“Good Enough” Isn’t Good Enough for True Pros

Recently I had a conversation with a client about some of his past projects shot by other photographers. Referencing one piece in particular, the client described the images as “good enough.”

I thought to myself, “Why would the client settle if he wasn’t getting what he really wanted?”

Maybe it came down to budget constraints or tight deadlines. Or maybe the client hadn’t properly valued the importance of photography to the project — and now regretted his decision to go with a photographer who didn’t (or couldn’t) truly deliver.

Just because you own a hammer, that doesn’t make you a carpenter. The same is true for DSLRs and professional photographers.

So, what makes you a “carpenter” in photography today?

In my experience, successful pros separate themselves from the “good enough” pack in three ways:

1. Mastery of the fundamentals. Why would someone pay you hundreds of dollars to take their family portrait if they can get the same thing from Sears Portrait Studio for a $10 sitting fee (with a free 8×10 thrown in)? It starts with things like solid composition, tack-sharp focus and proper exposures. They are the foundation for all that you do — and your clients can see the difference in quality, even if they might not be able to put their finger on the reasons your work is better.

2. Unique vision and style. Even more noticeable than your fundamentals is the creative vision you bring to your shoots. Over time, we develop a way of seeing things, and we use our camera to share this vision with others. This is ultimately what makes your photography more than a commodity — and therefore more valuable. When prospective clients view your online portfolio, you not only want to impress them with your technical expertise; you also want them to see a unique style that is not easily duplicated by others.

3. Business acumen. This one might surprise some of you — but your business savvy is just as important to differentiating yourself as your talent. If a lesser photographer undercuts your price and you decide to match it, you are no better than that photographer, at least in the eyes of the marketplace. Your hard work to separate yourself through technical skills and a unique vision means little if your fees don’t reflect the quality of your work. You must know how to market your business, how to price your work, and how to stick to your prices.

If we as professionals don’t provide a consistently high-quality product, and stand up for the value of that product, clients will continue settling for “good enough” — even when they know it isn’t.

7 Responses to ““Good Enough” Isn’t Good Enough for True Pros”

  1. #3 is the one I try to get through to my assistants and apprentices. It took me a while to understand that but thanks to Doug Box and my business mentor it sank in big time! Thanks for the article!

  2. I would add "Dependability" to your list of how a Pro separates themselves from the "good enough" crowd. This is not simply a matter of being on time mind you, but goes far beyond that. This includes delivering the image expected in a timely manner, providing professional level support to the client and proving even after the shoot your value as a photographic professional.

    Plus one aspect where the dabbling amateurs and "semi-pros" usually fail is with equipment redundancy. If you come to a shoot with one camera, one lighting system or only on way to save your work (digital storage) then you are not taking the work seriously and your client is being shortchanged.

    Surpassing "good enough" goes beyond the image itself, if you consider yourself professional and worthy of pro level compensation...

  3. What I've found is that the most important factor is #3, business acumen. Customer service is sometimes more important than the work you do because it can be such a dealbreaker. It's a balance though, really. Being a great photographer only goes so far.

  4. I agree with your sentiments, but to play devil's advocate:

    What would make a client OK with "good enough" as opposed to "freakin'-super-unbelieveable-cool" is when "good enough" works and comes at a fraction of the cost of the latter.

    A lot, and I mean a lot, of businesses have no idea how to effectively commission and use commercial art, so when they want a piece created they often want it as cheap as possible to mitigate their risk in using it; while still meeting a basic level of quality.

    It's the bell curve of business. There are few people and little money on the "bad" side, there is much money and many people in the middle section, and there are few people and comparatively less money in the "best" side of things; following the chart left to right.

  5. Yah I totally agree about sticking to your pricing, however, as we all know that can be hard to do sometimes. It's also important to consider the market you are in and whether your "high" prices will net you more high price gigs, or whether lowering your pricing will get you within reach of everyone, even if it is a stretch for some. I recently have started to think about lowering my prices just a bit, but I also want to stay within the realm of enough money to make it worth my time and effort.

  6. Good enough is a function of market demand. The market doesn't care what you, the photographer, think. The mind of the specific market that is aware of you dictates your worth. You are not worth a thing to someone who doesn't know about you.

  7. One of my mentors used to say lowering your price may bring more customers but what good it is to work more for the same amount of money?

    Of course this works just until there are customers willing and capable to pay your fees and until you can make a living from the income.

    Bad (low) pricing and poor business skills of others (those dropping their prices quickly just to get another job) ruin the business for all making the market belive their prices or at least lowering the average price with theirs. And the worst part is: customers rarely know the value of the good quality. Often they only think a picture is a picture and onyl the price differs.

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