In our digital age, where everyone owns a camera, the value of photography is often misunderstood. A Google search lead me to find my name on Brand Glow Up’s website called 25 Best Branding & Portrait Photographers in Toronto. Being on this list was a definite confidence booster. As a photographer offering portrait photography in Brampton, I have been struggling to find ways to prove the value of my services to others. My mother told me to take a look at the list and see what others are charging. Sure enough, there is a range from $250 to $1,000+ just to shoot the pictures. I am right smack in the middle of this pricing bracket, not the most expensive, but not the cheapest either. It got me thinking about why there is such confusion with photography services.
I’ve been taking classes online from Sue Bryce to better my sales and marketing skills. I learned through her that there is no international standard for photography pricing. It’s no wonder that potential clients are often confused about photographer's pricing. It truly comes down to that particular photographer's business model. Maybe they charge more for digitals for you to invest in print or they charge relatively inexpensive and only provide digitals, known as "shoot and burn".
Burn & Shoot and Luxury Photography Services:
There has been a negative stigma with any photography group or online learning about the "shoot and burn" model. While there is certainly nothing wrong with this model, photographers find themselves shooting more volume and charging less. The luxury model finds themselves shooting less but focusing on client service and experience. For these photographers, you pay a session fee or "sitting fee" and buy print products. The business model is based around the prints and takes into consideration the photographer's cost of doing business. The only problem with this business model is time.
It takes time to do a consultation call to figure out their needs. It takes time to plan a photoshoot, create mood boards and run a couple of lighting scenarios in software. If you have a client closet, it takes time to get the client to try on clothes. We all know that time is money. The way I am trying to position my business is around moving to more stylized fashion-inspired photoshoots. This means that I need time to do consultation calls to put together a theme and plan the shoot so my clients walk away with incredible photos.
Time is Money:
Time is money and when you're paying for an experience, there is an expectation that the dollar value will follow a photography service. Oftentimes, clients get a sticker shock to see photography prices as they are. A photographer may charge $500 to show up to the job and the photos may not be included. Should we say that that particular photographer is overcharging? Or should we look at their services and experiences they are providing? Are they listening to what we want? Do they have the incredible skills to make a great photo? Do they offer unique and professional-level products that we would love to display in our home? This is what we should be focusing on. Each photographer puts love and attention in their work and this time should be paid fairly.
Cheap Doesn't Often Mean The Best:
Some photographers might charge $60 for an entire session and a full gallery. To me, this doesn't cover their cost of doing business. Getting a cheap and quick job doesn't always equal value.
The more a photographer invests in their craft the more they get better at creating photos. I should talk about the cost of doing photography. While I do advocate for learning the science behind photography and understanding your camera, saying gear doesn't matter is an understatement. You'll find many YouTube videos about why gear doesn't matter... let me tell you it does. While as a photographer you need to understand how light works, inverse square law, and the exposure triangle, having the right tools in your arsenal makes taking certain kinds of pictures easy. Can I ask a carpenter to build a birdhouse without any tools?
Here is an example, if I am working in a studio and want a very punchy hard light and sunkissed look am I going to take my softbox to get that result? No, because the softbox produces soft light. I need to invest in a beauty dish or a small reflector depending on the setup. What does it cost to buy these items? Well, a beauty dish can run you anywhere from $300 - $600 and a reflector anywhere from $200 - $300. This does not factor in the cost for studio strobes say a starter set at $1200 vs just getting one strobe of the professional set $2000-$5000+. So if we are charging $60-$200 for a session, are we recouping the cost to run a photography business?
The highly-priced photographers have honed their style and craft. Most photographers spend time practising, sitting with Photoshop tutorials, reviewing online classes, etc. to keep their knowledge going. Not all photographers are equal. It's just as important to vet them and see what expertise they bring to your session. A product photographer may have a mastery of Photoshop and clipping paths but may not have worked in natural light. A wedding photographer may be a master at natural light but has never touched Photoshop. It's all about their skills and services that they provide and what you are looking for for your session. If you are looking for a portrait photographer and they are expensive, it's probably because they've spent the time learning, honing their style and buying the necessary gear.
Manage Your Business and Value Your Craft:
Photographers and people in creative fields are often not taken seriously as business professions. It's an important conversation for business professionals to talk with others about the creative field. If we take the time to educate about our processes involved, then maybe our creative field can be taken seriously. I recently had the pleasure of being featured on Alexandra's blog post titled 14 Ways to Manage Your Brand as a Creative Entrepreneur. As some of you may recognize from her headshot session with me, Alexandra is an author. Her blog post is a collective collaboration with various creatives discussing how to manage your creative business and value your services.
The featured creatives on Alexandra's post definitely hit hard. It made me realize that other creatives are in the same boat hoping their industry will be taken seriously. I do encourage everyone to read the post.
The Power of Physical Prints:
Photography's value also is in the power of print. I believe that prints should be the focus of people looking for photography. We often look back at a physical print and remember the memories and the people in it. How often do we go on a computer and look at those images and laugh? When it's a physical print it's different. We stop, laugh, show our families and exclaim, "Hey, do you remember this?".
As photographers, we have the power of visual imagery and that is an important superpower. There is power in photography to stop time and keep memories safe. Yes, we can argue that we lose photos just as much as a hard drive can crash. But it's not USBs that adorn our walls. Personally, this is why I decided to partner with two Canadian supplies to offer heirloom prints and albums. I want my clients to be walking away with new art for their homes.
Photography is an Art Form:
As photographers having visual power, we should consider ourselves artists. We all have a unique style and that style is worth paying for. Just like the Da Vinci's and Michelangelo's of the world, we are artists. If others can invest in expensive paintings, then the same can happen with photography. Photography is an investment in memories and the photographer's artistry. Cars that are worth $40,000+ or the latest new iPhone are things we don't blink at spending. There is almost a devaluing of services when it comes to photography because hey... everyone has a camera.
If It's Easy To Do A Photo, Then Cell Phones Work Best:
My mom has often said to me, "I am your mother and I should understand your skill as a photographer. But I don't. Help educate me." My mom and I talk a lot. I tell her about my photoshoots, what happened, what lighting scenario, etc. My latest shoot was with a young girl looking for a Barbie-inspired photoshoot. I told my mom that I am concerned with any shadows that may cast when I light this young girl standing in the box. My mom's solution is to use the fake pot light in our house and put that in the box. This is where I had to take the time to explain that my strobes work differently than artificial light. To do something like this, I need to be in a completely dark room and turn off modelling lights in my strobes. The amount of light emitting from those pot lights is so dim, I will have to extend my shutter for 5+ seconds or maybe, even more, to even register that light in my camera. It'll be more of me spending time figuring out what time works to let that light in than actually photographing. She turned to me and said, "Wow. I didn't know that much was involved with photography."
And this is where the problem lies. "Take a pretty picture... there is not much involved." There is so much involved. We get down to the nitty-gritty when it comes to photography. We focus on posing, getting the outfit together, working on the science of photography, understanding light, understanding our equipment and so much more. Using a cell phone with overhead lights isn't going to produce the same results if you shot at the golden hour or if you were in a controlled studio setting using lights with grids.
The main difference between a cellphone vs a DSLR is the ability to shoot in RAW. I don't care if your new iPhone shoots in the same pixel resolution as my camera. It's not about that. It's about the photographer's ability to manipulate RAW data into pieces of art. That RAW data means that we can change the white balance of an image and do fantastical things with it to make it uniquely our style. Cell phones produce JPG images and JPG images already have a set white balance and data cannot be manipulated as easily. Yes, you can use filters and adjust the saturation and contrast in those phones, but it's vastly different from RAW. Ever notice that if you push your editing that the image almost deteriorates? That's because there is data already written in that photo that can't be manipulated as easily.
Let's end on one final note about the difference between cell phones vs DSLRs and that's refinement. Sure you've got these apps that smooth your face and make you look Instagram-worthy. RAW images, on the other hand, are completely unfinished and don't have that polished look everyone is so accustomed to. We as photographers need to go in and finish them off with our Lightroom and Photoshop skills so that you can look your best. Bags under your eyes... BOOM it's gone. Wrinkles on your shirt... yeah we can do that too. It's about the time and care we take as photographers to refine that photo for you to look the best you can be.
Photography has value and a place. It's not only just about a wonderful experience and celebrating the precious moments in life. Photography is about the photographer's art, skill, and time to produce those works. Just because we live in a digital age does it mean that professional photography services have less value. We photographers create pieces of art, stop time in its tracks and give you memories you'll cherish forever. A big thanks to my mom for this article topic.
Please give it a like if you enjoyed the read.