Wannabee Contemporary Portrait Photographer in Michigan

Contemporary Portrait Photographers in Michigan Mary DuPrie

I see the writing on the wall.  I need to add to my business model.  I’ve never been a portrait photographer so I’ve never used their business model.  Selling prints, books albums and who knows what else.  But that’s about to change.   I’m on a quest to investigate and put that into play.  My portrait skills have vastly improved over the last two years.  I’m not going to put my shingle out as a portrait photographer but rather will not turn away the business that asks me.

I’ve done some minor digging but need more.  I thought maybe those of you that do portraits could give those of us some insight.  For now just a bit of info about prints would be great.  It would be especially great to hear from those of you who have studios.

And you thought you were going to learn something from me on this blog!

  • What should I charge for prints?
  • How do you charge for retouching?
  • Do you sell them on your own website or host them on someone else’s?
  • Do they mail them direct to clients?  Or do you?
  • I spend quite a bit of time retouching so how does that figure in?  This is where I’m most confused.
  • Sitting fee (is this still the common terminology)?
  • Product commitment amount (I like this phrase but are there others)?

For now just hearing about the process of prints/retouching would be great.

If you would like to share we would love to listen.

Looking forward to the retouching perspective.

6 comments category: Photographing models

1 Scot Orser September 6, 2010 at 10:52 am


You’re a talented photographer, your prices should reflect that.

For a sitting don’t charge any less than $125 per hour or $125 per 1gb card.

If you’re going to sell prints, nothing less than $100 per 8×10 retouching included.
Included retouching should be reasonable, but If their face looks like the surface of the moon
you should proceed on a quote basis. In the past pro-retouchers would charge me per-minute.
Anywhere from $1 – $5 per minute. Artwork, like moving hair or changing backgrounds is more.

Have a great holiday!



2 Mary DuPrie September 6, 2010 at 11:26 am

ahh thanks Scot

I was going to contact you. Def info I was looking for.

ps. I’m going to call, btw, do you have a skype account (it’s free btw)


3 Aurora Vanderbosch September 5, 2010 at 10:24 am

Wow–you’re bringing up all the questions that plague portrait photographers everywhere! 🙂

The answers will vary, depending on who you’re talking to…but I’ll offer what info I can, here. (I’m on Skype today, if you have questions.)

1) Portrait Charging: most photographers offer several pricing models–one for family portraits (where only 1 image will be purchased, but by everyone who sits for the portrait); one for babies and children (where parents probably don’t have as much money…but you want them to come in frequently, and get new portraits, so you price lower); one for senior portraits (where you want them to buy a big honkin’ PACKAGE of prints–for many people, this, and their wedding, will be the only two times they ever engage a professional photographer…and then their everyday prices, which are used for just about everything else.

All of which means–you need to pick your potential market, if you want to save yourself headaches. You are actually a natural for the senior portrait market–and since that’s one of the most lucrative today, I’d certainly be inclined to spend a LOT of my time and effort coming up with a strong pricing model for that niche, over and above the others. (Be realistic about what you want to shoot–do you WANT to be shooting babies and kids all day? If so–great! If not, then don’t focus your efforts on that end of the spectrum. Family portraits? If I were a family, looking for a family portrait, nothing on your website would make me think you were looking for my business…and I suspect you’re not. So no need to figure out pricing for that niche. And so. Figure out who you want to sell to–and focus on them, and not everyone else. :))

It can be a good idea to have your pricing broken down into two areas–a la carte (higher prices) and packages (lower prices, with the discount deepening, the more money that’s being spent.)

A la carte prices are where you assume the person’s buying nothing BUT that print. Your cost of goods + time spent on administration, retouching, lab fees, credit card fees, taxes, insurance, etc, PLUS your markup. For me, this would make anything below an 8×10 too expensive, so only 8x10s and above are on my a la carte menu. My prices are at the low end of the middle range, in Boston, and my 8x10s start at $55. (If you want to see my price list, let me know….but although that will help you with a starting point, what you REALLY want to know is what the mid to high end portrait photographers in your area are charging–because your prices need to be in that bracket. Starting at the low end of middle is too low for you. :))

Packages are where it gets complicated, but it’s also where you start to make the most money. Because you build packages that offer a ton of prints of various sizes–of only one or two images. And if your 8×10 cost already covers your CoGs + markup, then every time you’re using that same image over again, it’s profit.

So let’s just say (I’m pulling numbers out of the air!) that it costs me $30 for that $55 (I’m going to say $50, to make this easier!) 8×10. My profit on the first one is $20. Not very impressive, if that’s all they buy.

If, however, they then purchase another 8×10, my C0Gs is lower (just my lab costs + a tiny bit of administration!), so let’s say $5…so on my second 8×10, I’ve made $45 worth of profit. And on the third, that’s another $45…

So someone buying 3 8x10s–which is the same amount of work for me as 1–makes my profit change from $20, to $110!

Which means it makes sense to encourage them to buy more of the same print from me–8x10s for themselve, the grandparents…5x7s for aunts and uncles…wallets for co-workers and friends…hence–packages.

They can look at your a la carte menu, and see that if they buy two 8x10s there–it costs them $100–which seems too expensive–they probably won’t do it…but they can get two 8x10s and 2 5x7s and 4 wallets for $150, (again, making up numbers!), and suddenly, that looks like a good deal! (And it is–for everyone! You–because your profit just went way up–and them, because they’re getting more things! :))

Then there’s tailoring your packages towards your market…ie, the babies/children; family; seniors, etc–ie, you want your seniors to buy a TON of images to hand out–heavy on the wallets–because that’s FREE MARKETING to a pre-selected group of individuals! ALL the seniors need senior portraits–so you build packages that favor each group you want to sell to.

2) Retouching: this is another answer where you’ll hear different things, depending on who you’re talking to–people in business forever, or the new generation…but the general feelings of most of the new generation is–basic retouching is free. Basic means cleaning up skin (with the proper settings in something like Portraiture, even the worst cases of acne can look nearly flawless without looking mushy–and it takes just a few seconds), color and levels adjustments, selective dodging and burning, liquifying an overly generous figure (if you want to sell, you’ve got to sell pretty!); brightening and enhancing eyes and lashes–including color–; whitening teeth slightly… In other words, cleaning up the image. Retouching should be quick–not something that takes you a lot of time. You can outsource it to your lab, if you want, or you can do it yourself.

If they want anything bigger taken care of–ie, braces removed, glasses reflection taken out, clothing colors changed, digital backgrounds, port wine stains modified–then you quote retouching prices on an individual basis.

3) Selling on your own, or someone else’s website: depends on what you want to do. I sell on my own–that is, I post my proofs, and they let me know what their choices are, from that. If they’re long distance clients, I do a web session with them, and use my studio management software (Studio Plus http://www.studioplussoftware.com/ – it’s FREE for basic use!!!), to sort through their images, and help them decide what they want. (Something like StudioPlus is useful, because not only does it track my clients–but it also allows me to upload directly from it, to my lab.)

Others will use their lab’s storefront–my lab, Millers http://www.millerslab.com/ has a storefront you can use–and you can have things directly shipped from the lab.

And then there are tons of places online where you can host your images, and send the images to your lab to be fulfilled.

Which is best? The workflow that works best for you! 🙂 (And which lab is best? The one that a) matches your calibrated workflow best; b) offers the products you want; and c) treats you best.)

4) See 3. 😉 You can have it either way–prints shipped to you, and client picks up (this is my preference, because I want to make sure my prints are perfect, before I let the client see them)–or have them drop-shipped. If you’re high volume, the odds are that drop-shipping is the way to go…or if you’ve got complete confidence in your lab. However…since there ARE times when a printer is not quite calibrated, and I HAVE sent prints back–I want to see them first, and make sure they meet my standards.

5) Your retouching should be part of your base price. If, for instance, a client wants to add an additional image to a package–I let them, but I charge them an additional $15 fee for that–which is supposed to cover my additional retouching. If you’re spending more than 5-15 minutes retouching, you’re taking too long–you need to streamline. Skype me–we can compare this part of our workflow. Remember that your portrait clients are looking for something different, than your agency clients. The retouching doesn’t have to be so high-end…and actions should be a HUGE part of the process–even if they’re just actions for simple things–like switching from one tool to another, with a different preset.

6) Sitting fees/session fees–there are several schools of thought on this–but most higher end studios charge a session fee–and make it clear that this is JUST what it costs for your time and skill. You should make sure your fee is high enough that if the client doesn’t buy a thing, you’ll still have been compensated for your studio rental, electricity, time, insurance, taxes, props, equipment, etc. It can also be a screening tool–if your session fee is low, you’ll get the bargain hunters–and usually, the people who spend the least are the clients who give you the most hassle. (I don’t know why this is–but I’ve found it to be the case in every industry I’ve worked in!!!) Higher session fees signal the caliber of your work.

Then there’s the question of whether or not you offer anything with that–me, I offer a complementary image with the fee, because my fees *are* a bit on the high side, and I’m still getting some middle of the road clients. Knowing they’re getting something for that money, makes them feel a little better. (And for me–it’s a calculated risk–I KNOW they’re going to love their proofs–and want to buy WAY more than they can afford…so getting them in the door is important to me. And I’m betting that if they get one of my prints in their hot little hands, they’ll want more. ;))

7) Product Committment – the answers you’ll get on this will vary. On the one hand, you’re prescreening people, so that you’re guaranteeing you’ll get “x” dollars for your time. On the other hand, you’re cutting yourself off from potential customers, who don’t want to be locked in to something they wouldn’t like. (I’m one of those people–I don’t want to be locked in–although I’d probably plan on spending more than the original committment, if left to myself!)

So I don’t have any upfront amount they have to spend. The way I see it is–the session fee will scare off most of the bargain hunters…those who DO come in, already have an idea of what they’re planning to spend. And I KNOW they’re going to love my work so much that they’re going to spend that much, and, most likely, more. So why signal a lack of faith in my work, by locking them into something ahead of time?

Of course, if you use a purchase committment as an offset to a lower session fee, then that’s different–you might have no session fee–but a purchase committment to cover your time. I’ve seen many photographers do that…but I feel like a saavy consumer will see right through that, and feel tricked–I’d rather charge the higher fee up front–they pay the same, but I’m honest about it. 😉 (David’s advocating that approach with “specials”–an approach that I think is a good one–since all bets are off, when it comes to specials! :))

HOWEVER–there ARE plenty of photographers who require a minimum purchase–so it’s really a question of what you want to do. 🙂

Whoops. And rereading your original post, I see you were only interested in prints/retouching right now. Er…oh well! I’m NOT deleting all this–you can save it for later! 😉 Hope some of it is useful, though! 🙂


4 Mary DuPrie September 6, 2010 at 11:38 am

ohh laa Aurora

what i can say…i’m def going to keep a high session see
that much I know


5 David Getsfrid September 5, 2010 at 3:44 am

What should I charge for prints?
I hate this question. I have to ask it to myself all the time. I feel like I should be charging the client for the session fee, and keep print costs relatively low, since the session is the actual work. Yes, photos have an intrinsic value, but for a portrait client for personal use, I want them to as affordably as possible be able to share and show off their ‘awesome new photos’ with friends, family, and coworkers, in order to build refferals. Not quite at cost low, but enough that I can make money, and they can compare the print costs to other photographers and be happy with what they’re getting.

How do you charge for retouching?
I don’t retouch past spot-healing a zit or something. I let the clients know that beforehand, emphasizing that I want them to be able to show off their true beauty. Not that much help for you there…

Do you sell them on your own website or host them on someone else’s?
I use photoshelter’s built in access to EZPrints for selling. For basic paper prints they are fantastic, though I still use bayphoto for the mounted stuff and specialty items. This enables me to set my prices and the client is still able to order their basic prints straight from the site, making for unexpected sales if a month or two down the line they decide they want a couple more 8x10s.

Do they mail them direct to clients? Or do you?
Basic paper prints go straight to the clients, mounted stuff and specialty items I do a once-over on my own before getting them to the client by the most affordable method possible.

I spend quite a bit of time retouching so how does that figure in? This is where I’m most confused.
If I were to do more retouching, I think I would set it up as sort of a set of a la carte services: Retouch This – $X
Retouch That – $Y

Sitting fee (is this still the common terminology)?
As I said above, I try to keep the session/sitting fee as the bulk of my income from a personal-use portrait job. That way they and I both feel like they’re paying me for the work I’m actually doing, not just a huge print mark-up that feels like I’m nickel and diming them.

Product commitment amount (I like this phrase but are there others)?
I don’t have one normally, but on some special promotions I do. In those cases, I don’t make it look like they’re spending money that they *have* to put towards prints. I’ll instead say something like “PORTRAIT SPECIAL $X with $Y IN FREE PRINTS”, building in that product commitment into the session fee. That way the customer’s brain thinks they’re getting something free, rather than being ‘forced’ to buy more than they’d want. Even if it’s the same price either way, the psychology of it makes it a bit more appealing.

Hope this helps, or at least gets you thinking things you might not have thought otherwise.


6 Mary DuPrie September 6, 2010 at 11:37 am

Hey David

thanks so much for responding… I’m torn on what to do. My retouching isn’t typical as I try and keep the image very crisp and sharp which is much harder to do that the soft all over glow (as in the high school senior look you often see)

so I need to get $$ for each image chosen. I’m closer to figuring it out though


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