Photography Pricing Rates and “Investment”

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I spend a decent amount of time on Google to see what other photographers in my area are up to. I’ll look at everything such as what their pricing and rates are, what kind of photography they choose to display for their portfolios, and even the kind of website design they’ve chosen and what platforms they’re using to host their websites.

I’ve noticed some things:

  1. There are a LOT of photographer oriented websites built with Squarespace! (new tab)
  2. Websites built with WordPress are usually hosted on Siteground or GoDaddy, predominantly.
  3. Many of these websites use nearly identical themes, font styles, and brand-voices.
  4. Photos are edited using nearly identical styles, mostly with what appear to be the same presets.
  5. Many photographers use pricing games that try to mask a whole lot of doubt and insecurity.
  6. And, finally, there’s a lot of unnecessary justification for that insecurity.

It’s really the final two points that I wanted to focus on in this post. I may talk about the other points at another time, if I feel up for it.

WhY dO U cHaRgE So MuCh 4 PhOtOgRaPhY???????

That’s The Money Question, and it’s probably the most difficult one to answer and the scariest question that a client can ask you, right? If you’ve ever been asked by a prospect why you charge what you charge, what are some of the usual answers you’ll give?

It’s safe to assume that your answer will contain any or all the following reasons:

  • My prices reflect the cost of my camera equipment — look, I have the best cameras and lenses!
  • I have to keep up with the latest equipment and camera technology, and really powerful computer hardware and software, don’t you just love my MacBook Pro? It’s for creatives like me, you know.
  • My studio costs a lot of money to rent because just look at chic this vintage dresser in the background against the exposed brick of my exclusive loft!
  • My rent is really expensive! I live in a really exclusive artsy area and still have to feed my family.
  • I spent a lot of time and money on my education in order to master my craft!
  • I also continue to spend even more of my time and furthering my education just to stay on top of the latest trends in photography!
  • You have no idea just how much work and labor I do in the background, and you’ll never even see how much it really is, just to create one amazing image! Now think about how much time I spend on alllllll the photos from our shoot.
  • Sometimes, I even have to hire assistants, and they don’t work for free, either!

Hell, you’ve probably grown so sick of answering that question with those answers that you’ve even put it up somewhere in your website’s FAQ section or a blog post so you can easily direct their inquiry straight to that page so you don’t have to answer it again, right?

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight……….?

Here’s the problem

Those answers are all about you and are not at all about your client.

I can promise you two things:

  • The average client really doesn’t care about those things as much as you think they do.
  • You care far more about your problems than your client ever will.

Those reasons are completely irrelevant to your client. Seriously, are you really gonna attempt to answer their pricing question based on your costs?

Photographers who answer The Money Question with “bUt mY oVeRhEaD iS So mUcH aNd I gOtTa PaY mY Rent” aren’t taking the time to find out about anything about their client’s needs. The reason why clients don’t care about why your prices are what they are is simply because those answers aren’t focused on answering their actual question because they focused on The Money Question and not the underlying question the client’s really thinking of.

Okay, so then what is The Money Question?

  • In sales, it’s an objection.
  • In military terms, it’s a minefield.
  • In stage magic, it’s called misdirection.
  • In literature, especially mystery novels, it’s called a red-herring.
In Star Wars…

The Money Question is a very simple way to blow up your confidence, make you react to them, and then force you to answer on their terms so you get nervous and defensive.

Sometimes you get very defensive, right? RIIIIIIGHT???

So you hem, haw, and start justifying your existence to them by beating them over the head with the power of your irrelevant life story, your outrageous overhead, and your amazing camera and big dick, er, 70-200mm F2.8 IS lens. The more you “answer,” the deeper into the minefield you’re walking.

Face it, the moment you begin to answer defensively, you’ve already lost. You spent more time trying to justify your existence to yourself and they really don’t care about your whining. You’ve become generic. Just another hungry “photographer” willing to bend over backwards and dance to the beat of their drum.

Imagine how quickly you’d have been passed up in a corporate interview if you answered “I don’t think we can afford that, why should we pay you a 90k salary?” with “Because the neighborhood I live in is really exclusive! The minimum I need to stay in my exposed beam-and-brick loft with the wrought-iron balcony and studio-space that doubles as my Burner orgy room is 90k. Besides, I went to UMass for my MBA, and the balance on my student-loans keeps growing no matter how much I pay on it…”

Speaking of job interviews

Have you ever been to a job interview?

What’s the one thing that every hiring manager will ask during the interview process?

They may not always phrase it identically, sometimes they won’t even ask it, but it is always the same implied question, no matter what words actually come out of their mouths.

No. Matter. What. Words. Come. Out. Of. Their. Mouths.

Let’s play a fun game with some very simple questions. Let’s say that I’m looking to hire you for whatever reason existing in my mind — which can be anything, really — because I used to be a staffing-professional at a staffing firm at one point in my life.

Yes, I once was the asshole recruiter you had to convince that you were worthy enough to be passed on to the next step in the hiring process.

Guess what…

Hello Balrog, you may call me Gandalf.

You may have heard the following during your job interview:

  • How much did you make at your last position?
  • What was your last position like?
  • Did you bring a copy of your resume with you?
  • What’s your desired salary for this position? (The Money Question)
  • Can you describe what a typical day was like?
  • Can you describe a time when you had a viciously irate customer on the phone, it’s already been ten minutes of mouth-frothing obscenities, but your call times for the day are just barely hanging on and your WRAP times are in the shitter. How would you handle that?
  • Why did you leave your last position, what happened?
  • What would your last manager say about you?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Do you have any questions for me?
  • Would you like some water?
  • My name is Adrian and I’ll be interviewing you today.
  • Hello.

So, what was I actually asking?

Surprise, surprise! My evaluation of you as a prospective hire started the moment you responded to my job application. It continued the moment I called you to “ask a couple of questions” or to schedule an interview with me. It further continued the minute you stepped foot on the property and into my office. It continued during the interview and after the interview as you were getting ready to walk back out to your car which, by the way, is completely visible from my office window. On and on and on, everything you say and do, everything you didn’t say or do, and everything one of your references says or does concerning you adds up to paint a picture for us.

Even if, as interviewers, we could only legally ask “How would you rate Bob on the following..?” or “Is Bob rehire-able?” their answer or lack of answer can sometimes make a difference.

Oh yeah, remember the front desk secretary you asked about how to find my office? We talk, too…

What every hiring manager and every prospective client ever in the history of the world is actually asking you boils down to one thing:

“Why should I hire you?”

Every hiring manager and prospective client ever

So, how is any of this relevant to you, The World’s Greatest Photographer?

Just like prospective hiring managers, prospective clients are constantly evaluating you in order to pick the best fit for their needs. They want to know why they should hire you. So, using only your website as an example, their evaluation begins the minute they land on it.

Some of the things that stick out to them would be:

  1. What is your blog saying about you?
  2. What about your public facing social media pages?
  3. Does your website copy have typos?
  4. What’s your email address say about you?
  5. Is it easy to navigate?
  6. How do they get a hold of you?
  7. What photos did you select for your website?
  8. What about for your portfolio?
  9. Etc…

Okay, at least to me they’d stick out. Seriously, I roll my eyes anytime I see a business with a prominent gmail.com address. I’m that picky.

Your prospective client’s evaluation also begins when they meet you in public somewhere completely unrelated and you strike up a conversation that, typical for Americans, usually ends up with asking each other, “So, what do you do?”

You may also hear any of the following during that conversation:

(See if you can spot The Money Question trap)

  • Oh, my Uncle Bob’s got a fancy camera already, and he’s usually happy to shoot for free.
  • Ehhhh, my phone is good enough.
  • You charge how much???? Well, that’s not what Peter Hurley charges! (new tab; external link)
  • How long have you been a photographer?
  • Do you do weddings?
  • I don’t like how I look, can you make my ass less…you know… *gestures awkwardly*
  • Can I get allllll the photos from the shoot?
  • When will photos be ready?
  • What’s your photography style?
  • Can I get the original RAW files?
  • What kind of insurance do you have?
  • Can past clients provide references?
  • Can I bring an escort?
  • I don’t have much of a budget but I love your style! Can we smoke you up, in lieu of money? (seriously, I’ve been asked that by multiple wooks)
  • Do you do TFP?

That’s a lot, right? Every one of them, whether they are consciously thinking of it or not, is trying to evaluate why they should hire you (new tab).

Did you find The Money Question? Did you feel weirdly anxious, just reading it?

Why?

I’ll make a few assumptions, but really they boil down to you don’t really feel all that confident in the prices that you’re charging because you have not figured out how that relates to what your clients are actually looking for. You do not know yourself, your skills, and your ability to consistently deliver for your clients and solve problems as they come up well enough so you fall back onto your reasons for why you charge your rates.

It’s a very common mistake made by noobs (new tab) and experienced photographers alike.

Remember, your typical client doesn’t care because you simply cannot answer their objections with your pain points. Their objections are never answered by your problems.

So how do you answer, “Why are you so expensive?”

It’s simple. First, remember that The Money Question is just another question. Don’t worry about it.

What they’re really asking is, “Why should I hire you?” Unfortunately, I cannot tell you why your client should hire you. Only you can figure that out for yourself.

Here’s some questions to ask yourself, to help you figure it out:

  • What makes you different from all the other photographers in your area because, after all, anyone can be a photographer, right?
  • What kind of photo shoot will you actually run? What’s the process like?
  • Can you explain what a typical shoot is like?
  • You are on a delivery deadline, and your hard drive crashed taking your most recent photo shoot with it — a wedding with the absolute most Karen of Bridezillas and her unreasonably gargantuan demands — what do you do about it? What can you do about it? What should you have done, instead?
  • Are you a natural light only photographer, why or why not?
  • How do you bring out the personality of your clients, many of whom absolutely hate having their photos taken, especially the one-offs?
  • How do you keep up your energy, day in and day out, while you constantly market yourself, prospect for new clients, have sales calls, juggle “life” as it happens?
  • On and on…

Take every client interaction, every client question, every push back, every rant, every objection, every complaint, and every silly message, and every inane email as an opportunity to evaluate yourself in their eyes, because they’re not asking these things to be rude (most of the time), they’re evaluating you and the value your business can potentially bring to them.

Why should they spend their money with you, whatever it is that you are charging, when they have so many other reasons, in their mind, to go elsewhere — anywhere — but you?

Why should they hire you?

“Because I’m worth it!”

Yes, you are.

Now fucking prove it.


Self Evaluation Challenge

So, here’s your opportunity to have a thought-exercise in your own business, whether or not you’re a photographer, another creative, or another type of business owner.

You’re asked, “Why are you so expensive?”

How do you answer that without resorting to justifying your costs in any way that is irrelevant to your client and focused primarily on yourself?

Remember, the real question is “Why should I hire you?”

If you’re up to sharing your answers and thought process, please share in the comments below. I’d love to read them and I am certain other people would appreciate your perspectives!

By Adrian Feliciano

Adrian Feliciano specializes in on-location portrait and boudoir photography, documenting events for Boston's thriving nightlife scene, and fire performer photography. Adrian also runs a shop over at Americanbogan.com for non-photography related things and makes one hell of a delicious Filipino adobo. You can always ask him for the recipe whenever you're ready to try something new for dinner.

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