My Thoughts About Pricing In Photography
I am going to state what I feel is the truth about the cost versus the value of photography and what “the industry” feels it should be. This may not be popular especially with my photographer acquaintances/friends but it’s something that I feel is something that I’ve grown to understand the way I see it. The truth is that many professionals get frustrated with newbies when it comes to pricing. It may be they feel like they are stealing clients. However, in many cases, better quality higher-ended photographers will cater to a different level of clientele. There is no doubt a saturation of photographers in many genres of photography. Wedding photography and child photography are good examples. I feel the frustration lies within the way starting photographers price themselves out. What many "pros" forget is that many of them started out the same way.
New photographers raising their prices above a level of what the quality and experience they have doesn’t work. Customers who look at their prices and then look at their work end up with a good laugh. For that much money, they can get a much better photographer and to me, that’s exactly what the pros want. Many new photographers value their work exactly they way they should. I was no different and I felt that people wouldn’t spend that much money for what I was producing. There have been photographers who told me I was way too low and I should raise my prices. Although I was spending a lot of time working on photography, I felt my work wasn’t at a decent enough quality to establish higher pricing. Inadequate pricing-to-value in any profession forces people not to choose you, period. I raised my prices when I wanted to and how I wanted to and since there is no formula to it, I made my own.
Let’s talk about “de-valuing the industry". First of all, photographers who use the phrase “the industry” are usually established professionals who have a desire to state what they think is a standard or set of standards in the photography world and make everyone else adhere to that. That’s a feeble attempt for them to make something out nothing. Pro wedding photographers are the worst at that. Now don’t get me wrong, there is a wedding industry and it’s vast. It involves billions of dollars spent a year and it’s big business. However, there are different tiers of quality and where money is spent so there is really different “industries” in any services rendered. From cake decorators, jewelers, DJs, bands, printers, and photographers, there are some of each at every price level. Most likely, if you are a beginning wedding photographer (with not much knowledge or experience), you're probably working budget weddings in Podunk, Nowhere and you’re working alongside beginner DJ’s, beginner cake decorators, etc.
Now let’s break down the term “de-value”. In my opinion, many beginning photographers have less expensive pricing on their sessions and product (unless they are giving product at no cost) in order to get their foot in the door and because they feel their work isn’t that good compared to more experienced photographers. By experienced photographers telling beginners to raise their pricing is actually overvaluing their product (notice I didn’t say time spent). I priced my work out by my experience level and quality, not by how much time I worked and equipment I’ve invested in. No one pays you to go to college, that is an education. You may get paid for an internship but you’re not paid as much as the CEO or vice president of the company. Remember, only well diggers and grave diggers start at the top.
If you do a great job, you're going to establish a reputation. You continue to work on your reputation through your work ethic and quality of product. Being a “professional” is also by the way you carry yourself and how you interact with others. It’s also how you conduct your business and how you produce. Pro in photography terms is a state of mind partially. I don’t get wrapped up in being called professional. Trust me, I have a lot of room for growth technically and personally before I really throw around that term. The most important thing to me in the end is how happy my clients are with their photos and their experience. Part of their experience with the time they spend with me is also part of what they value.
I am at a place to where I don’t need photography as my bread and butter and certainly don’t bash anyone who does. In fact, I applaud them. I do photography as a part-time job not because I have to, but because I want to. I love it. I love the feeling I get to be creative and work with clients. My needs and my costs are completely different to a full-time photographer's therefore, I can charge differently. For one, I don't have any overhead in terms of a studio. I don’t think some full-time “pros” get that either. Again in my opinion, some photographers may feel I’m undercutting them because my pricing structure is lower than theirs. I don’t do it to be aggressive, I do it because that’s what I feel my work and the experience I provide is worth. I can empathize with others that it can be frustrating that someone with a crappy kit lens and an entry level camera can “steal” customers away. Whether anyone thinks it’s fair or not, that’s the way it is, I don’t get upset at it. The best way to get clients at your pricing structure is to be better than everyone else. In fact, if you are really good, people who sometimes can hardly afford the price will still go with you because they value the quality you produce.
In closing, I’m only concerned about what I do and what I produce for my clients. The way I am going to be successful in photography is by doing great work, providing a great experience for my clients, and marketing my brand. Over the years, I have raised my price for wedding coverage. I am extremely grateful now that people seek me out because they like the work that I do regardless of the price. They value the worth. That premise will adhere to just about any aspect in life.
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