One of the reasons I started PartTimePhoto.com was because there exists a huge canyon online between the advice established professional photographers give and the realities amateurs face as they make the transition to paid professionals.
Established photogs often speak from a position of…well, establishment – their advice pertains to the photography industry on the luxury, boutique end of the market, and it doesn’t acknowledge or solve problems the new-to-the-fold professional photographer faces.
One rabbit grognards like to pull out of their hat is the ‘longevity’ of their studio prints. They use expensive-sounding terms like ‘museum quality’ and ‘archival inks’ while railing against the sins of prints made at Walgreens or Costco, and how their cheap prints will (somehow) self destruct over the years.
Well, no professional photographer would admit it, but…those discount store prints will, in fact, still be around 50 years from now. Their longevity isn’t really in question.
And you know how I know? Because I, like most folks, have boxes and boxes of family photos going all the way back to the early 1900s. Specifically, the cheap Super S Grocery Store discount prints my parents made of their wedding and my early childhood…well, they look the exact same as they did decades ago when they were first made. If they’ve lost a pinch of color or luster, I can’t tell, nor can anyone in my family.
That doesn’t speak to the quality of the photos, of course. My father had a great talent for shooting into the air, cutting friends and family off at the waist and featuring lots of wall and ceiling in his photos.
The longevity question is moot, especially in the digital age:
- There is no more pure rendition of a photo a client can get than the hi-res file you hand them on CD, usually only one step removed from the RAW file itself. It is infinitely copyable, distributable, and reprintable.
- Even here in tiny Bandera, Texas, there are photo retouchers who will gladly take your old, worn, faded, torn home photos and restore them to glory.
- Consumers can buy the same printers and inks that we can, mates. Whether or not they’ll drop hundreds or thousands of dollars to make lifelong-lasting prints at home is another question, but there’s nothing stopping them. And that option gets more attractive in equal proportion to the stunning prices they see boutique studios charge for prints.
- Down in the trenches of the budget/value/entry level of the professional photography market, dominated by younger families, clients are more concerned with how their photos will look on Facebook than hanging on their grandkids’ walls 50 years from now.
The grognards cry “Woe, woe!” at how the market has shifted over the last decade, and will b*tch all over the photo forums about how the digital age and consumer dSLR market has ruined the industry. Just like the metro newspaper giants are b*tching about the Internet and mobile news providers, and gas-guzzling American car manufacturers are b*tching about fuel-efficient foreign cars. I bet the buggy whip manufacturers would have liked to wrap a wagon wheel around Henry Ford’s neck, too.
Well b*itch yourself out of business or be an innovator in your industry.
Are Canon or Nikon b*tching that they can no longer charge tens of thousands of dollars for Digital SLR cameras? Hell no – they’re making money hand over fist selling $1,000 entry-level camera bodies to consumers who used to spend their money on $9 disposable film cameras.
At the startup end of the market is where your opportunity as a part time photographer lies to innovate and prosper.
It’s About The Art, Not The Paper
Client education is key in the photography industry, at all levels.
The more good, useful knowledge that you can impart upon a client before, during, and after a shoot, the better results and more value they will get out of spending their money with you.
They’re buying the art you create. They’re buying the experience of working with you. They are not, however, buying the piece of paper your art is printed on.
If you’re consistently having issues with clients complaining about the price of your prints, frankly, you’re not doing your job as the expert in the room by explaining to them why what you offer is worth what you’re asking.
And, to be equally frank, if you can’t explain that value, then you need to get educated yourself.
Because of the morass of conflicting and completely generic, unspecific advice that new photographers get online when they ask, “What should my prices be as a new professional photographer?,” most photogs in the startup phase are shooting in the dark when they set their prices. They don’t really know why they charge what they charge.
That’s a dangerous position to put yourself in when a client challenges you, but it’s understandable. Established photographers, the grognards that see you as competition and the reason the industry is going to hell, aren’t lining up to help you actually set your specific prices.
Honesty and transparency will take you far with clients and help you sleep better at night. Here are a few responses to client questions that should help you out when the time comes:
- Q: Why do you charge $10 (or $100) for a 4×6 when I can get the same thing at Walmart for 19 cents? A: To be clear, what we charge for is our art, not the paper it’s printed on. I can sell you a 4×6 piece of Kodak paper for 19 cents, but it isn’t worth much without the photo that goes on it. Since we charge no session fee and have no minimum order, we rely on our print and file sales for 100 percent of our revenue. For clients who want bulk orders of prints, we do suggest they buy the digital files on CD and have prints made at less expense elsewhere – and I can suggest a great pro lab if you choose that option – but about half our clients prefer the convenience and satisfaction gaurantee that comes with buying prints directly from us. Our monitors are calibrated to Miller’s Imaging, the pro lab we use for all our prints, and guarantee that what you see in your prints will be as close as possible to what you see here in your proofs. They will be the highest quality you can buy. It’s not the paper you’re buying, it’s the art and the best reproduction that can be made of it.
- Q: Can I just buy the digital files and print them at Walmart? A: You can, but I don’t suggest it. Cheap prints usually are soft and have a nasty color cast to them – Walgreens tends to shift purple, Walmart tends to shift green. I can e-mail you the information on Mpix.com, the consumer division of Miller’s Imaging, whom we use for our pro lab prints – they will give you the closest quality to what we offer with our studio prints. Their prices are only a bit higher than the discount stores, but you’ll be much happier with the results. I can even walk you through the process right now if you’d like.
- Q: Why are your big prints so expensive? A: Just like with any kind of art, the cost goes up with the size of the print. A pro lab-printed, studio-guaranteed 20×30 print is the Lamborghini of its kind; it’s the kind of investment you’re going to hang over the fireplace in your home and enjoy for many years, and your kids will enjoy, and their kids years down the road. We offer luxury options like this for clients who want to make that kind of investment. Some clients prefer a more budget-friendly option, which is why we offer mid-sized wall art, and of course, digital files which our clients can then have printed any size they want.
You see, when you cut the horsesh*t and just tell clients the truth, it makes ‘selling’ a lot easier. There are advantages and disadvantages to buying prints or buying digital files and having prints made, and taking just a few minutes to share those truths with clients benefits you both.
I try to paint the picture for clients of white glove, hands-off, convenient, luxury versus being a Do It Yourselfer. I can cook a damn good steak on my grill at home, but that doesn’t mean I won’t drop way more money on a visit to Texas Land & Cattle for a special occasion.
Your client gets to make the final call, but never forget that they look to you for guidance as their professional photographer. Educate your client and try to help them get the most out of their purchase – not just what you want them to buy, but what would really be best for their needs.
You’re worth what clients pay you, whether that’s $8 or $80 for an 8×10. If a photographer is doing good business, I have no right to say she’s charging too much or too little – that’s between her, her clients, and her accountant. That’s capitalism, baby.
The only way to ‘force’ clients to buy what you want them to buy is to only offer what you want to sell. But you have to be slingin’ some impressive artistic chops and have good exposure in your market to dictate the rules like this.
But at the startup end of the professional photography market, be as open, honest, transparent, and consumer-friendly as you can be.
Keep in mind, it’s the draconian rules of the established competition that give you your greatest opportunity to break in and become a breath of fresh air in your market.
And if it ain’t broke, you don’t have to fix it. Even 11 years into the game, I still charge no session fee, ask no minimum order, and my prices are well below the big boys in nearby San Antonio. I beat conventional photography industry wisdom black and blue with every client that books and shoots with me, then buys at averages well above what they ‘should’ according to the ‘experts.’
There are many layers to the photography industry from budget to boutique, but there’s no need to use hyperbole to scare clients into buying what you want instead of what they need. Tell them the truth. If what you have to offer is worth it to them, they’ll be sold long before they’re pulling out their checkbooks.
Far more often than not, clients are thanking me for a wonderful experience while handing me a check for more than I expected to earn. And they’re telling their friends – who are telling their friends.
So success goes – at least by my definition.
- Put your money where your mouth is, and as they say up north, Prove It. Throw a dozen of your personal favorite photos on CD, head into town, and have sets of 4x6s and 8x10s printed up at Walgreens, Walmart, Costco, wherever you like. Then send the same set of files to your pro lab (or printer, if you print in-house) and wait for the prints to arrive. Lay them out and compare. Look for all the ways – color, feel, texture, quality, glare, detail, sharpness, contrast, pop – that your professional prints are superior. Keep these prints on hand to show clients what a difference a pro job makes.
- ProTip: Car salesmen are notorious for their…talents of persuasion. Dress up nice, and pay a visit to your local luxury car dealership – Mercedes, BMW, Cadillac, etc. Let a salesman give you a tour, ask you questions to determine your needs (and secret wants), and take mental notes on how he makes the connection between what you want and what he has to offer – and what the upgraded solutions are to your problem. You will learn more about personal attention and selling on value here than in any expensive workshop. Do it again next week at another dealership. Do it again the following week at another. This is an invaluable education.
- Brainstorm Session: Why do you charge the prices you charge? After expenses and overhead, are you pocketing as much money as you want for your time invested? If not, how much do you need to charge to be thrilled with every sale? What can you do to add value to your art and experience to charge those prices? File this in your Brainstorms folder.
- My writing at PartTimePhoto.com exists to serve your needs as an amateur photographer making the transition to paid professional. I appreciate and welcome your readership, and invite you to click the free “Subscribe” link at the top of any page of this site.
- How do you communicate the value of your prints, files and products to clients, and justify your prices accordingly? Leave a comment below, e-mail me, or call or text me at 830-688-1564.
P.S. Sometimes a client doesn’t realize your worth until you frame your offer around its value.
True story: A client and I had a great shoot together, she sent me her order for a bunch of digital files, and I sent her back an invoice with a nice bulk discount. She wrote back and told me she never dreamed I would be so expensive!
This, after my discount, and having long ago told her my prices.
With great gentility and kindness, I told her a happy customer was worth more to me than the money itself – I told her to mail me a check for what she thought the photos of her daughter were worth, and that I’d send her the entire shoot on CD, no questions asked, no hard feelings. And I meant it sincerely.
A check arrived in the mail for the full amount I invoiced her for – and she’s already booked her family’s next shoot.