Dear Good-But-Cheap Wedding Photographers…

filed in: For Photographers

December 17, 2018

Over the past few months, I’ve observed and taken part in many conversations within Facebook groups regarding wedding photography pricing.  I’ve witnessed new photographers, who are actually quite talented, defend their extremely low pricing structure with arguments that just don’t make any financial or business sense.  Pricing based on what they feel is “fair” or what is “justifiable” – not what is ACTUALLY fair market value or what is needed to run a successful full-time business.  It seems that our industry is being infiltrated with photographers who have absolutely no business knowledge and who, in my humble opinion, have no right owning a business.  These good-but-cheap wedding photographers are ruining our industry and I, for one, cannot sit back and watch this happen.

A few months back, I wrote this blog post with pricing advice for wedding photographers.  I went into great detail about how wedding photographers should be pricing themselves correctly by calculating their expenses, taxes, and take-home-pay goal.  Understanding the fundamentals of business is crucial to building + sustaining a profitable business… and I’m tired of watching good-but-cheap wedding photographers undercut the industry with a complete disregard to everyone else who is working hard to make a living.  I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a million times… if we, as vendors + business owners, do not value ourselves and our industry, how can we possibly expect clients to do the same?  I don’t want to see our industry get to a place where no one can make a living shooting weddings anymore.  I, for one, do not want to have to get a second job to pay my bills… or worse yet, have to return to Corporate America because I can’t make a decent living off of wedding photography anymore.  We need to protect ourselves and this industry because our livelihoods LITERALLY depend on it.  It all starts with pricing our services and products correctly as an industry.

At an EXTREMELY basic level, pricing is actually pretty simple.  Whatever it costs you to provide a service or product, you should multiply that by at least 3.  That should be your minimum price for anything because that accounts for 1/3 cost, 1/3 taxes, 1/3 profit.  If you’re not charging at least 3x your cost for products… and more than that for services… you’re not doing it right.

So if you are offering wedding albums to your clients and they cost you $500 from the lab… you should be charging clients at least $1500 for that album.

If you are offering wedding photography services and it costs you $1000 in expenses per wedding… you should be charging at least $3000 for your services.

There’s also an element of time to consider when pricing things out.  With albums, you’ll be spending valuable time corresponding with clients, designing the album, making revisions to the design, ordering it online… and with weddings, there is considerable time spent corresponding with clients, uploading, culling, editing, creating online galleries, blogging, social media… all of which should be added to the cost of the album or your service because YOUR TIME IS VALUABLE AS A BUSINESS OWNER.  Every hour you spend on these tasks is time that is taken away from marketing and growing your business.  Time away from your family + friends.  Time away from serving your clients.  When you wear all of the hats within your business, your time is an asset and worth pricing out as well.

If you can’t wrap your head around pricing for profit, then I’m sorry… you do not have any business in owning or running a business. Period.  If you want to work for free, then by all means do it!  But don’t call yourself a business, don’t present yourself as one, and don’t try to compete with and/or undercut those of us who are trying to make an honest living in this industry.  Shoot for free, volunteer your time + services to couples in need… there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!  But please don’t devalue our industry and the hard work of those who are running a legitimate business by charging money for your hobby.  It’s not right and it’s not fair.  If you are not confident enough in yourself to charge a living wage for your services, then keep shooting for free until you get to that point. 

By charging next to nothing for your services, not only are you setting yourself up for failure by running a business based on emotions versus basic business principles… but you’re also destroying an industry that other photographers have worked hard to build.  You – the good but cheap photographers – are 100% responsible for creating unrealistic expectations for clients.  GOOD wedding photography is a luxury and should be priced accordingly.

Recently, Payless Shoes opened a fake luxury shoe store.  They offered the same shoes you’d find at Payless, but advertised them as high-end, luxury shoes and charged up to 1800% more than they typical sell for… and you know what?  IT WORKED!!  This is an amazing business lesson.  If you offer a good product and brand/market yourself correctly, you don’t need to charge low prices!!  You are worth whatever you say you are!  And if we all demand luxury prices (as we should), then clients will pay that.

If you’re just starting out and don’t know how to price yourself during that early portfolio building stage, you’re not alone.  My advice is to determine your minimum price using the method above.  That’s your end goal once you are done with the portfolio building stage.  Then, offer a “portfolio building discount” to the first few weddings you book while you’re portfolio building.  Pricing high and offering a portfolio discount sets you up to attract good clients because you’re not starting off dirt cheap, it isn’t as damaging to the rest of the wedding photography industry, and it gives you the freedom to charge lower prices while you’re still learning the ropes!  Your early clients will feel like they got an amazing deal – because they did – and you don’t have to try and jump from cheap pricing to realistic pricing early in your business because you’ve been at your goal pricing all along!

If you don’t totally understand the business side of things yet, it’s okay!  But take the time to learn basic business principles before you launch a business.  Read blog posts, invest in mentoring or coaching, take a few business courses, and/or look for educational offerings from fellow photographers.  There is so much information available and you should absolutely invest in yourself and your business from the start!  I know it can feel overwhelming, but I promise you that it’s not hard.  We’re all in this together, so let’s help each other build and maintain successful, profitable businesses.  We all deserve to thrive without devaluing the industry as a whole.

**Interested in one-on-one coaching?  I now offer hourly coaching sessions, available in-person or via Skype!**

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