The Issue With Pricing Your Photography
(c) By Anne Herbert
Note from Beate: As you know I have been looking for a few new contributors from different sides of the photography business. This post is from Anne Herbert who learned a thing or two about building her newborn and family photography business after relocating twice. Both times she made her business successful. Anne is a working mom and lives in Harford County, Maryland.
In an age where anyone can Google for a local photographer and shop around online, many photographers are tempted to set their prices low in order to make sure they get business. The topic of pricing in the newborn, child, and family sectors of the photography industry is very controversial right now, with many seasoned photographers arguing that these low priced businesses are degrading the market for family photographic services. I think they’ve got a great point, but don’t go changing your prices for them. If you are a low priced photographer I’m going to explain why you should change them for YOU.
First lets examine your pricing. If you came up with your pricing by drawing a number out of thin air or looking at competitor’s websites and taking money off the lowest price, you are doing yourself an enormous disservice. What you are doing is selling based on price, which may bring you some business at first but will drive you out of business (or out of your mind) down the road. If all of your marketing is based around how cheap you are, or what “great deal” you are having this month, you are sabotaging yourself. Someone will always be cheaper than you. No matter how many seasoned photographers blog or speak about the pitfalls of low pricing, there will always be a handful of people at the bottom of the market who don’t care and are selling their services for so cheap you have to wonder if they’ll even be able to be in business next year. And there will always be the people who are in the business but don’t need the business for income, and they will be able to kick the rest of us on price every time. This will never go away.
What I am suggesting is that you take a good look at your business and figure out where you want to fit in your local industry. In order to do this you have to know, to the penny, what it costs to run your business. Know how much you need to pay yourself in income each month. Once you have these numbers, ask yourself where you want to be. If you are afraid to raise your prices because you think you won’t get business, you are effectively asking your customer base to view yourself and your talent as the “WalMart” of your area. And while you may get business, you will get clients who only come to you for your affordable prices and not your work. You will be over worked and underpaid. If you do good work, I assure you this is going to bother you six months from now if it isn’t already. You’ll get clients who will nickel and dime you about all of the things you intend to sell them after the session. You will be attracting bottom feeders. If you are offering “sales” every other month these people are not ever going to pay you full price for your work. Your sale price is your price. So I ask again, what is the goal for your business? I think you should let someone else in your local talent pool take the WalMart role.
Read tomorrow what I am recommending instead…
Part 2 – Read it tomorrow
Anne Herbert is a full time newborn and family photographer. She also is a wife and stay at home mother to two little girls. Her passion for photography lives among the brand newness of those first few days of life, holding on to those fleeting moments of childhood, and the magic of family.
As competitive as the “baby” portrait business is most baby portrait and family portraits are booked by the woman of the house who got the photographers name from her girl friends who saw that work at her house. The internet has raised the bar to compete for this business and 9 times out of 10 women are going to go to women to have this kind of work done leaving a gallery of highly qualified male photographers waving their arms trying get their business. That being said the only other option you have to attract business is to set a lower rate for the same quality service. That’s competition….Then you have the person that buys the high end digital camera throws it into full auto, puts up a web site and cuts their rate to 50% of what the already competitive rate is. Now you have the rank amateur shooting pictures, far less quality, zero knowledge of photography, but it cheap and people don’t know point and shoot from Nikon D4, so price is the issue. If they don’t like that there’s alway the Sears Portrait studio or some place at your local mall. The digital domain combined with venues like Craigs List has done more damage to this industry than anything else. Who wants to use a light meter when the camera can do all the calculations for you and the viewer doesn’t know the difference and can get it for a nickel? Let these amateurs spend the time it took in a Dark Room tray developning prints and things will go back to like it was before digital.
Something odd, I have found as i raise my price the more work i get. I am sure there will be a price that will stop that trend but I have not found it yet. As of today based on quantity i am at around $200 per image.
I agree with Anne completely, although the tablet is a hard one to swallow in the current economic climate. I can also see the point which David is making and agree with much of what he says. I find that the best solution is to focus on the quality and largely forget the price. Strive to make one’s work better and better, until the point is reached where the client ceases to ask the question “how much do you charge?” and simply asks the question in their own mind “is this the sort of quality I want?”. Once you are over that hurdle, the discussion of price seldom enters the conversation until they book you.
I agree. Way too many photographers are underpricing. I walk around the towns where I live and I see 11×14 prints, triple matted and framed for $20. That’s ridiculous. They figure they’re making a few dollars profit and their a pro. They couldn’t be more wrong.
They need to accurately calculate their annual cost of doing business. It’s easy to do by going to http://www.thecreativescorner.com/2011/07/04/digital-photography-costs-more-than-film-photography-3/ and http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/cdb/cdbcalc.cfm
In the long run, underpricing will hurt them, and probably drive them out of business. And it hurts the true professional who is pricing properly.
Jeff, great equipment cost breakdown on the first link you mentioned! What a great resource for those who want to accurately determine their equipment operating costs, especially if one is new and hasn’t had enough time pass to realize how frequently refreshes are necessary.
I was told in the very beginning, about 12 yrs ago now, that if I did not value my work and time and price accordingly, I would become, like so many, under appreciated. Thus, I have valued my art with higher pricing, but not as many sells. While this my be fine for me, it may not be fine for your situation. Remember, this, no one will remember your great work, if they themselves, did not sacrifice a little in obtaining it. Just a thought.
I agree with what most people have said. I had to take time off during my pregnancy and after I had my baby. So now business is down. I don’t see how slashing my prices for a month as a special and to get things rolling again is going to hurt BUT in the long run it would be devestating. Not only is the client paying you for your time and talent during the shoot. They are paying for editing (digital) or developing time too. If you don’t know how much time that takes use a stop watch next job you get. Add it all up and then you will know how much to charge an hour. I fully agree with Leila. If you do not value yourself or your work you will be under appreciated. The jobs I love are the ones that pay full price because they don’t nickel and dime or question you. The jobs I have hated are the ones I have “worked out a deal” to help them out. I worked twice as hard, got whined at the whole time, and for what??? Not enough.
“no one will remember your great work, if they themselves, did not sacrifice a little in obtaining it.” Leila I love this thought!
I read a post today which shows how photographer Rachel Brenke pulled herself up and out of the pricing trap and thought I’d share here: http://rachelbrenke.com/blog/i-am-not-the-walmart-of-photographers/#comment-2805
I have one question? Where is the PPA (Professional Photographers of America) in all this? They may help to educate newbies about the true cost of doing business once they become members and that’s if they do. But they sure have done nothing in advertising to the general public about the value of an artist. I feel after being a member for 20 years they are more concerned about growing the membership than helping the industry overall and the public’s perception of what “true” professional photography is. The uneducated public does not know the value of a true professional until after their wedding has been done and they have crappy images on a CD or their baby fell out of one of those “nets in a tree” pictures onto the floor from a DIYer with a camera kit they got from Costco and told everyone at their “play group” that they are now a photographer. OK, let me sign off, I am only starting to get angry about this. Bye!
Your feelings are shared by many members of professional organizations. I am about to get involved with one and will report on it. I do believe that a lot of the organizations are too busy with the organization in itself and it’s structure and somehow nothing gets done.
But… the good news is we are helping over here!