Why you shouldn’t complain about photography prices
Have you ever had a client question your prices when they can go to Walmart and print a photo for $.25? I have.
Your first instinct may be to launch into a technical tirade of how much better your professional lab’s ink and papers are and everything is archival and blah blah blah. The truth is, consumer labs are pretty damn good these days. Are there merits to using a professional lab? Sure, absolutely. BUT this is not the time for that conversation. I recommend a different approach to this objection of your photography prices being too high.
The paper is always free.
You’re not paying for the paper. You’re paying for the artwork that is printed on that paper. And if you want the artwork, you have to pay the artist what they’re asking to be paid.
Have you heard Picasso’s napkin story? It goes something like this:
Picasso was at a Paris market when an admirer approached and asked if he could do a quick sketch on a paper napkin for her.
Picasso politely agreed, promptly created a drawing, and handed back the napkin — but not before asking for a million Francs.
The lady was shocked: “How can you ask for so much? It took you five minutes to draw this!”
“No”, Picasso replied, “It took me 40 years to draw this in five minutes.”
Undervaluing one’s own creative work is standard for many creative people. If you don’t believe your services are worth higher photography prices — neither will anyone else.
From the clients’ perspective, there’s a tendency to think old school: what’s your hourly-rate?
But hourly rates belong in structured systems that measure outcome. Creativity belongs in another dimension — one where you set the rates in a way that reflects your value.
Why you shouldn’t complain about photography prices – Here’s a similar story from the engineering world:
A machine in a factory malfunctioned. Onsite engineers couldn’t locate the problem.
They called in a well-known contractor with decades of experience with the machine. He arrives, looks at it for 2 minutes, then draws a chalk circle around a screw needing to be tightened.
He sends an account for $5,000.
“That’s ridiculous,” comes the response. “All you did was draw a circle around a screw!”
He then writes a new bill:
– Drawing a circle around a screw: $1.
– Knowing where to draw it: $4,999.
Experience leads to proficiency and ease. It may appear easy to use a digital camera to create relaxed, natural images of you and your loved ones. But it takes years of experience to make it look easy. To be able to create a masterpiece in five minutes. You don’t owe me for the proverbial 5 minutes, you owe me for my decades of experience.
When I pivoted my photography business and started charging a lot more for my work (aka my photography prices), I got pushback and lost many of my previous clients. I still get haggled and called “too expensive” and insulted on a regular basis. It used to bother me, but I kept hearing about the whole “Starving Artist” mentality, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to starve. I quit my 9-5 job to pursue my photography as a career. This is not a side hustle. People don’t haggle lawyers or doctors, but for some reason when it comes to creative businesses, somehow it’s ok to haggle?
I absolutely adore this quote from Teri Hofford: “…somewhere someone decided that if you actually like your job, you should be paid less?? Wut? Creatives have bills to pay, mouths to feed, businesses to run and dreams to fund just like those in more corporate professions.”
You can read her entire post “Holy Sh*t You’re Expensive” – it’s excellent!
Do I wish that I could photograph everyone and make everyone happy? Yes of course I do. I’m a people pleaser and an empath, it’s in every fiber of my being. But not at the expense of my body, my mind, my spirit, my family. Other people’s needs and wants are not more important than my own, my daughter’s, my husband’s.
Creatives (I speak mainly for photographers as I have the most experience in this area) grossly under charge for their work. I see it happen over and over again: Mom with a camera starts taking photos of her kids, gets good at it, then her friends want her to take photos of their kids and it snowballs into a side hustle where a couple hundred bucks here and there feels like real income. This goes on sometimes for years, then she takes on more and more clients to make more money, gets completely burnt out and can’t keep up with the volume and gives up, because “I can’t charge more, no one will pay those photography prices!”
When I finally sat down and figured out my actual costs of doing business, I realized that I was actually LOSING money. I was essentially paying my clients to photograph them. WHATttttttttttt. Yes. I couldn’t believe my eyes. But it was the hard, black and white truth on paper that gave me a wake up call. If I wanted a sustainable business, I needed to charge more. There are many reasons photography is “expensive” and I love this post Why Is Photography So Expensive? (The Breakdown Of What We Do) that goes into details of the costs associated with photography. But the fact still remains that in other professions we don’t expect them to list all their expenses and what it costs them to run their business or what their margins are. We pay what they ask because we respect them as a business owner and they provide a service or product that we need.
I give pieces of myself to each and every client. My heart, my vision, my soul. It’s art that I create for you. Art featuring the most important people in your lives: your spouse, your children, your grandchildren. And when I say “yes” to working with you, I’m saying “no” to time with my own family. And because of that, I price myself accordingly.
I am so thankful for the majority of my clients who see the value of what I do and what I provide for them and happily pay my new photography prices. I am grateful and humbled that I can make a living creating art for my clients, and that they will have those memories preserved, and that for the briefest of moments, our stories intertwine and I am able to give them something they will cherish for the rest of their lives. And THAT is what you are paying for, not the paper. The paper is always free.
// Good art isn’t cheap and cheap art isn’t good //
And in a similar vein (a more practical one) I discuss Why Cheap Photography Costs You More in another post on my blog, so go check that out too!
Thanks for reading,