The Importance Of Having A Separate “Creation Fee” For Your Portrait Photography Business

money.shake.handsI’ve received several questions recently about Creation Fees (the fee you charge for the CREATION of the images, and it does NOT go toward the finished photographs.  It is prepaid to reserve the session time with that client.)  There are a lot of opinions out there about this, and a lot of confusion among photographers.

So let’s tackle that question here – this is a question I received from one photographer recently that sums up what a lot of photographers are wondering about:

QUESTION:  I am updating my pricing policies and was wondering if I could get your input…. I have set up a number of packages and in the past I have included a “hidden” creation fee in the packages… What I was wondering is, should I continue to do that for the packages. If the clients do not want a package, a creation fee will be applied…  I was thinking that maybe this would push people towards buying the packages.

ANSWER:  No.  You see, there’s more to it than first meets the eye.  Everything we do is based on human psychology.

If you want your portrait photography business to be profitable, it’s VERY important that your clients understand, right from the beginning, that your TIME & TALENT are valuable.  That’s why you want a SEPARATE Creation Fee that does not go towards the photographs.    It’s a separate fee which covers your time, planning, and creation of the images.  Plus it’s prepaid prior to the day of the photography to reserve their time with you. (This almost completely eliminates “no-shows!”)   Your potential clients know about this – you’re very open about it – never “hide” your creation fee.   Remember that, the major reasons to do this is to present yourself as a valuable ARTIST, and to get them to COMMIT to showing up.   The creation fee, paid upfront, will do both of these things for you.

What this does is help QUALIFY your prospects.

If they are not willing to pay you for your time and talent, then they will not be likely to invest a substantial amount in your images in the projection room either.   We want to get this out of the way in the beginning – we want to weed out the potential clients that may not be the right fit for us, and for whom we may not be the right fit for.

A lot of photographers fear doing this.  They fear that they will lose too many clients.

What I have found, and so many other photographers have found, is that you end up not only bringing in even more clients because of this, but they are MORE qualified to work with you, they listen to what you say and do what you say during the session better, and they invest more during the sale of the images.   This does, however, hing on your marketing and sales abilities being very strong, so that you’re attracting the people with more discretionary dollars, and people who value what you do, and are willing to invest decent money for it.

So, in my humble opinion, it’s VERY important to have a totally separate Creation Fee, not hidden in your packages, and DEFINITELY prepaid in advance of the session.

Hope this helps,

Charles Lewis

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28 Responses to The Importance Of Having A Separate “Creation Fee” For Your Portrait Photography Business

  1. Todd Lewis
    December 10, 2013 at 11:31 am

    A great point, dad! Couldn’t agree more!

  2. December 11, 2013 at 9:13 am

    YES! I have gone back and forth over this very issue and you are stating exactly what I have recently struggled with and have had frustration over. ” Clients do not value what you do when they have nothing invested”!

    • December 13, 2013 at 10:17 am

      Louis, that is one of the little known “secrets” which most photographers don’t realize. So true, so true!

  3. December 11, 2013 at 9:32 am

    I’ve had a $200 session fee since I began doing portraits. No one questions it, and rarely do I get asked whether it applies to finished portraits. It’s easy to explain and a routine part of doing business.

    Lately, as I’ve increased my studio work (in contrast to location portraits) I’ve begun offering a $149 session fee in the studio since I don’t have the extra time and hassle of packing and hauling lights.

    • December 13, 2013 at 10:21 am

      Hi Mark, I would encourage you to NOT make that studio session a lower fee – charge the SAME Creation Fee for everyone – which means you do not charge ANY extra for location photography, which dramatically increases the location sessions, and we know from testing that the sessions created at a location that is emotionally meaningful to the client has double the average sale as one created in or at the studio. Plus, your examples of your work look very intersting, as they are created at different locations all the time!

  4. Nathan Jones
    December 11, 2013 at 9:43 am

    Charles, I just want to say that I have been following you for a couple years now and it has been a wonderful experience. I enjoy all of your knowledge and tips. Keep up the great work. I wish you had a live seminar because I would definitely attend.

    Thank you

  5. December 11, 2013 at 10:12 am

    Yes we have been charging a “Non-Refundable Session Fee”. However, I like your “Creation Fee” terminology better. Time to make change on marketing/pricing material anyway. We starting charging this way early this year with a Al-a-Carte pricing after that (no packages) with a small gain in revenue. We are moving this one step further by using a 6 step process we were introduced to by Blair Phillips. But YES charge this Creation Fee up front and in plain view(no hidden fees – can anyone say airline baggage fees, resort fees?).

    • December 12, 2013 at 11:27 am

      Right on Lee! Right on! Excellent!

  6. December 11, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Since our portrait division is only a little over a year old we are getting many of our clients through gift cards donated to charity organizations. We have found that even though these clients are not actually paying us a creation fee (as it has been covered by their gift card) they have a very high perceived value in our work because we do charge a pre-paid creation fee. And even though we are not collecting this money at all, just having it in our pricing as pre-paid encourages much higher sales averages because of this perceived value.

    • December 12, 2013 at 11:25 am

      Hi Kate! Right on! I totally agree with you – it’s all about the perceived value of what you do, and how you speak, act and run the business! Thanks!

  7. December 11, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Great point Charles!

    I’ve recently had a situations where clients who have indicated that they’re going to make a fairly substantial investment in my photography but are bargaining for a good deal.

    Since they were travelling a fair distance and intending to invest in my top 20% sales region, I’ve wavered my creation fee. This feels like a win win situation and those clients have all responded well to this.

    Is this a good strategy for cementing an assignment or should we try and hold out for our full fees?

    • December 12, 2013 at 11:24 am

      Hello Pat! Wonderful question! I would not recommend you do that. Waving the Creation Fee is not a good idea, in my opinion. You are worth it. Stick with it. Don’t let people negotiate with you and get you to lower anything. It has been my experience that people who “imply” they will be investing in something substantial, but then try to get you to lower your fees, usually end up not doing what they implied they were going to do – and you end up having wasted your time working with them, when it could have been much more productive to have put that time into the marketing & selling skills that you & I must constantly be improving. Hope this helps.

  8. December 11, 2013 at 11:00 am

    I have been charging a separate Creation Fee (called exactly that) for 6+ years because of an email communication from you. It has had the effect of drawing those clients to me who value what I do because I value what I do.
    As you know, after 40+ years as a professional photographer, the majority of my work is now the old time portraits and weddings. On the occasion that a client should only purchase one or two images, by charging the separate Creation Fee, I am still compensated for my creative time and energies.
    Thank you for this “hot photo pricing tip” and the all the other wisdom’s you have shared thru the years.

    • December 12, 2013 at 11:19 am

      Hi Suzanne! Great to hear from you, and thanks so much for your very kind words. I appreciate them very much. And you hit the “nail right on the head” – it’s all about finding, attracting & working with people who VALUE what we do! Thanks!

  9. Crystal
    December 11, 2013 at 11:45 am

    so if they’ve already paid for your time, talent, and creation of the images. Why should they then pay $50-$100 or more for an 8×10 that only costs $2.00 to print?

    • December 12, 2013 at 11:17 am

      Oh, Crystal, I’m SO GLAD you asked me that question! There are TWO different fees involved. One is the time & talent to plan & create the wonderful images that are going to bring tears to their eyes. The other is for whatever they decide to do with the images. And, just to be clear, the 8×10 costs you a whole bunch more than $2. For sure. You must realize that it took you years and years to learn how to create those beautiful images, how to work with your subjects, and tons of photography equipment, plus the overhead of where your photo biz is located, etc. etc. – so the images they invest in have a VERY high value. If we don’t realize that ourselves as the creators of the images, we will not be able to consistently collect substantial fees for the actual images. Hope this helps. Thanks!

  10. Donovan
    December 11, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    Please stress, it is not what you say, but how you say it. Timing in price presentation is very important. I know you have it down to a science, can you explain in detail how you do it?
    I can tell you that my attorney knows how to present thier up front fees,and they are proud of it!

    • December 12, 2013 at 11:04 am

      Hi Donovan! Yes, the timing, tone of voice, eye contact, body language, and the actual wording are all very important in how you present your fees to your prospects & clients. We have a “Volunteer Statement” which is memorized word for word by each of our staff. We have one for the telephone, and one for when we meet with prospects in person. (We do NOT discuss our fees in emails – we have a totally different “System” we use for that, so they pick up the phone & call us immediately!) For example, our “Volunteer Statement” for the telephone goes exactly like this: “Before we go any further, let me give you an indication of what you plan on investing, is that okay? (wait for them to say “yes” – they always do.) Most people in your situation can plan on investing between $XXX and $YYY and get a larger one for them selves, and a few smaller ones as gifts. Does that fit within your budget?” This “Volunteer Statement is the result of many, many years of careful testing to get the wording exactly the best. This is extremely effective. Hope this helps, all the best, Chuck

  11. December 11, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Totally agree with your views on this. I have always charged a shooting fee regardless of what the shoot is. The amount I charge also depends on items like distance to shoot,over night stay etc. If you don’t value yourself, how do you expect your clients to value you.

    • December 12, 2013 at 10:55 am

      Hello Don! Right on. It’s so important, isn’t it? Also, I encourage you to not use the word “shoot” – that is not a good word – it lacks a feeling of value. Instead, use the word, “session” – and for the fee, call it a “creation fee.” How you refer to what you do is a HUGE determinant in how others perceive your value. All the best to you!

  12. December 11, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Totally agree. Anything you can do to avoid no shows and demonstrate your value and worth is always a good thing. I also call to confirm before all appointments because I’ve even had people text to postpone because they were shopping…

    • December 12, 2013 at 10:52 am

      Hi Dan! You are exactly right – it’s all about demonstrating value/worth and running your business successfully rather than having the business run us! Thanks!

  13. December 11, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    I fully agree. Once I began to have sessions “pre-paid” a while ago, it pretty much proved to eliminate the cancellations, and, the “no-show/no-calls”, or the “I need to re-schedule” (never hearing back again). People are more committed if they have “skin in the game”! This applies to all my wedding work as well. Although we require a “Retainer” to reserve the date, we require FULL payment 2 weeks prior to the wedding date.

    • December 12, 2013 at 10:50 am

      Hi Rob! You are absolutely correct – I totally agree. Most photographers, bless our hearts, went into photography because of our love for photography, and tend to really dislike the business end of it – and as a result, they fail terribly. This is the “stuff” that makes a business work well & grow & prosper while others are complaining & dropping like flies! Thanks!

  14. December 11, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    I agree Chuck, you know the old saying “something for nothing is worth just that”

    • December 12, 2013 at 10:47 am

      Right on, Jennifer! It’s all about “educating” prospects about the true value of your time and talent! And having a pre-paid Creation Fee instantly does that!

  15. December 12, 2013 at 11:11 am

    Wholeheartedly agree! I started requiring pre-payment to reserve the session date and time because I found that too many times people treated sessions as expendable, and didn’t realize that by reserving a time for them, I was declining work from others for that same date/time. As a legitimate business owner, I can’t have cancellations at the last minute – I need to pay my bills same as the next working man/woman. An appointment is a solid investment in a session and I had to step up my game and go after the clients *I* want! :)

    • December 13, 2013 at 10:25 am

      Absolutely Jill! Beautifully said, and totally right on!

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