Dear cheap-but-good photographer: you are ruining my life and this industry

The title to this post may seem a bit melodramatic, but it speaks to the intense frustration I feel when thinking about the issues I write about in this post.

Photographers who know me, who attended one of my workshops or mentored with me back when I used to teach, who received advice/input/help/a listening ear from me, and/or read my blog posts over the years since I started helping photographers in 2007 know me to be honest but supportive and helpful. Although I no longer teach or offer any products for photographers, from time-to-time I step out of my business to speak to my colleagues. This is one of those times.

Brace yourselves for a change from me: this post is not designed to be supportive or feel-goody.

This post is designed to get people to think………

This post was written for any photographer who has gotten push-back from clients on pricing, for photographers who are trying to figure out what to charge, and for photographers who can’t figure out why they can’t seem to make a living at this business. Which is most of you.

I’m not holding back here. I am going to speak from the heart, and IMHO, it’s long overdue. It’s time I defend my career, my industry, and my #1 passion from those who are attempting to destroy it. I have invested nearly 12 years into my business, and I am not ready to see it ended by other photographer’s actions.

Ok, let’s begin.

All professional photographers who are successful in business (successful = making a modest full time living), know that you don’t make profit off of session fees. You make the profit needed to run your business and keep you alive by selling products.

I’m not going to get into the details of photography finances, outlined in studies like the PPA benchmark study, which EVERY ‘professional photographer’ should already know about because they know the basics of profit and loss, costs-of-goods-sold, their hourly rate, sales targets per client, monthly overhead, etc. (Note- PPA members can access the full Benchmark survey results here, once logged in). But here are some basic figures from the PPA study:

Worst performers
Home Based = 25% profit margin
Studio Based = 19.3% profit margin

Best Performers
Home Based = 40.7% profit margin
Studio Based = 37% profit margin

In a nutshell, according to extensive research done on the subject of small photography studios and revenue, if the average photographer wants to NET approximately $30,000, they need to GROSS over $100,000 annually, or $8,335 monthly. (i.e. net = 30% of gross sales in this example).

Provided a photographer can’t feasibly do a good job on more than 3 or 4 photo sessions per week, and realistically is probably only going to do between 8-10 sessions per month, accounting for slow periods, time off, etc, Each client needs to produce a MINIMUM of $835 in total sales. Let’s say a $235 session fee + $600 in products. Ideally each client will produce a minimum $1,000 in total sales, so a $250 session fee + $750 in products, which is a healthy and realistic goal.

If each and every client purchased $750 in products and paid a $250 session fee (total $1,000 sale), the photographer would be making a $30,000 per year take-home income working full time.

READ THAT AGAIN.

And since we are being honest here, the hourly work required to provide this level of service at this volume would be around 60-80 hours per week, accounting for all work needed to run the business. So: 60-80 hours per week for $30,000 per year take-home income.

The photographer is making $10.41 per hour worked on business. Every week, every month, every year, until their product sales increase/improve. Nice, huh?

Remember earlier when I said ‘modest living’. I was exaggerating when I used the word ‘modest’. $10.41 per hour isn’t what I call a ‘modest’ living, but the photographers this post is aimed at are the ones that really need this pricing exercise to truly get it. How much are you making per hour take-home with your photography business?

How much do you think the ‘cheap-but-good’ photographers are making? A few dollars per hour? Or nothing after expenses???? <—- most likely this. IF they are filing a schedule C form, (which is doubtful), I’m guessing they are reporting a negative number on the final line.

I read this on a new photographer’s website recently on their FAQ page:

“Do you charge for prints?” Absolutely not. I think photographers who make you pay for prints are simply trying to get more money out of you.”

Gahhhh… I wanted to tear my hair out and stick a fork in my eye when I read that!

Why? Because this photographer has a great looking, custom website filled with professional writing, and high quality, expressive professional images. By all appearances to a potential client- this person is a ‘professional photographer’, with lots of experience.

But here’s the rub:

……this individual charges $175 for a 2-hour on location photo session that includes a DVD of high-res professionally-retouched files!

Here’s the full package this individual is offering:

  • 2-3 hours of session time.
  • unlimited photos
  • multiple pets
  • full session of printable high res image files on DVD
  • ten (10) fully retouched printable image files of client’s choice
  • includes 20 miles of travel each way to client’s house

Price to client: $175

Here’s what’s happening:

THIS PHOTOGRAPHER IS EDUCATING ALL POTENTIAL PHOTOGRAPHY CLIENTS THAT A CUSTOM, ON-LOCATION PHOTO SESSION PLUS BEAUTIFUL HIGH-RES ***RETOUCHED*** PRINTABLE FILES FROM HER ISN’T WORTH ANY MORE THAN $175.

ADDITIONALLY: A CLIENT SHOULDN’T EXPECT TO PAY MORE THAN $175 TO ANY PHOTOGRAPHER DOING COMPARABLE WORK.

….and they won’t…. because the photographer is great. Why pay more??

^^^^^^THIS is the crux of the issue in the industry, and what I have a major problem with. I’ll return to this in a moment.

Along with this photographer teaching clients that a photographer’s time is worth almost nothing (i.e. a few dollars an hour take-home, IF THAT), this photographer is also educating all potential photography clients that it’s not ok for a photographer to charge for printed products (i.e. how we keep ourselves alive). How incredibly selfish of me to want to pay rent and eat and buy food for my dog!!!!!! What am I thinking???

I know what you’re thinking, and here’s the problem folks:

We seem to have this mistaken belief that the cheapo photographers are actually creating pretty shitty images. Guess what- more often than notthey are GOOD. Sometimes- really good. Let that sink in for a minute…..

The photographer I mentioned above? Does really good work! And is good both with photography, *and* retouching. This individual has a retouching blog post that clearly demonstrates skill with the latest versions of Photoshop CC and Lightroom 5. This has become extremely common among the cheap photographers out there. In many cases, their work, brand, website, web copy, and process are very similar to that of a much more experienced professional photographer. They are attempting to compete in every way except price- which is where they are drastically undercutting the competition.

Why would a potential client pay your $250 session fee + purchase $750 in printed products if they can just get the (retouched) DVD of (really *great*) images from the photographer down the street who is producing comparable images and has a similarly-professional looking business? Can you blame them? Of course not! Unless your style is so fabulous, so unique, so amazing, that they can’t help but work with you- most of them wont.

Do you wonder why you have gotten push-back from potential clients about your pricing? It’s because of what I just outlined above. Other photographers are making it extremely hard for you to make a profit from your services and products. This is a fact.

In 2013- the last full year I was serving clients in Seattle before taking off on my road trip around the country- I received a record number of requests from potential clients for a DVD of image files with my $350 session fee. I’ve seen the industry change in very concerning ways the past 5-7 years. I’ve tried to ignore it for a very long time, but just couldn’t anymore. Before writing this post, I spent hours and hours (and one sleepless night), reading forum posts about industry changes, the commoditization of images, concerns about ‘shoot-&-burners’, etc, and I have this belief: Photographers who don’t think this issue affects their business or the industry in any way have blinders on. (I originally wanted to use the word ‘deluded’ here, but I decided to be kind). OR, they are just lucky enough that this trickle-down affect hasn’t hit them yet (they have no competition in their market, they have a long-established, repeat customer base that comes back for one thing, etc).

  • YES it’s true that some photographers who adapt to these changes will find solutions to them.
  • YES great, unique, innovative photographers will continue to thrive.
  • YES the shoot-&-burners who aren’t profitable WILL fail within a year or two unless they make drastic changes. (I see these photographers fail usually in 1-3 years; rarely more than 3 years. Between years 2 and 3 seems to be the ‘magic failing point’).
  • YES there will always be a market for clients who want high-end products,, and *aren’t* looking for a shoot-&-burner but a true photographic artist instead.

But that market of clients is shrinking dramatically, and the competition is growing quickly and fiercely- with most of the new competition falling into the ‘cheap but good’ category, which produces serious concerns about whether or not ‘professional photographer’ is a viable long-term career for all but a teensy tiny percentage of those making a go at it.

The insanity of it all?

It’s photographers themselves who are destroying the industry!!

It’s NOT client expectations. Where do you think those expectations came from?? The client’s expectations came from other photographers. The damage has already been done. I’m even beginning to wonder if this industry isn’t FUBAR’d.

The excuses I hear from photographers who invest time and money into websites, branding, gear, education, actions, Lightroom, etc, and produce great images, but don’t charge profitable rates include the following:

  • “But I am scared to charge more…”
  • “I feel bad charging my clients for something I love doing…..”
  • “I’m insecure about my work so I have a hard time charging for it”

If this is you- then you don’t care about owning a profitable business and upholding the industry that SO MANY photographers who came before you worked their asses off to build- you care more about pandering to your own feelings. Sound harsh? It’s true. Why would you start a business if you ignore the basic principles that a small business is built on?? (‘Profit-and-loss’ being just one principle that comes to mind.)

I have some cold, hard advice for you if you can’t/won’t/are too scared to charge for profit:

If your fears of charging a living wage override smart business decisions, and you allow your feelings to get in the way of actually running a business, then you have no business being in business- period.

Don’t run a business if you can’t do these four things:

  1. Be proud of and stand behind your photography and expect and demand revenue that supports you.
  2. Feel you deserve to be paid more than minimum wage to provide your art, and a custom service, to paying clients.
  3. Have the balls to discuss pricing with potential clients. (You’ll need A LOT bigger balls for A LOT more things in business- pricing is just a little part. Wait until you have your first justifiably angry/disappointed client. You’ll need way bigger balls then, I promise you).
  4. Charge rates that uphold, respect and support this industry.

So what are rates that uphold, respect and support this industry and don’t devalue and commoditize custom visual art?

Before I answer that question, I am going to say this:

If you have read any basic business book, taken a class on small business, and/or understand basic principles of small business (which was the FIRST thing you did before starting your business– right?), you should be able to answer this question all on your own, regardless of where you are at in your process.

You should already know how much you need to charge, because your pricing is not based on the competition or industry, it’s based on your own business expenses, your personal expenses, your service you are providing, your products you are providing, your COGS, your overhead, your taxes, etc. etc. Those things have nothing to do with anyone else.

Here is an example of what is not a profitable business for anyone, regardless of what your monthly expenses, costs-of-goods-sold or initial investment are.

  • Session fee: $125-$175
  • 90-minute or 2-hour on-location photo session for multiple subjects
  • Includes a DVD of processed high-res printable digital files, sometimes even fully retouched in Photoshop

OR:

$150 session fee. DVD available for $100/$150/$200. Session + all high-res files for < $350

It’s so clear to me that photographers who do this don’t know the first thing about business or profit-and-loss, OR, for whatever reason they are trying to run a non-profit business working for regular clients. OR, they just really love running an extremely high-volume business that requires a tremendous output of energy and is taxing on both mental and physical health and enjoy heading quickly down the road of burnout.

Let’s break this down. I suspect at this point many people reading this still believe you can generate profit with the prices I listed above.

For a photographer to make $30,000 per year net, when charging $175 for a session fee that includes printable image files, and intentionally does not offer wall art or any other printed products, this is what their life would look like:

The cheap-but-good photographer would need to do:

  • 571.43 on-location photo sessions per year
  • 47.6 on-location photo sessions per month, every month of the year, with no time off.
  • 12 photo sessions per week, every week of the year, including the holidays
  • 2.4 photo sessions PER DAY, provided they only do sessions 5 days per week.
  • 2.4 x 2 hours = 5 hours PER DAY of just photo sessions alone.

Add in travel time + post processing time on these sessions and you’ve got between 7-8 hours per day on just photography, post-processing and travel time. This doesn’t include marketing, emails, phone calls, website maintenance, errands, DVD fulfillment, etc, etc, etc (etc). Realistically it ends up being more like 12-14 hours of work per day. Don’t even get me started on what that would look like if the photographer worked an unrelated full time job. Let’s say they only needed to generate half that $30k revenue, so they’d need an additional $15,000 per year. They’d be working 7 hours per day IN ADDITION to their 8-hour day day job. Total: 75 hours per week.

Excuses I can already hear in people’s heads:

“But I only do this part time and don’t really need the revenue because it’s just in addition to my and my spouse’s income. It’s just extra cash in the bank.”

THEN FOR CRYING OUT LOUD- CHARGE MORE THAN I DO!!!

I actually NEED my revenue. I don’t have a spouse, I don’t have another paycheck. I can’t afford to go months without a client booking. YOU CAN. Charge more than other photographers if you don’t need the money. Don’t charge less and undercut them. Please.

“But my work isn’t very good…”

Says who?? Where have you gotten that feedback?? Is that just in your head, or have your photographer peers also told you it needs a lot of work? When was the last time you had your portfolio critiqued?

Here’s the irony. Usually the photographers who think they are great- AREN’T. The ones who *don’t* think they are very good- ARE.

If you don’t know if you do good work or not, post your images to one of the Flickr critique groups, and get honest feedback from people.

If it’s true that your work isn’t very professional (professional= free from technical issues like blown highlights, clipped shadows, over/underexposure, lack of focus, AND, images are expressive, engaging, creative, good composition, interesting negative space + sharp), then you need to be doing more complimentary portfolio-building sessions and work on improving your skills before you try and sell them as a professional service. Don’t half-ass it and do ‘somewhere in between pricing’ because your images ‘just aren’t good enough to charge much for yet’. Wait to start a business and charge for your services until your images ARE worth paying a living wage for. Photography is the only industry where I see people daily trying to sell a ‘professional’ service for money without having very much real-life experience doing it.

When clients pay for professional photography services, they expect professional results, as they should. Wouldn’t you rather start your business commanding $250-$300 for a session fee than $100 + DVD and be nothing more than a glorified non-tax-exempt non-profit? Sure you would! Set yourself up right so you can charge profitable rates- *when you start your business*. If you don’t think your work justifies that yet, then you need more practice to refine your skills first, before taking on clients.

“But we all have to start somewhere.”

This is true. But EVERY professional photographer can provide professional products for their clients. There is no excuse for not signing up with WHCC or other lab, since, if you are a professional photographer, WHCC will take you on as a photographer client, AND, if you aren’t able to package and ship, you can purchase drop-shipping in nice boutique packaging. Don’t commoditize your images by giving them away. Take pride in providing archival products for your clients. Don’t you care about your images enough to do that? Don’t your clients deserve products that have more than a shitty 2-7 year print permanence rating they’ll get from consumer prints and products from your home printer, Walgreens or Costco? Why would you want them to hang prints on their walls that will start fading and discoloring in just a few years, as opposed to providing them professional archival printed products that will look fantastic for the rest of their lives?

Alternatively, if for some bizarre reason you just don’t care about seeing your images you worked hard on printed on beautiful archival wall art, then charge a living wage for a session + digital files, which would be more along the lines of $500 for a short photo shoot or $750-$850 for a standard length shoot, with retouching on select files extra (or include a few retouched files). Don’t think your work is professional/good enough to justify these rates? See above…

“But without all of the cheapo photographers, I wouldn’t have anyone to refer the cheapo clients to that I don’t want to work with.”

Well, yes, there’s that. I do have a list of ‘cheapo’ photographers in the Seattle area that I refer the PITA clients to who want a bargain, have unreasonable demands, and think any price is too high. I find that list very helpful at times in avoiding clients who would otherwise make my life hell. Note to the ‘cheap-but-good’ photographers: most of us long-timers have these ‘referral lists’. Why do you think that so many of the clients who contact you end up making you miserable with their unreasonable demands and lack of respect? Hint: they’ve been referred to you by photographers who do understand profitable rates!

“But my potential clients balk at my pricing all the time. I CAN’T raise it because they complain.”

Why on earth are you allowing other people to dictate your business decisions? Who is running your business? Who is staying up late at night editing images? Who stresses out about equipment repairs and upgrades? Who invests the time and money into providing this service? YOU! It’s *your* business. Never allow a client to tell you how to set your prices or your policies. You’re not a bargainer at a flea market. You are a VISUAL ARTIST who is providing a custom, labor-intensive service and products. Pricing decisions are YOURS to make. Here’s a secret tip: when you undercharge for your products and services, you end up with *a lot* more clients who balk at your prices.

Since this post is now quite long, and I could go on about this forever, I’ll start to wrap this up.

If this post has freaked you out to the point where you second-guess starting/continuing a business, I recommend you return to doing photography as a hobby. The reason? If you are going to find any measure of success as a photographer, you will have A LOT more to throw you off course than a ranting blog post by a frustrated photographer. If this is all it takes to get you to reconsider, then I think the road of a photography business would be filled with too many frustrations, disappointments and stress to continue happily.

I want to say this:

There is absolutely no shame in doing something for the love and passion alone.

The definition of the word ‘amateur’ is simply ‘to love’. Do what you love. There doesn’t have to be anything more to it. Better yet- do what you love for those who deserve it the very most- foster children (if you are a portrait photographer), adoptable animals (if you are a pet photographer), wedding photos for members of your church group, etc. (you get the idea). Don’t spend money on a website (please don’t pass yourself off as a professional if all of your services are free), don’t invest in marketing, or events, or advertising, or fancy products. Just get your business through word-of-mouth, and do it for fun for people you know, and give them the digital files. Share your gift philanthropically, not because your bottom line is your top priority.

I suspect that many photographers who don’t charge a living wage for their services started businesses at the prompting of friends and family, and because they thought that being a professional photographer would be ‘fun’, forgetting that they are first and foremost- a small business owner, and that if they could do their photography for pure joy, and do away with all of the stressful business, marketing and pricing stuff- 80% of the business-, that would be their preference. If this is you- go for it.

If, on the other hand, you genuinely want to make money for your services and products, and you truly want to be the owner of a successful small business, and you are driven to make profit and see this industry continue to thrive, take these next steps:

  • Go read a book on small business basics like profit margins, profit-and-loss, costs-of-goods-sold, monthly overhead and sales projections and actuals.
  • Sit down and crunch your numbers for your business, and figure out exactly how much you need to survive for yourself personally, and for your business.
  • Create two excel spreadsheets with monthly fixed and variable expenses- one for your personally, and one for your business. (I recommend having two worksheets on one file).
  • Develop target sales goals per client.
  • Determine your monthly revenue goals.
  • Develop a kick-ass product line that is unique to you, that will produce the kind of revenue you need to survive.
  • Stop giving away your *most valuable* asset- your beautiful photographs.

Develop pricing that won’t just sustain you- but that also upholds, respects and supports the photography industry as a whole, as well as enables photographers like me to continue to make a living doing what they love. If you go through the aforementioned exercises, I think you may be surprised to see just how far off you are.

I DON’T think it’s too late for us to make changes in the industry, to re-educate clients and start to undo some of the damage that the cheap-but-good photographers have done.

It’s going to take time, and risks, and the re-shaping of widespread expectations, but we as a group can do it.

Each of us has the power to affect these changes in the industry, and it starts with those numbers on your website that start with $.

Thoughts, ideas, suggestions, first-hand stories? Let the comments flow.

Jamie Pflughoeft is a commercial animal photographer and is the owner and operator of BeautifulBeasties.com, and Cowbelly Photography. Jamie’s client list includes PEDIGREE, Purina, Nutro, Sergeants, PetSafe, Wal-Mart, Embrace Pet Insurance, The Bark Magazine, Cesar’s Way Magazine, AAA, ABC Studios and more.

Like the dogs and cat she photographs, Jamie believes life is best lived playing, sleeping, eating, loving, daydreaming, having regular adventures and being sure to feel plenty of joy every single day. Visit her portfolio website, Facebook page or Twitter stream to get to know her personally.

Facebook Twitter 

November 4, 2014 - 1:18 pm

Diana - Great post, Jamie. Not sure it’s actually going to fall on the right eyes but such valuable information. I’ll tell you what…. I shoot with a camera I paid nearly $3,000 for and my two primary lenses cost more than $2,000 each (I have 16 lenses so I’m in it for a lot). There is no way anyone is going to get a free ride with that level of equipment not to mention my years of experience. I know it isn’t the camera that makes the photograph, it’s the photographer. But that equipment along with my eye helps me produce beautiful images. I find I’m not booking the sessions because I don’t get away files with the session fee. Well, so be it. We all have to draw our line in the sand and being the cheap photographer is not where I want to be. Kudos for the post.

November 4, 2014 - 3:18 pm

Donna Miller - YEAH, so well said!!! I get so exhausted explaining to people my experience, equipment, etc. on cost & why I don’t give them a CD to go to a drug store to print out. Lately, instead of explaining, I just say, I’m probably not your photographer. (I think, no I know I got bolder when I met with you Jamie)! Yesterday, I had an appointment & when I arrived was questioned about why my prices were again because they had just seen a Groupon for $99 with all images on a CD for a 2 hour pet photo shoot. I promptly let her know, that’s not going to happen with me & we could cancel right then if she wanted to go that route. She didn’t, she said she loved my images & wanted the quality. Those of us who do the quality work should get paid what were worth!

November 4, 2014 - 7:09 pm

David - Although I understand your point I cannot subscribe to your argument. I regularly notice that ‘pro photographers’ who have been in the business for many years and charge a lot for their service and products often try to stop new photographers to get in the loop. Most of them long time photographers also started with low prices (see one of the comments). A new photographer cannot charge as much as one who has been working for 26 years. It is unrealistic. In every type of business there are exclusive and cheap products and services: hotels, supermarkets, airlines, plumbers… you name it. Today all photographers compete with non photographers who own very good cameras and have generally very good skills which wasn’t the case even 5 years ago. I once had a quote from a plumber for £2500 for half a day’s work. Another one quoted £3000! Finally I found someone who quoted me £500. I went with the latter of course. Some prices are insane. But there is space for everyone. You just have to be creative instead of blaming everyone else. And know your ideal client! Plus, cheap photographers are doing you a favour: they get all the difficult clients who are cheap and always want more. You should know they are the worst clients. Cheap photographers are not destroying the industry! They change the industry and that’s the way the world goes. Cheap photographers are also fed up with ‘experienced’ photographers who constantly try to push them away from being successful giving advices that they didn’t even follow when they started!! That’s hypocrite and annoying. And please don’t say that it was a mistake and if you had to start again you would charge high prices right away. Because it’s not true. If pros are where they are now it’s because they charged low prices when they started. We know that charging a lot of money per client you get the best customers who complain the least and you can work less. If you charge low prices you do get difficult customers and you have to work more. So it’s not always a choice. But a necessity. And as I said the world is changing and exclusive photographers are disappearing. In fact the industry is being ruined by camera makers and all those who buy them. These days everybody is a photographer. And that’s what has changed. If you have to blame someone, blame the right people.

November 4, 2014 - 7:24 pm

David - I just wanted to add that high prices could destroy the industry forcing people to do it themselves. So maybe people charging low prices are actually saving this industry. Food for thoughts…

November 4, 2014 - 8:27 pm

Kelly H Kenneally - Boy I needed to read this today… Thank you! So tired of being undercut or having someone post free images on FB. Our industry is in dire straits.

November 4, 2014 - 9:43 pm

Amanda Carey-Whelan - Well said 🙂

November 4, 2014 - 10:15 pm

Rose - BRAVO!

November 4, 2014 - 10:18 pm

Melody Henkel - Great post! As Sue Bryce says you have to value what you do before others will. It can be hard but I’m learning.

November 4, 2014 - 10:42 pm

Karmel Baker - I loved this post!! Well written, I couldn’t have said it all better myself!

November 4, 2014 - 11:40 pm

Jet Ska - I think this is what happened to the web design industry as well – and also coding ! Even worse for those two industries because they aren’t reliant on geographical location so someone in India can do a website or code a lot more cheaply than someone in Australia, the US etc who needs to eat and pay rent!

November 4, 2014 - 11:43 pm

Kim Ortiz Photography - I love your honesty and agree 100%.

November 4, 2014 - 11:58 pm

Marianne Cherry - Well stated. In addition to making a profit (which is NOT a 4-letter word) – I’m beginning to see that it’s all about building a relationship with a client, and learning how to sell. Clients need to be educated about the differences between professionally created products and the options they have (Walmart, Costco, inferior online repro shops that advertise ridiculously low prices). People buy from people they like, so if you’re not a people person, this may not be the best business for you. Just my 3 cents.

November 5, 2014 - 12:06 am

D. Brent Walton - Good analysis. Thank you for writing this. In the end, those who aren’t making money disappear and go by the wayside. The problem is, another comes along to take their place.

November 5, 2014 - 12:20 am

Thomas Morelli - In my 35th year in business (in Maine, one of the highest taxed, lowest income, oldest states in the US) I am busier than ever and making more money (mostly wall portrait sales) than ever. I am a fulltime portrait photographer. It can be done, if you have a system in place. My gross is about $160,000, so my net is higher than the average Mainer’s income. I am open Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5:30 pm, no nights, no weekends. (I did 26 years of weddings, so of course those were on weekends, but in 2006 I was so busy during the week with portrait work that I gave up on the weddings, after doing1,281 weddings.) I LOVE seeing all of the part timers cut each other’s prices to the bare bones – it really tells potential clients that I am different than the others. I was new, may years ago, and quickly burned out until I learned to charge properly. By the way, and I am sure you know this, all of the people you mention in the article as well as any part timer with a camera and a dream will laugh and say “it ain’t my problem that I undercut you! Butt out” – because I have been told that myself by a few part timers that I talked and complained to, a few years back. Let them fight for scraps, I will work with those “cream of the crop” clients, who, by the way, are middle class and upper middle class, NOT “rich” people. Thanks for posting this though, it’s an important subject.

November 5, 2014 - 1:55 am

Bradford Rowley - While I enjoyed reading the article, it seems like I will be the only one here who will disagree. This is America, and we are a capitalist society. One of the great things about that is that people can charge what they wish to charge both high and low. Bottom pricers have always served an important role in our economy, and I would never want that to disappear. For example, look what competition and lower prices did for long distance prices after deregulation (for those old enough to remember). Most the country has benefitted from that. Bottom pricers will always be there, so to blame them for ruining an industry or any individual business won’t solve any problems for anyone, it will only cause to leave you pointing fingers instead of finding creative solutions to distinguish yourself. Many years back in our California operation (I run 3 studios now [CA, NY and FL] but back then, I was only in CA) we were struggling. I didn’t blame competition, and I didn’t blame those charging lower prices, instead, I called my small staff together, and we brainstormed until we found a creative avenue to increase revenue which has resulted in millions of dollars in increased business over the years. I pay very little attention to competition wether it be low, middle or high end. I really don’t even know the names of photographers around me, nor have any clue of what they charge. My focus is on what can I do to take myself to the next level and draw clients into me, and hopefully at the end of the day that is what each photographer who reads this article will do. It’s useless to worry about what others do. If clients complain about prices, think, think, think, “how can I be more creative to make myself irresistible at the prices I charge.” You will get much more mileage out of your mental exertion than getting upset at people who charge less. By following this strategy, I have earned well over 20 million dollars (gross) in the last decade, and as far as I know (again, I don’t keep tract), I am the most expensive photographer I know in the country for portraits. Let me suggest a book to end my comments. It is http://www.amazon.com/Sell-Prices-Higher-Than-Competitors/dp/0963192302 A great read for those who want to get ahead at great prices.

November 5, 2014 - 2:10 am

Hilary Mercer - You wrote this SO much better than I would have. Thank you so much!

November 5, 2014 - 2:21 am

Josh Smolenaers - From a ‘non-photographer’ and one of your potential customers…
I understand trying to make a living from your buisness, and therefore what rates you would like to charge.
But consider from the customer’s point of view…
For the ‘average’ person $1000 for a photoshoot is rediculous!!
I would be lucky to save $100 a week after paying for a family of 3 with a single income (which by the way would be considered less than average by metro standards).
As someone looking to get the best possible deal in order to pay for what would be considered a luxury, the provision of a dvd to enable our own printouts is essential. I can understand paying perhaps $200 for 5-10 images on dvd, however your price of $750 for photos is unrealistic for most customers these days.
You decide what price to charge for your services, and therefore who you are marketing to. If you want high end customers who don’t mind laying then go for it. However if you want the custom from the ‘average joe’ then get realistic and be prepared to bargain for your work.
Or the other option is to get out altogether and find another job!

November 5, 2014 - 2:49 am

Irma Shanahan - You think it’s bad for photographers, imagine what it must be like for practicing artists…..

November 5, 2014 - 4:06 am

Jesse Evan Freidin - Here’s to the honest truth, Jamie.

November 5, 2014 - 4:49 am

Dagmar Woltereck - Love this article, thank you for that. For me it does make sense, however, clients who go to the shoot and burners won’t be my clients, aren’t the clients I want to attract. I am not just making great art, I am also giving them an awesome experience, superb products and customer service with the extra touch. That’s what will set me apart from those who are making 10 bucks an hour and will burn out in no time.

November 5, 2014 - 6:14 am

Jodie Otte - I started discussing this with photographers around 2009 when I saw the writing on the wall. I was an established well-known photographer in my area and was turning clients away prior to 2009…. some time in 2009, I saw the problems begin. When well-known photographers are charging $3,000 for a workshop yet their attendees realize that they are only charging $300 for a CD of images, the attendees don’t think they are worthy enough to charge what that photographer charges – then things get skewed.

I was called every name in the book for voicing that the over saturation and cheap (but good) photogs were ruining this. I was told I was negative. I was told I need to work harder. I was told that there were enough clients for everyone.

Bullcrap.

The funny part is the people who yelled at me the most are OUT OF BUSINESS today. I’m still hanging in, but I put my eggs in other baskets. I’m an accountant by day (studying to be an actuary to keep my six figure salary I had with just photography for years) and I do a few photo shoots on the weekends or in the evening – usually no more than 4 a month, but I charge PRIME for those shoots. I REFUSE to do cheap (mini sessions ruined the industry as well, but that’s another story…. Photogs giving 20 images for $200 mini sessions WTH? Why would they ever need to do a full session?)

Anyway, I would like to scream “I told ya so” to a lot of the photogs who are dealing with this, but it’s too sad to go there.

And for all those that say that they don’t want cheap clients – these WERE your clients. I have had clients spend $3,000+ with me per session now go to $300 shoot and burners… why not? The $300 shoot and burners are pretty good? Good enough for cheap is where it’s at – since the economy crashed, that’s the motto for most every middle class and even middle to upper class family. The client pool that once spent thousands on photography is growing smaller by the day. So don’t delude yourself by saying “they aren’t my clients.” They ARE/WERE your clients…..

November 5, 2014 - 6:17 am

Mel Hammonds - So well said! I nearly lost it on a client the other day who got very aggressive about my digital pricing. As I defended and justified my pricing, I got really angry inside, but that experience and this article reinforced how I felt. I am proud of the work I do, the experience I have, and the business I have been building, and their attitude and ignorance about the business aspects (even after I attempted to educate them about it) was even more infuriating because I do feel what we do in this industry is so worthwhile and we deserve to make a decent living at it provided we are working for it! Thanks for posting this!

November 5, 2014 - 6:19 am

JodieOtte - And just read the comments here – people want cheap. And they will find cheap because good photogs are charging cheap. There is no reason to go to a photog who is priced to have a salary when there are enough cheap and good enough photogs out there. That’s reality.

Secondly, for David above who said a new charge can’t charge what an experienced photog does. So the guy who opens a restaurant and has only 1 year of restaurant ownership can’t charge what a restaurant owner in business for 20 years charges? I’m pretty sure they have the same expenses – food expenses, employee expenses, rent expenses, equipment expenses. Yes THEY CAN CHARGE THE SAME. They have to, or they wouldn’t be in business because they aren’t going to take “pats on the back” for payment.

I charged $3,000 for a CD my second year of business…. because I had to to be able to pay for my expenses and have a modest salary. The amount of photographers who are making just enough to pay for their expenses and give themselves no salary at all is staggering.

November 5, 2014 - 7:02 am

Corrie - Love this! IT has opened my eyes. I know I don’t charge enough and plan to change things this new year. I so wish all photographers could see and read this. 🙂 Thank you so much

November 5, 2014 - 7:37 am

Jodie Otte - Beware of the people who are trying to tell you that you are negative or whatever… just had one try to blow me out of the water for my feelings on this…. and meanwhile, he’s mentoring/coaching. Mentoring/coaching for money is how you know they are out of touch with current photography problems.

November 5, 2014 - 8:01 am

Mark - It’s complain about the masses and I appreciate your frustration. This has always existed in the art/creative community – musicians have been complaining about this for decades – and now the problem is in manufacturing, retail and more. Photographers were more immune back in the days of the physical negative, but less now. Charge what you can – if you can’t make a living, figure out how to do it differently or you’re out of luck. We compete every day with lower priced competitors.

November 5, 2014 - 8:22 am

Kimmie - While I can somewhat agree with your Post I also have another side of this that is almost never discussed or talked about….. While newbies/shoot and burners are what we Pros think are ruining the industry, I have to disagree, I think the industry is cheapened by how cheap it is to become a photographer, how everyone boasts about how easy it is to become a professional. “Take my under-priced, over-valued under-educated workshop and you too can be just like me.” Education in this industry is a joke, people who have been in business less than 1yr, 3yrs, 5yrs are boasting they know it all and are willing to teach to every housewife with an open ended checkbook. Your post itself opened with the fact that you teach workshops, it didn’t start out with your educational background or years of experience or even how you worked to earn the easily given title of Professional. This industry is broken and it started with the fact that Pros were willing to give their knowledge away for basically free, no one has to work for it anymore, no one pays their dues these days….I don’t blame the newbies I blame the ones who cam before them, that is in my opinion where the fault lies….

November 5, 2014 - 8:33 am

Karen - Yes! This is exactly how I feel. Especially the bit about part-timers who do this for fun and don’t actually rely on the income…they should be charging more than anyone else!

November 5, 2014 - 10:31 am

John - It sounds like you don’t fully understand what it means to run a business. Sure, you know what it costs to run your business. But you have no idea what it means to compete in a free market.

Capitalism is quite simple. You create a product or offer a service for which other people are willing to pay. If you are making money, other people will try to replicate your business in order to make money for themselves. Now that you have competition, you have to distinguish yourself if you plan to charge the same amount. If your business is in an industry with a small barrier-to-entry then the best way to compete is by offering your service/product at a lower price. Which is what it sounds like these “cheap but good” photographers are doing.

My two cents…
There is no real barrier to entry for the photography industry. All I need is a camera and some digital editing software. Sure, I need practice and to develop an eye for taking the right shot. But I don’t have to love it. I don’t have to have a passion for it. I don’t have to invent something. I can simply just do it. Your business is in an industry built for high competition and low prices. Asking your competitors to change their pricing will get you nowhere. You must either offer something new and better than what they are offering, or you have to charge lower prices. That is how the capitalist system works.

F a c e b o o k
B l o g   C a t e g o r i e s
B o o k
T w i t t e r