How Do You Know When You’re Good Enough to Charge?

I hate to tell you this…

But it doesn’t matter if you think your photos are good enough to make you money.

And it doesn’t matter if you don’t think you’re photos are good enough to make you money either!

There’s really only one way to know if you can make money with your camera – someone (anyone) will tell you that they want to pay you to take some photos.

It might go down like this:

“These photos are really good! Will you do a photo shoot of me and my kids next weekend? I’ll pay you for it.”

I’ll pay you for it.

You may stumble upon these 5 words by accident – making money from your hobby had never crossed your mind. Or you may have been hunting down your first client for months. Either way it’s with these 5 words that you can now begin your new life as a paid photographer (assuming your answer is yes, of course).

I’ll pay you for it.

You know what’s beautiful about that phrase? Once someone utters those words you now know that, with at least one person, your images are in demand. They are good enough. They are worth something to someone.

And all you really need is just that first person to say those magical words and it could very well be the start of a wonderful business.

So keep working on your craft. Keep shooting and keep sharing – until you find your one person.

After that it’s really just a lot of rinse and repeat.

Now it’s your turn…

Leave a comment below and tell us how you got (or plan to get) your first paying gig?

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  1. and i don’t even know when i can call myself a photographer!

    • Hi Zavera – I suppose when there is no “graduation day” or certificate handed out to us, then it’s harder to nail down a specific time when we became either “a photographer” or “a pro photographer”. For some of us it sneaks up on us from out of no-where. :)

  2. Market the worst photo in the world at a low price and someone will bite eventually. Its all about marketing. Don’t expect to only put up a photo on FB and you will suddenly get a bunch of bookings (well maybe if your charging $20 but then your not making a living and undercutting all of the pros). Though if you put out a bad product (thanks to the internet) a unhappy customer can ruin your business so knowing how to take a good photo helps in the long run. Otherwise you will get burnt out from handling cheap difficult customers that want everything for nothing.

    • Hi Sarah,
      Sounds like you have some experience in this realm. :)
      In my opinion, it’s ok to start cheap, as long as you don’t stay there. And if the product is bad, and there is no sign of improvement — people need to look for a different line of work. The goal, is happy customers…and that comes with some sort of a decent product. It doesn’t need to be the best…but your customers need to be happy.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      • My family also has had their own business since I was born so I know a bit about good business practices. At least price yourself for the bare minimum of profit if your really serious about surviving as a small business. Also like I said it is all about marketing. You can be a great business person and a horrible photographer and survive. You can also be a great photographer but a horrible business person and fail. I have had a lot of learning to do on the business end to be where I am today. It is not easy and knowing good business and how to take a good photo will give you success. Your friends & family telling you your photos are amazing and paying you $20 for a shoot & a CD of all of the photos will not do that for you unless you get out of that rut quickly and brand and market yourself properly. Also word of mouth is a factor and it will get around that you are cheap & you will loose some if not all of those customers when you decide to raise your prices.

        • “You can be a great business person and a horrible photographer and survive. You can also be a great photographer but a horrible business person and fail. ”

          Some good thoughts there Sarah.

          There is a different mind-set of success I find between full time pros that shoot to put food on the table…and guys like me who shoot to buy new equipment or to supplement the day-job income.

          There is less pressure (good or bad) to go gung-ho on the business side of things. For instance, I don’t advertise one bit. I rely completely on word-of-mouth marketing. And I don’t care if I go a month or two without a gig. I have that luxury as a part-time pro.

  3. Ryan – thanks so much for your blog and the 90 min tutorial! Worked on my site today and we are up and running, couldn’t be happier with it! I was so bored with my previous smugmug page. Looking for some direction on where to start with portrait sessions pricing. Not ready for weddings yet (although my husband says we could do it, lol). I’ve had several friends request pricing for shoots with their kids and more recently newborn sessions. I don’t want to price myself out of my amateur market, but I have no idea where to start. I usually spend  a minimum of 45 mintues for a child shoot to an hour and a half to 2 hrs for something like an engagement PLUS editing in LR. No one is interested in purchasing prints from my smugmug page, so I am planning on pricing for the shoot, editing then providing a cd with the images.

    • Hi Jennifer – Your site looks great. Congrats! Now pricing is a loaded question. There’s no one perfect answer. It’s almost like a dance – the most important thing is just to start somewhere and make adjustments as you go. My suggestion would be to start as high as you can — provided you have leads and people asking to hire you for sessions.
      Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful on the pricing front. Sounds like I need to make another tutorial! :)

  4. quietdreamer says:

    So if my cousin asked me to photograph his wedding,  Even though I’ve only done photoshoots with my friends and sister, should I shoot it?  I’ve never done anything that big before, and the wedding isn’t for another year so I have time to practice.  I’m just not sure what I should do and how much I should charge.

    • Some things to think about before accepting this gig. First, do you WANT to shoot it? If you don’t, then politely decline. If you do, answer these next questions. Are they aware that you have never shot a wedding before, and that it’s their decision to go with someone without that experience. And I’m not saying you can’t pull off a fantastic shoot – but your clients need to fully understand the risks. Now if you want to do the shoot, and if they fully know that it’s a bit risky to go with a rookie – then you can start negotiating prices. This is a touchy subject. Since you have some time, I would do some research. A wedding photographer can charge as much as $8000 and as little as a 6 pack of beer. Somewhere in between those two extremes will be your price.
      If you want to talk some more about this gig, I’d be more than happy to share my experience. Just send me a message through the contact me page.
      Hope that helps!

  5. person that appreciate my photos was my best friend.

  6. Your good enough to charge when the quality outways the effort involved.

  7. My first person that appreciate my photos was my best friend. Of course, I didn’t take money for the photos of him, but still, I understood that someone likes my images besides me.

  8. Nice post, all the discussion are real life situations only.

  9. I’m just starting out but I would love to hear this from someone I shoot.

  10. The best thing you can probably do, is just keep taking pictures and share them with friends and all of these social networks.  Then you should get those five magical words.

    • Ryan Oakley says:

      @MyThriftyLiving Absolutely. Facebook is a photographers dream. And you don’t need to create a business “page” or anything. Just post photos (especially portraits)…and watch the comments and likes stream in. Build up your “fans” and you’ll find your first client.
      Thanks for leaving a comment!

      • I think this mentality is what has the Photography Biz filled with people who purchase a camera and think they can just go out and do it as a pro. Some investment, aside from equipment, needs to go into it as well. I don’t think “I’ll pay you for it” is the reason to do it. There is a whole business you have to think about running once you decide “I’ll take your money for it”

        • Hi Nomee,
          I only partially agree with you. I think that people can start the way I’ve described – as long as they are honest with themselves and their clients. I would rather someone get their feet wet to see if they even like shoot gigs — before they buy business cards, write a business plan, and quit their secure day-job. IF they (and their clients) enjoy those first few shoots — then it’s time to ramp things up and do more of the business work (websites, networking, marketing, gear, etc.)
          I believe the crappy photographers and the crappy business people will get weeded out pretty damn quick. You’ll either loose money (cause you’re charging too low) or you will not be able to please clients (cause your product (the images) aren’t very good).

  11. Nice blog, all the discussion are real life situations only.

  12. And remember that ‘worth’ doesn’t only mean monetary worth! Your photos are always worth a lot to you, sentimentally, as well!

  13. Our organizaton also provide that product & for more information.  Yes, as soon as you accept a paying gig the “game changes”. You do need to starting thinking about pricing, writing a contract, customer service, etc.

  14. I guess it is as simple as that but, as soon as money becomes involved, so do a huge number of responsibilities on the part of the photographer. Your photographs become a commodity, you must provide a service as well as a product, you MUST deliver the goods on the day and you must have a back up plan in case things go wrong!!

    • Thanks for the comment. Yes, as soon as you accept a paying gig the “game changes”. You do need to starting thinking about pricing, writing a contract, customer service, etc. But once your mind makes the shift to providing that service, you’ll start to figure out what’s needed and how to get it done. You have to start somewhere!

    • Ryan Oakley says:

       @Photographer Cambridge Thanks for the comment. Yes, as soon as you accept a paying gig the “game changes”. You do need to starting thinking about pricing, writing a contract, customer service, etc. But once your mind makes the shift to providing that service, you’ll start to figure out what’s needed and how to get it done. You have to start somewhere!

      •  @Ryan Oakley  and no one talks about the taxes part of the business.. like how you have to pay quarterly.. I still dont understand that part. 

        • Ryan Oakley says:

           @TrishH Taxes are fairly straight forward if you start out as a sole proprietor – which most freelancers do. And it’s probably not talked about a lot because it is so different from county to country…

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