Stop Hating On Cheap Photographers

Stop Hating On Cheap Photographers

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.

Spending Mentality

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?

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70 Comments

Nice. This article expresses well what I've been thinking and feeling about this topic.

Scott Choucino's picture

Thanks, glad I am not alone in this haha.

Tom Lew's picture

EXCELLENT EXCELLENT EXCELLENT article. Thank you! So well put.

Scott Choucino's picture

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...."

Scott Choucino's picture

Good saying to live by

Simon Patterson's picture

Spot on, well said.

Andy Barnham's picture

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.

Scott Choucino's picture

Absolutely. But it is a mindset that a lot of people don't seem to have

Andy Barnham's picture

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.

Dave Terry's picture

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.

Andy Barnham's picture

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.

Don Risi's picture

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.

Andy Barnham's picture

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?

Ken Flanagan's picture

Great article and insight.

Thanks. Nice article.

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.

Alexander Yakimov's picture

Everyone with a phone is capable of making acceptable images, but do they all compete consistently?

Scott Choucino's picture

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.

Bill Wells's picture

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.

Kirk Darling's picture

You didn't actually say anything different from the people you think you're arguing with.

Scott Choucino's picture

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?

Shaunessey Smith's picture

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.

Scott Choucino's picture

As above. Always ask what the budget is and what they are looking to achieve with it.

John Dawson's picture

You might want to run your article through a grammar check before publishing. Think of it as basic correction in Lightroom. 😉

Scott Choucino's picture

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.

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