Pricing Responsibly {Charlotte Photographer}
Monday, January 30, 2012
By DonnaKay Johnson
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Almost as a daily thing I'll see something on another photographers site about pricing.  There is no doubt that it is one issue that causes a huge amount of stress for a professional photographer in business, and for the first six months of my business it was my biggest struggle.  I felt like I was in a state of constantly comparing what other photographers were charging, and trying to find a place that was comfortable to set my prices - but never fully understanding HOW I would come to any of the prices that were being set.  For me, attending an After Dark conference in September was the best thing to happen for me.  I took every course offered by a long-standing successful photographer.  Listening to what she had to say, I could see she understood what I was going through completely.  She had been there herself at some point.  It helped to hear other photographers in the class talking about how this was such a struggle for them - and to hear others who had taken her course before sharing how they had put the price-changes into action in their business, and they were flowing so much better ever since.  It scared me to death to come home, sit down with the worksheets I had, and start figuring out the correct pricing to set for MY photography business.  But I found so much relief in having some sense made out of the madness. I felt excited knowing that these prices were not just made up in my head, or stolen (or borrowed) from someone else's pricelist. These were the prices that were derived to make my photography business survive and one day thrive.  


But then there is facebook.  I still read the comments from so many other photographers about pricing issues.  Too high -- too low?  How to set the prices - and how to stick to them.  Someone always complaining that the prices are ridiculously high - and someone else saying "you're being robbed!"  What pushed me to write this blog was a graph that I had put on my facebook fan page that someone made a defensive comment about.   Basically, she said that the graph was not true.  That she was good, and fast and cheap.  And that she had friends who did a great job and didn't charge hardly anything - and they were basically hobbyists, so they didn't need to charge.  At the time, it really irritated me that she would make MY page a place for her negativity.  Yet as I thought about what she said, what it really make me think of was a very big conversation that we had one day in the After Dark conference.  At one of the business classes, the photographer leading the class was talking about pricing your business responsibly.  That if you were not pricing up to PPA (Professional Photographers of America) standards, you should really consider yourself a hobbyist.  She pointed out that there is nothing wrong with being a hobbyist - just don't call yourself a business if that is the way you are going to do things.  It hurts other photographers who run a legitimate business and are in business to support themselves.  That really made a lot of sense to me.  And that was what I really wanted to say back to this girl who wanted to use my facebook page to platform her negativity. 


I started my photography business TO BE A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS.  I have insurance, I have a Tax ID number, I have certifications and licensing. I pay for my professional printing, a website and any kind of advertising that I may do. I'm a member of PPA (Professional Photographers of America), NAPCP (National Association of Professional Child Photographers) and other professional photography associations.  But to be a member of these associations comes not only with acceptance but with association dues.  None of this comes free.  I have to drive my car to photo sessions, and have professional equipment that is reliable, but keeping it that way requires maintenance, cleanings and check-ups.  I edit with professional software, which comes at a great price (not to mention the lessons I pay for to learn how to use new software when necessary!) But let's be real here - it all comes at a price.  My point is that you get what you pay for, and if someone wants to hire a professional for the job, they will pay for a professional.  I do know that financially I barely come out in the black most months in my business.  Most of the time, it's definitely in the red.  But for a first-year business, that's to be expected (and possibly for the next few years, actually!)  Any money I do make is put back into building my business right now.  But when a client schedules with me, and they pay my $100+ Session Fee upfront -- they will get what they paid for.  They will get my undivided attention in planning and carrying out their session.  They will get my expertise: I will show up with professional gear to obtain the pictures that they will treasure for a lifetime.  And I will edit their images in the best way to produce pictures that they will be proud to hang above their fireplace, or in a large piece of wall art over a sofa - or however they want to display it in their home.  If they pay me to design a custom album for them, they will have faith that what will be delivered to them will be the best quality, and very professionally finished.  They will know that I am doing everything I can to always offer them the best photography at the most competitive rates... and that I value what I do, as well as respect the art of photography.  I don't offer "the lowest rates" because I want to uphold the standards of Professional Photography. I know how much work I've put into my business... and I don't want to do anything to take away the respect I believe the profession deserves.  

If you are a fellow photographer running a business, I feel your pain in figuring out the best pricing for your business.  There is some great guidance out there to help you come to the pricing that is best to hold up the standards of the business, and to help your business thrive for a long time.  It's an equation based on several key factors of your particular business.  Take the time you need to do the homework and price fairly.  Your prices show your clients how much you regard your own work... so keep that in mind, and be fair to yourself!  


On the other hand, if you are a client (or a prospective client) I am so excited at the prospect of working with you.  YOU are why I do what I do.  My desire is to not only grow a successful and long-standing photography business, but also to grow relationships and friendships with my clients.  I don't want to just do one session with you, like an impersonal box-studio at one of the chain stores.  But rather, I want to start at the beginning of your story and stick through to the end... sharing years of memories with you and recording them in pictures that will be treasured forever.  I can't wait to hear from you!!

Leave a comment:
Brandy - I'm a newbie and I appreciate you sharing this info.
Jean Loper - Awesome sharing!!!!!!!!!!!!
Lisa B - Very well said!!
Charlotte - I could read this over and over. I could stand on a hilltop, and, recite it to all available ears. Very well written DonnaKay :)