HOW TO STOP HURTING YOURSELF & OTHERS WITH YOUR PRICING

We ran across this post on Facebook the other day. It begs a discussion and every photographer should worry when they see this situation. 

The photographer asks  all musicians in Southern California to contact him about a photoshoot special. It’s $100, includes 200-300 images and in high resolution. He claims to have photographed Oasis and worked with labels like Warner Bros and Sony Records. His work is good. It isn’t major artist record cover quality but it’s solid work for many smaller bands and he’ll have a bright future, unless he continues his pricing practice. So what’s the problem with the pricing?

Through experience I’ve learned that raising your fee is difficult to do. Once you put a fee structure in place, people generally stick to it and form an opinion. That means they may think you’re far too pricey for the product. They walk away. They may say you’re way too cheap, you’re probably not good. They walk away. They may say that you’re good but that’s his rate and that’s how I will address him/her. In this care, the latter applies. His work is good. His price reflects that of an uninformed beginner. He’s offering the farm for $100 and while it’ll get him initial clients, he’ll remain there as other photographs bypass him. He will also damage his local market and peers. 

When clients see what you can get for $100 they'll shy away from other photographers charging $800 for the same job (which is also quite cheap). He’ll probably get other photographers to lower their rates, just to be competitive. It’s a downward spiral that’s happening all over with photographers. We underbid each other and fail to realize that it affects the entire community, including themselves in the long run.

WHY IS THIS A DAMAGING PRICE POINT?

Lets do a simple breakdown of hours it takes to produce an image. There is the initial consultation that is about one hour. You find out about the client, they tell you what they want, you share some ideas, you figure out your schedule, etc… This can easily take one hour. Lets also consider also the time it took to create your advertising from start to finish.

Then lets discuss the amount of time it takes to scout your location, set up the shot, determine if you’re going to use lighting, and taking the pictures. After that consider the time it takes to download the images to your drive, put them into Lightroom and go through them. You’ll delete the terrible ones, you’ll do some color adjusting and then you’ll export them. Finally you upload the images and you should factor your internet bill, along with the time. This is hours upon hours of work. Based on $100 per band, you have not only lost money but you failed.

WHY IT'S DIFFICULT TO RECOVER FROM CHEAP PRICING

At the risk of offending people, I have to give an example someone once told me.

You can go on a date. You don’t dress up to look presentable, you don’t take the person to a nicer place for good conversation,  and you don’t even pick them up. You say meet me at Taco Bell and you only pay for your meal. Lets say they go home with you that night. Sure you can both have fun but deep down you know their value. Now if you continue seeing this person and they suddenly want to be picked up, taken to nicer restaurants and don’t offer intimacy after the date…you’re slightly offended. Perhaps you're thinking, “I had you at a burrito and NOW you’re saying you need the finer things? Get F out of here!”...Once you establish your worth, you generally stay there. It’s double the work to get it up and undo your reputation. The same applies to your clients.

HOW TO REMEDY THE SITUATION

I would price a little higher and take a few minutes to explain the creative process for them. Since they are artists themselves, it is likely you can find common ground. Once there is an understanding you let them know that it’s important to support new artists. And if you’re tied to a label the fee is higher. If you’re 100% indie, you pay less because you want to support the arts. In this case, I’d suggest he starts at $250 (which hurts me to even say but we’ve established he’s worth less by his own pricing structure) and give them 15 images. That’s a lot of images for a music campaign! If they want more images (this is the part you give them a choice and it’s completely up to them) it’s $50 per image and they can order them now or even months down the line. This way the band does not feel pressured and $50 per image isn’t bad considering you explained to them the time it takes to retouch and color adjust. 

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO KEEP RESPECTABLE RATES

Because you, me, and the others! When you drop your rate, you drop mine. When you stand by your art and time commitment, you defend my art also. When one person charges $100 and another charges $1500, you’re dropping the average and the respect for photography. You take it from being an art form to a mere button pusher and app applier. 

BUT WHEN THEIR BUDGETS GO UP, SO WILL...

Ok no they won’t. It’s nice that people think this will happen but no they won’t. Reference the “date night” example above. When the client has a bigger budget, they buy better guitars, better microphones, and shoot with a better photographer who didn't devalue themselves with cheap pricing. Another photographer will get the account 9/10 times so please give up the "but when they get bigger budgets...." dream.

BUT I'M BUILDING MY PORTFOLIO SO IT'S OKAY

Fair point here. If you’re into just building a port and accepting that you’ll never book them again, then that’s your prerogative. In my opinion, then shoot for free so you don’t stamp a discount price on your brand.

FREE IS BETTER THAN CHEAP

Notice when you shop for a rental apartment there are specials like 12th month upon signing a lease! The reason why they’d rather give a 12th month free vs. just lower the rent is because they don’t want to lower their price. If you’re paying $1000 a month they’d rather give a free month vs. average it out and say rent is $916.66 per month. Why is this? Because when it’s time to raise your rent, they are raising it 5% of the $1000 and not 5% of the $916. 

Finally this industry is tiny in Los Angeles and even smaller in other cities around the world. When you get a bad review, it takes several positive reviews to undo the one negative. When you price yourself far below the market, it takes many years to reach the average again. How does this photographer pay their bills on such a low rate? If he were to charge even $500, it’s easier for the next round to ask for $650. It’s a $150 increase. Now imagine him trying to go from $100 to $250?! magine the look on the band's face then.

EDUCATE YOUR CLIENTS

I'll speak with my clients about the process. More often than not, they appreciate the education and the time I'm committing to their project. Remind them about the many steps before a photo comes to them. Two wonderful ideas will flourish... 1. that you're a real artist who take their work seriously. 2. photography is an art form and we're not mere button pushers. 

HOW TO PRICE ACCORDINGLY?

Honestly the answer is, it varies on your market and genre of photography. However, here are a few things to consider as you come up with your own pricing guide.

Time to think of an idea + time to create the ad + time it takes to post in various places + time it takes to call/email potential clients + time it takes to do a phone or in person consultation + time it takes set up the shoot + time it takes to do the actual shoot + download pictures time + time it takes to rotate, color balance, and select favorites + retouching which takes forever + time it takes to export them + time it takes to upload them to a server + your internet bill + your cost for camera and lenses + your cost for any lighting support - money lost on depreciation on equipment - some obvious loss of self respect + the stress of making something great - the reputation lost for being the $100 photo guy = YOUR RATE.