Hi, we're Hunter and Sarah, a husband-and-wife, luxury wedding photography team. We’re also educators, helping other photographers build profitable and sustainable photography businesses.
If you’re confused on when to charge travel fees, and how much you should be charging to travel for photoshoots and weddings, this post is for you! Today we’re answering another common pricing question: “Should I charge travel fees for my photography?”
Travel fees are one of the most common and hotly-debated questions when it comes to pricing for wedding and portrait photographers. And the TL;DR of this entire video is, YES. Photographers should be charging travel fees in MOST cases. But how we think you should price those fees is what we’re going to spend most of this post discussing. But if you aren’t convinced quite yet that you should be charging travel fees in the first place, here’s something to think about: your time is valuable. Photography is a skilled profession; it’s not something that anyone can do with just a few minutes of training. So your time is valuable! Therefore, if someone is going to take up more of your time by asking you to travel, they should also have to pay you more.
Let’s use an example to get the point across. Let’s say you charge $300 for a one-hour family session. If there’s a public park that’s a 15-minute drive from your house, then you would get paid $300 for an hour of photography and 30 minutes of shooting. So $300, divided by 1.5 hours means your hourly rate is $200/hour. But what if someone wanted to hire you for that same portrait session, but they lived an hour and a half away from you? Now, you’re spending one hour shooting and three hours in the car to make the same $300. So you’re now getting paid $100/hour, instead of $200/hour.
Now, if you worked at a grocery store and made $15/hour, and one day your boss came in and said that one of your clients wanted something special from you, so today you’d only be making $7.50/hour — half of what you should be making — you’d be furious! But if you’re a photographer who is driving hours and hours in either direction for your clients, for free, you’re doing that to yourself!
But knowing THAT you need to charge for travel is only half the battle. The harder part is knowing WHAT to charge. And speaking of knowing what to charge, we want to make sure you’re aware that next Tuesday, November 29th, 2022 we’re hosting a live workshop called “Pricing for Wedding and Portrait Photographers: How to Know What to Charge to Get BOOKED!” Tickets are for sale right now (at THIS link!). And if you’re reading this post after November 29th, 2022, then a replay of the workshop is also available for purchase at that same link.
As you probably know, charging the right price for your photography is absolutely essential if you want to run a photography business that’s both profitable AND sustainable. But figuring out what to charge for your wedding and portrait photography services can feel overwhelming. We get questions from students all the time like, “How much should I charge? Should I include travel? What if they want extra hours? What if they ask for a discount?!”
So in this two hour workshop, we’re going to break everything down so that you know exactly how much to charge for your products and services, no matter where you live or how much experience you have. And we’re also going to answer common pricing questions, just like this question about travel fees! Again, the link for our workshops is here.
Jumping back into travel fees, knowing how to price a travel fee is tricky, but the most common mistake that we see all the time (that we definitely don’t think is the right move) is to charge a hard $/mile rate. So this would look like a section on your website or your pricing guide that says, “$0.45 per mile outside of 30 miles” or something like that. But here’s why that doesn’t work very well: it gives you no flexibility.
In our video last week, we talked about venue fees, and why sometime you might want to make a venue fee higher or lower, depending on how badly you want to shoot at a specific location or with a certain couple. And travel fees can work the same way! Here’s another example. There’s this location outside of Charlottesville that is SUPER popular for photoshoots, and that EVERYONE wants to have their engagement photos or family photos taken at, especially in the fall. And because it’s so popular, but is a relatively small overlook on the side of the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s often packed with other photographers and photoshoots, and is a huge pain to shoot at. Not to mention, it’s ~45 minutes away from our house.
Because of those reasons, we ask for a $200 travel fee if one of our couples want to photograph an engagement session there. This serves two purposes at the same time: first it discourages couples from shooting there, which is good because we honestly are over this location. And if they really do want to shoot there, then we make an extra $200 for doing that work, which feels good to us!
So if we did a strict $/mile rate, the overlook is only 32 miles from our house, which works out to $6.25/mile. But here’s where the problem kicks in: that rate doesn’t fit every location we shoot at. We’re about 2 hours away from our nation’s capitol, Washington DC, where we genuinely enjoy shooting, and where many of our high-end clients live. Our current travel fee to DC is $300, but if we had followed that same $6.25/mile, the travel fee would instead be over $700 for a $1,000 portrait session! No one would ever hire us up to DC if it almost doubled the cost of their engagement session! But if we lowered our $/mile rate to make DC more affordable, then that overlook we don’t like shooting at would only have a $75 travel fee, and we’d end up shooting there way more often than we like.
Do you see the problem? A hard and fast $/mile is honestly just really limiting. And one of the beautiful things about running a photography business is that you’re your own boss and get to set your own prices. So set them in a way that makes more sense for you and your business!
That’s why, rather than a strict $/mile travel fee, Sarah and I use what we call “Intuitive Pricing”, or sometimes “No Ragrets Pricing” 😂
This basically means that we price our travel fees on a case-by-case basis, factoring in what the job is, how badly we want to shoot it, when it is and how busy we expect to be at that time, if we want to go to that location for other reasons, and even what time of year it will be when we go there. And here’s why this is helpful, especially for weddings: not all locations are created equal! Two wedding venues that are both 90 minutes away may require the same amount of time for us in the car, but if one of them is a gorgeous venue that we’ve been dying to shoot at, and the other is a place that we hate driving too, we may charge a higher fee for the venue we don’t like.
Or let’s take a more extreme example. Let’s say two different couples reach out to us about flying halfway across the country for their weddings. One wants us to fly into this tiny town in the middle of nowhere. The weather isn’t going to be nice, there’s not much to do in that town, and travel is going to be a nightmare. Meanwhile, the other client wants to fly us to a tropical destination that we’ve always wanted to go to. You better believe that we’re going to charge a higher travel fee to go to the middle of nowhere than we are to go to tropical paradise!
Why? Because just like with that engagement session location we don’t really like, we charge more so that if we DO book the job, we at least get paid more to make up for the fact that we’re traveling just to work, and we need to cover all of our expenses. But with the other job, maybe we’re okay if we don’t 100% cover our expenses, if we know we’ll really enjoy the trip more while we’re there. But if we charged the same low travel fee for both trips and the first couple booked us, we’d definitely have a few regrets.
This is actually exactly what we did with the wedding we photographed in Puerto Rico last month! We photographed this couple’s engagement session, and they totally fell in love with our work and how we interacted with them from behind the camera. So when the time came to discuss their wedding, and they told us they were getting married in Puerto Rico, we only charged them about $500 extra beyond our typical wedding coverage.
If we had stuck with our $6.25/mile rate, we would’ve had to charge a $9,000 travel fee on a $6,000 wedding package, so of course we wouldn’t have booked that wedding! And in fact, we knew that our expenses for flights and hotel and food would probably be $2,000 – $3,000. But we also knew that we were already near the top of their photography budget, and we also knew that we’d turn that 3-day wedding weekend into a weeklong trip in Puerto Rico, and STILL make a few thousand dollars while we were at it! No regrets there!
The one lingering emotion our students usually have is guilt. “what if my clients get upset when I ask for a travel fee?” or “what if they want a location that’s really special to them and can’t afford my travel fee?” or even “what if they refuse to book me if I charge a travel fee?” These are a couple of questions we get and we will go more in depth during our Pricing Workshop (HERE). But the first thing we want to point out is that if you don’t value your own time, no one else will. If you traveling three hours to your clients costs the same as them driving to you, of course the client is going to pick the location that saves them from driving those three hours in a car!
And if you’re concerned that the client won’t get that special location or what they want – don’t be! We all want to celebrate our clients and make them feel special. But if you work at an unsustainable pace and without compensation, your dream job will quickly become a nightmare and you won’t have the stamina to serve more couples in the long run. So long as you have locations that are free in addition to the locations that have associated fees, I doubt any of your clients will complain too much. We’ve been charging travel fees for years to some locations and have never gotten any pushback.
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