Do you feel comfortable with the prices you’re charging for your services and products? Do you have a nagging thought in your head that you’re not charging enough or wonder why people can’t bring themselves to pay your high prices? There are many factors involved in knowing what to charge for your services and I’m not about to break it down in such a way as to come up with an answer for you. But what I can offer is some hindsight thoughts in my journey finding a price point where I feel comfortable.
I’ve said it before – there are three camps in the professional photography universe. Left brained business people who decide it’s a lucrative career, right brained artists who figure out that they can make money doing what they love and then there are those who have managed to think with both sides of their brain and fuse art and business into something grand. I’m not saying I’m in that category. I hope I am – check back in 5 years and we’ll see how it ends up.
So we have these business photographers who care little about doing more than they need to do to get by, counting on the fact that most consumers don’t know what they’re looking at and think all their photos are great (I’m saying this from experience so don’t tell me it doesn’t happen!:) And then you have the arty photographers who have a hard time taking cash-in-hand for a job well done. The subject of money makes them uncomfortable and they can’t quite come to a conclusion about exactly what they want to charge.
Have you ever bought something outrageously expensive which doesn’t seem to have any reason for being so expensive? For example, I’ve bought two pairs of UGG boots in the past couple years. Why would I spend £200+ on a pair of boots I had never yet even seen in person or tried on? Boots which no one actually told me how they feel when you wear them how they hold up with wear and tear. Boots which cost the company about £5 to make. Shall I be totally transparent and tell you the real reason I paid a high price for a low cost pair of boots? Because they make me look cool. The value of those boots far exceeds the price. If you’re a girl (or maybe an UGG wearing guy – yes, men wear them now too) you’ll have seen it before – two women walk by each other in the newest fashion UGGs and just as they get out of each other’s peripheral view, one glances back to look at the back of the other woman’s boots to see if they’re ‘real’. This is what UGG is selling to women. They aren’t selling fashion – they could come up with the most horrific fashion in boots next month and everyone would clammer to get them. They are selling status. They are selling superiority. £200 isn’t the price, it is the value.
Now think of popular photo studios in your area which lures unsuspecting new mothers with a ‘free sitting’ and then charges exorbitant prices for their images. I’ve heard story after story after story. Couples who aren’t even together anymore, but still paying the monthly £35 direct debit for photos which have probably had the heads chopped off by now. New mums who ‘won’ a free session (which somehow cost them £50) and leave spending more on one canvas than on all of their baby gear combined. I’ve been in the sales room before. They slowly fade your images in and out on a massive flat panel plasma screen with some soothing music (some studios first give you a glass of champagne to loosen up the pocket strings). Then they hit you with the price – £900 for a family photo framed. 4 5x5s in an acrylic block – £1060. They give you two years of free credit to pay monthly for your photos that sometimes cost as much as a car. These studios justify their tactics thus – they aren’t selling pictures, they are selling art. They tell the client that they are ‘investing’ in ‘art’. Why is this an absolutely asinine concept? Because an investment is something that someone else will want to buy from you one day. By it’s very definition, investing is ‘expending money with the expectation of achieving a profit’.
These studios aren’t selling pictures. They aren’t selling an investment. Art? Perhaps. But mostly, they are selling a feeling. The feeling that you get when you look your newborn in the eyes. The feeling you got when you were in the viewing room looking at the one time in your family history when all of the children were simultaneously clean, well-dressed and behaving themselves. They are selling the idea that you are a happy family and it must be true because look at this glowingly Photoshopped representation of your happiness created out of an entirely fabricated situation and lovingly edited to take the smiling face of shot A and placing it next to your smiling face in shot B.
We can learn a lot about how not to treat people from this situation. Make a lot of money? Yes. But sleep at night knowing that you aren’t ripping people off an the biggest way? Better swallow a couple Tylenol PMs.
People just want lovely photos they can display in their home. They don’t want to still be paying for them by the time they’re painfully outdated (can you Photoshop a mullet?) and looking to have new ones taken.
I’m still finding my niche in this market. Still exploring the option that I’m not charging enough. Personally, I didn’t get into this business to become a millionaire. I did it because I wanted my friends to have beautiful images of their children without going through the photo mills that will leave them broke as a joke. I do, however, feel a responsibility to my family to be making enough money to make all of my work and time away worthwhile and I feel no qualms about charging what I need to charge to turn a nice (and realistic) profit.
Some bullet points for why people pay extreme prices for photos:
- They made the appointment months in advance.
- They fought to get all the kids a fresh hair cut and, darnit, they want a photo to commemorate that achievement.
- They have already made an emotional investment.
- Who can allow photos of their children to be trashed? I once had a photographer actually throw my son’s school photos in the bin right before my eyes and there was a twinge of pain in my heart. It’s a despicable way of manipulating an emotional purchase.
- They can’t shop around for these same photos. You took them. You own them. You are willing to sell them the right to have one on their wall. In a way, the photographer is holding their family hostage.
I know this paints a negative picture of an evil hostage-holding manipulating photographer and I don’t believe that the majority of you reading this operate in that fashion. Those bullet points are a powerful insight into the mind of the client and can be used for good or evil – to decide a reasonable price which sets a level of value in the heart of your client or to rob them blind.
Back to the UGGs. Perhaps the guy who made the first pair thought ‘Can I really charge that much? Will people really pay £200 for these boots I made for £5?’ But he took that risk and it worked. We believe that UGGs are worth £200 because Mr. UGG told us so. Your clients are looking to you to not only tell then the price, but convey to them a value. People cherish things which cost them money. They won’t hang their £300 canvas in the bathroom – they will show it to everyone and your hard work and dedication to the art of photographing people being happy will shine for the ages.
What do you think? If you’re not a professional (or you’re a professional who has been to another studio in the past) do you have a story to share that will shed even more light? We’d love to hear it!