While raising your rates may sound unnerving as a photographer, it's a common business practice and something that I would encourage for every creative of every level. Whether you're just starting to charge money for your services or you're a seasoned professional, raising the rates of your creative services is a practice that you should consider right now.
As a professional photographer, there are a variety of reasons to raise your rates — some very obvious and some that you may not have considered. I'm a professional music photographer who has been shooting paid editorial and commercial work since 2008, and here's why I raise my rates every year.
For anyone providing a service, the takeaway with regard to this information is that if your rates are staying the same year after year, they are not keeping up with the cost of living increases. This holds true for goods and as well as services.
If your creative rate stays the same, the purchasing power of that dollar amount is actually decreasing year over year.
Just as people working a 9-5 day job may be presented with a small annual cost of living increase to their salary (this is not a raise, this is simply to keep up with COLA), if you're a freelancer, the principle is no different. Raising your rates 2-3% ever year will ensure the value of your work is at least keeping pace with the economy.
With the dramatic increase from 2021 to 2022 with world economies dramatically impacted by the ongoing effects of a pandemic, even higher COLA are appropriate.
Freelancers, Give Yourself a Raise
Now that we have cost of living stuff out of the way, here's the fun part.
You probably deserve a raise. If you were in a regular desk job, would you settle for being paid to do the same job, year after year, for the same pay? No, you would probably expect a raise, a promotion, and more. As a freelance creative, it's easy to overlook these sorts of things for ourselves, but they are just as important if not moreso when you're a freelancer, because no one will advocate for you but you.
Year over year, you have learned new skills, new efficiencies, and are adding value to your work in ways that may see slight, but are nonetheless extremely important in this consideration of your rate and pay.
Whether you're a wedding photographer shooting an 8 hour event or a music festival shooting a 3 day festival, the considerations are the same. Your time and the value of your work should be becoming more valuable with time and experience, not less.
The Intangibles Add Up
Beyond the very real and practical considerations of cost of living increases, you're also continuing to develop as a photographer and creative. Year over year, you're:
Learning new techniques
Developing new perspectives
Honing your creative vision
These aspects of your development may be intangible, but they do add real value to your services as a creative and photographer. And while the skills and growth may be intangible or less visible, your work and your portfolio should directly reflect this development — and that's something clients can see with their own eyes.
When you add value to the work you create, this is a great time to consider increasing your rates as a photographer. This could be as simple as increasing experience or adding new skillsets or capabilities as a photographer. Perhaps you have increased efficiency in your workflow that allows you to do a job in half the time from a year ago — this is particularly important if you charge an hourly rate.
Your Business Costs Go Up Regardless of Whether or Not Your Fee Does
Beyond skills and experience, new investments in photography or computer equipment could also be time with rate increases. This is not just because of the capital investment you might be putting in (which may or may not be passed along to the client already as a gear fee), but for the advantages to the client and the value you are adding to your work — be it higher quality image capture, efficiency, enhanced file delivery, or whatever the case may be.
Consider raising your rate when your own expenses go up:
New photography gear
Computer equipment and peripherals
Repairs and upkeep
Professional services and memberships
These costs and others are directly and indirectly affected by inflation and other factors related to cost of living increases. Whether or not your rate goes up, your cost of doing business is going up every year. If you're not increasing your rates to keep up, you're taking on more of the burden of providing your services as a photographer.
The Value of Not Being Cheap
Let's be real — cost is almost always a consideration, whether you're hiring a photographer or buying bread at the grocery store. But not always in the way you think.
For some clients, the least expensive option for their creative needs will always be the best. There are clients who will always want a service for the lowest possible price. These are not the clients you want.
You've all known the photographer who comes in and undercuts the competition. The pitfall of being the cheapest photographer is that there will always be someone cheaper who will come along. If costing less than the competition is your only differentiator, you are providing practically zero value to your client.
While we all have to start somewhere, raising your rates as a photographer will get you out of dealing with the clients who do not value you for the quality of your service.
What's more, increasing your rates will allow you to focus on the clients who DO value your work for the efficiency, quality, creativity, passion, thoughtfulness — whatever it is that's your edge over the rest — and this in itself is a key realization.
In addition, I would argue that there's a psychological benefit to increasing your rate and that there is a distinction in not being the most inexpensive option, or “questionably cheap.” If you're at the store buying the cheapest beer, you're probably not going to switch it up. But if you're the person who doesn't want to be buying the bargain basement beer, you're probably going to look at something more mid-tier. Still beer, but just better. It doesn't even have to be some artisanal brew crafted by monks under the full moon or anything like that, but you don't want to drink Natural Light.
The point of this long-winded analogy is that brands and clients are no different. Some will always want the most expensive option. Some will always want the cheapest option. Many will want something in between — a photographer who is going to get the job done without fear of botching it (and possibly getting them fired), and without breaking the bank.
The clients you want are the ones who want quality, not just the cheapest option. If you find yourself consistently the cheapest option, you should consider raising your rates.
Passing on the Cost of New Value
In closing, it's time to raise your rates. Any one of the above reasons — cost of living increases, professional growth, your own cost of doing business, and so forth — is good enough to consider raising your rates.
For most photographers, the fact that you are experiencing all of these reasons simultaneously, year over year — that should make raising your rates regularly an easy decision.