One of the toughest things to learn in the photography industry is to learn how to value yourself. Going through art and photography school it was practically blasphemous to even hint at turning your work into profit and would surely get you dirty looks, low marks, and the wrath of the department chair. “You should be doing your work from your heart, not your wallet” they said. Well, I don’t subscribe to the “Starving Artist” theory. I believe photographers have a talent for image making that the general population does not have, and just like every other unique skill set, I believe we deserve to be compensated for it.
The first few years of being in business I struggled with pricing. I felt I hadn’t “earned” the ability to charge a certain amount because I didn’t have a large enough portfolio. I thought that the prices I charged, logically made sense. Why the heck do those other guys charge $25 for a 4×6?! That’s insane! Well, I quickly began to realize why. Overhead, insurance, buffer incase I screw an order up or it’s lost in the mail, ISP costs, hosting costs, credit card processing fees, equipment costs, offsite backups, etc. the list goes on and on. I also completely undervalued the worth of my time.
Above all things, this is the most important, and perhaps the most often overlooked aspect to pricing, particularly for wedding photographers. When I sat down and took a hard look at the amount of hours I spent on a wedding doing client consultations, emails, uploading, downloading, editing, backing up, archiving, blogging, shooting, traveling, I saw that one wedding can rack up over 60 hours in the blink of an eye. and at the rates I was compensating myself after expenses at a rate cheaper than my babysitting job in high school. Not cool. It reminded me of the phrase “I work way to hard to be this poor”.
It was at this point that I took a cold hard look at my financials and made some drastic changes. I upped my prices and held myself more accountable to being more disciplined with the hours I was working vs. actually living life. A year later, I did it again. And then again. Each time I changed my pricing I switched price brackets. I was nervous how this would affect my referral business as about 80% of my business is word of mouth from previous clients, but the impact was marginal. Most referrals were happy to pay the prices as I’d already been vetted by their friends and they’d already seen the work.
Finally, 8 years in, I feel like I’m where I need to be to value myself for the vision that only I can deliver. It feels good, but I always wonder why I didn’t do it sooner. I did myself a disservice, and more importantly I realize how those first two years did my industry a disservice as well. In this digital age, now more than ever, we as photographers & artists, need to come together and support our industry to be valued the way that it should be. If we can remind all newbies to uphold their worth even in the face of uncertainty, small portfolios, or new ventures, then we’ll all be better off in supporting ourselves and our quest to provide the world with beautiful imagery.
Lisa is a D.C. based wedding & portrait photographer and is the co-owner and lead photographer for SoftBox Media Photography. View her website here.
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