I have wanted to write something on this issue for quite a while now, but haven’t really had the guts as it is a constant learning process, and it’s hard to decipher when I know enough to tell other people about my experiences or thoughts. Know that this is only my opinion and how I feel about our industry as a whole. My hopes with writing this now, though, is that I can hopefully reach other photographers, whether you’re just starting out, or maybe even have years of experience and feel stuck. The point of this post isn’t to talk about how to price yourself as much as it is to talk about pricing yourself for your worth. Everyone views themselves differently, we are in different areas with different standards, so there is no right answer other than feeling good about what you charge and knowing that you’re pricing yourself fairly; for both you and your clients.
community over competition
This lingo has been tossed around for years now, and I want to touch on what it means to me. The idea of community over competition is that even if we are working in the same area, the same state, or even the same country.. we want the best for each other. We really are a community. This means, we don’t undercut each other, we don’t steal from each other, and most importantly, we help each other grow. Over the past year, I have met SO many amazing photographers; some have been in the industry for more than 10 years, and some have just picked up their first camera. Building these relationships with other creatives has been amazing; we share everything from our pricing bundles, how we connect with our clients, send each other referrals and even send each other our instagram feeds for constructive criticism. This to me, means everything; this is my idea of community. I am so thankful for this community and I love that we have grown to a point in the industry where we want to help each other, and this brings up the whole point of this blog post.
lets help each other
If we all want to help each other, why aren’t we valuing our work like we should? Why are we booking shoots for only a travel fee and nothing further? To book the shoot? For the experience? Because others do it? I feel this all started with the idea of a bucket list. I have one, as do a lot of photographers, and I think they are an AMAZING marketing strategy as well as a great way to explore a new area/get your vacation paid for etc… However, a bucket list, doesn’t mean- every city, state, and country on earth.
Why don’t we charge clients for the actual wedding, editing, gear, travel, insurance, accounting, or marketing? It is our job to educate our clients on our prices and why we charge what we do. We can’t expect them to understand the costs we take on as photographer unless we are clear about this. When professional photographers don’t charge full pricing for shoots, clients have no way of understanding just how much it costs to run our businesses.
This is a job, a profession, a career. This isn’t a hobby. As much as we love our job, this is how we pay our bills, pay quarterly taxes and insurance. This isn’t a joke to me or to other people that are working our asses off. We all need to take this seriously, like a business- this is a business.
I have lost multiple clients to other photographers that will travel for free, or shoot a wedding for the price of travel, and to be honest- this is flat out devaluing our entire market, and our industry as a whole. By telling people we will shoot for free, is telling them that we don’t value our work, or take ourselves seriously. Now, I don’t want to give anyone the wrong idea- I didn’t ace economics. Pretty positive I failed it, actually.. but, I do know how supply and demand works. Do you know what happens when there is an over saturation of a service or product? The demand goes down, supply goes up, and then…prices drop, demand keeps going down, downnnn downnnnnnn. This is what is currently happening. Too many people are assuming that by lowering their prices, they are going to book alllllll the weddings. Prospective clients can now book a professional for amateur prices and beyond that, expect to get a professional experience out of it. No one wins here. Not the client, and not the photographer.
When the majority of people start charging what they are actually worth, prices are forced to incline.
the travel bug
I understand the need and want to travel, to shoot fun/hip/adventurous weddings, I promise, I really do. When you’re first starting out, I do think it’s great to work for less, to second shoot, to intern.. as long as the couple knows you are new, have less experience and aren’t in a position to charge full professional rates because you aren’t yet a professional. This part is important. Clients deserve to know if you are brand new. This is an important day, and an important part of their life. We have to be honest with ourselves and with our clients. It is SO easy to fake how good we are, pretend that we know what we are doing and assume that everything will just fall into place. Please Please PLEASE be mindful to prospective clients as well as professionals in the market when you’re just starting out. Don’t feel bad saying you’re new, and you want to learn. This is a good thing!! It’s honest, and a lot of people are excited to be a part of your journey. Decide where you stand on the pendalum of experience. Keep in mind, you are still working. You’re still putting in your time. Maybe you aren’t as good as you would like to be, but you are still working, this is valuable.
When it comes to traveling, we have GOT to start charging our worth. I want to travel to Morocco and Greece and Australia just as bad as everyone else. Of course I do! But, heres what I don’t want. I don’t want to go back and forth with a couple that inquired about their wedding in Greece for 2 months, almost book them and then lose them to someone in my market willing to shoot their wedding for half of the cost of travel and nothing more- solely because they have a nice enough instagram but need more experience.. True story, this actually happened. This is not community. This is unprofessional, inexperienced and completely unfair to the couple as well as our industry. As a client, when you book someone like this, no matter what, you are getting what you pay for. For that client specifically, they received a lot of blown out images that were unable to be properly processed. No matter how many times we try to tell clients how frequently this type of thing happens, money talks, and at that time it seems like the best idea. For our clients, or prospective clients out there: we all want the best for you, please know that when you book someone for below market value, you may receive below standard work.
how do I start?
A large percentage of us want to travel; it’s glorified beyond measure and although it’s probably 3x as much work as anyone is willing to admit, it is an incredible experience. A question I had from multiple people in my direct messages yesterday was, okay, I don’t want to take away from the community, I want to grow as a traveling photographer though.. How do I accomplish this? Simple: you travel. Find a cheap flight to Arizona, to Oregon, or California, tell the world you’re going. Book shoots when you’re there. Talk about those shoots when you’re there. Tell everyone you love traveling, geo tag the heck out of instagram. Explore places, meet people, take their photo and invoice them for it ( do this the other way around though, safety first). This is how a lot of traveling photographers start. Maybe you’re very experienced with weddings but you want to book a wedding in Greece. Maybe this is a bucket list item, a dream, you simply can’t wait to go to Greece. Then hell yes, let them pay for your travel, and your lodging for 5 days, your food and any travel while you’re there. If a vacation is your way of getting paid, then heck ya, go for it! But don’t allow someone to fly you to a country and call it a day. This is your job, you are a professional, and you deserve to be compensated. Allowing anything less is saying that you aren’t worth it. You ARE.
A lot of people expect to hire a photographer, pay their travel and call it a day. How do we get away from this? We get away from this by charging our rates. If everyone charged their rates, we would be in a position to book weddings for our art, instead of the fact that we are the cheapest. Do I want to tell the world I charge my brides in Portland $3500 for 8 hours, but I charged a couple in Greece $2,000 to fly me out, spend 4 days shooting, didn’t have my meals covered and I spent an additional 48 hours on an airplane? But it was totally worth it! Was it though? My guess is no. My guess is that you would much rather be paid for your time, as you would be if you were walking into a 9-5 office somewhere. You deserve to be paid. You deserve to be booked for your art, not because you are the cheapest photographer someone can find. When you take into consideration that traveling actually takes 2-3x more time than a local wedding, the price aspect truly isn’t even comparable. Local weddings are more lucrative by miles when you factor in time. Remember this.
price for your market
Wedding prices in Portland are different than they are in Los Angeles or Cincinnati, or even Salt Lake. Every market is different, there is no middle ground that fits everyone because we have different pricing structures in different parts of the country. The point I want to make here, is, if you want to shoot all of your weddings in Portland, take a look around at the market. What are other professionals at your experience level charging? Maybe they’re charging $3,000, maybe it’s $1500. Every market is going to be different, and it definitely takes some research to understand where you fall in your own market. There isn’t a one size fits all and I think this can allow a lot of us to struggle. Obviously, this takes a bit of honesty as well. Are you at the top of your game? Are you booking 58 weddings a year, and unhappy and feeling overworked? You are probably not charging enough. Do you feel like you are still learning, not booking enough to pay your mortgage, and need more content but aren’t getting any inquiries? Maybe you need to take a step back and charge a little less, update your website, blog more, and curate your instagram. Look around you. Most of us aren’t hiding what we charge. My starting prices are listed on my website and I don’t mind if everyone sees them. This is how I value myself and what I feel I am worth. Maybe I book a little less because I charge a little more. I am okay with that. I want couples to book me for my art, not because I’m affordable for every soul out there getting married. I am definitely not the right photographer for every couple that got engaged this year, and I doubt anyone else is either. That is entirely ok!! Price for your worth.
we’re almost there
By telling the world that we don’t need money to do our jobs, we are telling the world that our art isn’t worth anything. I can’t get behind this. When our jobs aren’t worth anything, people don’t expect to pay for it. Our market is already overly saturated- when we add in the fact that people are doing these jobs for free; it is taking any value left and eliminating it, completely. I love my job, I love my clients, and I want them to appreciate my art. They don’t have to appreciate anything when they are surrounded by photographers willing to do these things for free. They are overwhelmed with options, edits, packages and to be honest, it seems as if the majority of people have so many options now, it’s become the easiest to copy and paste and email to 5 different people, and whoever is cheapest is who they book. This is not ideal for clients or for our industry.
If you’re still with me, I commend you. I reread this so many times, and I am sure I could have minimized this more, but I do feel that it is important to touch on this as much as we all possibly can. We all need to value ourselves and our art. It doesn’t matter if you’re in finance or photography. This is our job, and we all have something to bring to the table. The important part is that we ALL understand this. This doesn’t work if half of us are charging our rates, and the other half of us are still doing things for free. If you see a wedding referral in a FB group for a wedding in Panama and their budget is $1200, please for the love of sour patch kids DO NOT write your website down. Imagine if no one responded to that referral. Would the couple go without a photographer? No. They would either find an uncle bob or they would be forced to raise their budget. I see these type of referrals daily in these groups and it makes me so so SO sad to see over 100 replies. You guys, please don’t forget your worth. You are worth more than working for free. This is a group effort, we all need to be better at sticking to our prices, and being proud of them. There will be others. Other clients, other weddings, other couples. They will find you, and they will appreciate your art, but only if you give them the opportunity.
I hope this piece adds a little positive reinforcement to your pricing and I hope we can all help each other continue to grow in a positive direction. This community is truly incredible and I am so thankful for it; sometimes we just have to take a step back and realize what we are doing, and why we are doing it. Forget social media, forget content. This is about your worth, your job, your career- your art. There is immense value in what you can create, don’t forget it.