It's amazing to think that my little biz is almost 2 years old! I have a toddler! I am so grateful for everyone who has trusted me to take their photos and have referred to me their friends, and most importantly for continuing to encourage me to keep learning and keep this going. I have met some extraordinary people and have had the opportunity to get to know some of my friends even better by being present for intimate moments in their lives.
As I approach this milestone, I am conducting a short survey to find out more about what customers want and how I can best provide it. If you haven't yet taken the survey, please read this first! If you have, please read it anyway and I hope it provides some understanding and context to the questions. Changing products and prices is a decision every business has to make, and I am no exception. I am constantly thinking about how to improve not only my photography but also how I run the business side of it. I want to make my customers happy, and I need to have it make continue to make sense for me to do.
Coming up with pricing is not quite as simple as just assigning an arbitrary dollar value to a product so that your profit exceeds your costs. For something like photography - where a majority of my costs is my time (and only I can determine what my time is worth) - there are a number of issues to consider. I want to be up front and transparent about what those are - and I have a lot to say! - so read on.
Show Me The Money
Photography is different than taking pictures. There is nothing wrong with taking pictures - in fact, some of my favorite images of my family are simple snapshots taken on a point-and-shoot or my iPhone. And I'm sure many of you would say the same. But taking professional portraits is an experience. It's an opportunity to have someone with an artistic eye capture you and your family at a moment in time, and then share those special images with everyone who comes into your home (or visits your Facebook page!).
It can be hard to tell off the bat what you're getting for your money when you book a professional photography session. Sure, the session is only an hour of my time, but the majority of work that goes into a session happens before and after.
I spend approximately a total of 1-2 hours of time beforehand communicating with clients via email and/or phone (scheduling the session, answering questions, etc), prepping my equipment, and traveling to the location where we're shooting.
I spend about 3+ hours in post production. I have to upload upwards of 300-400 RAW images from an hour-long session (which are huge!), and then I look at each and every one to make sure I am narrowing it down to the very best ones. Then I edit them, fixing them up to make them perfect...even it means spending a lot of time paying attention to very tiny but important details.
Once they're done, I have to load them into an online gallery, and from there I continue to communicate with customers about what they want (burning disks, setting up digital downloads, etc) and sometimes even going back and doing further work on the photos if there's something not to their liking.
It's a very custom process, and not at all as simple as showing up, shooting, and then handing over the pictures. It takes a lot of work, but I really want people to be happy with their investment and get the best quality product I am able to give.
At the end of the day, my costs do need reflect the work that goes into what I create. There are some hard costs (equipment, equipment repair, accessories to help me be a better photographer, fees and subscriptions, etc), but, as I explained above, it's mostly my time. I spend an extraordinary amount of time on this work. And I love it, but it takes up pretty much every waking moment that I'm not at my full time day job or with my family. This has allowed me to improve, and also take on more work. I need to make sure I'm being compensated for my time, as does any professional, and I take this opportunity at the yearly anniversary to assess how much time I'm putting in and how my costs have changed. It's the basis for any business model, and I want to stay competitive and reasonably within industry standards of what other photographers offer. I don't want to be known as the "cheap photographer" (I hope you understand why!) but I also don't want to price myself out of work. I need to find a middle ground, be competitive, and then prove to potential customers why I am the best choice for their family photography.
What Customers Want
People will pay for what they value. We all make decisions every day about how we spend our money and what we value - whether we buy designer jeans or $20 jeans from Target, generic Toasty O's or Cheerios, etc - based on price, quality, and our relationship to the brand or retailer. Most of what we can "afford" is really what we choose to value, and that is the relationship between cost and quality. I can afford Cheerios, but I choose to buy Toasty O's because it saves me money and gets the job done in the same way. I also spend more money on things like jeans, even if they are expensive, because I know they will fit me better and last longer than cheaper ones.
Professional photography is no different when it comes to making a value choice. Sure you can pick up a cheap digital camera and snap some pictures, print dozens of copies of them at CVS, and boom - you have pictures of your kids and you spent WAY less than you would have if you had hired a pro, but the quality would not even be comparable. Even if you have a good camera and decent skills, a professional experience is different. Heck, even I have used other photographers for family pictures because I am never in them and wanted someone else's artistic eye to capture us! By no means am I suggesting to anyone how they should or shouldn't spend their money - whether its hiring me, someone else, or anyone at all. This is something to be said for getting what you pay for, and it works both ways.
I completely understand why customers balk at, say, a $500 price tag on a disk full of hi-res images...it IS a lot of money to spend! And if you read the section above, you understand why, on the flip side, selling that disk for $50 really does not reflect the actual cost of how much time it took to make those images perfect. There are some photographers out there who do not make their images available digitally at ALL, at least not in hi-res for printing. I think there is some merit to that position, but I also think that the nature of everything is changing in the digital age and photography needs to keep up. Customers will only continue to demand digital images, and I want to be able to provide them in a way that makes sense not only for the customer but for me as the business person/artist as well. Some people want to be able to share them on social media and mostly people want to do their own printing (I get into this further below). It's the way of the times, I suppose, and there's no turning back.
The inherent problem of selling hi-res digital images is that I lose control over my work. Whenever someone sees an image of mine, it's advertising for me. If you take the hi-res images and print them at CVS, then my art is being grossly misrepresented because the quality is really that bad, and that in turn is negative advertising (even though I know it's not intentional!). Even retailers like Shutterfly can misrepresent the quality of the work, and there are other sites that do MUCH better work for the same or a little more money. If you're going to spend the money and invest in professional photography, why wouldn't you then show off the photos in the best way possible? It's akin to buying any expensive or delicate item and then not caring for it properly.
Bottom line - printing however and wherever you want, while perhaps saving you money in the short run, does not guarantee an excellent product in the long run. If the photos are printed poorly and then no one ever sees them, I guess it wouldn't matter...but then what's the point of having photos done? It's worth it - both to me and to you - to spend a few extra cents per print. You've already spent a few hundred dollars on the session, so a $0.99 print is definitely a better deal than a $0.49 print, when you get more than twice the quality of printing! And people will love what they see...which is good for you, and for my business. Win-win!
All this is to say that there is no one right answer out there and I ultimately need to do what I know to best for me and my customers. I feel that I am making very well-informed decisions, having read countless blogs and articles, participated in many online photography forum discussions on this topic, and listening to my customers. I will continue to make the digital images available, but I will be changing how I offer them and likely charging more for them...I simply have to in order to reflect the amount of time and work that goes into prep, shooting, and editing. And I will strongly encourage customers to use more professional printing (like Mpix
), which does not cost much more than other websites like Shutterfly.
I will be announcing my new prices and packages in early September, to take effect on September 19th. So if you've been meaning to book a session, email me today to guarantee my current pricing and packages! If you're still unsure about the changes, even after this lengthy blog post, I encourage you to shop around. Seriously, I do hope you'll consider me but you should look at other photographers' websites too. Check out their work - does their style suit you? Compare prices and package offerings. Only you can decide how much money you want to spend and what you'll get for the money, in terms of quantity and quality. Believe me, I am not at all offended if someone decides to go elsewhere. My style is uniquely mine, and I believe I am offering a fair price for it. You don't have to like my work or my prices - there are hundreds of photographers out there and I'm certain you will find someone you like! Of course, though, I do hope you'll end up back with me.
Don't forget to take the survey, and please comment here on this post with any thoughts or questions you have - I'm happy to respond to them and start a conversation here. Or you can always email me privately. Thank you!