How to Explain Session Fees to Your Photography Client

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Some clients may lament they get nothing for their money. Just remind them that unless you take those photographs, there won’t be any photographs to buy.

Have you ever had a customer inquiry for your studio or session work that went something like this? They’ve been to your website and had a good look around. They’ve reviewed your portfolio, looked at your packages, and read all your session and booking information. Most of their time was spent going over your pricing, seeing which collection included what, and how much each option would cost. They’ve seen that your session fee is $x.xx and that it’s due upon booking.

And then they ask the question that makes you sigh. “What do we get with the session fee?”

Once you’ve heard this a few times, you’ll have the urge to respond with a sarcastic, “You get a session. Duh!”

Products versus service: time is money

Even if you’ve carefully described your typical session and they’ve read every word, some people will still expect to end up with at least some product with their fee. We live in instant gratification world and the concept of money for service is foreign to some people. If that weren’t bad enough, some photographers have their own mindset issues. They under value their time.

That’s what a session really boils down to. The photographer is being paid for their time. When explaining your session, you can try to wrap it up in all sorts of bows. You can describe the process, the atmosphere, and your custom approach. Relaxing music, champagne and Belgian chocolate create an experience that would still amount to nothing if you didn’t show up and take the photographs.

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The product fees pay for the products of their choice.

The session fee pays for the service of your choice.

To explain it to your client, you have to first understand it yourself.

Once upon a time, you took your car to the town mechanic. He inspected it and told you what was wrong with it and about how much the repair would cost. You either told him to fix it, or that you’d be back with it after your next paycheck. The car was fixed, the mechanic was paid.

As time went by, more mechanics started business. More competition meant choice. If mechanics competed on price, the lower prices got more customers. The next time you took your car to a mechanic, he said he was happy to look at it. For a fee. He was tired of using his expertise for free, especially when customers were getting their work done elsewhere once they had a diagnosis.

Enter the diagnostic fee.

Your photography session fee is similar to a technician’s diagnostic fee. They use their expertise to perform a service. The time it takes to do this has a value. It’s time they could be doing something else, like producing the work itself.

Before you can provide finished photos for your client, you have to take those photos. Time has been spent consulting and onboarding the client. You’ve designed the shoot, shown up and spent a set amount of time taking those photos. Chances are you’ve spent a few hours on the client. Whether you edit an entire gallery, or a few samples, there’s still more time before the client picks a single product to buy.

The session fee pays for that time and expertise. That’s it. The products have their own price. Whether your offer later applies the session fee to the total price of a set product package, or if it stands alone, you need to understand that you have earned the session fee long before the client gets their final products.

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Some clients may lament they get nothing for their money. Just remind them that unless you take those photographs, there won’t be any photographs to buy.

Your time and expertise to do the job have value.

Make sure your session fee is adequate for the work you’ve done.

If your session fee is low to get people in the door, hoping they’ll spend enough once you’ve presented the images, you’ve not really gained much. The unfortunate fact is that clients don’t always rush back to select their products and pay their balances. A session fee that covers the value of your time means you don’t lose anything.

So let’s try the question again.

When a potential client asks, “What does the session fee cover?” you can confidently answer “It covers the time that it takes to prepare and take professional photographs.”