Maybe I’ve just been on social media too much lately but I can not stop coming across Facebook posts or ads directly on my socials of photographers in my area promoting their pricing as “competitive” or just being generally far below the average pricing for the area. I want to chat about this!
Before I get into it, I want to start by saying a few things:
I’m not on my high horse here. My pricing isn’t perfect. I was ridiculously cheap in the beginning and I still struggle with pricing to this day. That being said, I have learned a lot over the last couple of years and I have certainly spent a lot of time restructuring my pricing and making sure I am in line with comparable photographers in my city.
This post is not in any way intended for clients. This isn’t on you! But if you are curious as to what kind of juicy drama (lol) photographers have amongst their own community, then read on!
This isn’t directed at any specific person (like I said, I’ve seen A LOT lately), but if you feel as though this is directed towards you then perhaps it’s because you are undercharging.
This is basically a long winded industry rant that may be helpful for other photographers. Okay, let’s do this!
To start, if you are marketing your pricing as “competitive” or you are charging hundreds of dollars less than other photographers in your area and providing way more digitals, then you are absolutely undercutting the industry.
There is no other way to say it. You are purposefully charging less than your peers. Let’s look at some of the reasons you may be doing this and some thoughts on how you can help!
Reason 1: You’re new
This right here was my problem at the start and most likely is the leading cause of undercharging. I was not trying to hurt the industry or my peers but I was also completely ignorant to my actions. I had the wild idea that I needed to charge less than others because I didn’t have as much experience in the industry and my work “wasn’t as good as other photographers in the area”.
Thinking back, this is wild!! Prospective clients have no idea if you’ve been in the industry for 10 minutes or 10 years! (Unless, of course, you broadcast this in your bio). From my experience, people shop around based on style and personality. Now, I do believe that experienced photographers should usually charge more than beginners because experience is valuable. I do not believe that photographers with more experience are necessarily more skilled, however.
Look around at other’s work and be honest with yourself about yours stacks up. Don’t compare yourself to others in terms of success, but do look at your work vs. others in the area and price accordingly.
Don’t worry if you’re new, charge the going rate and if people want to book you, they will! You want clients that pick you for your work, not because you’re cheap.
(Please, do not charge to practice. Do model calls for portfolio building. Hold off on taking paid work until you are comfortable working with your gear and understand the basics).
Reason 2: You don’t value the industry you’re a part of
If you think other photographers are charging too much and therefore charge less than everyone else, you don’t value your own work or the industry that you’re trying to be a part of. If you aren’t charging profitably (more on this to come!) and you’re charging “competitively” because it’s just your ‘side hustle’ or ‘for fun’ then you need to think about what your plans are. Are you actually invested in this career and looking to make it your full time lifestyle? Are you trying to prove how “great” and “busy” you are by hoping you’ll get more bookings by undercutting? Are you intentionally taking clients from someone you consider a competitor?
Full time photographers charge what they do because it is their career. Photography feeds their families. Photography pays their rent and bills. Photography is a very real career and we all deserve to be making enough money to survive in this crazy expensive world without losing out on work because someone else doesn't value their own profession.
Reason 3: You’re trying to be nice
I can also relate to this one. Look, it’s very kind of you to want to ensure that everyone has access to photos. I don’t disagree with this! However, photography (as we very much learned during quarantine) is a non essential service. It's actually kind of a luxury service. Luxury services cost money. Professional images should cost money! Schools charge like $50 for a 20 second, 1 pose, 3 print package! Remember, you are devoting hours of your time to one session, not to mention your expensive gear/overhead/etc. Nearly everyone has access to a camera of sorts (the $1400 phones in everyone’s pocket for example!) and can take free images for themselves. Hiring a professional means paying for professional services and people understand that.
Reason 4: You’re not a legal business or aren’t concerned with profiting
Clients, if you’re reading this and you are hiring a photographer charging $80 for an hour session and unlimited photos, then you have either not hired someone with a legal business or your photographer isn’t making any money!
It’s important to remember that if you charge $80, you are not making $80. Let’s break this down, shall we?
We’ll use easy numbers to make this….you know….easy.
Let’s say you charge $100 for a 1 hour session and deliver 50 images.
I personally find that my time pre/post session is usually about 2-3 times longer than the session time. This includes driving to/from the shoot, all communication before and after the shoot, importing your images from your card, culling your images (going through each photo and removing duplicates, blurry photos, unflattering images, etc.), importing to your editing software, and editing. I also send out unedited proof galleries so my clients can select their own images (who REALLY loves when someone else determines what photo you look better in?!) so I also tack on the time to export my low quality watermarked images and add them to a proofing gallery for the client (plus emailing them with instructions and info).
I’m going to add extra time here because editing 50 images will easily take you over an hour depending on how much work you are doing.
Let’s say aaaaall of that stuff plus the session comes to 4 hours.
Don’t forget you’re a legal business (RIGHT?!) and need to pay taxes! Now in Ontario, if you are a sole proprietor you do not need to be registered for an HST number unless you are making $30,000+ per year. This does not mean that you don’t need to track every single bit of income and your expenses and still put aside money for the tax man at the end of the year. You still need to report and pay up like every other working person.
$100 - 20% = $80
Now you account for your insurance which is about $40 a month. Let’s say you do 10 of these sessions a month ($4 per session) but for the sake of the example lets round up to $5.
$80 - $5 = $75
We’ll be conservative with our next numbers which are your overhead. You need these things to operate your business. We’ll just say you only need to pay for internet/cell phone/editing software and all together that comes to $140 a month which is $14 per session.
$75 - $14 = $61
Let’s say your shoot was really close to your house so you only used $6 worth of gas (I’m just trying to keep the numbers solid and easy! But gas ain’t cheap!)
$61 - $6 = $55
Okay, ready to be bummed?
$55 divided by 4 hours of work = $13.75
Less than the minimum wage in Ontario (obviously this depends where you live). This isn’t even taking into account other monthly payments such as a web host or a photo delivery/gallery host.
Assuming you are only doing 10 of these sessions a month, you’re only making $550 per month. Good-luck paying for rent/a mortgage, groceries, entertainment, medications, car insurance/maintenance, new gear or necessities like hard drives and memory cards. Would you ever accept a job from an employer that pays you less than minimum wage to fully run their business?
Running a photography business is so much more than spending an hour with a client here and there and clicking a button. You are an administrative professional. You are a bookkeeper (or are paying one). You are a social media manager. You are a marketing manager. You are a brand specialist. You are every single position a business contains. All of these things consume hours of your day and you don’t get paid if you don’t charge appropriately.
At the the end of the day, you are hurting yourself and your business by under charging. Financially: you’ll never make enough to sustain your personal life or your business. Your low pricing will also likely attract clients that will have higher expectations and some potential clients may even find you suspiciously cheap (I don’t know why this is a thing but it is definitely a thing). Yes, you’ll get the lower income clients that you want to help, but mostly you’ll get people that want to spend as little as possible for as much as possible.
Personally: professional photographers in your area will not be so keen on you. Not in a “competitive” kind of way, but in a “this person is devaluing our industry” kind of way.
PHEW! It feels good to finally get this all typed out so it can stop living rent free in my head! As I mentioned before, some of you reading this may feel personally attacked. If that is the case, then I think you may need to think about why you feel as though you can’t charge the industry standard and what you can do to ensure you make a proper income.
And with that, I complete my rant! Now get out there and shoot, register your business (if you haven’t already), pay your taxes, and help the industry!