How do you decide what your session fee should be?
The first thing you need to ask yourself, what will the market bare? For example, is $49 enough for a session fee? Sal says no, it is not. It’s too cheap and it’s going to send the signal that YOU are cheap and inexpensive. Sal’s thought process, when coming up for the price of a session fee, is that it should be enough that it is making the client genuinely consider if they are serious about your photography, but not so much so that it scares the shit out of them.
Sal gives an example from Salvatore Cincotta Photography. Sal always charged families $299 for a session fee, but as his studio grew and his brand became more popular, he saw more families coming to photograph with him. These families would only end up buying two 8x10s. The $299 session fee was not enough of a deterrent for them. So, his studio adjusted accordingly. They now charge $1,500 for a family session where $1,200 goes towards the package and purchasing products. Sal believes that if a family is not willing to spend that $1,200 on product, they are most likely not his client. Sal did not experience this problem with babies, beauty, and seniors, so hasn’t adjusted those. Do what is right for your business. A session fee is a good way to weed out clients who will not make you money purchasing products. Adjust your session fee according to where you are in your business and what you need from your client.
How do you know what to charge for a session fee if you are just starting out?
Sal suggests starting at a reasonable $99-$199. Something like $299 would be too high. If you don’t have a strong portfolio and your brand isn’t established enough, a $299 session fee would cause you to struggle. Sal has seen studios in New York and LA with a $499-$999 session fee. There is nothing wrong with that, but you should consider your market. If you have a strong portfolio and your brand is more established, $299 could be a good starting place no matter where you are in the U.S. It gives you a little wiggle room as well. You can lower your price if you need to. Say you want to run a 50% off senior sale. Say your session fee is $299. Now it is $148-$149, that’s great. The client feels like they are getting a value; you are making money.
At the end of the day, your session fee is not what is making your business money. You are making your money on in-person sales, IPS. Sal says that if you are not making money on IPS, that is where you have a problem. The session fee is a qualifier to make sure the client is really serious about your pictures and not just coming in wanting a few images for Facebook.