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Photography Cost Of Doing Business: Knowing Your Numbers

Photography • October 21, 2023

Calculating your photography cost of doing business should be one of the core practices in your business. Knowing your numbers comes into play at nearly every stage — pricing your photography packages, selling prints or add-ons, outsourcing, and knowing whether or not you can afford that new lens or the latest preset you’ve had your eyes on.

This will also help you actually make money from your photography business or even better, make enough money for that European vacation you’d love to treat your entire family to. (This is also for the folks who want to quit their day job and not regret it.)

Grab your notebook and expenses spreadsheet (or grab my template here), and let’s work on calculating your photography cost of doing business, or CODB for short.

What is CODB in photography?

The cost of doing business is pretty close to what it sounds like — what does it cost to actually run your photography business? Ultimately, the CODB for photographers is a mix of fixed expenses (the fees you pay on a monthly or annual basis that don’t change), your variable expenses (the fluctuating costs like credit card processing fees or new camera gear), and your personal living expenses.

I know it sounds a little funky to think about your rent or mortgage, but including this makes sure you won’t fall short on next month’s payment. So don’t leave that off. Got it? Good.

How does this help me?

With a few numbers crunched, you’ll have a true method for pricing your services that isn’t a random “that sounds good” price or an average of what your competitors are charging (which, by the way, what they’re charging doesn’t determine how you should be pricing your services; your lives, businesses, values, skills, and audience are different. You’ll see.)

To note: brand new AND established photographers should be reading this

If you haven’t even charged one client for a photoshoot yet, I am SO glad you found this information first. And if you’ve been around the block a few times and are trying to reel in your expenses and actually churn some profits out of your business (without burning out), then you should pull up a chair too.

How to calculate your cost of doing business

Scroll down to our fixed costs and variable costs overview first if you’re not sure what those are!

  1. List all of your expenses on a spreadsheet (do this for a year or a month’s worth — a year will help you see the full picture)
  2. Categorize your business expenses by fixed and variable
  3. Total up your personal living expenses (yes, your personal cost of living is part of your CODB and helps you figure out what your salary should be)
  4. Add it up — how much does it cost for you to run the business and live your life?
  5. This is your cost of doing business
  6. Your profits start AFTER you earn that total cost of doing business (unless you’re happy living paycheck to paycheck, or photoshoot to photoshoot) — technically called net income (To note: not all living expenses count as true business expenses, but it’s helpful to know for pricing your services and filling up that piggy bank. See your tax advisor for write-off advice, i.e. expenses that will help you save on tax payments.)
  7. To calculate your ideal pricing from here, divide the total cost of doing business by the number of projects or photoshoots you want to book in a given year or month. If it costs you $4,000 per month to pay all expenses and cover your personal budget, but you only want to book 4 brand photoshoots per month, you should probably be charging at least $2,000 for each shoot to account for taxes and business savings.
    • Don’t plan on booking enough just to cover your cost of doing business — hence why we didn’t recommend booking 4 photoshoots at $1,000 each when your CODB is $4,000. Earning that $8,000 total gives you wiggle room and helps you save money!
    • Some sources get into hourly fees and “billable units” but you don’t need to make it that complicated! I also don’t recommend billing by the hour, so I won’t let you get lost in those weeds.

Finances for photographers

A quick refresh to make this easier.

Fixed costs

What are the bills you have to pay every single month or every year that do not change? For example, you know that your website costs $10 every single month, not $12 one month and $17 the next. Put those consistent items in the fixed costs category.

  • Website hosting (I use and love Showit with a Northfolk design)
  • Cell phone
  • Internet
  • Email
  • Gallery delivery
  • Adobe (Lightroom, Photoshop)
  • Office space
  • Publications and memberships (The Knot, chamber of commerce, etc.)

Variable costs

Now, what are the costs that fluctuate? Add those to a variable costs section on your spreadsheet.

  • Taxes
  • Legal fees
  • Licenses
  • Insurance
  • Credit card processing fees
  • Gear (camera bodies, lenses, backdrops, tripods)
  • Advertising (social media ads, Google ads)
  • Outsourcing (editing, copywriting, design, social media management)
  • Vehicle (insurance, gas, repairs, parking)
  • Travel (airfare, lodging, meals, rental cars)
  • Utilities (electricity, gas, water)
  • Subscriptions (magazines, memberships)
  • Professional development (mentorships, workshops, education, styled shoots)
  • Salary (the total of your personal living expenses like food, rent/mortgage, car payment)

To put it straight: knowing your cost of doing business helps you build a profitable company

The last thing I want is for you to lose money with your photography business or break even because the expenses got out of hand. SO many photographers get caught up in buying gear, attending workshops, and charging similar rates as their competitors just to find out come tax season that their income was drastically low after everything was said and done.

If you’ve fallen into this rut, believe me when I say, you’re not alone. But if your business and living costs exceed what you’re bringing in, then, your photography business is just not going to support you. Or pay the bills. Or fund that vacation. Or pay for your favorite cocktail on a girls’ night out (bourbon, neat for me please).

Photography cost of doing business calculator

To make it easier, I’ve added every single piece of this CODB process into a calculator that lets you crunch numbers with a cool head. An hour or two here will save you headaches and prevent pricing remorse. Purchase the Photography Pricing Calculator here.

P.S. Consider licensing your images to increase your profits

At last, you know your cost of doing business and can put a clear number on your packages so you can pay your bills every time, and add some extra cash to the bank. Sweet!

But remember, hourly or one-time collection fees aren’t the only way to charge for your work as a photographer. If you’re working with businesses as a commercial brand photographer, image licensing should be one of your income sources, i.e. providing strict parameters in terms of how your images can be used, and maintaining ownership of the images so you don’t lose money when your photographs go viral or start earning an online company thousands of dollars. 

With image licensing, your photos are essentially borrowed by the client and hold a higher value. If that business gets a ton of traffic and income from your photos, chances are they’ll want to use them for a long time, and in a LOT of places, and they’ll have to pay for those rights! More on photography licensing here.

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