Ok, so I spent an hour and did a quick survey of some of my 'competitors' in the area. There are hundreds (thousands?) of photographers in the Bay Area and by no means have I done a complete or well organized search. Instead, I just did a quick web search for some higher-end photographers, then a Craigslist search for some of the lower end photographers.
Legal Stuff: I don't endorse any of these photographers nor do I discourage you from visiting their sites. They just happened to be the ones who listed their prices online. I am not providing reviews; I have never even met the photographers mentioned let alone used their services. I suppose you could use this page as a starting point to finding a family photographer, but don't sue me if you do try one of these photogs and you have a bad experience. Likewise, don't sue me if you are one of the photographers mentioned and you don't want to be on the page -- just leave a comment and I'll take you off.
The number one lesson I learned while doing this search (aside from the 'going rate'): a well organized, polished website is key! It is the first thing most clients see, so if you put a website up, make sure it looks nice. Minimalism is fine, but make sure you don't have dead links, poor spelling, and it doesn't crash anyone's computer. And above all, make sure your portfolio has only your very best shots in it.
Overall, I'd say the photographers below are worth every penny you pay them (probably even more for some of them). So, here we go:
Specialty: Babies, children, and maternity, on location.
Session Fee: $275 ($200 Tues-Fri) for 1 to 2 hours (+$25 for each person over three)
Proofs: 25-30 edited images
Prints: 5x7 $45, 8x10 $75
CD: None offered.
Packages: "Belly and Baby", $1450, includes two shoots, 25 5x7s, $250 in print credits, and 50 birth announcements.
My Take: High-end child photographer with beautiful images. Yes, her prices are high (especially for prints), but I think she's got the experience and natural ability to back that up. I really like that she doesn't set a time-limit on her sessions, it shows she cares more about the portraits than scheduling lots of clients.
Christine Krogue Photography
Specialty: Babies and children on location, also maternity, seniors, families.
Session Fee: $75 for 1 to 1.5 hrs (+$15 each person over 4)
Proofs: 18-25 images
Prints: 5x7 $22, 8x10 $32
CD: Proofs, full-res, $250 (requires minimum print order of $350)
Packages: $600+, including CD
Also offers: Session album ($350, complementary for large orders), slideshows ($75, with $400 min order)
My Take: Christine has a nice site and has obviously thought through the business side thoroughly. She does offer CDs, but only if the customer buys a lot of prints to ensure she makes approx $600 on each deal. Her session fees are low, so I expect she makes up the money on print sales.
Loic Nicolas Photographer
Specialty: Headshots, portraits (does almost everything though)
Session Fee: $250 (includes ~1 hr studio shoot, viewing and proofing after shoot, rough + edited CD)
Other Options: On location +$50, Extra shooting +$150/hr, Extra editing +$50
Proofs: 20+ images
Prints: 5x7 $30, 8x12 $50 (I assume extra editing is included)
My Take: Loic seems to have a different approach than most: make the client pay for the shoot and don't worry about prints. Instead, he lets them choose the proofs at the shoot, hands them an unedited CD before they leave, and mails them an edited CD later. Definitely cuts down on overhead but lowers the maximum he can make off the customer. Personally, for the quality of his images (he's definitely talented) he could probably charge more. He does offer a 'Princess Color Treatment' in which he adjusts color/saturation, does full retouching, vignetting, etc for $100. So, it looks like his business model is to get pictures the customer likes, then charge them more for retouching (especially for headshots or online dating). In that sense, he probably makes around $400 on an average customer, not bad, especially when he doesn't need to schedule a viewing. Overall, the business model I'm considering is closest to Loic's.
Smiles Creative Imaging
Specialty: Portraits and weddings
Session Fee: $75/hr
Proofs: ?? (unspecified)
Prints: 5x7 $10, 8x10 $15
Packages: $55 to $450 for packages of prints (in addition to session fee)
My Take: SCI could really benefit from some work on their website. It was hard to navigate and lacked some critical information (such as, how many proofs does the client get?). It appears SCI is a pretty young company, and that is also reflected in their low prices. Of all the sites surveyed, the numbers I've been thinking of are closest to SCI's numbers. But, they also need to rethink their pricing strategy -- it'd be cheaper for a client to buy a bunch of smaller packages than one big one ($35 off the print cost when you pay $450?).
Ok, so that's the end of my quick survey. I learned a lot about the market and it really helped me to think through what I'd like to do. This is what I've learned/decided:
- For a top photographer, expect to pay $600+ for the shoot and a decent number of prints.
- CDs are becoming more common, and delivery of only the CD is not unheard of.
- On location costs more, even though it costs me less at this moment. Mostly because of travel time and the unknowns involved.
- I should charge $75-100 for a session fee but be flexible about the time (like 1-1.5 hours). I can (and should) give discounts to those who can't afford full price if I price myself a little higher.
- The value of a CD is $200+ considering print prices. If I charge $100-150 for a CD with about 10-20 lightly edited proofs, I should be in good shape.
- Limit the amount of editing I provide with the session fee/CD, but offer more for a price ($30-40 an hour).
- Allow them to purchase prints individually, maybe $10 5x7, $15 8x10. Personally I always resented the high cost of prints, but it is so standard I think I should support it to some degree. Most clients will opt for the CD anyway.
- It is possible to do a viewing right after the shoot, but I'd need extra equipment and I'm not wild about them falling in love with the technically poor images. The viewing is better afterwards, so I can upsell on specialty prints (canvas?) and/or extra editing.
- If I provide a CD, I could include 4x6s of the proofs for cheap, and it'd make the customer very happy. But don't provide 4x6s alone because some customers try to enlarge them to avoid purchasing prints.
WHAT NOT TO DO:
While searching on craigslist, I came across the following ad (copied verbatim):
Family photograpy, etc.Ok, where to begin...
Hi, I'm an amateur photographer whi is 17 years old and need some equimpent, so I've decided to take family portraits. My prices are very cheap, as I am not a professional yet. If you'd like to see my website with some photos, it can be found here:
As you can see, I take mostly skate photos that deal with flashes, but would be offering my services in outdoor lighing situations at the location of your choice. I am new to this, and have as much access as you do to printing places, so you will recieve the RAW photo on a data CD so you can choose what is next for the photos. They are digital in case you were wondering. Email me and we can work some sort of price out, I want both of us to be satisfied
First, I've included the guy's Flickr address so you can see his portfolio. He's not a bad shooter at all. In fact, if I was to hire someone to help me with an on location shoot which required flash photography, this is the kind of guy I'd want: experience with off camera flash, in the field, with fast moving subjects. He also shows a lot of creativity and talent. But, talent does not equal business sense.
And that's the thing: to be make money at photography, you almost need to be better on the business side than the photography side. (There's hope for people like me which don't have much talent!) His Craigslist ad pretty much runs the gamut of what not to do:
- Make sure you check your spelling and proofread your grammar, especially the important words, like photograpy in the subject.
- Don't tell your clients you are 17 years old and your sole motivation is to buy some new equipment.
- Don't tell clients that you are 'new at this'.
- If you list a portfolio, it should probably have some family photos in it. Not pictures of your friends doing skating tricks. Above all, don't include the pic of a skater-dude flipping the bird to the camera.
- Don't deliver RAW files on CD. Less than 1% of the population even knows what RAW is!
Instead, he should do one of two things:
- Post an ad for doing skater pics. He knows what he's doing, his target audience will relate to his portfolio, and he'll know how to relate to them. The downside is most skater types don't have a lot of extra cash around for photogs.
- Take some pics of his family, clean-up his post, and set some reasonable (but still low) prices. He'll probably get a little business, and once he gets started, those pics can go in his portfolio.
If I've learned anything in this research, it is that there are a lot of photographers out there and a lot of ways to set up pricing and services. There are many things that work and few that you shouldn't do (although the guy above covered a lot of the don'ts).
At this point, I just need to decide what I am most comfortable with, and then start shooting and get the experience and portfolio pics.