You’ve got your tea, right? Coffee works too, if you prefer. I’ve got mine, because “pricing” is a topic that’s better suited to a friendly chat over the table – me bringing me to you, letting you in on my dreams, letting you know that I care about yours. Because even after Monday’s rather messy, personal post, I don’t want to have an adversarial relationship with the world.
I was a budget bride who appreciated good photography, but I made the choice not to pay for it. I sent my photographer a proposal asking for three hours of portrait photography for $650. I hoped he’d see me, and take photos that would remind me I was beautiful on a wedding day that tore my heart out, but he only snapped a shutter and got his settings right. I wanted more, but I chose not to pay for it.
For years after my own wedding, I tried to accommodate my brides with all-day, artistic photography coverage at the same price I paid (or less) so they wouldn’t have my regrets. It was exhausting. And painful. I shot in awful lighting, afraid to ask for photos or to speak to schedules. I shot in shame, trying to hide the fact that I was even there, still getting all the traditional hate-the-photographer comments from everyone and very little feedback or encouragement from my clients. My heart was dying.
During this time, I chose not to make my prices public, thinking that withholding them would bring queries in and give me a better shot at getting better bookings. Even then, I practically apologized for my prices even though I was steeply underselling the market.
It didn’t work. People who didn’t want to pay even discounted prices disappeared. Others who saw my low-to-mid rates had hoped that my inexperience meant I was cheap. $800 for 12 hours including travel cheap. Others quibbled over small dollar amounts on packages that included travel on holiday weekends. Clients who received free portfolio sessions took their photos and ran – no referrals, no feedback.
Because I didn’t go to school for photography, because I’ve learned business on my own, because I was a bride once who wanted pictures, I accepted this as my photographic “college” experience. I put in my time, and I didn’t ask much in return.
But as I’ve been focusing my brand and thinking seriously about pricing and packages, I’ve realized that as an artist and a person, I am not merely a photography service available for hire. My camera is the tool I use to make my art, but I don’t mass-produce photos weekend after weekend, shoot after shoot.
Every image I deliver is a piece of my heart. Every email I send, every comment I leave, every session I shoot – I am IN it, one hundred percent. I need clients to invest in me as much as I invest in them, and while I know many won’t, if they are paying for my work, they will care about what I’m doing and give me the time I need to make my art for them.
I’ve finally defined what a “successful” business looks like for me, and there are numbers involved. Because I need to pay for my equipment. Because my art is worth something to me. Because the time I spend on photography is time I don’t get to spend with my family. I spend much more time with my photos than most photographers – even film photographers – spend. My style is best-suited to individuals, couples, and smaller weddings (50-80 people). I’ve become a boutique photographer, investing myself deeply in only a few clients, instead of catering to the industry masses.
2012 is the last year in which I will book weddings at a medium price point. I’ve spent years building the quality of my work and adjusting my packages to sustain the pricing increase I will release with my website soon. In posting my prices, I hope to clear the “please send me your price list” queries and to get to work with people who really want to work with me. I’m not wheeling and dealing to get more business. I could quit today and still take pictures for the fun of it, no money involved.
I know a few of my readers may disagree with me here, and some potential clients may not be able to afford me, but here’s the thing – pricing aside, I’m still OPEN TO RELATIONSHIP. If you love me and trust my work, and if I have space in my schedule and room to adjust my prices, I will do practically anything for the person who dares to ask. I just need to know we’ll be get to be people together, and that we can LIKE each other, even if I have a camera.
Some photographers raise their prices just to get into a certain market. They are the biggest reason I haven’t raised mine for so long, because my heart was still budget-briding it through life, and I’ve been terrified of charging more than I would pay. But things have changed for me. I need the protection of the price point, the knowledge that my clients are willing to place value on the work that I do.
And when Pete and I have our re-wedding, I’ll be willing to pay what I am charging (or more, if necessary) for a photographer who will make art with my day, because I know what that is worth. Because after almost seven years with cop-out wedding photos I could afford, after postpartum depression stole Piper’s first year from me and all I had was pictures, after shooting and shooting and shooting, I know that beautiful pictures are the. most. valuable. thing. I have for remembering my beautiful life.
Anybody with a camera can snap a shutter and standardize photos, but not every photographer knows how to create something beautiful. If you want to see the art in your real life, photographers who make art are worth every penny you pay.