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Photography Session Fees or Retainers? What Should You Use?

We’ll make this one short. There’s no need to draw this one on, even though it’s one of the most commonly asked questions and threads within online social media forums (Facebook groups, reddits, Discords, etc). So, what should you use when booking a photography client? Should you use photography session fees or retainers? 


Key Takeaways in the

  • Session fees work
  • Retainers work (yes, both work – which is why pricing strategies are confusing)
  • Session fees can confuse website visitors if you have both session fee and collection starting prices on your website. Don’t do that.
  • I prefer retainers. In this article, I will share why.


What Are Photography Session Fees?

In short, photography session fees are there to cover the time, talent, and raw costs of the session with the photographer.

That said, here is where my opinions on session fees are going to sound somewhat controversial to some, and downright wrong to others. And that’s okay. There are multiple paths with success with pricing strategies. If you find a photographer or photography educator who says only one path works — I’m going to disagree with that statement.


So, why do I not personally like photography session fees?

  • Your website visitor – the prospect – doesn’t care about your time, your raw costs, or your talent. They care about one thing: the result that they want. So, you describing to them how the costs go into XYZ, they still think they get nothing. Not a great place to start.
  • If you have your starting price point on your website (as you should, in my opinion), keep it with whatever the session fee + starting collection is.
  • It makes your prospect/lead do math. Don’t have them do math when they are trying to make a decision to book you. You should reduce the friction during the sale, not add friction. A confused buyer doesn’t buy.


What Are Photography Retainers?

In my opinion, retainers for photographers are much more clear. Why? Because retainers are common in many, many different industries. A photography retainer simply holds the date & time. This retainer should be non-refundable. With the retainer, this can be used as a credit towards their chosen photographs/artwork/collection (however you want to structure your pricing for sales upon gallery delivery/reveal/ordering appointment).


Why do I like retainers more than session fees?

  • Doesn’t require your prospect/lead to do math.
  • Retainers are common practices to have in many different industries, which makes your prospect/lead fully understand the retainer without the need to describe what the retainer is for.
  • Your prospect/client doesn’t feel like they get nothing when they pay the retainer at the time of booking, unlike a session fee.
  • On your website, you can say “pricing/collections start at only $____” and it’s literally that simple. The non-refundable retainer is used towards their chosen collection upon reveal/ordering appointment/gallery delivery.
  • In short, I find it to be much simpler.



FAQs About Photography Session Fees

I currently use session fees and things work fine. Do I need to change?

No, you don’t need to change anything. Don’t change what’s not broken, if it’s not broken. If you feel like it is, feel free to change it. Just test, analyze, then stick with what works best for you. Again, there are multiple paths to success, and you must find what works best for you in your unique market with your unique ideal client.


Is there a particular one that works better in small towns/big cities?

After all the photographers that I’ve helped in my mentorship program, I’ve seen very commonly that their audience converts better (and faster) with retainers compared to session fees. It reduces confusion and friction in the sales process.


What should I do for my overall photography pricing strategy?

I highly recommend you check out this article: Photography Pricing | Top 5 Things To Consider


Can you help me dial in my pricing, sales, and conversion strategy? I want things to be simpler.

Yes, that is something I can certainly help you with. That’s all within my photography mentorship program.



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I help photographers (of all types) as well as educators (course creators, consultants & coaches) make more money, work fewer hours per week, and improve their work-life balance. All without ads.

If that sounds like something you're wanting for yourself and your business, check out how I can help.  What I offer is a blend between coursework, coaching, and done-for-you services.  I have all the options you could need. And, of course, if you ever want to see which is the right path for you or if you have any questions - just reach out to me using my Contact form on my website or simply schedule a free call with me.

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