Can a Photographer Price His Worth?

Business

Dear Jasmine,
After having what I thought was a good meeting with a wedding planner and her client (and then hearing nothing but the sound of crickets afterward), I have started to question my pricing. I have heard you and other wedding pros talk how they started at $1,000 and worked up from there. I have seen other photographers charge quite a bit in my affluent area for work that is less than par. So, I came out of the gate charging $2,950 for a basic package including two photographers, 8 hours of coverage.
I shot my first wedding on my own this past summer and I have since booked a couple more and was a 2nd shooter for another photographer. I feel like I deliver great service and have had happy clients. Given these factors and the work I put out, I felt like what I charge is a good deal in this area.
That said, I also know I have my work cut out for me given the fact that my portfolio is so small. $1,000 just seemed too little for me to start at. I’m wondering if I may need to bite the bullet and drop my prices to get more action rolling out of the gate, but I also think you should charge what you feel you are worth.
Sincerely,
Shooting For The Moon

Dear Shooting For The Moon,
Oh, the woes of pricing…it’s pretty much the bane of every photographer’s existence. Really. Almost seven years into my business and there are still moments I grapple with my pricing structure. You’re not alone.
However, the thing I’m going to address is your perspective on pricing, not the pricing itself. I could get into the many layers of why I started my business charging $1,000 per wedding, but it’ll miss the point (however, you can get the story here and more in depth in Exposed Magazine). I’m going to break your letter into three sections and explain why I think you need to recalibrate your perception of pricing.

“I have seen other photographers charge quite a bit in my affluent area for work that is less than par.”
Word to the wise, don’t look to other photographers to measure your worth…you’ll be misled. Sure, you can establish your work on an artistic totem pole (My work isn’t as good as his, but definitely better than hers!), but there isn’t an established standard. You might think someone else’s work is subpar, but you’re not the one purchasing it, so–truthfully–your opinion doesn’t matter. If a plethora of brides find a photographer’s work appealing and are willing to pay a stated price, then that photographer is spot on.

“Given these factors and the work I put out, I felt like what I charge is a good deal in this area.”
Here again, you’re using yourself as a barometer to gauge what a “good deal” is, when the only person who can confirm this is a prospective bride. If in fact your services were a bonafide deal, you’d have inquiry after inquiry for your photography…that’s simply how bargains work. The better the deal, the more it sells. If the coordinator and the bride you met with didn’t respond, one might guess you’re not as much as a deal as you hoped you were. And the key here isn’t to necessarily be the best deal in town, it’s to focus on a price that will allow you to run a profitable business, but at the same time grow a profitable business. You want brides talking about your amazing services, but first you need to book them.

“I also think you should charge what you feel you are worth.”
Sweet, Shooting For The Moon, I thought the same thing. And then I was struck with the realization that this just isn’t how it works in the real world. At the end of the day, the client is the one dictating a photographer’s worth. Let me explain: One might feel compelled to charge $10,000 for his services because he thinks he’s worth it…if he doesn’t book any clients, they’ve–essentially–said his work isn’t worth that much. If on the other hand a photographer charges $1,000 and he books wedding after wedding, chances are he can charge a bit more because of the simple economic rule of Supply and Demand (the more the demand on a limited supply, the more one can charge).
You can say your work is great, you offer great service, and you’re a great deal…but if brides aren’t booking you, there’s a good chance your pricing is amiss. Do I think you’re worth every penny? Sure! Do you think you’re worth every penny? Sure! But it doesn’t matter what we think because the client is the one booking you.

Shooting For The Moon, you may or may not have to change your prices…only you can decide what’s best for your business (like I aforementioned, my goal today was to recalibrate your pricing perspective). However, what I can tell you is getting busy the first year of business (having clients publicly endorse your work, building your portfolio, and meeting other industry professionals) is something that doesn’t necessarily come with a price tag. Weigh these things carefully because they might be worth their weight in gold.

Stay Fabulous,
j*