Everyone Is a Photographer. Why Should I Pay Your Fee?

Everyone Is a Photographer. Why Should I Pay Your Fee?

During a recent night out, I was asked the question: "What do you do for a living?" It was the perfect opportunity to practice being excited about my work, so I launched into my story. This was followed up with a question that often comes up in these conversations: “Why would someone hire you to fly around the world when they could save time and money hiring a local photographer?”

The question could have been rephrased: “Everyone is a photographer these days. Why should I pay your fee?”

Great View

Architectural photography has proven to me that house buyers are willing to pay a premium for additonal features, like a great view.

Could I ask you to do some basic calculations with me? How much money would you need per year to cover your living costs, your business expenses, and to leave a little extra to build your business? In the UK, it is roughly £60,000 ($77,000).

How many shoots can you realistically handle per year, assuming you’re involved in the entire process from pre-production to delivery? Is 50 per year a reasonable number? That means you need to be making £1,200 ($1,538) as a minimum per shoot just to make it as a “somewhat successful” business.

I did this calculation to determine a price to charge my architectural clients. During the fee negotiation process, one of my clients told me that my fee was almost the entire fee he was charging for his design. Why should he give up most of his income simply for photography? I caved and offered him a cheaper option (half the fee for half the time), but it got me worried about the state of the photography market. If my minimum fee requirement was significantly more than what my clients could afford, how sustainable is my business?

I found the answers to these questions in an episode of the Tim Ferris Show. For those of you not familiar with the Tim Ferris Show, it is a long-form interview podcast where the host, Tim Ferris, interviews world class performers across a variety of disciplines to tease out common practices that can be applied to any discipline. I've learned more about the photography business from the Tim Ferris show than from any book or course about the photography business.

Nandos design

Nandos core business is selling chicken meals, yet through the interior architecture of their restaurants, they appeal to an audience who love design and want a unique experience.

The episode that spoke to my questions was an interview with Seth Godin. Seth is a leading expert on the topic of marketing as well as being a phenomenal communicator. He did a similar interview on the Chase Jarvis Live podcast. Both podcast episodes bring out principles from Seth’s latest book, “This is Marketing.” The episodes cover principles like making your service for the smallest viable audience. Just that concept alone was worth listening to the episodes.

Smallest Viable Market

A friend of mine did this shoot for a business called Hefthd that repairs antique axes. They're doing a great job of providing a service to their smallest viable market. Photo is by Dale Reubin: www.dalereubin.com.

Any photographer who is trying to find an audience for their work should listen to the podcast episodes. At the very least, it will challenge you to think about the practices you've always been doing that you've assumed to be useful. Personally, I changed my entire business focus.  

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61 Comments

Dana Goldstein's picture

Wait, you just discovered the concept of calculating your CDB (cost of doing business)? What would you have done had you gone into any other business? Do you see that it’s no different - photography as a business is, first and foremost, a BUSINESS.

Elliot Haney's picture

What a crazy aggressive response to a thoughtful article... he never said he just discovered it, clearly, he knows his costs, as he is explaining to the reader how one would go about it, and what he did when launching his business. Any bit of research into him shows that he is a seemingly accomplished international architectural & travel photographer, so I think he knows his business just fine.

Dana Goldstein's picture

It’s an incredibly naive piece.

Jonathan Reid's picture

What specifically is naive?

Jonathan Reid's picture

Thanks for the clarification Elliot.

Jonathan Reid's picture

Dana, the purpose of including that CDB was to illustrate the problem in my industry - i.e. the CDB seemed greater than the fee I was able to charge.

Dana Goldstein's picture

Sometimes it’s either taking a fresh look at the CDB, raising your fees beyond what you THINK you can charge, or considering a different target audience that’s playing in that price range.

Jonathan Reid's picture

That’s something that the podcast touches on and was one of the reasons for me sharing it.

Edward Blake's picture

Yes, you're right, Dana; indeed, you stated the bleeding obvious, apparently, for no other reason than to appear superior and condescending.

However, since you raised the subject, working as a professional photographer has little to do with the quality of the practitioner's images; which is why there are so many professionals who are poor, derivative, or cliched photographers.

Interesting portfolio.

Dana Goldstein's picture

My intent was not condescension - I think Fstoppers articles, however, frequently aim for the lowest common denominator of both photography and business knowledge. I usually don’t say anything bc I really don’t comment so often (compared to some), but this was just so obvious that my reaction was, you must be kidding.

Eymeric Widling's picture

"Personally, I changed my entire business focus" ... I feel like this is where the article starts. What did you change? You ended the article right at the climax.

Jonathan Reid's picture

The purpose of this article was to share what I believe is a brilliant and useful podcast episode. I've changed the focus on my business to what focus on my smallest viable market, based on what is unique to my business. I'd love for readers to apply the information in the podcast to their own business.

Rick Nash's picture

Learning through the podcast you've changed the focus (the work you'll take on), to your smallest viable market. Im assuming this distills down to the known costs of doing business. Perhaps other criteria? How do you address the startup of any business where one's CDB is only hypothetical and not absolute. It may take a few years for the business to grow well enough to be self-sustaining. Your reputation must be established before youll get the gigs.

Jonathan Reid's picture

Agreed. One of the principles that Tim actually mentions is to use the pricing structure, full price or free. You don't cheapen yourself to undercut or to get more work, but you specifically target free shoots based on your ideal type of client. So for me, if I want to be known as the photographer who shoots luxary homes, I first need to shoot some luxary homes. In this situaiton, I would look for the "perfect" home and offer a free shoot.

chris schmauch's picture

If you want to be in the luxury market, first you have to spell it correctly... #justsayin

Jonathan Reid's picture

Sheez, that was a shocking typo - I should be flogged for that one.

Dana Goldstein's picture

That wasn’t a typo - you spelled it incorrectly twice. If I were a RE agent looking for a photographer and you spelled it that way on your site, I would move along. Everything you present is part of your brand. Misspelling a fairly simple word tells potential clients that you’re not serious.

Jonathan Reid's picture

Fair enough, but what you saw wasn’t my site, it was an example I gave typing in a hurry on my phone. Personally, I don’t market myself as a luxury house photographer - it was just an example.

Eymeric Widling's picture

I'm not trying to rag on you, but it's not an article, it's just a plug. If a newspaper ran an "article" that said "go watch the news, they had a great story there" would it be an article? Or is it an ad for Tim Ferris' show? It's ironic that the reason you fear for the future of photography is the same reason journalists fear for the future of journalism. If everyone is a photographer, then everyone is also a writer, as is illustrated by your "article."

It seems the majority of Fstoppers articles now are just plugs for content on other platforms. Without adding content or insight it's no better than a Facebook or Twitter feed. What I was trying to get at is that you actually have a story, about how Tim's show changed how you do business. That's really interesting and I'm sure lots of photographers and creatives would love to hear how you used the information to improve your business. What they don't want to hear is "it did great things for me, but I won't tell you how. Go listen to it and figure it out for yourself." In which case why did you bother writing about it? Most of your audience is already subscribed to the Tim Ferris show or have read his book.

Please try to take this constructively.

Jonathan Reid's picture

You're completely right, it is not an article, its a repost of something that I think is valuable. Tim, Seth and Chase don't know me - they've never heard of me. I chose to share this podcast because I genuinely think it is useful.

Regarding your second paragraph, I hear you. This was like finding an interesting (and free) video tutorial. I wanted to share it ASAP - I believe there is enough useful content in the episode to warrant sharing.

I would like to know how you came to the conclusion that the majority of F-Stopper readers subscribe to the Tim Ferris show though?

I'm more than happy to take constructive critism and I appreciate your thoughts. You've actually addressed the article, unlike comment 1.

Eymeric Widling's picture

"it is not an article, it's a repost of something that I think is valuable" - There's an abundance of super successful business masters like Tim Ferris and Chase Jarvis who have hours upon hours of great free advice and tips. There are millions of free/ affordable tutorials, webinars, workshops etc. We have phenomenal advice coming at us from everywhere at all times from all platforms, all channels, all feeds. But you rarely hear from photographers like you and I who can specifically point to one of these influencers and say "I did such and such and it actually made me a better photographer/business owner." Tim Ferris might have a great show, but you're the one who actually translated the information into real-world use, and benefited. That's so much more interesting than the podcast itself. That is the story. The podcast is just a source, I can listen to it later if I have time and if your story is compelling enough.

"I would like to know how you came to the conclusion that the majority of F-Stopper readers subscribe to the Tim Ferris show though?" - NYT best selling author with one of the most successful business podcasts of all time, featured on Chase Jarvis' channel many times.

Jonathan Reid's picture

Again, I mostly agree with you. However, it is also a bit like saying, there is a ton of useful, free information on Youtube, but it usually takes someone pointing out a specific video before I make the effort of watching it. For me personally, if I hadn't heard this podcast, I would appreciate an F-Stoppers repost of it recommending that I listen to it.

I too expect that everyone listens to the Tim Ferris show, but when I ask people, 100% of the time, they have no idea who he is. Once someone told me that their husband is a fan. I must have asked at least 50 people. Even with Chase Jarvis - I stopped listening to him for awhile until he interviewed a guest that I was interested in. It took someone reposting that interview for me to listen to him again.

To sumarise, I get what you're saying and agree that an article of how I've applied the principles would have been interesting and useful. However, I still believe that simply reposting the podcast will be of benefit to someone. Agreed?

Dana Goldstein's picture

I’ve heard of Tim Ferris. ✋🏻 I also listen to Gary Vaynerchuk. And a photo consultant at a portfolio review recently told me to listen to Seth Godin daily. Actually I wish MORE photographers would listen to business-focused podcasts instead of those debating how many cars slots we need.

Jonathan Reid's picture

We can totally agree on that point!

William Howell's picture

That’s what she said.

Christian Lainesse's picture

Everyone can cook and serve themselves their own food at their own table. So why pay for a meal at a restaurant?

Jonathan Reid's picture

Funny you should mention cooking - the podcast uses Noma as an example.

Jesse Coleman's picture

Bad analogy - some people realize they are not good at cooking, or have no desire to cook after working all day. Then you have to consider how many people are going to be at the table...

Christian Lainesse's picture

So what you are essentially saying is that not enough photographers realize they are not good at photography?

William Howell's picture

Photography is a “bad” business, for most of us. Bad, in as there isn’t enough money for the necessary markup, typically 2 to 3 times the cost of operations.
I do it as side thing, because you know, I love photography. For instance, when I tell some people that it’s a six hundred dollar sitting fee for family portraits, now remember this is at their location, they look at me like, yeah I’m not gonna pay that!
So, yeah its tough to make money in photography, but sometimes you do something just because you love it.
And that’s good enough for me.

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