Written Report on 'Portrait Economics' - By Lyn Clarke of Australia

This is not going to be a "How-to-do-it" or a "Do-it-my-way" lecture - We are far from being authorities on this subject, but we wanted to share with you a little experiment we carried out for our own satisfaction.

Every year at Conference, John carries out a Price Survey, and writes up on the board the prices everyone is charging for their work.

It is always very obvious in the price comparisons that our Studio is, if not the most expensive, at least a lot more expensive than most others.

This set me to thinking - If we are charging so much more than other people, why aren't we rich??  Are we being dishonest with our Clients, by taking their money for very little service?

We have always taken pride in our honesty and integrity with our Clients, and always felt that we were giving good value for their money - but were we??

My way of looking at this problem may have been a little "back-to-front" to the

usual way of approaching this - but the exercise I carried out may be interesting for you to try - using your own prices.

We all run our Businesses differently, and we all have different financial commitments - but in our case, photography is our SOLE SOURCE OF INCOME and therefore I felt that for the hours we worked, we should be looking for an hourly rate of at least somewhere in the vicinity of the average wage earner.

It is extremely difficult to generalize about the portrait sales you can expect from a Sitting.  They are all different, and we all know - You Win Some - You Lose Some!

Around Christmas Time, we get a lot of Sittings that are kids who decide to have a Family Portrait made to give to Mum and Dad for Christmas, so I decided to use for an example:   "what if we do a sitting and sell one 20x16 enlargement"

At this point perhaps I should explain how we operate our business:

We have the space to have a 'consulting' room, and we prefer to have a consultation with all our clients, regarding their portraiture, a week or two before we actually photograph them.  We show them examples of our work and find out their particular preferences, and discuss clothing and make-up with them. (We always suggest at least three changes of clothing).  In general we get them to feel VERY INVOLVED with the making of THEIR Portrait.

Our Sitting Fee is $25.00 and our price for a 20x16 portrait (unframed) is $1148.00.  If that is ALL we take from a Sitting - how much money are we making per hour for the time we spend on that particular Sitting??

To work that out, I had to count up the time spent with these Clients as well as the financial outlay on film, developing and printing.

Our Sittings start with the initial enquiry (either by phone, or by the prospective client calling in to the Studio).  The time taken in quoting prices and convincing the client of the worth of a 'pre-consult' is generally about 15 minutes.  For their Portrait Consultation, we generally allow another hour.

Their actual Sitting takes approximately 2 hours (Of course we don't ONLY take the Group photo they want for Mum and Dad - we also take 3 to 5 exposures of each individual - with various changes in clothing - and, maybe some that would make a nice present for the boyfriend, etc.)

For the 'Viewing Appointment' (for choosing their enlargement), where we use the innerscope or slide projector, we allow at least 1.5 to 2 hours.  Add to this the time in the Work Room by us or our Staff, for ordering the previews, the masking and ordering of their chosen negative, then the mounting time, artwork time and time to protector-spray their Portrait - and the total Studio hours of producing one 20x16 enlargement comes to approximately 5.5 hours.

We usually use at least 2 rolls of 120 film per Sitting (film at $4.40 per roll) and at the moment are using the 'pre-paid envelope' system - so it costs us $8.50 each roll for the 5x4 previews - and the Lab cost for one 20x16 is $23.85 (including tax).

  • So we have: Cost of film -  $8.00

  • Cost of Dev. and 5x4 previews -  $17.00

  • Cost of 1-20x16 V.I.P. $23.85

  • Which gives a total of - $  149.65  

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The money received from our client was:

  • Sitting Fee                        $  25.00

  • One 20x16                        $ 1148.00

  • Total:                        $ 1173.0 


When I deducted our costs from the money received, we then had $123.35.  From this $123.35 I deducted our Cost Detailer working 1 hour at Casual Rate, $8.41 per hour, which left $1114.94.

To work out our hourly rate I divided this amount by the 14.5 hours which we put into the Sitting.  This came to $25.514 per hour.

Now when you consider of that $25.514, we have to pay our Studio Fixed Costs (25% of gross), we are now looking at $19.16 per hour.  This hourly rate might give quite a high standard of living if we had continual new Sittings all day all week - but there ARE NOT that many Clients!!

A Photographic Studio is not a cost efficient industry.  We usually do 150-200 Portrait Sittings per year which is 3-14 per week.  If 50% of our time is used on our Weddings, that leaves 20 hours per week for Portraiture which is a potential of 11 Sittings at approximately 2 hours per Sitting.

Therefore our Studio Efficiency Rate for doing Portraits is about 30%.  This means the overall hourly rate drops to 30% of the $19.16, which equals $5.95 per hour.  Not 'big biccies' by today's standards!!  (Perhaps we need to put our prices up).  Also as a matter of interest, the current N.S.W. Award for an employee photographer is $251.140 per week which is $6.29 per hour for a 140 hour week.

Of course, you will argue that from most sittings we all sell MORE than just one 20x16 - in our case, quite frankly, we HAVE to ($5 to $6 an hour just will NOTE maintain the standard of living to which we would like to become accustomed!).  Oh, and by the way - our average Portrait Order is $2140.

The whole objective in our spending so much time with our clients is so that they will buy more - and thankfully, they usually do!!

As an incentive to further purchases, we have evolved a 'second print' price system.

Our Pricing Guide reads as follows    

                        1st PRINT                        ADD PRINT

              20  x 30          2610.00           2210.00

               20  x 30          2120.00         1195.00

               20  x 24        1195.00           1148.00

               20  x 16        1148.00           1108.00

                14 x 11         195.00               170.00

                10 x 8           148.00              135.00

                7 x 5.5         135.00               126.00

                5 x 14          125.00              112.00

We use our 'Pricing Guide' in this way:

for example, if a client orders 1-20x16 plus 2-10x8's, the price for the 20x16 we would take from the '1st print' column and the 10x8's from the 'add print' column.  His order would then read:

1 - 20x16  at  $1148.00

2 - 10x8   at  $ 35.00 each All three prints can be, and usually are, off different negatives.

Also if a client should order in quantity - e.g. 3-14x11's (again off different negatives) we would more than likely charge them ALL at the 'Add Print' price.

As you will have realized, we use our 'Price Guide' as just that - A Guide!  We may vary our prices depending on the size of the order (and the attitude of the client).

We have found, the more CARE and TIME we give to our clients, the more they will buy - and by the time they collect their finished order, they certainly don't consider us expensive.

You may find it an interesting exercise to sit down and work out how much time you put into your work, and how much money you actually get per hour for your time.

You may not NEED to make as much money as we HAVE to, because you may have fewer commitments, or some kind of supplementary income - but, are you making as much as the average wage earner??