Recently, a photographer posted a question in a Facebook group that caught our attention. This was the gist: Should photographers charge travel fees? How much should I charge to drive a few hours outside my hometown for a portrait session or a wedding?
What happened next really grabbed our attention.
Within seconds (seriously, seconds) — How can people respond that fast anyways? — photographers from across America and started commenting the post with their travel fees.
My fee is forty dollars!
I charge sixty!
A hundred is my max!
I don’t charge anything.
And our personal favorite…
You don’t charge anything?! You need to respect yourself! Your clients need to value you!
It didn’t surprise us that the numbers were all over the place. We expected that. Because photographers of different skill and experience levels, at different price points, from different parts of the country, in different life stages, with different financial needs are bound to charge different travel fees for an extra two hour drive.
That’s totally normal. That’s economics.
That’s also why we don’t have a standard “recommended” travel fee when photographers ask us.
Because we think why you charge how much you charge is more important than how much you charge.
You see, we’re big believers in understanding the why behind everything we do in our businesses. Why? is always where we start. You should be able to look at any area of our own life or business, ask us why we do it that way, and we should be able to give you an answer. If we can’t, something’s wrong.
So let’s chat about why you might charge travel fees in the first place so you can decide how much to charge — if anything at all. Because, at the end of the day, like anything else in business, it’s important to do what feels most comfortable for you and makes the most sense for your life and your business, instead of just doing what “everyone else” does.
To start, let’s take a look at the reasons photographers charge travel fees in the first place:
If you’re going to drive two hours for a session that you could’ve shot down the street from your house, at the very least, it’s going to cost you gas money, a drink or meal while you’re out and at least 250 miles (round trip) of wear and tear on your car, not to mention the entrance fees at a National Park or something like that. So, you might charge a small travel fee just to cover those costs and account for those expenses. Of course, your clients can always drive you, so that’s an option if you don’t mind carpooling. Personally, we prefer to drive separately, and always do, because Amy’s able to get four hours of work done in the passenger seat that we wouldn’t be able to get done (at least as efficiently) with our clients in the car.
If you’re shooting a wedding out of state, the expenses could be even more significant. A hotel room for multiple nights, along with a rental car and food on the road can add up fast!
The longer we’re in business, (heck!) the longer we’re alive, we realize that time is our most valuable asset, because there’s just never enough of it. Here’s a blog post on how to save more time. So, if you’re going to commit to giving up an extra 4-6 hours to drive somewhere outside of our hometown for a session that you could’ve done (just as beautifully) around the corner from your house, charging for your time away from your office is worth it. Because you’re going out of your way for your client, and saying “yes” to them means you’re probably saying “no” to time with your spouse, kids, family, friends, building your business or just some much needed leisure time. Sometimes, in our business, when one client has a request, before deciding what to do, we ask ourselves this question: What if every client wanted us to do this? What if every client wanted you to travel for their portrait session? If each session costs you a few hours to shoot and 4-6 hours to drive round trip, you’d be giving up a full day for each client! That’s a LOT of time!
Again, if we’re talking about a wedding out of state (or out of the country!) it’s going to take A LOT more of your time than a wedding around the corner from your house. Typically, three days is an out-of-state traveling minimum so you can have a day to fly in, a day to shoot and a day to fly out.
Okay, now that we know why we should charge travel fees — because traveling costs us money and time — let’s look at how to decide how much to charge.
For us, it boils down to one simple question: When we think about it, how does it make us feel?
In Phoenix, Arizona (where we live), there are a few cities north and south of us where our clients sometimes want to do sessions that are each about two hours driving distance away. Before we were parents and now that we are, we didn’t decide on our travel fee based on the cost of gas or the wear and tear on the car, but simply based on what felt right for the amount of time and energy it was going to take.
We wanted to find the right balance between something that a) was reasonable for our clients to pay while still letting them know that we valued our time, and b) would make us “feel good” about doing it and not feel resentful, like we were getting a good deal and they were, too. We want to feel excited about every job, so we can ooze all that positivity and excitement onto our clients, and make their experience out of this world.
When we’re charging for destination weddings, we consider the same things. Saying “yes” to an out-of-state wedding means saying “no” to a double-header at home. We LOVE traveling and love seeing (and shooting!) new places, but we also have to be realistic about how much extra time, money and energy it takes, so that we never find ourselves feeling resentful of our own business. Instead, we want to make sure that WE are as excited as our clients.
That’s how we decide, and that’s how we recommend you decide, too, because every photographer has so many factors to consider when trying to determine whether or not to charge travel fees. You might have a brand new business and you’re looking to build your portfolio, so that might be a reason to charge less (or not at all), because you’re just so excited that your client wants to travel in the first place. You might have family or friends in a town or city a few miles away that you’ve been wanting to visit anyways. That could be a reason or motivation, too. On the other hand, you might be busy up to your eyeballs and bursting at the seams with work. That could be a reason to charge a higher fee so that when a client does want you to travel for a session, you feel like it’s worth it to drop everything and go… and while you’re with that client, you’re not thinking about #allthethings you could be doing if you weren’t with them.
On that note, in our opinion, your travel fees for the same location don’t have to be the same for every client. Wait! What? You would charge people different prices for the same thing. No, because the way we see it, no two situations are the same. No two seasons of business or life are the same. Arizona is one of the most popular winter destinations in America to visit spas and resorts, because the weather is perfect. Thus, the hotels are really expensive in the winter. In the summer, nobody wants to come here, because it’s over 100 degrees every single day. Thus, the same spas and resorts slash their prices to attract guests — and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s smart business.
The same logic applies to our business, and should apply to yours, too, which is why the “How does this make me feel?” test is so important. If you play out the whole travel scenario in your mind, decide on a travel fee that makes you feel good about it, and if your clients agree, then do it! If they don’t agree, then just suggest an alternative location for your clients. If it’s worth to them, they’ll invest in it. If it’s not, then they won’t, but the last thing you want to do is spend a day traveling somewhere, for a travel fee you’re not excited about, when your clients would’ve been just as happy around the corner from your house.
No matter why you decide to charge a travel fee and/or how much you decide to charge (if at all), from our experience, just make sure that it’s a win-win for you and your client, because if you both feel good about it, the experience is bound to be great, and you’ll both be glad you did it.
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