So, it’s the million dollar question: How do you price birth photography?
(Note: I only wish it really was a million dollar answer!)
There are many things to take into account when figuring out how to price your birth photography, so let’s start by making a list of the expenses your pricing has to cover:
Registering your business with your state and/or city. The cost of this varies widely. I am fortunate to live in an area where I can renew my LLC, DBA and business license for a combined total of less than $300 annually. Some areas charge much, much more.
Insurance. Two policies, or one combined. You’ll need insurance that covers your gear in case of loss, theft, breakage or damage AND you’ll need business liability insurance.
Professional memberships I have chosen to join several organizations. PPA (Professional Photographers Association) has many benefits that are useful, and discount that save me money elsewhere. The International Association of Professional Birth Photographers provides marketing reach and a community to bounce ideas around with. I also belong to several birth organizations on a local level for marketing and networking.
Marketing Expenses My domain name, web site hosting, business cards, postcards to place at various birth centers, etc.
Taxes! Depending on your tax bracket, you can easily end up owing a full third of what you bring in to income taxes. Remember that unless you are an employee, you’ll have to pay self-employment taxes on top of regular income taxes. I set aside 30% of my gross income in a separate bank account so I’m not desperate when the tax bill comes due.
Per client expenses:
Product: The cost of the product itself. Prints, CDs and cases, books or albums, etc. Professional labs do an excellent job, but their prices are higher than Walmart or Walgreens, so make sure you know exactly what your costs will be.
Incidental expenses: Things like eating out while at a birth, parking fees and/or tolls, something with caffeine at 2 am, etc.
Transportation: Gas for travel to prenatal meetings, the birth itself, and any postpartum meetings you might do.
Postage: If you mail the products to your client, you’ll need to make sure you budget this cost.
Child care, if that is something you need to budget for.
Music you purchase or license for use in the slideshow (you DO use music legally, right?)
As much as I would wish otherwise, gear doesn’t last forever. I’ve dropped a lens and spent hundreds repairing it. Gear, processing software, and computers wear out or become obsolete and need to be replaced. You would be wise to allot a little from each birth into a fund for emergencies and eventual upgrades.
So many, many things to pay for……and I haven’t even mentioned the startup expenses: Camera, backup camera, lenses, spare batteries, memory cards, flash and a bag to put it all in. Plus a computer for editing, software for editing!
Other things to consider:
While you want to at minimum cover your expenses, you also need to bring home some money for your work. So make sure that you are adding enough to your prices to make it worth your time. Keep in mind that “your time” includes:
24-7 on call time for your clients. Being on call means being willing to miss your child’s school performance, a lunch with friends, dinner with your family. It sometimes means getting out of a warm bed at 3 am and driving through a blizzard.
The time you are at the birth itself, which can vary widely.
The time you spend editing, creating a slideshow, and designing a birth story book.
The time you spend running your business (accounting, marketing, etc.)
If you forget to add some profit into your pricing, you’ll be doing all that work for no financial return for your family. As hard as this work is, as tough as the on-call lifestyle is, you NEED to be able to bring some benefit to your family as well.
Calculate the annual costs of running your business in general and divide that by the number of births you realistically expect to do in a year. Add that number to the cost of doing each birth. Add in an amount to your repair/replace/upgrade fund. This gives you the base cost of doing each birth.
Then, factor in how much time it will take you to do the birth. It’s not just the time you are there, shooting. Include the time you spend sorting, culling, and editing the photos. You may also spend time creating the slideshow. If you’re doing birth story books, don’t forget the time you spend doing the book design. I tend to spend 5-10 hours after the birth making the photos and products to go with them. All told, I plan on spending 15-20 hours per birth I photograph, and this doesn’t even factor in on-call time, which can be up to five weeks!