If you want to stir up a hornet’s nest online, start a debate between pro and amateur/aspiring/prosumer photographers about charging a reasonable price for your work.
Whenever I take the “pro” side in this debate, I usually get responses like this one (from the comments on my “12 Excuses for Shooting Photos for Free – and Why They’re Bogus”  post):
What a sad state the industry is in when “professionals” start publicly making excuses and pointing fingers because they can’t make ends meet. The days of cheap, high quality gear are here. Get over it … If you think some teenager with a Digital Rebel is destroying your customer base, then you’d probably be better off spending your time finding ways to improve, and quit crying about it.
This argument entirely misses the point. It’s not about the gear. It’s not even about the “teenager.” It’s about correcting common misconceptions about the value of photography, particularly among customers.
And it’s about teaching the so-called “noobs” to stop leaving money on the table.
Valuing Your Work
You know what often distinguishes a pro from a wannabe pro? It’s not just the work — it’s understanding the value of the work.
A product shot on white seamless? It might seem simple, but it’s not. It takes time and effort to do it right.
What about transfer edges? Highlight shapes? Angle/perspective? I could provide a hundred examples like this. Unless you know what’s involved, it’s easy to underestimate the job.
The same goes for clients — which is why part of our responsibility is to educate them.
Case in point: a client recently drove a long distance to come to my studio for a product shot. At the end of the session, he commented that he had no idea how much work went into doing my job right.
The client had expected it to take me an hour to shoot four products. It wound up taking seven hours, including product-build time. Because he was able to see what was involved, he gained a better understanding of the value of the work.
Too many part-time or aspiring photographers are willing to sell their talents at a price that doesn’t make sense economically. This hurts all photographers because it devalues photography in the eyes of clients.
Communicating Your Value
So, if you are a “noob,” why not spend a little less time shooting for nothing or next to nothing, and a little more time figuring out how to price and market your work to create a sustainable business?
When you bid on a project, often a client does not know what goes into a price.
A shoot fee, and then licensing? “I thought I owned it,” the client might counter.
A post-production charge? “Why do you have to ‘fix’ your photos?” you might be asked.
Don’t just shrug your shoulders and give in. Take the time to teach the client about how you work and why you work that way. And don’t back down.
Sticking to Your Price
Or say the client tells you, “I can’t pay $2,500; my budget is only $1,800.” What do you do?
Well, assuming you want the job at that price, you shouldn’t simply say, “OK, I’ll do it!” You need to take something out of your bid — e.g., shooting fewer images/set-ups, using a single person for hair and makeup/stylist, or limiting the rights package a bit more.
Why do this? Because it enables you to negotiate on price without devaluing your services.
Yes, sometimes you will have to say “no.” “No” is an empowering word; don’t be afraid to use it.
If you end up turning down a job, a nice way to close the conversation is by telling the prospect, “If something goes wrong with the lower-cost photographer you choose, I’ll be happy to help you out with a re-shoot.”
I know, it’s never fun to turn down work. But take comfort in a fact that is true across all industries: customers who price shop are the least loyal to your business — and therefore, the least valuable to you over the long term.