As a photographer it’s hard to put a price on what you do. You’re creating memories that will last a lifetime in some cases, in others you’re increasing the sale price of houses through more eye catching photos. It takes time, skill, experience, and a keen eye for what look good, and more importantly, what clients like. Your equipment is often worth more than what some people spend on a car… so how can you put a price on all this?
The New Photographer Trap
The first mistake new photographers make is to start out with very low prices. Over on my Facebook page, one photographer mentioned a photographer in their area charging just $30 for 2 photos unedited… but of course with these extremely low prices, the quality is shocking and the clients still think it’s poor value.
This photographer will of course get quite a few clients coming in initially, but because of the poor quality, these clients won’t be back, and they’ll probably tell their friends about how bad it was. The photographer will be making barely enough money to scrape by, even if she’s fully booked, and she’ll never be able to raise her prices to profitable levels for a few reasons.
- She hasn’t established herself as a good photographer and has probably even tarnished her name/reputation
- The clients she’s attracted have all been ‘bargain hunters’ who are never loyal (except to the next guy with cheap prices)
So, the first lesson is that you should NEVER start out as the cheapest photographer in town. It results in attracting the bargain hunters, who are always the ones who look for problems with your photos… they think that “since you’re so cheap, there must be something wrong”, so they actively hunt for any problems, and when someone searches specifically for a problem, they usually find one!
The Photography Pricing Paradox
This is something that most photographers hate to hear, and they don’t want to believe, but there’s simply no denying it…
The prices you charge are directly related to how good you are at marketing, and NOT how good you are as a photographer!
Sure, it would be a magical world is your income was directly related to your skill, experience and results. But it’s not the case!
Most of us know photographers at both ends of the spectrum. On one end is the genius photographer who is dripping with talent… he’s got an eye for photographer and editing, and his worst shot seems better than your best shot, BUT he can barely make ends meet. He can’t find enough clients to pay cover the rent on his unit and he always seems to be begging other photographers for clients and waiting for his big break.
On the other end of the spectrum is the amateur photographer… it seems like he’s only just started and some of his work is ok, but certainly not impressive by any standards. Some shots are over-exposed… some shot with the wrong ISO and are grainy, and he screwed up the shutter speed on others so they’re blurry… BUT this guy has more clients than he can handle! He’s charging high prices and is booked solid for months in advance. He’s even started hiring videographers, a receptionist and outsources his editing! He’s raking in the jobs and the profit, but nobody knows how!
It must be his connections right? He know’s loads of people who are getting him these jobs, and he probably had rich parents who bought all his gear. He got lucky for whatever reason, and it’s not fair!
Well my friend… you’re wrong!
The second photographer I described is great at marketing himself, while the first is lousy at it!
Even though other professional photographers think his photo’s aren’t the best, his clients love him and they’re referring him to everyone they know.
It’s his marketing skills that allow him to do all this!
Here’s an example from another industry… Did you know that Dr. Phil is actually a terrible Psychologist? Nearly all Psychologists will agree that Dr. Phil doesn’t know what he’s doing, and they’ll swear that they are far more qualified and could do the job much better. They say he doesn’t deserve to be where he is today, and that he got ‘lucky’.
But Dr. Phil didn’t get lucky. He simply marketed himself better than other Psychologists and get himself on the Oprah show, and used that publicity to launch his career. His audience have no idea that he’s a crappy Psychologist, just like most photography clients could tell the difference between a photo that’s over-exposed, under-exposed, or just right! It’s the marketing that makes the difference, NOT the skill level!
So, How Should You Price Yourself?
Sorry about the short rant… I just needed to make the previous point very clear, before we move on to the issue of pricing.
I recommend making yourself the HIGHEST priced in your area.
There are a few “criteria” before you start doing this though!
First, you can’t simply go from the lowest priced, or in the lower range, to the highest price because it’s too much of a jump. Make it a gradual process and start by boosting your price by 20-30% for the first 3-4 months, then introduce another price increase of 30-40%. Keep doing this price boost every 3-4 months until you’re charging the highest prices in your area (relative to the service you offer).
Second, you need to be good. Don’t worry about being the best, because there’s almost always going to be someone who is better. You don’t need to be perfect, or “the best” to charge the highest prices. REMEMBER – price is related to marketing, not to photography skill. You simply need to be able to produce results that will make your clients thrilled, which isn’t too difficult to accomplish because your clients typically know nothing about photography, so anything better than they can do on their ‘point and shoot’ will be impressive!
Educated And Create Value!
You can’t just jack your prices up without doing a few things differently!
The first thing is to educate your clients. Not because they’re uneducated, but because they probably don’t know a whole lot about photography, so you need to explain a few things to help add value to your services. Here’s some examples;
- Tell them why you use the lenses you do. “This is the sharpest lens made by Nikon so your photos will look like real life… they’re more reliable and give the best color balance and saturation compared to other lenses. Some photographers use inferior lenses to save money, but these give you real life colors and images so clear that you couldn’t see an imperfection with a magnifying glass” – remember to speak in terms of how it benefits the client
- Tell them how you print your photos using the highest quality inks so they don’t just look good now, but they’ll look the same in 100 years from now
- Explain that you’ve got so many spare batteries that you could shoot for days without running out, and that you back up all your files as soon as they come out of the camera so nothing gets lost
- Explain that your camera can capture 6 pictures per second so you’ll never miss a moment
- Tell them that you’re available by phone, email or even in person if they want to see the editing process or have you make changes along the way
I could go on, but these details will be specific to you. You need to realize that things that seem trivial and obvious to you will often impress your clients, and even if all photographers have a camera that shoots 6 pictures per second, if you’re the only one that tells them (educates), then you’re the only one who will get credit for it!
Here’s a little story, and forgive me for not remembering all the details… There was a beer brewing company that decided to start a marketing campaign based around the fact that their beer was made with hops, grain, yeast and water which were natural ingredients. The people loved the ads and the company exploded in sales! The funny part is that all beer is made from the same stuff (hops, grain, yeast and water), but most of the public didn’t know about it, and because this company was that first to explain it, they made a fortune. Other companies eventually followed suit and started to copy their success, but it was too late!
It’s the same in photography… don’t expect that your clients know anything… explain in all to them! They could be amazed by the fact that you worked on the fashion runways in Milan, or simply that your tripod has a bubble level!