Allow me to be the first to ask the question. Are we really worth it? Now, don’t get me wrong. I come from an economics background. I understand price equilibrium. Pour me a large blonde roast with cream, and whisper me sweet nothings about Adam Smith all day. Leave all that behind for a second. I’m talking on a more philosophical level. Are we really worth the money we charge?
Speaking of Adam Smith, take a moment to read the Wiki on the Paradox of Value (aka the diamond-water paradox). Water is absolutely imperative to the literal survival of our species, yet it demands an astonishingly low premium when compared to something like diamonds.
The average wage for an elementary school teacher in the United States is $43,544. In my case, that’s about 12 weddings. At nine weddings I’ve earned a firefighter’s salary. At 15 I’m out-earning most police officers. The bank teller who helps me organize my finances? Eight weddings. How about the friendly face who delivers my mail? You’ve heard the creed, “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat…” That’s about 14 weddings, give-or-take.
I even out-earn the mayor of my town after 38 weddings.
My point is that we have a tendency to lose sight of ourselves when we’re in the bubble of photography. My entire life is one giant Paradox of Value. Think about it. What a strange world we live in when a man with a camera and a $15 haircut is valued (at least in terms of income) more than someone in a police cruiser, fire truck, ambulance, classroom, or triage unit.
Pricing is an odd thing — we stress over it, lose sleep over it, argue about it, and watch tutorials on it. We get upset when other photographers “undercharge,” and then get jealous when others charge more. My off-season is coming to an end. Soon, it will be June. The sun will be hot, I’ll be back-to-back-to-back every weekend with weddings, and it might not be so easy to take stock of where I am.
So I’m doing it now. Taking a moment to realize just how lucky I am to take pictures for a living. Yes, there are days when it’s hard. When I’m squeezing in a sunrise engagement shoot before heading out for a 12 hour wedding contract. When I have three meetings with potential clients, but I have to get four albums out for print to hit my deadline. When it pours on the wedding day, the bride is 90 minutes late, and the mother of the groom pulls out her wedding album and starts asking me to recreate her favorites.
Despite all that, a lot of us, across all the many disciplines that exist in this medium of photography (not just weddings), could be well-served to take stock of just how wonderful and fulfilling a life behind-the-lens can be. So when it gets noisy again, when the muted, muffled notes of the off-season are long faded, I’m going to be mindful of my place in this hectic, and artistic endeavor. I’ll try and remember to be thankful that I get to make my living doing this, and not get swept up in the chaos that exists inside this bubble.
Am I worth what I charge? Are any of us?