How much should I charge? Part 3

You need to understand what you need for each of these categories over a year

This is step two of knowing how to quote a price to someone when they ask you, “How much do you charge?”

In step one you should have come up with an annual figure of what your annual living expenses are for you.  If you live in a gated community and drive a premium vehicle then you can already see that what you have to charge to pay your bills will impact your prices for your clients.

The other extreme which I often encounter when teaching folks how to figure their prices is they are in college or live at home.  If they use their actual expenses for their annual salary they will have to remain living with Mommy and Daddy for the rest of their lives.  If you are one of these folks, then take some time and research what it would cost you to be out on your own.  There are a few things that will greatly change for those under the age of 25 if they are on their own and not with their parents.

  1. Housing costs
  2. Car Insurance
  3. Health Insurance

These three items will be much more expensive if you are to do this on your own.  

NPPA put this on their website to help you

I highly suggest going to the NPPA website and plugging in your figures.  However there is a better reason to go to the website than just using it as a calculator.  Beside each item there is an i-button.

These are coaching tips that give you some idea of how to figure this annual expense.  As you can see from this box I have copied the one for the “Office or Studio” item and you can see it gives you an explanation about this item.

Your “Desired Salary” will change

At some point you will need to sit down with an accountant to help you know what you can do that will make a big difference on what you pay in taxes. 

What happens when you run your own business is that some of your expenses for your home can be moved to your business and especially if you work out of your home.

While not all of these expenses will move over to your business at 100% these are some items that could be transferred that are usually part of your home budget.

  1. Telephone
  2. Utilities
  3. Internet Connection
  4. Auto expenses
  5. Computer
Adjust your home budget

You will need to revisit your “Annual Salary” and most likely realize you can now take home less for your home budget, because some of this shifted to your “Business Expenses.”  This will slightly affect your rates that you must charge.

A little guessing

You will need to figure out what an average type of job or assignment you will be doing with your business.  This is the most difficult thing to approximate for a number of reasons.  Here are some types of photo shoots I might do in a year.

  • Headshots
  • College recruiting
  • Corporate events
  • NGO editorial coverage
  • Magazine features
  • News coverage for wire service

The prices for each of these is different for various reasons.  First of all they don’t all take the same amount of time.  More importantly some of these I am an expert in and my competition cannot compete head to head with me with all my clients.

The basic idea is once you have figured out how many of each of these types of assignments you will do a year you will guess as to what is an average assignment look like.  Take the same list and give it some numbers as to how many you will do in a year. Put beside that how long on average it takes you to complete the work.

  • Headshots (100) x [2 hours] = 200
  • College recruiting (15) x [20 hours] = 300
  • Corporate events (12) x [20 hours] = 240
  • NGO editorial coverage (10) x [30 hours] = 300
  • Magazine features (15) x [8 hours] = 120
  • News coverage for wire service (20) x [3 hours] = 60

Total “billable” hours a year 1220 divided by 8 hours a day gives you 152.5 days of “billable” time.

Now this is figure when you are starting out my just be 30 days that you can find work in a year.  RED ALERT!!!

You will need to assume that you either 1) have saved enough money up to offset your lack of jobs until you get enough jobs, or 2) have another job.

On average a very successful photographer will most likely have around 100 “billable days” of work in a year.

Using the 152.5 days of work a year will give you $589.18 day rate if you use the default numbers in the NPPA calculator–DON’T DO THIS–use your numbers.  For illustration this would give you then a $73.65 per “AVERAGE” hour rate that you “MUST” charge at the minimum or your business model will be upside down.

The reason I say average is on some jobs you will be able to charge more since you might have no competition or very little competition or the going rates in the market allow for the higher rate.

Don’t Quote Hourly Rates

This exercise is to help you know your costs, not to give you the rate to quote. 

Combine it all

Now that you know your “Cost-of-doing-business” you will combine this with actual expenses associated with a job.  Here are some of those expenses you will add to your base:

  1. Travel Expenses
  2. Prints/CDs/Online Fees
  3. Shipping Costs
  4. Photo assistants
  5. Makeup artists
  6. Food costs (snacks for day long shoots for example)

This is not an exhaustive list, but this will go on top of your $589.18 if it is a day long shoot.

Usage Fees

I talked about how to calculate these earlier and this will go on top of the $589.18 + Expenses that will give you some idea of what to quote.


While you have everything now to quote a job and are ready there are some things that are now negotiable.   For example, if a client gives you 50 copies of the coffee table book you did for their organization you could trade this out for a lower price, because you now can offset some of the costs of advertising.  You can then give these books out to potential customers helping you land a new client.

I know some photographers who trade out retail value of their services say with a restaurant.  They give them $2,000 worth of photography for $2,000 worth of food.  It is a win win for both.  The actual cost of doing the business maybe $1,000 for the photographer and only $1,000 for the restaurant.  The photographer takes potential clients out for dinner at the fine dining restaurant and it helps them seal the deal.  The photographer just saved $1,000 in expenses for overhead. 


If you know these figures you will feel confident when you are quoting prices that you can pay your bills doing the job.  You also will feel that you did the right thing when they offer you less than your rates for a job and you turn them down.  Realize once you have the numbers you can still be creative to come up with solutions that make you the right fit for a job.