Real World Client Relationships

It’s not just a photography thing, creatives all over experience this at one time or another, some more than others. The client who wants to “make a deal”. Here is a very well done video illustrating some of the pitches creatives get from clients. A “friendlier” variation of the Harlan Ellison video.

Justifying low prices — uhh, What?

In an industry suffering from a “race to the bottom” in terms of lower fees and other pricing I find it disturbing to come across an essay by a (part-time) photographer to justify his low prices. Especially, when he outlines the exact factors that define the value inherent in reasonably-priced photographic prints and services.

I’ve grabbed the essay in its entirety and you can read it below. Apologies to the photographer if you happen to stumble across this. Take the criticism as constructive and use it to change your policies and prices. When you charge a pittance for your skill and use of equipment “most people can’t afford” you are cheating yourself and your fellow photographers by creating a demand for low prices that are not enough to live on, much less enough to purchase or upgrade that expensive equipment. And your customers and the industry will take advantage of it.

I’ve left the photographer’s name out of it because this is not an attack on this particular photographer, but an illustration of the lack of education many amateur photographers have when it comes to the business of photography.

Please read the essay and take away from this that your time and skill as a photographer have value, regardless whether you are trying to make it as a full-timer, if you work at Wal Mart, or if you have a $10 million trust fund. Do the research, it’s not that difficult. Talk to a local pro. Join a professional association (see my other posts on this under the Pro Assoc & Orgs category to the right or the post above this one). Read some books. Find information on the web.

Why My Work Costs Less than Other Photographer’s

If you believe that great art has to be expensive, then my work is not for you. The color, creativity and print quality are as good or better than what you would buy from a typical photographer, but at a price anyone can afford. Make no mistake, I sell my work at a profit, but I don’t have to rely on my work as my sole livelihood. I have other income that pays most of my bills and since I operate my studio from my home, I save on overhead. I could sell my work for several times the asking price, but I don’t think that’s necessary. This is what you’re paying for.

– The cost of processing good quality photography is not cheap, but it’s not as expensive as some would have you believe. I do a lot of my own processing at home, but some of the largest images are sent out for printing. I use the best equipment, which costs money to operate and maintain. I only use high quality paper, resisting damage from ultraviolet light to ensure decades of crisp, sharp color.

– There is considerable time spent working raw images into final projects that meet the standards I set for my work.

– It takes gasoline (which isn’t cheap) to get me to the trail heads I hike to take my nature shots, or to the locations of my portrait and wedding shoots.

Nevertheless, you’ll find my work affordable, especially if you compare it to similar works displayed by typical photographers that you’ll see displayed on the walls of various galleries. I don’t cater to the rich. Rather, my customers are normal people who desire quality photos to decorate their homes and businesses. Photography is my hobby, and your business merely provides me the ability to continue providing the beauty of God’s nature to the people of the world.

Finally, I don’t expect tips, but if you insist that the quality of my work is worth more than what I’m charging, then I’ll gladly accept.

Some other quotes from the site:

“Please note that the obnoxious copyright lables only appear on this website. When you order, you can specify a signed, numbered original with a certificate of authenticity (for when I become famous) or a completely unmarked print. All prints, up to 20×30, are printed with stunning 300 dpi resolution.”

“If you’re decorating with 8×10, you can snap your own, take them to the drug store and print them out yourself. If that’s what you want, then you don’t need me. I’m offering professionally edited photos using cameras, lenses, printers, paper, and software most people can’t afford. I’ve invested greatly in cameras, lenses, computer hardware and software to provide high-quality imagery even at large sizes.”

“Commercial shoots are often more time consuming than portrait photography, but since it’s irregular work, I generally charge the same prices.”

So, what are the prices?

Location fee: $20 + gas money

Studio fee: $20 with a $10.00 credit toward print purchase

8×12: $9

11×14: $11.50

12×18: $18.00

16×20: $20.50

20×30: $27.00

Oh yeah, he offers a CD “free of copyright restrictions” for $10. I wonder what the print prices are for, then?

Don’t sell yourself short, it’s a hole you will have a hard time digging yourself out of when it comes time.

The cost of being in business

A person who starts and operates a business is on their own, literally. There is no umbrella company paying their health insurance, 401(k), or salary. A self-employed person needs to sell or bill enough to cover expenses, costs and, if they’re lucky, have a little bit left over for growth. Using a service business as an example (consultant, photographer, hair stylist, etc.), the business owner needs to calculate what’s called the Cost of Doing Business (CODB). This figure is the cost paid every day for operating that particular business.

The CODB is composed of all expenses and overhead, divided by the expected number of billable jobs performed (or “open for business” days) during the year. Now, a self-employed person can’t reasonably expect to bill 365 days a year. There is a lot of downtime, processing invoices, creating and distributing marketing and advertising materials, making phone calls to prospective clients, etc. This might be 1 or 2 days a week spent on administrative duties. If a person can afford to hire help for these functions, those expenses go into the CODB as well.

For example, there are 365 days in the year, 104 days are weekend days, leaving 261. Take out 14 for vacation and a conservative 7 days for sick time (what sole business owner has time to take a vacation or be sick, though?) and you’re left with 240 billable business days. That’s 48 5-day weeks. If you have 1.5 admin days per week, that’s 72 days. Subtract 72 from 240 and you get 168 days a year a sole business owner can reasonably expect to have available for billable work, work that they get paid for and from which they have to cover costs and expenses. However, the number of billable days ranges from 170 – 250 and the final number will be based on your own business an personal needs.

The total of costs and expenses divided by 168 billable days equals the CODB, the MINIMUM amount the business owner needs to charge for every billable day to just break even for the year.

Here is a selection of information and CODB calculators to assist you:

National Press Photographers Association: Professional Development Business Practices

Milken Institute Cost of Doing Business 2005 (PDF)

For people wondering why photographers charge what they do:

Digital Journalist – Issue0309