How much should photography cost? Zenfolio Answers

Every professional photographer has wondered at some point: how much should photography cost? This is a long standing question with no easy answer. But could this be yet another inconvenience that photographers could instead delegate to software? Zenfolio thinks so. The photography portfolio and booking platform recently launched a new tool called Smart Pricing. The tool uses factors such as location and genre to suggest a price for prints, products and digital downloads.

According to Zenfolio, smart pricing is based on “historical data points collected from photographers who rate their products on the Zenfolio platform.” Algorithms are not a single number. Pricing estimates change based on user location, cost of local print labs, and genre of photography. This means the software takes the prices that users have set, makes adjustments for genre and location, and suggests a price based on that data. The new tool comes shortly after the company acquired a photo selection program, Zenfolio Photorefine.

What is smart pricing?

Zenfolio also notes that:

  • Smart pricing is based on data from hundreds of thousands of data points.
  • The goal is to help photographers save time researching the local market.
  • The system suggests prices based on location, gender, and lab fees.
  • Photographers can use the suggested price or set their own.
  • It is included in Zenfolio PortfolioPlus and ProSuite subscriptions.

Average prices are a good tool, but not the settlement

Other photography platforms also suggest print prices. What’s different with Zenfolio’s new tool is that it’s based on location and genre rather than a single price list. Location can play a major role in pricing. I can be told my prices are too high one day, only to drive an hour to a major metropolitan area to be told I’m undercharged. Having access to local area data could be a big help.

But, at the same time, there are additional factors that are not taken into account. It does not take into account, for example, the actual cost of the session itself, only the impressions. Some photographers use lower session fees and higher printing costs and vice versa. Some photographers use a low cost to take the actual photos and then earn a large portion of their income by selling the prints.

Photographers also have a fairly wide range of print prices. I’ve seen photographers shoot sessions for less than I would spend on gas to get there. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon for fine art photographers to charge three figures for large prints. Would the average of these prices depreciate the industry? Or would the price figures reinforce stereotypes among different genres of photography? Could averaging prices create predatory prices?

I think the biggest risk is actually undervaluing the artwork. The price of a work of art is not the same as the price of an identical product. Art is subjective, and there is a wide range of skills and styles among photographers. Just as some paintings sell for low prices and others for millions, a print made by a photographer learning the trade will not cost as much as a print made by a nationally known photographer. This is what photographers should keep in mind when pricing. Finding the average is a good start. Are you a beginner who is below average? An average photographer? Or a one-of-a-kind artist? The answers to these questions should be combined with other factors, such as session fees, which are not part of the pricing tool.

If smart pricing is used only to inform pricing decisions, it will be a solid tool. But photographers should treat this as research, not a rulebook. I admire what Zenfolio is trying to do with Smart Pricing. This is meant to alleviate a very common frustration, especially for artists who want to spend more time making art and less time making business decisions. But I would treat these prices as suggestions and encourage photographers to consider factors that an algorithm cannot.

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