Almost weekly I see an article online or a comment about how cheap photographers are undermining the industry or that they are ruining it for us.
Personally, I just can’t buy into this. And this goes for pretty much any genre of photography to. I will try to not turn this into a rant, but there is a pretty high chance that it will. My first paying job was for $50 and in recent years I have been working on jobs for around 200 times that budget. At no point has a cheaper photographer stolen my work. And at no point have I undercut someone else and stolen their work.
Photography is an odd career in that it is a mix of creativity and a kind of technician role. Some view it as a sexy profession, while others see it as a bit of a dead end career path. The response that you get from your partners parents when you tell them you are a lawyer is going to be pretty standard across the board, the response you get when you tell them you are a photographer is a little different. It can range from disappointment to hero worshiping. And I think a lot of this is related to the topic. Are you a $20 a photo photographer who hits a button at a supermarket or are you a $3 million a year photographer who shoots around the world? There is a huge range of jobs, pay scales and quality of both professional work and client requirements. So it is easy to see how people start to get angry that other photographers are working for less money or just for free.
But I promise you, it wont have any effect from your career, here is why.
Clients have a budget. I have never sold a $2000 wedding package to someone with $300 and likewise, a $300 photographer has never convinced a $2000 couple to go with them. In recent years I have moved over to working in advertising. During this time, I have never worked successfully with an agency who don’t like what I charge. In the past I made the mistake of lowering my rate to work with an agency or to price match another photographer who was in their pay scale. The problem is that they will be working in a different way, with different overheads and different practices to what I am use to. They have different expectations and requirements. I always regret doing this, I work more than I feel I should and the images are never of any use to me. I tend to only take on two types of jobs, portfolio work where I pay out or cash cows where I get paid enough to do the job. Lowering my rate leaves me in no man's land. There are people I know who charge far more than me. I once accepted a job which was a considerable pay hike from my usual. This was as catastrophic as the lower paying jobs. Never in my life have I felt so out of my depth, lost, and scared during a shoot. I was in so far over my head, I didn't understand how they worked and I looked very out of place. It doesn't matter how cheap you pitch your work to Vogue, if you are not on their list of photographers who they respect, you wont be getting their work. And if you charge Vogue prices, the local photographer shooting for a small boutique isn't stealing your work. When someone with a smaller or bigger budget contacts me now, I just say no. That work isn't meant for me.
Knowing Your Worth
Knowing your worth is more than simply stating a price. There is a merit to what every photographer does and offers that goes beyond money. There is no way that I could do night club photography. The mix of late nights and needing to be sociable with drunk people is far beyond the scope of anything I could cope with. The fast delivery times and systems that are required to do this 5 nights a week are just not for me. I would also imagine that a nightclub photographer wouldn’t want to spend 4 days prepping to shoot once a week and sometimes only once a month. And if you do want to be mercenary about it. I know a pack shot company who are very cheap that make millions a year. Your image or day rate also doesn't suggest your annual salary. Your worth is your ability to deliver a product that is needed and to make it work in the price range that your clients can afford leaving them a good return on investment. There is no shame in shooting 100 weddings a year for $300 and delivering just JPEGS for those who can not afford more. It is a service that is wanted and that actual takes a lot of skill and hard work to achieve.
Knowing Your Client
I don’t shop at high end food stores for my weekly grocery shop. I see food as fuel unless I am going out. I train a lot and eat a lot. I can not afford to put high end produce into my mouth at the rate I consume it, so I am not at some niche high end store each week I am down at Walmart. Some clients do not need Annie Leibowitz level photography. Some need an intern to take some iPhone images, others have a few hundred dollars and a smaller number have a few thousand. Then at the extreme end, a very small number have a million or so as the images are so important to their brand. It is important to know what your client needs. If they go for someone cheaper, that photographer hasn’t price cut you, they simply offer a different service at a different price point. You were not the photographer for that particular client, much like Whole Foods isn't the grocery store for me, Walmart didn’t price cut them, they offer cheaper food and I am happy to eat them as I spend my money more on eating out (I can't cook).
Stop Watching Other Photographers
This is more advice than it is a reason why, but trying to follow other photographers price points is a thankless task. If someone you know charges $100 less than you, don’t worry about it. If there is a new photographer charging half of what you do for weddings, ignore it. I have no idea what my friends charge. Mostly because I am British and we find it awkward, but more than that, I simply don’t care. It does not effect what I am going to charge. I worked my prices out from what the clients I want to work with expect to pay. I then went away and built a portfolio of work that they would want to book.
How do you work out what packages you offer to clients?
Nice. This article expresses well what I've been thinking and feeling about this topic.
Thanks, glad I am not alone in this haha.
EXCELLENT EXCELLENT EXCELLENT article. Thank you! So well put.
Thanks for the kind words :D
I simply say the following:
"I have no problem with anyone who sells their product or service for less. After all, they know what it is worth...."
Good saying to live by
Spot on, well said.
Nicely put. It’s something I call the Business of Photography; I can’t compete with someone charging a fraction of my rate of that someone is a hobbyist shooting at weekends outside their work hours. Compared to the cheap photographer, what I can bring to the party is experience, expertise and advice to ensure a far more professional offering.
Absolutely. But it is a mindset that a lot of people don't seem to have
Contrary to this article (and I agree to a lot of the sentiemnts), I’ve actually lost a lot of work to cheaper photographers as the client just doesn’t care about the difference. To them it’s about the bottom line. Doesn’t matter what extras professionalism I bring to the party.
And your point is the most important one as far as I am concerned. The bottom line is "the bottom line" - Most businesses - especially small ones - do not hire photographers for the sake of photography, they do so for the sake of their bottom line. At some point, photography becomes a need in the pursuit of something else - making money! If the net effect of hiring a particular photographer does not serve in making them money - and enough money to make it worth the effort, then a good business person shouldn't hire someone out of their price range. It's bad business practice for them. Not only do some businesses not care so much about the quality, neither do their customers. Not the case with everyone trying to low ball out there, but it's definitely true of many. Putting a higher price tag on something does not increase its "worth" because worth is relative to every other factor.
A brand I recently shot for was surprised by the amount of work, advice and expertise I undertook for them. It was only then they realised my value. However I agree with you in that the bottom line is a priority. Unfortunately in a lot of cases businesses doesn’t understand the cost involved in a shoot and don’t budget accordingly. Or want quality images but just don’t want to pay for them... and hence use cheap photographers.
Many of them take it so far as to not care at all about the quality of the photos themselves, they only care about their bottom line. And even worse, many of them don't know a good photo when they see one.
As a photographer I obviously care about the craft. However I do understand the point of view of a brand/ business; if a poor image is good enough, why spend money on a quality one?
Great article and insight.
Thanks. Nice article.
Glad you liked it
Back in 1975 when I first started to shoot weddings I too was a cheap photographer. I didn't have a large portfolio or references so I had to get my foot in the door with offering lower prices. As my experience and portfolio grew so did my prices within about a year and a half I was charging market rates. I feel sorry for young freelancers trying to break into the industry nowadays, everybody with a phone is a photographer.
Everyone with a phone is capable of making acceptable images, but do they all compete consistently?
I think it is easier than ever. The equipment is no longer the limiting factor. If you have talent and few funds you can make a real go of it. In the olden days if you had funds and limited creativity, you were a professional. This is a big reason as to why the photography standards across the board have improved in my opinion. What was acceptable in 2009 is no where near what people expect now. And that is down to creative concepts, not gear.
Your statement "What was acceptable in 2009 is no where near what people expect now. And that is down to creative concepts, not gear." I will say I could not disagree more.
That is one of very problems that we are talking about. Today the saying "Just Good is Good Enough" is very much alive and well. Today images are devalued as well as photographers. That is just a fact. Some of it because of the new photographers and some of it because of social media.
Maybe you are out-of-touch. I understand that. When you reach a certain level in any profession it's easy to loose touch. It could be that you are so connected with product photography (not a bad thing) that you forget the 95% of photographers that are in other genres.
It's not just photography, AT&T's new commercial validates this. Their new commercial "OK is Not OK". I don't think they would have a multi-million dollar spend on something that did not exist.
You didn't actually say anything different from the people you think you're arguing with.
I think so yes. But that depends on who you think the argument is against.
Great article. I am wondering, though, how do you figure out "what the clients I want to work with expect to pay?" Because I've been having some problems getting it wrong, quoting either too much (and don't get the job, after I thought I would), or not enough (and having to do too much work). Is it just experience with trial and error? Or more some form of market research?
You just ask them.
Almost every one has a budget in place before they stare requiring. Instead of chasing your tail, ask where they'd like to be then decide if you can do the job with-in their budget. Even if the its lower than you'd like, it gives you the tools to explain what a larger budget will get them.
As above. Always ask what the budget is and what they are looking to achieve with it.
You might want to run your article through a grammar check before publishing. Think of it as basic correction in Lightroom. 😉
ARGH! haha. Probably. By the time I have proof read it, changed it to American English from English English, I am sure a few gremlins have snuck in. I hope it still makes sense.
Ha! It would likely be worse in English English. 😉
Nice one. Down to earth and realistic.
Thanks, glad you enjoyed it
Great to hear this side of the argument voiced. While we're being honest, there is also the question of why our industry has such a large low-budget sector. One of the reasons is of course that it's such a fun job, so inevitably there will be people who are willing to earn less or work harder to essential indulge their hobby, instead of sitting in an office or on a production line. That's just how it is, and we can't complain about that any more than gigolos can complain about the weekend warriors who offer services similar to theirs for free (or board and lodging...).
I fully agree. It also takes a good decade of 7 day weeks honing your craft to be able to charge the big money. Most don't have the work ethic to do this. Hence the larger low end.
The issue in your article missed the point of what is really being said.
It’s not just cheap photographers. It is the number of new photographers that are cheap.
Today, if a person can scrape up $399, they can be a photographer.
If you think this increase of photographers is not affecting you, you are mistaken. It has already affected you or will in near future. Our question is how we deal with it.
Lowered expectation of quality and the acceptance of lower quality has impacted the industry. Fueled by social media, the trend is, “it’s good enough”. Setting ourselves apart with great quality work is far from enough.
When was the last time you sold a package that did not include digital images?
Established photographers and organizations like PPA did not push for it. In fact, they pushed against it with “just print it” campaigns.
Remember the phrase “shoot and burn”? That didn’t come out of thin air. It was happening and after time it became the norm.
Photographers are no longer looked at as skilled professionals.
You may have heard, “Mary down the street is a photographer now, anybody can do it”. It has diminished the value of professional photographers and devalued quality images – two major blows.
I live in your average small town. In the past there were 4 or 5 photographers (excluding Olan Mills, Sears, JCPenney’s, etc.…) servicing this area. Today, there are 200+ photographers. All with Facebook and Instagram photography business accounts.
I no longer do HS sports but just a few years ago, I was doing $40,000 per year in action images. Today, that market is 3-4k at best.
I have to disagree with you.
Scraping up $399 will make you the owner of a camera but there is so much else involved in being a photographer than simply pointing your camera in the right direction and click the shutter.
I will agree with you that the influx of new photographers makes it very hard to compete in certain genres, though - family portraits is probably hit the hardest by part time photographers who can offer to take your pictures outside of normal working hours at a much lower price, since they basically just need to cover their equipment cost.
However, like the article states, these are not your customers if you are a serious, working pro. You need to offer something more than the spare time photographer or you will go under.
You said "Scraping up $399 will make you the owner of a camera but there is so much else involved in being a photographer". I do have to disagree. What you are saying is incorrect in whole and only correct on a philosophical level, at best.
I am not a videographer not even close. But there is nothing to stop me from adding videographer to my website or social media. So legally I am a videographer. I can provided video services.
You are defining the position I was taking.
Then you state, "However, like the article states, these are not your customers if you are a serious, working pro.".
Again like I stated in my original post. They have already changed the fact that we provide digital images. They have put downward pressure in most genres. They have already devalued the photographer and printed images.
Here is the other thing, 85% or more will fail in the first year. But unlike any other industry, for every one that fails there is 1.5 ready to take their place.
I do not have the answer or a solution. I just know that denying the existence or impact is not the answer.
It doesn't matter how many cheap photographers there are though, they still won't get high end jobs. No client worth their salt will take the risk of skimping on a photographer when so much work has already gone into a campaign.
Markets change, but if you have a skill you can apply it to where the money is. Shooting big brand social media content is a great payer and has good cash flow due to the volume. Ad campaigns and high end weddings will also always have money and the need for high end photographers. The key is to adapt to the changes in times rather than blaming cheaper photographers in my opinion.
"It doesn't matter how many cheap photographers there are though, they still won't get high end jobs. No client worth their salt will take the risk of skimping on a photographer when so much work has already gone into a campaign."
You shifted gears and jumped to product photography. If you are talking about product photography, I'm with you. It has not had much impact - yet. But it is very real for many photographers. It is those other photographers that I'm talking about. In other words 95% of working photographers.
"The key is to adapt to the changes in times rather than blaming cheaper photographers in my opinion."
This is a stock answer and I do agree with. However, people move to ways of making income outside of photography. In other words, they don't make a living with photography. They develop presets, create training schools or work for apple marketing department. That is what the very top of our industry is doing. If I'm not mistaken you offer workshops don't you.
Do not misunderstand, I'm not saying that moving to other forms of income producing is a bad thing. Fact is I'm grateful for such training, seminars and workshops.
I'm one of those "cheap" photographers.. not by choice.. but the industry i cater towards has little to no money. I'd love to charge 1000.00 a shoot.. but the artists and local performers i shoot can only afford so much.. their incomes are a tip jar and a portion of the bar profits for the night.
These people are amazing.. and need promotional material and i love telling their story.. That mentality of "if you werent so cheap, they'd have to go hire a real *professional photographer* is bs.. before i came along.. it was a camera phone.. or a friend with a camera.
I'm not sure what type of performers you are photographing or what services you are offering. But you should be commended for this "labor of love".
Do you do other types of photography? Have a website or facebook business page?
As wedding photographers we sometimes think, shouldn't people with little of no money have good wedding photography. We do support our military with a free wedding once a year.
Occasionally, we may offer someone who can not afford us a free or almost free wedding. There are a lot of good people who don't have large amounts of disposable income. We do very little of this, just because we can't and we never do it if we are asked.
Exactly, when I worked with bands, there was no way I could charge more, they just don't have the budget. My needs in life changed, rather than getting annoyed at the money available, I moved to food photography where there were bigger budgets.
Very nice, and true, article.
I share most of your feelings here.
This article hit one point so perfectly. Stop watching other photogs. If people spent more time focusing on their clients, building their own brand, and expanding their market they would seriously dial back the bitching. However, if you go for easily accessible clients, and you didn't expect it to turn into a price war, you may want to reconsider your business mindset. There's two types of client's/work out there: high volume low price, low volume high price. Either you're shooting a billion shots and selling your work super cheap, or you're being very selective and creating a demand for a limited supply. Neither is right or wrong, just different. The problem is when people expect high price for jobs in a over saturated market.
Wedding photography is my favorite example. If you just went off this site, you'd think every wedding in the world is being shot by iphones for 50 bucks. Yet, there are plenty of photogs getting 5k, 10k, 20k for weddings. They just found the clients looking for that high end and created a supply and demand around their work.
Your remark "The problem is when people expect high price for jobs in a over saturated market." Is exactly the point I was making. Plus the smaller the market, the more pressure on value and price.
I know, which is why I really liked the article and agreed with that point strongly