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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Money isn't important when you have passion...


...unless you wanna work in retail.

At my sons' school there was a Mum who worked for a major portrait studio chain. I remember her because she complimented me on my work, which was very appreciated. But then she said something that kind of struck me as odd. She mentioned that she liked my work because I seemed to know about 'apertures and stuff' and how to use it to good effect.

I came to the conclusion that in the studio setting in which she was employed, technical knowledge like that wasn't as important. The lights were set to give her a proper exposure at f8 and she just had to concentrate on wrangling the kids and getting great expressions. A difficult enough task in itself without a doubt. Both the technical and creative sides of photography usually come into play, but sometimes one has more precedence than the other.

A couple of months later when I ran into her she told me that she had decided to quit her job and set up her own business taking portraits. Good on her I thought. Following her passion. She already has the experience shooting the portraits so it should be a cinch.

But then she floored me again. She told me that her whole business plan was to sell it cheaper than her old boss had at the shopping centre. As in the kind of place that charges you $9.99 for a sitting and a free print in the hope that you'll purchase more.

More after the jump...





The first thing that worried me was how could you possibly do it for cheaper than that? A national chain store can afford to make a loss on some products in the hope that it will make it up in others. An independent photographer doesn't have that kind of buying power. You would need a mighty big volume of clients to make ends meet, and you'd also want to hope they bought a lot of extra prints. Not knowing much about consumer portrait photography I wasn't sure whether the kind of people who would want to get their portrait done for less than $10 would be big spenders on large prints.

But more concerning to me was the mindset that competing on price was the way to go. There will always be somebody cheaper! Let me repeat that again. There will ALWAYS be someone cheaper. Why bother entering the race for the bottom before you've even really started running?

Just because you think you can be the cheapest doesn't mean that you should be. Shouldn't our aim as photographers be to be the best possible artists we can. To produce work that is so outstanding that charging a little extra than the competition won't matter. The quality will speak for itself. And shouldn't we be aiming to charge enough to provide customer service to knock our clients' socks off?

Yes there are always market forces at play. If the average price for a day's worth of commercial photography in your local area is $1200 and you come in charging $3000 (because your work is so much better) then you're probably going to have a hard sell. But at the same time charging $400 a day isn't going to necessarily attract the kind of clients you want to advance your career.

I will happily admit that I'm not the cheapest commercial photographer around. I won't give your company 200 pics on a CD and tell you to go sort it out yourself. I research a portrait subject. Find out about your speciality, what you like, your interests. Then I talk with you to come up with a great concept for a portrait. I scout locations in advance. I google you to see what other images have been made of you before. I collaborate with you to try and create the best portrait you've ever had. The one that will help you sell your company to the world. Those things take time and time is money!

I make no apologies for costing more than $9.99 and not even throwing in a free print! Good photography is designed to make a company money if it's commercial, encourage readers to buy a magazine if it's editorial, and preserve a memory for a lifetime in the case of personal photography. That has value. That's worth something and if you come in just trying to be the cheapest without thinking about what you need to make to provide the best possible service and photography you possibly can...well you're just short changing not only yourself but your customers as well.

Oh and the follow-up to the story is that six months later the lady was working in a retail store because the business just hadn't taken off. She'd had plenty of customers and was run off her feet but wasn't making enough profit or extra print sales to keep afloat. A sad story because I'm sure she could have made a great success of herself if she'd charged more and respected her work enough to attract the kind of clients who could have helped her thrive.

Just to hit you over the head with a hammer again! There is ALWAYS someone cheaper.

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