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Pure Actions for Photographers

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Thoughts on Pricing Yourself

Thoughts on Pricing Yourself

We've all seen it.  The price wars that rage for photography.  Session prices drop and drop, until pretty soon we all wonder if photographers will be paying their clients to take pictures for them soon.

But it is hard to be new!

How do you get your name out there, without trying to compete to be the lowest price around?

That is a conundrum, but here are some reasons that leading on price alone is not the way to a sustainable business.

I have seen the price of $50 floating around for sessions a lot lately.  This is historically VERY low.  It might not be the $5 sessions that Walmart and the like offered in times past, but those studios (even with the backing of huge megastores using them as a loss-leader) are out of business.  

Why is $50 not a workable price for photography?  I mean, that seems like a decent wage for an hour of shooting, right?  Sure!

Oh, but wait.  Usually there is all of the time to set up a session with clients.  Emails back and forth, schedules to coordinate, locations to select, timing to reconfirm.  Ok, so add on an hour or so, right?  And then the drive to the session.  Greeting clients, shooting, small talk, driving home, downloading cards, uploading to editing software, editing, communicating the fact the session is finished to the client, and delivering the session.  (This assumes there is no physical product involved, but ordering and delivering and paying for product would also fit here.)  Hmmm, so, maybe that $50 an hour is more like $50 for 4 hours or so, if you're pretty fast and the location was close.  That's getting pretty close to minimum wage here.

And then...waiiiiit.  That's not all folks.

What about your camera?  Not just the fact you had to buy one, but really the wear and tear on it from that session?  All the more clicks closer to the end of the shutter life.  Wear and tear on your car.  Baby sitters?  Gas?  Yep and yep.  These apply to JUST this session.  And of COURSE, if you are collecting money you have paid your taxes right?

Those are the variable costs that happen per session.  But there are also fixed costs that need to be spread out over multiple sessions too.  Cameras, lenses, and miscellaneous gear.  Computer for editing, programs for editing, and backup systems for editing.  INSURANCE.  (This should NOT be negotiable if you are shooting for payment.  A lawsuit could ruin you financially.)  A calibration system for your computer.  Any advertising or marketing.  Props, if you use them.  

There can even be things like studios and furniture, etc., but we're not counting those.

So, what we can see is that from $50 for a session, you're in the hole.  You really HAVE paid to shoot your client.  If you're starting out and just learning, it might not seem like such a bad thing though, right?  Invest a little to learn?  The issue we found is that when we did sales when we first started to get clients was that they felt they were paying me and *I* felt like I was paying to shoot them.  Both of us felt entitled to more than the other did.  The $50 client wanted to be treated as a client.  So every little change or tweak felt onerous.  A

And here's the big issue.  The more clients see photographers advertising for a $50 photography session over and over, the more they become convinced that photography is regularly priced at $50.  If they see someone charging even $75, they will feel like that is an expensive session.  Someone charging a more liveable wage will be outrageous.  Now, as photographers are starting out, they might think, "Eh, my competition will have to deal with it.  I am just a beginner."  But it does affect everyone.  It changes the market perception.  As you grow and learn and progress and get better gear, have insurance, etc., you will find that while you still love photography, you can't pay the bills on love alone.  You will find that having to leave your family over and over (and have to pay to do it!) will become a chore.  What you once loved will become something that you dread.  It is a sad cycle.

Now, I am not proposing that you charge a full fare, taking into account every expense you have and giving yourself a cushiony wage from the get-go.  Because, afterall, we DO all start somewhere.  We do all have to learn the ropes.  Crystal and I did most of our learning on family and friends for free.  They were people we were not going to be charging anyway.  But when we were ready to start charging, we let people know that we were having a limited time discount for our charter customers.  When we presented the bill, the top charge, in bold, was the amount that we were planning to charge.  Then below that was the discount their session was receiving, because they were a charter customer.  And then the final total they were paying.  We wanted our customers to know that they were getting something of great value.  Our customers that we did this with always afforded us much greater respect.  We still usually do this when we send out model calls for when we are trying new products or ideas.  When people know the value of something, they are much more respectful.  People don't respect cheap and free nearly as much.  

It also helped our clients to understand that when the wanted images from us next year (and many did), they needed to anticipate a higher price tag.  It also helped us feel like we were not devaluing our colleagues.  One thing that we have found is that the photography industry is small.  It feels huge, but the more we can help each other and respect each other, even with little things like not devaluing each other, the stronger our industry can be.  Right now there is so much infighting and cattiness and the industry is suffering.  Hopefully, the more we can try to see the other side, the more respect we can give to each other and the more respect we will be able to get from clients.

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