Making Peace With The Enemy

“I think it’s terrible when a photographer holds a person’s images “hostage” for money. I shoot for a fee – $150 for a portrait sitting – and hand over the files. I could never gouge a person and charge high fees for their photos.”

I hear that statement (or something like it) a lot. How about you? Have you ever said it?

The truth is money is simply a tool. It’s a way of receiving value for something you do, and a method of being able to get the things you need. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Yet money has so many connotations to it, books are written and classes are held on it every day. Why is it so mysterious? Why does it have such a hold on us?

What if we flipped it around and talked about your current job in a similar manner. What if your boss came to you and said

“Instead of giving you your normal salary today, I’m going to give you $150 for the day. I feel like I’ve been held hostage for too long, and today I’m only going to give you what I think this job is truly worth.”

Yeah, right. You’d laugh (after you got over the shock).

So with your corporate job, you expect to make a decent living. You expect raises and possibly even bonuses.

Why is that different than photography?

Photography is a business. It is a career. And in some cases it is a job.

If something is a business, a career or a job, you have to be able to make a decent living at it.

Let’s say you make $60,000 at your corporate job. In order to turn a photography business into an equal opportunity, at $150 per person, you would have to photograph 400 people per year.

Yet in your corporate job, your $60,000 salary is an expense. They make millions ( or billions) and have an entire list of expenses they write off each year, including your salary, marketing, rent for their office location, equipment, etc.

If we look at your photography business in the same way, your $60,000 salary would simply be an expense, along with rent on your studio, office equipment, camera equipment, insurance, etc.

Which means to cover all of the expenses, you couldn’t just make $60,000. You would have to make more.

So if it takes 400 clients at $150  a pop to bring in $60,000, to double it would mean 800 clients over a one year period. That’s around 2.2 people every single day of the year.

Hopefully you are starting to see how money plays into your overall success. You aren’t holding digital files hostage, or being mean to your client. You are simply creating a business. And in order for that business to stay in business, you have to make money.

If you are still feeling a little uneasy about guilty about charging money for your photography, try these things to help you see money in a new light.

Learn More About Money

If you’ve never read a book or looked through financial magazines or newspapers, pick one up and start learning about it. When we cross over from worker-bee to owning our own business, its hard to make the transition in our minds. But when you read how businesses are formed, how they grow, and how they remain in business, you begin to connect the dots for your own studio.

Reverse Your Thinking

So many of our quotes and thoughts stem around money “The root of all evil is money.” “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” “Rich people are greedy and dishonest, and seldom happy.” None of that is true. Yet we use quotes like that all the time. Money is just a simple way of exchanging something of value we have for something of value we want. We have money and want a family portrait, so we exchange the two. The value is the part that is completely open depending on how strong a businessperson the photographer is.

Dig Deeper: Is My 16×20 Print Worth $200 or $6,000?

Make A Plan For Your Money

Are you trying to earn a little more spending money with your photography, or are you trying to turn it into a full time career? Wishing for it is not the same as planning for it. How much do you truly want to make with your photography? If you put a number down on paper and begin calculating how it would be possible to hit your goal, you begin looking at things differently. A plan is the only way to give you a target to shoot for, and motivation to make it happen.

Stop Waiting For A Miracle

Its fun daydreaming about winning the lottery or marrying into royalty, but is that really going to happen to you? Probably not. Make a change in your thinking and your stress level by stopping what you are currently doing and looking at how to move forward in the coming years. It doesn’t happen without making the commitment to make it happen.

Find Out Why You Have A Fear Of Money

When we first began growing our business, I read all kinds of things on the fear of money. That wasn’t me – I didn’t have a fear of money. Until I started reading more in-depth and discovered almost all of us hold some deep-rooted fears that we were brought up with. My mother used to say things about “rich” people all the time when I was growing up – and the word “rich” was always said with spite in a bad way. That carried over into my own beliefs and affected our business until I chose to let go of that line of thinking. Ask yourself why you think you are only work $150 for every portrait you shoot? And don’t stop until you find the answer.

Act Today Where You Want To Be Tomorrow

I once attended a seminar in which the speaker said to “fake it til you make it”. In other words, act like the person you want to become. When you learn how to act like the person you want to be, you’ll take on the mindset and the habits of that person – and you can’t help but find the same level of success.

So you’re challenge right now is to begin finding who you want to be. Learn from them and aspire to be them. Realize its okay to make money at this and push the envelope as far as you can.

I give you permission!

6 thoughts on “Making Peace With The Enemy”

  1. I’ve subscribed to your blog for several months, and have also gone through and read every back post. I love it. Keep up the great work.

    With that said, I don’t think the content of this particular post does a good job of arguing against a set sitting fee and giving away the files. The argument only counters the amount in the quote ($150). It’s like we have two separate issues: Charging for prints vs files AND how much you charge. Change that $150 to a higher amount (name your price) and the argument against this way of doing business is washed away.

    I’m not a pro, so I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I have no problem with the set sitting fee way of business. As a photography customer, I’d rather pay $XXX and get the digital files than spending the same amount of money for the photographers top “premium” print package. Mainly because I have no interest in prints. I want to see them fading in and out on my AppleTV and on my iPad picture frame.

    I fully agree with the second part of your post. I wish more photographers did charge more. They should. They’ve earned it. I just don’t believe how much they charge necessarily conflicts with how they charge.

    • Thanks Scott. And I do agree on the point that if you’ve incorporated your overall costs into your fee, then give away the files happily. I just hate seeing photographers charge minimal with the hopes of getting prints later, and that never materializing because they hand over the files. New way of thinking – and photogs have to change the way they do business.

  2. For weddings the digital files are included in my package and that cost is built into the package price. For portraits, I don’t give the digital files unless they purchase one of my top 2 packages and then they only get the files for the images they purchased.

  3. We built our portrait packages including a print credit. If customers want the digital files, they can buy print rights for a significant extra fee.

    We explain to our customers that, in addition to the hi-res images for printing, we include images “optimized” for social media, which in reality are low-res watermarked images (usually 96 or 100 dpi). But the words “optimized” make a different impact than “low-res,” so we don’t ever say low resolutaion images.

    This is what has happened in our experience:
    1) We explaint to the clients that we include the smaller files for them to share on Facebook, Twitter, Geni, etc., and our watermark leads their friends to our page. Besides, we give the clients a sense they’re getting a little “extra” for their money with the “optimized” social media images.

    2) Since we offer a print credit, the client always gets some of the images printed by us. We know they’ll go to Walmart or CVS. When they compare the prints we give them, with they ones they make, more often than not, they see the difference and come back asking for more prints to send to parents or grandparents.

    This strategy has worked for us so far.

    • Veronica

      Good job – you’ve got the “words” idea figured out. It definitely depends on how you talk about it with your customers. Optimized is definitely better than low res. Glad its working for you.


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