How To Stop Justifying Your Low, Low Prices

How To Justify Your Photography Prices

I’ve been writing for years now, and have posts and articles all over the web. Every week I spend some time finding things people like, and reading the comments they place on some of my content. Some posts definitely bring in the comments more than others. Take this one for instance:

Wanted: Wedding Photographer with The Credentials of Annie Leibovitz and the Price Tag Of Wal-Mart

This one still stirs up the emotions in photographers. I’ve found everything from:

“Thanks – you’re right on target.”

To

“No way. People love me because I charge reasonable rates. I could never charge high prices for my photography, knowing what the final output costs me.”

So let me ask you a question. Is it okay that a surgeon makes hundreds of thousands of dollars every year?

  • He has educated himself in his passion
  • He studies continually
  • He works in a specialized industry that requires him to be good at what he does
  • He lives and breathes what he does
  • He uses his money to take care of himself and others

Most people wouldn’t argue with a surgeon making hundreds of thousands of dollars. After all, your life is in his hands – literally.

But the same can apply to any other industry. In any industry, including photography, you can find someone who is at the top of his or her field. Why?

  • He has educated himself in his passion
  • He studies continually
  • He works in a specialized industry that requires him to be good at what he does
  • He lives and breathes what he does
  • He uses his money to take care of himself and others

Start your education.
You don’t have to go back to college and get a degree in photography. But you do have to learn from the best. Do a quick search online, attend a conference like WPPI, or read a few magazines. You’ll quickly find a slew of top mentors that offer classes on how to become a better photographer. Don’t just shoot because you can make a few extra bucks. Shoot to perfect your photography, and choose to become better every day.

Stop being average.
If you do what everyone else does, you’ll get the same results they get. The only way to be better than average is to quit striving for average. Ask yourself questions like, “What can I do to be the best photographer in my niche?” Take what someone else is doing and add more to it. That doesn’t mean give them more photographs at a cheaper price. It means give them more service to make them appreciate what you do. The problem we’re facing now is we have a whole lot of average, so we don’t even know how to find the WOW. Give a little bit more, and you’ll soon be the talk of the town.

It’s okay to make money.
“I would feel guilty if I charged someone $20,000 for a wedding, or $50 for an 8×10.”

Why? Does the surgeon feel guilty about charging thousands of dollars for his services? If you have the experience and the talent, have built up your reputation, then by all means charge what you can. It really is okay to make money doing what you love.

Making more money means you can use it to improve your lifestyle. You’ll no longer have to live paycheck to paycheck, or worse, wondering how you’ll pay the rent.

Making more money can open you up to new ideas. You can give more when you have more to play with.

And it can also allow you to see and change the world in a whole new way. It feels good to be able to give back or start up a charity. And if the surgeon comes to you for a portrait, he would never agree to spend $50 for a session and prints – he expects things to be at his caliber. He makes a healthy income, and he expects you to do the same.

22 thoughts on “How To Stop Justifying Your Low, Low Prices”

  1. How about a “How to stop nagging people for charging what they want” post. I’m getting so tired of all these posts badgering photographers for charging less than the author does. Tough. It’s a free market. Charge what you want, not what anybody else tells you to. There’s no reason to feel bad about working cheap or for free … just like there’s no reason to feel bad about charging $50 for an 8*10. I shoot cheap. I shoot for free. Deal with it. Evolve or die. Just quit moaning.

    I make my living writing software, but guess what? I do that in my own time for free too. The operating system and browser I’m using to post this were written by hundreds of coders working for free, so that I could use them for free. The software is on a par with anything Microsoft and Apple and they make billions, so where’s your argument now? Not everybody worships money, some of us prefer being happy, and making others happy. I like to create for creativity’s sake, whether it’s photos or code or websites or logos.

    As for comparing yourself to a surgeon … that’s just laughable. How many lives did you save today? Do you see tens of thousands of amateur surgeons buying professional kit and starting to offer operations because they can? I’m not saying they’d all be good, just that if surgery was the same as photography then they could. Totally different markets, totally different supply and demand models, a horrible example to choose.

    All these articles aimed at hobbyist/part-time/weekend photographers are a complete waste of time. As long as somebody is willing to hire them then they will not go away or raise their prices. Just how would an average photographer charging a lot of money help anyway? Besides giving photographers a bad rep. You need to be concentrating your efforts on the customer, and educating them in how to find a good photographer … and I mean by looking at samples and previous work rather than just their price list.

    Charge what *you* want. Look after your own business and stay out of mine.

    Reply
    • Interesting take, Paul, but the purpose of this blog is to help people that want to grow a business out of their love of photography. I’m not talking to the people that are hobbyists and want to do this for free because they are making a living doing something else. That’s great. I have many hobbies and passions that I work at for free too. But the point here is you can have both. If you love photography AND you want to make a living at it, you have to learn the business side of things. Which means you have to charge enough to make a living. Because its impossible to live without making some sort of money in some manner. You can’t do everything for free, and you always have to have some type of income coming in. That’s not worshiping money, that’s simply taking care of yourself and your family. So that’s what we’ll continue doing here on this site – giving great information to anyone who wants to make money at photography, no matter what level you choose to do so.

      Reply
  2. I agree that its fabulous to respect our passions but Paul’s bottom line is something I would tend to agree with. Why does it matter what I charge? Why do other photographers want me to charge more? Aren’t there many different income levels of people? Don’t they deserve to have fabulous photos as well? What if I don’t rely on photography to support my family? What if I do it because I love it and it makes people happy? What if I don’t mind not shooting a $100,000 wedding? Why is there so much emphasis lately on making sure you are charging enough as a photographer? I just don’t quite understand all of this.

    Reply
    • Hi Kay, thanks for your comments. Lots of questions here, so let me start kind of at the beginning. This is from a 20 year professionals standpoint, one that has made a healthy six figure income from photography, so keep that in mind as well.

      I understand not everyone wants to shoot the $100k wedding, and likewise many can’t. They are a special breed, and there’s just not a lot of them available. Yet stats show the average wedding is around $25k. Stats also show that photography runs about 10 percent of the budget, which means photographers average $2,500 per wedding.

      Weddings are one of the most difficult, most stressful photography sessions around. Yet that’s where most people start, which has always amazed us. You deal with dozens of personalities at their most stressed points, and have a few hours to accomplish hundreds of sessions. You deal with the whitest whites and the blackest blacks in the dress and tux. You deal with blaring sunlight, and a dark reception room with candlelight only. Only a true artist can accomplish the best results in all of those situations. Which means many amateurs simply can’t deliver 110 percent from beginning to end. So you get the “horror stories” from brides after the fact, and which pushes many to search for the professional.

      Can amateurs accomplish great results some of the times? Of course. And its up to a bride and groom to take a chance. Do fees always guarantee success? Of course not. But the more time, education, and business sense someone puts into it, the greater chance you have of success. Your reputation is riding on it.

      It also comes down to really looking at what you are making. You have to look at all the time you put into it – marketing, booking, meeting with clients, the day of the event, production, more meetings for delivery. Then look at other variables like salary, rent, phone, technology, cameras and equipment, insurance in case you are sued for lack of results. I look at so many photographers who are trying to do this for a living, and when they take everything into account, they are making $1 or 2 an hour, or sometimes worse into the red.

      What I’m trying to do here is help people that want to turn this into a business, and make money from their photography. And the first part is to understand how to price and how to charge what you are truly worth.

      Hope that helps.

      Reply
  3. Something is only worth what the market will pay.

    Yes, professionals in photography and video CAN charge high prices and some get top dollar.
    But in this economy you can’t get GREEDY either.

    Sometimes being lower in price means you always have WORK.

    Reply
  4. Was the purpose of your post to encourage photographers who are nervous about putting up their prices the encouragement on why they can justify doing so? If so, then fine. I mean it seems obvious to me but perhaps some do need that push. To be honest though it’s business 101 to anyone, in any business.

    There will however be plenty of people who are fabulous photographers and yet do not wish to charge what a professional would. In those instances it’s for the professional to demonstrate exactly why they are worth their cost and to have a portfolio so impressive that those interested just have to have photos like it. In this instance artificially inflating a price to give an air of quality simply doesn’t cut the mustard.

    Reply
  5. @Vitual Photography: I guess the point is this post is aimed to people that want to make a lot of money on phorography, I take your example, you mentioned you are making six digits which I find fantastic to say the least, but think about your position for a moment and tell me; what if every photographer started charging for a weeding at $1K, does that mean that over 90% of people (who can’t afford that) shouldn’t be entitled to have decent wedding pictures?
    I mean, come one, let’s be fair. Everyone can charge what they want, we are on different markets, if you are charging $20K on a wedding, that is definitely not the kind of people I know, I am more on the $400 range, but see, that’s the beauty, I can give them something beautiful, they are happy, I am happy, everyone is happy, it seems that except for the people that charge more, they feel we are taking their business or something worst, we are degrading the profession. As has been previously mentioned, there has been a lot of discussions like this one lately. I invite you to visit Zack Arias post on this regard which shows the opposite side of view from yours, coming from a successful photographer as well. Probably more on your league than I.

    Reply
    • Hi Luis

      You’re right, not every photographer can charge $20k for a wedding. It depends on a lot of things.

      Region
      Experience
      Interests

      The key is knowing what your market is like, what type of client you desire, and how to reach out to those clients.

      We targeted very high end clients. They are DEFINITELY a unique breed! We had another photographer in the area work at our level for a year, and hated every minute of it. He didn’t mesh well with that type of client, and had an entirely different idea on what he wanted to present to his clients. So he switched back down and was very happy.

      More than anything, its about making sure you are building a business that can sustain your lifestyle.

      Reply
  6. I’ve worked very hard for 4 yrs now to build a photography business. I studied, studied and studied some more – got certified thru the PPCC and charge middle of the pack prices. However, because couples getting married often don’t know the difference, they’re going to hire the $500 photog just because it’s cheaper (whether they can afford more or not). But, once they get their wedding images, they’re aren’t usually very happy, and there is no do-over. I’ve seen plenty of lower priced photographers images from weddings and they are pretty bad. If I didn’t have a firm handle on what I was doing when photographing a wedding, there is no way I would do that to a bride and groom. I also worked under another photographer for a year before I did my first solo wedding and now I have an assistant that helps with the off-camera flashes and takes photographs while I’m video taping certain parts of the wedding.

    My business has steadily declined due to the lower prices being charged and I will probably have to get another job, therefore giving up my dream for a dull life. Yes, I’m a little bitter about this, but I know nobody else really cares from the above posts.

    Reply
    • Karen – I care, which is why I’ve dedicated the last few years to this blog! The problem we are facing right now has a lot of nuances to it:

      Change in technology, making digital easier for everyone to enter the marketplace
      Change in marketing from traditional to social/online
      Downturn in the economy
      More people jumping at photography needing extra income

      And with all of that comes a huge wave of change. But over time, things will sort themselves out and will change once more.

      You can’t expect the old days of photography to come back. Instead, its morphing into something new. People are now getting frustrated with shooting digital, and stacking up their Flash drives because they don’t know what to to do with them. Or putting them on their hard drives and having them crash – because they don’t understand backup and printing options. They are also dealing with so many “amateurs” they don’t understand quality.

      Which means its up to the professional to educate the marketplace on the problems, and how we’re here to help fix them. Our job is now more than snapping the images. Its about educating the clients on potentials, and why we do that so much better than “Uncle Joe”.

      Stay with us, we’re in this together, and will build back the professional photography industry into something great.

      Reply
  7. I think this was a great post, Sure I would like to pull off a 20k wedding, who wouldn’t??

    I agree your local market is going to dictate what you will be able to charge. I wish I could say I have been doing this for 20 yrs and making a 6 figure income, But I have only been in business for 6 yrs and this is a second Job… one that I love… now over the last 6 years I have attended several conventions, class’s and ect.. I do hope that one day that the hard work and dedication i have put forth will pay off… Maybe I can just achieve that 6 figure income.. I am not the cheapest and I am not the most expensive..

    I think it is about, Do you want to stay a Hobbyist (does it for enjoyment) or do you want to be a Professional (one who is compensated for there work).. Now I am not saying that there are not Hobbyist out there that are not as good as a professional.. I am just saying if you want to do this as a hobby fine, do it for fun.. But if you would like to get compensation for your images consider yourself a professional.. Charge what you think is fair, but make sure that your prices are going to cover your costs of your equipment, insurance, business expenses, schools and courses..

    Thanks for the the post..

    Paul G

    Reply
  8. Virtual Photography – loved the article. Very helpful to me at this point in my business. I shall save it and review again soon. 🙂

    This is not to pinpoint anyone individually – I just skimmed the answers above…

    There is SUCHHHH huge variable in what people are shooting with and their experience/training. For me, I roll to a little children’s photoshoot with over $20,000 in equipment and I have invested almost $10,000 in just Photoshop tools and trainings. Even more with my other trainings. I take my training SERIOUSLY and train with the best. The whole “I want my clients to be able to afford quality photos so I’ll just charge $200.00 for the shoot+disc of high res files…and if they want an 8×10, that’s just $5.00.” That is just RIDICULOUS for the way I shoot, the equipment I own and the time I invest post-processing after the shoot. That IS how I started out. But once I started going to conventions and saw the DISLAYED artwork of a Certified Professional Photography, my life changed. Don’t give away your knowledge and equipment for free.

    I have STRUGGLED with pricing since charging what I’m worth and I keep reminding myself that ALL business charge for their time, travel, equipment, etc. The example of the surgeon was one extreme example that actually worked well to illustrate the point – the client is supposed to be paying for ALL of your education, training, Photoshop tools, all of the books you’ve ever read, all of the conventions you’ve attended. They are paying for your expertise, trainings, equipment, studio space, lighting, etc. No different than you walking into Nordstroms and buying a bottle of perfume that’s been marked up 100%. Or a pair of jeans that have been marked up 100%. You are paying for their merchandising departments to select the styles, place the orders, ship them in, display them, pay all of the store employees, pay for the store, the mall dues, etc. It’s ALL emcompassed. But for some reason, 99% of photographers just write-off their overhead as a given and feel like they should charge just for their time invested in THAT one particular photoshoot. If Nordstrom’s only marked up the perfume $3.00 – the cost for the 3 minutes it took the associate to ring you up – they’d be out of business fast.

    And someone asked why there is so much emphasis on this lately… it’s because most people start off charging next to nothing, then they get better and better, invest tons and tons getting better equipment and trainings, then complain all day long they aren’t making enough. So, there’s a HUUUUUUGE platform for discussion in this area right now. I am one so I know 🙂

    Thanks, again! Look forward to more blogs!
    Ann

    Reply
    • Thanks so much Ann – It’s nice to hear what I’m saying put into different terms. It’s all so true, it takes so much effort to become a professional, full time photographer. Don’t cut yourselves short – make sure you get what you deserve as an artist and as a business owner!

      Reply
  9. Great post. I fully agree with the last post it totally depends on your Region, experience, and interests. For me right now the Region that I’m in really is what is adjusting my price list. Thanks for the awesome post!!!

    Reply
  10. I would like to start off by saying Thank you for the article, it was a good read along with all the comments.
    Im currently a graduating student of photography, and yes, even as a student the pricing thing drives my head in.

    I shoot commercial portraiture, corporate website content and fashion for higher end boutique stores.
    Working on average of $500/ph , while fellow students in my class are more than happy to put a price tag on a full shoot at prices of $150-$200 …
    This really got to me, because of the simple fact that some of my clients would say, “Oh but I can find another student who would be willing to do the shoot for portfolio/free for exposure”
    Well, honestly, If they can find another photographer willing to do it for free, then great for them, but I can bet the quality of the work is going to be sub standard.

    After some really deep thoughts on the subject, I came to realise that within the industry, well with almost any industry, you will have it broken up into different segments, those segments would be seen to by people in different “levels” within the industry and this would be reflected within the price ranges that are charged coupled with the photographers quality of work output.

    Personally, I never have wanted to be a $200 photographer. In my future , I want to make the photos of the famous people on Times Mag cover,The Forbes covers, I want to be the photographer doing the spreads in the GQ, and doing celeb portraits for other high end mags…

    My point is basically that , some of us want to be at the top, making the top dollars photographing the things we love, other people are more than happy getting 50bucks in the pocket for doing some photos and burning them to a disk. At the end of the day, I dont really feel that those different levels affect one another. Its like someone buying a Porsche or in the market for a Toyota.. Toyota services a segment of the market, while Porsche services a segment.

    I’ve always believed that you get what you pay for, and maybe its then for us to educate the client on the difference between our work and the cheaper options.

    Reply
    • Thanks Robert. I agree, the client will get what they pay for. And if a photographer is happy making $50 a sitting, and having to work on the side, that’s their prerogative. It does come down to us, the photographers, to educate our client base on why professionals cost what they do, what they pay for, and what they should expect. The higher the level, the more you should provide, and the more you should be able to tell the client what they are paying for – and what to look for. The client will see the difference when you educate them on what to look for.
      Thanks!
      Lori

      Reply
  11. Being the only photographer in the area made marketing easy and my prices remained reasonable for my market. After 8 months, 2 months after Christmas several more photographers started. They all got cameras for Christmas and now they were photographer because their friends said how good their photos looked. Well if you go from a $150 Wal-Mart camera to a low end Nikon or Cannon DSLR they will look better. Yes, you need the correct equipment, one reason I charge a “fair” price.

    They all were charging quite a bit less than I was and it really hurt my business, to the extent that I decided to go back in the Army.

    I tried everything to compete, lowered my prices, gave away free stuff at the local fair, donated time for fund raisers at the school and church. All got my name out and some business, but I was only making $50 a session, not what is required to make a living. I was the only photographer that had a studio and knew what off camera flash was to say the least.

    But, after I signed the papers for the Army and started working a different job till I shipped out, something happened. I raised my prices back to what I was charging before the invasion of the photo snappers and people started to come back.

    They were dissatisfied with what they were getting and knew what I could do. These were the people I wanted in my studio, they buy more.

    Keep your prices low and make you schedule your sessions around you other job that is fine with me.

    The people I want are those that are looking for a real photographer, who realizes that they need to keep up with current trends, equipment and techniques.

    I do still shoot for free, or at a discount at times. But I reserve that for me to decide.

    If you are cheap that is great people need cheap photos, then I will not have to waste my time with people that don’t want to spend money. If your good that is even better, then I don’t feel so bad for them.

    This is/was a business for most of us.

    Reply
  12. I think the biggest pet peeve for most “higher end” photographers is this:

    If your prices are cheap or free or on the lower end, and you have no intention of raising them, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE explain to your clients that your pricing is NOT NORMAL. They should not expect THAT as the standard industry because you are not living off of this job. Please explain to your clients that your prices are very affordable because your business is not a profitable business and doesn’t have to be. It will let them know that Joe Shmo down the street charging $2500 for a wedding is NOT overpriced, but is operating a profitable business with lots of overhead and amazing service. I would just ask that those who shoot and charge really cheap prices, MAKE IT KNOWN to your clients that your pricing is NOT INDUSTRY STANDARD!
    The Walmart of photographers will be known for cheap pricing and products and the Macy’s of photographers will be known for higher pricing and quality products. Thank you 🙂

    Reply
  13. One thing I would add- raising prices increases your perceived value. Often medium to high end clients pass on cheaper photographers thinking that they couldn’t possibly be very good with that kind of pricing. Sometimes their instincts are correct and sometimes they are not.

    Reply
  14. So this post has come around again and I see I actually posted on it over a year ago. Well, I have moved to a new location and am trying to start my business over again. I have not lowered my prices, I actually raised them because I spend a lot of money on advertising, insurance, education, equipment, and other necessaries of a legit business. I also have a business license and pay sales tax and income tax. I try to stress these points to brides, but many don’t care. I will be hanging in there and improving my skills for those who do care.

    Reply
    • Karen

      Glad to see you’re still learning and doing well. I think there is a big push from the photographic industry right now stressing the importance of a professional – and all the damage someone shooting for a few extra bucks with no insurance (and other stuff) can be. I’m seeing all kinds of lawsuits that happen because the photographer didn’t cover himself/herself correctly, and didn’t do what he/she was supposed to do for the client. It will turn around and we’ll all benefit in the long run.

      Lori

      Reply

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