the tools you gave me, I’m working on getting my prices right so I’d start increasing my prices and I already have booked 3 weddings, wich is a nice start of 2016. The challenge now is with the products, I don’t know how to offer the products since I don’t have a vendor. Is been difficult for me get a list of products and figured the price for them….I hope you can help me…

  • Hi Hector, thanks for the comment! I do offer my full product pricing list inside our Pricing for Profitable Photography course here: https://pricing.hobbytoprophoto.com/profitable-pricing

  • Kimberly Sauls

    This will help me tremendously being a beginner!! Thanks!!

  • So glad you found the post helpful, Kimberly.

  • Hi Hector, sounds like you’re off to a great start. I personally use Millers Lab for most of my printing.

  • Emma Arevalo

    Your answer is extremely helpful and is helping me differentiate on why or how some other photographers determine their price for session and product, specially for beginners photographers like myself. I can actually see the big picture in this concept. -Thank you.

  • Hector Zamora-Camacho

    Thank you for answering (9 months after)