[pull_quote_right] When a couple is choosing a photographer, they don’t always understand that a more experienced photographer is going to deliver a lot more images in the same amount of time. Asking them to hire by the hour is not conveying to them what they are actually getting. [/pull_quote_right]One of the most common questions I get from up and coming photographer regards how to price photography. Whether talking about weddings, portraits, commercial photography, licensing, or fine art prints, how to price photography can be a difficult and complicated question both for photographers and their clients. There are a few existing schools of thought on this, but I am not entirely satisfied with any of them.
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For instance, the PPA (Professional Photographers of America) suggests pricing based on the COGS, or cost of good sold. It works by analyzing the actual expenses of the products you offer, adding in additional expenses such as equipment replacement, rent, and advertising, then taking in to account an actual salary. Once you have all of those numbers, you price your work accordingly. It isn’t a terrible solution to how to price photography, but I find it works really well for a portrait studio in the mall, than it does for higher end wedding photographers. It also fails to take in to account the actual quality of the images which makes it difficult for clients to understand.
[pull_quote_right] When we boil things down to clients shopping for photographers by the number of hours worked and by the square inch of albums and prints, we remove experience, artistry, and quality from the equation. [/pull_quote_right]Another school of thought on how to price photography has to do with how to present prices to wedding clients in particular. We photographers know that wedding clients, by definition, lack experience selecting a wedding photographer. Most people only make this purchase once in their lives. Generally people have more experience purchasing homes and cars than they do wedding photographers, and think about what a daunting task those functions are. We try to make the process as simple as possible by creating prices lists and packages that base our fees on the amount of hours work, and the amount of products received, allowing them to compare photographers more easily.
But in that effort to simplify, we do ourselves and our clients a disservice. When we boil things down to clients shopping for photographers by the number of hours worked and by the square inch of albums and prints, we remove experience, artistry, and quality from the equation. It leaves us photographers in a steady race to out price and underbid the competition, and it leaves clients with nothing else to consider when making their selection. The result being that photographers make less money, and clients will settle for a photographer who might not be the best for them.
So what is the solution?
First, we need to stop charging by the hour. Hourly rates are silly when you think about them. I think back to the first wedding I shot for my friends, Chris and Traci, a decade ago. I wasn’t the official photographer, but I had my camera there, and I took some photos. Out of eight hours of photographing I had maybe 20 decent photos that I was really happy with. The following year, when I shot my first paid wedding, I ended up with about 100 photos during the eight hour day, that I was pleased with. Today, at a typical wedding, my assistant and I will shoot well over 2,000 images, and attempt to edit that down to 800 to deliver to the couple. Hundreds of the images that we throw out are far better than the keeper images from my first few weddings. When a couple is choosing a photographer, they don’t always understand that a more experienced photographer is going to deliver a lot more images in the same amount of time. Asking them to hire by the hour is not conveying to them what they are actually getting.
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Instead, we should be presenting clients with a single price for the wedding itself. Does this mean sometimes we will be working a few extra hours? Probably, but isn’t that worth it if it means staying long enough to capture then entire day? Personally, I would hate to tell a couple that they have to choose between having me at their reception or having me there to photograph them getting ready. I want to be there for the entire thing in order to tell the complete story with my images. If that means I work some extra hours, I am completely fine with that.
What about prints and albums?
How to price photography for prints and albums doesn’t have to be complicated either. There is a base cost for all of those things, plus the time it takes to create them. I currently use Pictage.com to fulfill all of my print orders. They are probably the most expensive printing service I have ever worked with, but they are the best. Every print is color corrected, retouching, and inspected by hand before it is ever delivered to a client. It is hard to convey to potential clients that when they are comparing the product prices between photographers that they are not comparing apples to apples. By the time they see how incredible the prints are, they have already made the decision to book me. So how do I justify the high cost of my prints to them? Well, I don’t have high costs of my prints. I essentially sell them at cost to the clients because I charge enough up front that I don’t need to try to squeeze more money out of them after the wedding, and because I think in the long run delivering beautiful prints to clients who will undoubtedly show their friends, is one of the best marketing tools I have.
Albums are a bit of a different animal. My albums are expensive. However, I always give clients the option to take their digital files and order their albums elsewhere if they prefer. I will even recommend services to use. I don’t try to make a big deal out of the fact that my albums are handcrafted here in the U.S., or how each album features a one of a kind leather cover, because honestly, with the internet they can get those things just about anywhere. What I will point out is that I work with several amazing graphic designers who can create a beautiful layout. By working together, I will use what I know about the couple as well as the day itself to create an album layout that actually tells the very unique and personal story of their wedding day. Some couples don’t mind paying for that. Some prefer to go a different route. Either way, I am completely happy with whatever decision they make.
As photographers, we can do our best to educate our potential clients and help them to make informed decisions. This shouldn’t include trying to reduce all photography down to the lowest common denominator, and trying to compare hiring a photographer with buying a toaster at WalMart. Photographers are artists, and we should be confident enough with our art to say, this is what I have to offer, because in the end, don’t we want our clients to choose us based on our imagery and not based on the square inches of prints we include?