Why Photographer Pricing Will NOT Inevitably Go Down

I had a feeling this might be a rant, and I’m sure that it may sound like one to some, but what i really want it to do is fill you with hope – especially at this time when the new year and new prospects and projects are just around the corner.

I read a blog post a few months back on photography and the assumption that pricing will – without a doubt drop for everyone across the board.

You should probably read it for reference if you haven’t already, find it here.

I would describe it as depressing – but it was more than that.

I was outraged.

The hopelessness it seemed to be conveying to beginner photographers that have just started or are about to start out in what seems to be an exciting career – this post would burst their bubble permanently.

So I’ve decided as a gift, I will play “angel’s advocate” and pull you back from the photo-seasonal depression that said post may have sent you spiralling into.

I also hope the author of the original post will read this and consider the points I’ll make so that he may enjoy his photography and keep his business strong as well.

Comparing Photography and Real Estate is like Comparing Apples and Apple Inc.

At first, comparing one industry with another seems fine right? Business is business.

But when the nature of each industry is alien to each other, the comparison is moot at best.

The gist was that real estate was heating up and everyone wanted in on it. But with so much competition, agents were cutting their own throats to sell cheaper than the next guy.

People left real estate and pricing balanced out.

This sounds familiar to most photographers – except maybe for the last part. Really?

It’s assumed that we are still forced to cut our pricing to compete.

It’s even termed as “prisoner’s dilemma”, which states:

The bottom line is that low-priced photographers will continue to rise in income and volume, while high-priced photographers will continue to decline in income and volume. Of course, there are outliers – those whom are well-branded.

I call bullshit. You don’t have to believe this – so don’t choose to.

There are enough things to mind-fuck you in this industry, you don’t need another one.

Here’s the real bottom line:

  • low-priced photographers will continue to rise in income and volume – if they stick with it, if they refine their craft, if they brand themselves well, if they learn and share experience and if they connect with people.
  • High-priced photographers will continue to decline in income and volume – if they aren’t open to change, if they become stagnant in their craft, if they don’t refresh their branding, if they stop learning and sharing experiences and if they don’t connect with people.

Most new photographers drop out before they can get themselves up and running, you need incredible endurance – both mentally and physically to do this, ask a veteran in the industry.

Most veteran’s lose their passion for photography because the day-to-day crap blurs their vision.

Keeping vigilant and focused is key for both sides.

So what does this have to do with real estate? Nothing.

A real estate agent is a real estate agent. They do what they do and they do it the same every time.

The biggest difference between these two industries is that real estate is practically a commodity, photography is not.(unless you don’t do what you need to do listed above, then your photography is a commodity)

Photography can be a creative outlet.

As big and as crazy as your dreams can make them.

Isn’t that why most of us wanted to start shooting anyways? We don’t want to do cookie-cutter snapshots – we want to use our imagination, conveying emotion through beauty, comedy, horror, sorrow, etc.

Which leads us to why…

Fuck That Sweet Spot

This graph is presented in the blog, showing the relationship between pricing and number of photographer population in the wedding industry – and the “sweet spot” therein.

supply-demand increase supply

I get it. I took economics and I understand supply-demand relationships.

But again, this is written in absolutes.

The sweet spot was described as where P1 and Q1 meet. Why?

Because you get the optimum amount of clients for the optimum amount of cash?

Fuck that shit.

You know where my sweet spot is?

The minimum amount of clients for the maximum amount of cash.

Let’s go on a trip:

I charge $100/session and have an average of 10 people/month. That’s $1000/month right?

But the sweet spot is $50.

So I change my pricing to $50/session and my clients go up to 20/month.

Awesome! I just doubled my clientele!!

But wait, *punches numbers into calculator*… $50×20=$1000.

So I’m still making the same amount of money, but I’m working twice as much?!?

That sweet spot blows.

What if I went the other direction?

I double up my pricing to $200/session and my clients dropped to 5/month.

I still make $1000/month but now I’m only doing half the work!!

I’d rather work less for the same(or more) amount of money – wouldn’t you?

Besides the obvious, what benefits would I gain?

  • time to live life
  • get better in my craft
  • take more personal care of my clients needs

Plus, those 5 clients will slowly rise back to 10.

Why? Your loyal 5 will refer you to people, like them, who will enjoy your work and be willing to pay for it.

But what about the 5 who left you?

Guaranteed they are the 5 clients that look more at the price-point than the value you give them – and you don’t want those clients do you?

This is called scaling, it is obvious but not realistic in every industry – luckily photography can be scaled big time.

I realize this situation was described in absolutes, but again, it’s hypothetical.

Wherever the sweet spot is, it’s not mine and it shouldn’t be yours – there’s only one reason why pricing should drop; your work isn’t worth paying more.

Not All Photographers Are Created Equal

A metaphor described the number of weddings as a pie, that this number would never increase but that the number of people wanting a piece(number of photographers) was ever increasing. The conclusion being that everyone gets a smaller piece(smaller profits).

It actually states, “More people. Same size pie. Smaller slices.”

First off let me assure you that if human behavior could be summed up with a simple pie chart, we would all be robots and life would be much simpler.

That “pie” can get bigger, or smaller, because different numbers of people get married all the time. It also assumes that all photographers are created equal and that is just not the case at all.

We don’t all get together with a list of the new years weddings and divide them all up equally between us.

To even suggest the numbers naturally get an even spread between every wedding photographer is absurd.

There are countless factors that can make or break a wedding photographers year including branding, reputation, product, personality, word-of-mouth, gender, age, etc

So you can all relax, the number of jobs will fluctuate, so will the number of photographers – but the most important factor – the quality of each photographer, in the long run will determine who gets a big slice of the pie and who goes hungry.

So focus on photographer quality, your photographer quality – no one else.

Increases in Technology

An increase in tech saves time, money and increases the amount of work that can be handled… for everyone.

But for some reason, because of this increase in efficiency prices are reduced?

Why?

Don’t veterans have the same access to tech that someone starting out does?

The difference is, veterans have established reputations that new photographers don’t, they also have established client lists, referrals, advertising, experience, etc?

So what’s the problem? Why drop pricing? Why not expand now that you have all this time and resources?

Also, don’t these technologies help to decrease costs?  Saving even more money?

Cheap is cheap and if you think that Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets alone will make you a pro, that’s the type of client you will get – cheap.  Enjoy.

I Don’t Like That Patronizing Tone… and Casual Photographers

Every industry fluctuates, such is the nature of the humans species.

But instead of addressing the issue of casual photographers, my attention was drawn immediately to the comments, “how hard is it to maintain a photography business? Generally speaking, have a website, gear and business cards. Am I missing anything?”.

…Jesus Zombie Christ…

Ummmm, a resounding YES!!!

Asked what I do to run my business, I would probably start laughing, getting more and more hysterical by the second until the person who posed the question backed away in a gradually accelerated manner.

It’s my equivalent to a computer trying to run a program too immense to handle and eventually crashing.

To be completely realistic with you, running any business is WORK.

A little bit or a lot depends on the industry you’re in and how you approach it.

Photography, unless you have people doing the work for you, is hustle hustle hustle.

You can get all the automation, formulation, workflow, etc to help with the mundane things, but if it is you and only you, you have to get up in the morning and do something.

If you’re lucky and smart, you can make those things fun as hell.

Regarding part-time photographers, who cares if no one ever truly exits the industry?

The drawback for casual photographers is their lack of visibility to the public, and we all know that out of sight, out of mind – so stop worrying over them and focus on your own work.

Prisoner’s Dilemma Revisited

The message here is that we all benefit if we stick together.

The problem is, there’s always someone who will cut their prices to beat the rest out of a sale.

Therefore, forcing everyone to reach a lower price equilibrium.

Fuck me running.

Really?

Okay, let me take a calming breath… and here we go.

Quality photographers, with passion for their work, with no ego to stroke and great social and connective skills tend to come together and share, collaborate, constructively criticize, learn, refer and grow.

Photographers that keep their gear a secret(I never understood this one), their software a secret, their process a secret, with dollar signs for eyes, have been devoured by their monstrous egos, with crocodile smiles on their faces while they glean what they can from quality photographers(which they think they can duplicate) and never giving anything back(not that they have anything worth sharing), will eventually cut themselves off from the industry along with their own throats and lose their businesses because they won’t be able to afford to keep it running at those prices and the quality of their work is sub-par because they are completely unoriginal.

Example? Sure…. now guess who’s the photographer and who’s the hack:

Tom and Jerry both love shooting portraits and they both want to do it for a living.

Tom’s focused enjoying himself and flexing his artistic creativity during the shoot, collaborating with similar photographers in the industry and letting himself be open and vulnerable to both them and clients in order to learn and connect emotionally in his work.

Jerry is focused on emulating those same photographers, but he’s too self-conscious to actually talk to them. He doesn’t want to come off as a hack who doesn’t know anything. He wants to be known as a pro, so he copies their work again and again, claims it as original and never stretches outside of his comfort zone, while matching their pricing because he has convinced himself that his is their peer.

A year goes by…

Tom is loving his job. He has learned so much about what to do and what not to do – that works for him personally. People in the industry don’t just know him, they trust him and have befriended him. They know his style, his strengths and limitations and they refer him easily to clients. Tom’s pricing has steadily gone up, but he isn’t really focused on that, he’s focused on the next personal project that can get his creative juices flowing and hone his skills, while also having the positive side effects of demonstrating his abilities and increasing his visibility to the public.

Jerry is not happy. He has indirectly “stolen”(let’s say copied) as much knowledge as he could from the top photographers around and has updated his facebook page and website a million times this week alone but he just can’t seem to get the number of clients he wants. He’s even cut his pricing down to 25% and his numbers still aren’t increasing. He hates Tom and his success, maybe he should start copying his work?

You guessed it, Jerry’s the hack.

Thing is, no one knows who Jerry is. What’s worse, no one wants or cares to know who Jerry is.

No one sees Jerry’s work because he’s not only lacking clients – he’s also not working on personal projects, assisting, dialogue, connecting, making himself vulnerable or other things that would increase his value in the industry or to his clients.

So Jerry blends in, like camouflage because he doesn’t step up or step out.

Fuck the dilemma and just stop being a prisoner.

Wrap This Shit Up

So what’s my fucking point already?

Focus on your work – not others.

Prices will only go down if we drop them – or if our work isn’t worth what we’re charging.

Be resilient, be adaptive, be open, be vulnerable, be brave, be honest.

Work on your craft and ask questions.

Help others.

Ask others for help.

Fuck the sweet spot.

Work less for more and scale when you can.

Work smarter, not harder.

Spend time on connecting, not networking.

Serve, and know what that means.

If you feel negative feelings regarding peers that are doing better than you, know them for what they are and get over yourself. They’ll kill your passion if you don’t.

Share everything.

Don’t compare yourself to others, you’re not them and they’re not you.  Same goes for your work.

Fuck the inevitability of dropping prices.  Try raising them and see what happens.

That’s it from me, so Merry Etc & Happy New…

Michael Carty

http://michaelcartyphotography.com

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