It Is Not The Competition That Is Driving You Out Of Business

It Is Not The Competition That Is Driving You Out Of Business

An influx of talent naturally creates more competition and offers your client more choice. That choice ultimately leads to lower odds of you landing any given job. It would be very easy to look at the current state of photography and blame it on a numbers game, but then, you wouldn’t be entirely correct.

There is a lot of competition in the marketplace and I hear photographers always complaining about the decline of rates in the industry. While it is true that the barriers to entry are lower than ever, the problem isn’t with the sheer volume of new comers, but rather the client’s perception of your value.

What the potential client sees is a watered down industry. They have an entire buffet of choice at their disposal when it comes to hiring photographers. It seems everyone is a photographer these days so it would stand to reason that photography isn’t very hard. Clients are not stupid, and they realize that good photography and presentation are crucial for their business, but it is hard to convince them what that is actually worth when it appears just about anyone can help them.

Those who are successful in this industry are the ones who know how to go the extra step to show the client some value. That’s not to say the value has to be created; it was always there in fact. In an over flooded market however, clients have a hard time understanding that value, and so it must be shown and explained to them if you wish to get any business.

What Is Perceived Value?

Perceived value is simply what something appears to be worth. Perfumes are a classic example. They only cost a fraction of their MSRP to create and yet people eagerly pay the suggested price. The perfume industry has created an aura of luxury and expensive culture that “justifies” the price in the consumers mind.

Similarly in your industry, if you want clients to spend money on you, you need to position yourself in a way that justifies your cost to the client. You cannot rely on your client to justify the expense for themselves. This is why photographers such as Peter Lik can sell multimillion dollar photographs. They have done their job at justifying the cost to their clients.

Get Them Involved

Do you know how many times I chat to a prospect that has absolutely no idea what goes into the kind of photography I do? This shouldn’t be too surprising; after all they are not in the business of photography. They are used to seeing pretty pictures but have no clue what actually goes into making one.

It took me a while to figure out that the real issue was that they did not perceive any value in what I was showing. Sure, they were looking at my images and they liked what they saw, but for all they knew it took 5 minutes to complete. When they hear my rates it is very hard for them to imagine exactly how that money is being spent. They have a hard time rationalizing my value.

What I had to do was not only show them my work, but also show them the process of my work, because it put a sense of context on the images they were receiving. My clients now receive a presentation that shows them my entire catalog process; from casting, to prep, to shooting, all the way through post and delivery. When potential clients come my way I make sure that they understand they are well taken care of and that every step of the job is thought through. That’s not to say other photographers don’t do what I do. Its about articulating what you do to the client because the other photographer doesn’t.

Whatever your niche and market is, make sure to get the client involved. Make them feel part of the process so that they understand and appreciate all the work and effort that goes into it. You want their hard earned dollars to feel justified.

Highlight Your Strengths. Everywhere.

Don’t let people draw their own conclusions as to what you are good at. Spoon feed them that information. You need to be constantly talking about the niche you are in and focusing your efforts on that. Make sure people immediately associate you with a certain criteria.

As a recent experiment I let the world know that I have a mild obsession with cupcakes. I would talk about it in my studio, I would talk about it in front of clients, and I would put it out on social media. Sure enough after a bit of time the idea caught on and I was being flooded with all sorts of cupcakes and cupcake paraphernalia. I even had instructional art being gifted to me, which I now proudly hang in my studio for all to see.

The point is that in the mind of my network, whenever they thought about a cupcake, they immediately thought about me. This is the EXACT same approach and mentality you need to take with marketing your photography. What you put out into the world is what the world will consume and if you are expecting to reap anything in return you must plant the right seeds.

Presentation Matters

Packaging and presentation go a very long way. Companies spend enormous amounts of money on entire marketing teams to help them figure out logo’s, design, color schemes, and many other attributes to their packaging. There are very real psychological triggers that cause us to be drawn to products.

Given the exact same product, clients are more likely to choose the one that is packaged better, simply because of perceived value. A product that is presented better subtly implies the company puts more time and effort into their product. It shows a sense of pride and professionalism.

The same holds true for photographers looking to present their work. Your work, first and foremost, has to give that impression. When a client looks at your work they should immediately think of quality and high standards. When you are being pitted against others whose work is on par the difference can really come down to who is simply perceived as having better value and in that case every effort to present your work in a better light will count.

It will be crucial for you to build a solid website that is easy for clients to view and navigate across various platforms. Find designs and templates that complement your photography, color schemes, and overall branding. Remember, it is not just about the picture, it is how you SHOW the picture.

Social Proof Yourself

Show off your accomplishments and make sure your milestones are seen by the industry. The best way to build perceived value is to constantly tackle and embark on new projects. In the eyes of your potential clients you want to be seen as always creating and always working.

Social media is a powerful tool which can connect you with some very powerful networks. Find ways to connect with several of these networks and make them a part of your story and brand. Get them talking with you and about you. Do not underestimate the value of public conversation and collaboration. You never know who is watching on the sidelines.


Last but not least, good old leverage. Do you have a unique bargaining chip in your pocket? Do you have anything your potential client might be interested in? If so, talk about it just as much as you talk about your photography!

If you have a huge social following, leverage that as promotion for their brand. If you have special access to people or networks your clients might benefit from, leverage that as part of your negotiation.

I once successfully leveraged my current roster of clients to secure a potential client. The potential client was in the fashion industry and wanted to break into online volume sales. Since I shoot for many of the big volume retailers I was able to introduce them to the right people and get them on the path to expanding their business. In that instance, I was not just providing them a photography service, but introductions they needed to further grow their business. That was my unique bargaining position. Everyone has something they can offer, so find what that is, and use that to show some extra perceived value.

Peter House's picture

Peter House is a commercial fashion photographer from Toronto, Canada. He shoots over 10,000 pieces of clothing every year for a variety of lookbooks. Clients range from small local boutiques to international brands such as Target, Winners, and Sears. In addition to that Peter runs one of the most popular rental studio's in the Toronto area.

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Happy to be the first to say excellent article Peter, thank you!

Thank you Geoff, glad you enjoyed it!

Well, most of us quit because of that. I quite have quited myself, but then i realised most of the stuff in this article.

It can be disheartening. In my studio I get to see so many talented folks its hard to imagine one could truly stand out. But it is possible! :)

It sure is Peter, if you put your work at it, either in work etics or technique, you can stand out.

If you quit because you assume that the competition in photography is too saturated, then I feel sorry you just gave up with a very lame reason. If one thinks that there is a lot already in this business [photography], it is likely the same, if not, even more for other fieds of career.

When I was taking up Architecture, most of my professors are asking us why do we want to dive in a profession where every year there are thousands of us entering the arena [competition].

If you like what you do, be unique, and meet the right people. That should help one to reach his goal.

True that!

So true!! It goes for any career. I initially was going to school for nursing and they told me the same thing "Everyone is going into that. Going to be hard to find a job." I did not follow this career because I was working in a factory and slowly moved up to better pay and didn't need schooling. Now I am employed by MillerCoors (beer). This attitude that everyone has, has applied to everything and no just jobs. A saying I agree with is that the ones that thought they were photographers always weed themselves out, because of this mindset.

Great point. This is certainly not unique to photography. :)

"Presentation Matters": How about for your blog. I know I write a bunch for I can generate leads from SEO as well educate those who read it. But what if someone like myself cannot write professionals and does not have a budget for hiring a freelance editor/writer to make me look more presentable to all clients, especially the one who will judge your writing abilities in your blog posts before deciding to hire you?

I think that anything you do, your blog included, should naturally be targeted to your clients. What do you want them to think? What do you want them to see? Create the kind of content that will get your client excited. SEO is great, but in todays day and age there can be more pay off in good content that gets shared and goes viral. You don't need big budgets to put out good content. :)

I agree, just "going viral" is a lot of times is knowing the right people/businesses to share the content to the right audiences to become viral. A lot of people can make fantastic content but without having the right person seeing that fantastic content and then sharing it with their decent to large following it won't be seem as much correct?

Hire me to write for you. ;)

"Get Them Involved" and "Highlight Your Strengths. Everywhere".: Do you mean write some blog posts, educate your audiences as they may read the blog posts and then see more value in you? or/and setting up an in-person consultation? How do you do this for phone consultations where showing is much more difficult without seeing the differences in images like before/after images, etc.?

Everyone is going to have their own unique approach depending on your market. For example, I like to meet a lot of potential clients in my studio. They come down, we discuss their project, and I give them a little tour. I get a chance to build a visual presentation for them on the spot of where everything happens, and how it all takes place.

Writing blog posts might be effective, if that is where your audience is. But keep in mind, clients usually come to your page, and while they may check out your blog....most probably won't read it extensively.

It might be more effective to discuss your process on a dedicated page on your website, something they can easily find and reference.

If you do choose to go the blog route, may that message the overall theme of your blog. Don't bury a post about your process in a bunch of posts about lighting. Your clients won't find it.

I totally agree with the in-person consultation like tour of the studio and talking in person about your process. But let's say for someone who doesn't have a studio, or a studio you dont want certain types of clients to see such as a non-commercial client paying $300 vs. a commercial client paying $4,000 for the shoot. Both completely different world and both have different expectations. I know, simply rent a nicer looking place would be a great solution but giving a tour of a place you're renting doesn't seem odd or even deceptive?

Great write- up, but I see a thin line between "educating your Client" and "trying to justify" your cost of doing Business.
I think it great to show prospect clients some videos of how a shoot is coming about, from pre- production, to casting, the shoot, the edit and so on. Also, to give all the people involved a face, too.
And make sure to drive home the point that the price of a sculpture has nothing to do with the price of clay.
Of course, you absolutely have to have work to show that waaay above what Uncle Bob can come up with

But uncle Bob takes great pictures... ;)

So we have to outBob him. Keeps us sharp.:-)

It's a bobby business...

Absolutely! You don't want to get too defensive about your product :)

Perceived value... One of my biggest pet peeves is going to a photographer's website and seeing "investment" on their menu. It insults my intelligence to be told family pictures are an investment. Does that mean I am not willing to pay their prices? Not at all. I can't take family photos of myself. I value their service. But it isn't an investment. A house is an investment. A 401k is an investment. Family pictures? No.

On one hand at least they are doing something to try and increase the perceived value of their product but I agree that the word Investment makes no sense in that context.

I think what happened is that a few photographers did it and everyone just copies everyone else's website setup now.

I think there is a way to increase perceived value without going straight towards investment. Pull on my heart strings. Tell me I will want these to look back on when my children are grown, that I will have them for years to come and be able to show my grandchildren and great grandchildren. But to tell me it's an investment? No, family pictueres won't fund my retirement.

You're right about the copycatting. It's gotten really crazy the past few years.

Haha, yes, articulating things properly does help. If you just sound like a generic infomercial you are not exactly conveying any value.


This is a great article. Well done.

Thank you for reading Travis! :)

great article

Thank you for reading man! I appreciate that! :)

Great article. Thanks for sharing it here.

Have Fun,

You say you have a presentation that shows your entire process, where can we see it?