25th Jul2012

For the new photographers selling disks of their work for under $100*

by Christine

* The $100 is just an example. I cannot tell you what a good price is, but the bulk of what I see out there is under $100.

“OMG, it’s another ‘everything on a disk for $50’ newbie!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard those words. So may times that I turn off my auditory receptors and don’t engage in the outraged conversation that is guaranteed to follow.

Right now, my rule is to ignore the newbie drama and do my own thing. I can’t change what’s going on out there, it doesn’t do me any good to sit around and bitch and moan about it, so why bother? I don’t need the aggravation or stress, so I decline to have “bash the newbie” conversations.

But, as a teacher and mentor, I do have the obligation to try and make some kind of dent in this kind of business practice thinking, so here goes:

It’s great. Photography is, I mean. It’s great having a cool digital camera that offers instant results. It’s great that you’re making money doing something that is just downright fun. It’s great that all of your friends and family want you to take their pictures and the response you get when you post them on Facebook is great as well.

I’m not going to knock that, you are absolutely 100% correct. It IS great. I’m not here to talk about any of the above, I’m going to talk about pricing. I don’t even care what skill level you are at, this is advice for EVERYone that makes money from photography. More specifically, it’s for anyone that sells disks of images or is thinking about doing so.

Selling images on disks is not wrong, so you’re not going to get a lecture about that. In this day and age, some clients want disks and if those clients are who you want to make happy, then you will sell them disks. It’s as simple as that.

What the issue is – is the PRICE that you sell those disks at.

Now, you may be thinking that you took 2 hours to shoot the session and then you bought some disks, so for 2 hours of your time and the cost of a disk, which is less than $1, you have just made a pretty good pile of money.

I’m going to use my own way of doing things here as an example, so it might not be quite like  you do things, but it is a REAL example.

I recently shot a very small wedding for clients that only wished to have a disk. It was a last-minute affair that was planned in less than a week and they were scrambling for a photographer. it was on a Sunday, a day that I don’t book anything, so I was free and I thought “why not?” Since this was a new way of doing things for me, I kept close track of my time and expenses involved in this event.

The time spent for this was 15 hours:

  • 1 hour: phone calls & emails with bride, contract prep
  • 1 hour: meeting with bride and groom to go over details and sign contract
  • 1 hour: clean lenses and camera sensors, pack gear
  • 2 hours: driving to and from wedding venue
  • 3 hours: shooting wedding
  • 5 hours: downloading images, culling down to the best 200 images, straightening, brightening, tweaking 200 images, posting several sneak peeks on Facebook, converting final images to jpg, uploading to an online gallery
  • 2 hours: prepping invoices, burning disks, prepping print release forms, packaging disks and meeting with bride for pickup.

Suddenly that 3 hour wedding shoot looks a little more involved, doesn’t it?

The process for a portrait session is similarly involved, although the hours would be cut down to about 10 hours due to sessions only being 1.5 hours and no travel is involved since I shoot in my own studio that is attached to my house.

So, for me to see a photographer offering a session on disk for $35 or $50 or $75…. and then mentally dividing that by the 10 hours that I KNOW is involved with this process…I shake my head because they are making less than minimum wage.

I’m not even going to talk about all of the overhead, insurance, equipment expenses etc that go into maintaining a business that aren’t included in this, because I already know – if you’re not paying yourself what you’re worth, which is a sound business practice, you certainly aren’t considering your other business expenses. So, rather than have you tune me out to a “blah, blah blah” I’ll just focus on what you are paying yourself. For now.

So, back to the numbers. A 10 hour job, with everything on disk for $35. Seriously? You are only deeming yourself worth $3.40 an hour? (I’ve deducted $1 for the cost of the disk). Oh please, please, please start valuing yourself, your time and your work more.

The big argument I hear is that “I’m new, I’m not worth as much.” That may be true. I know that’s how I felt when I started out. But think of this – at a “real” job, you go through a training period. A time where you’re “new” and have no clue what you’re doing and everyone around you is trying to help you learn. Did your employer start you off at less than half of minimum wage because you don’t know anything? No, they didn’t. They started you off at a competitive, fair wage. Because you were worth it, learning or not. Maybe later, when you got really good, they gave you a raise, but they never undervalued your time and offered you less than you were worth.

You are your boss and what you are doing is saying “I’m not worth a fair price.”

You are also telling your clients “I am ridiculously cheap.”

Sure, your clients are happy as clams. They paid you $35 and can take the disk to a self-serve kiosk and get an 8×10 for $1.78. They’re overjoyed at how much money they just saved. They’re also thinking you’re just a little bit stupid.

And that’s where the problem starts. After awhile of thinking that you’re a little bit stupid, they begin to look around and see that there are tons of (new) photographers offering the same service at the same price. And instead of it being stupid, it becomes the norm. They EXPECT that price at every single photography studio. And suddenly I have an outraged potential client standing in my studio throwing a tantrum because I charge way more than $35 for just ONE digital file.

You are making things hard on yourself and hard on me. Suddenly, I don’t want to have anything to do with the new community of photographers in my area because all they are doing is making it hard for me to do business. Yes, I’m excellent at what I do. I’m not bragging. I’ve worked hard and attained a high degree of success. My work is award-winning and sometimes downright stellar. I can charge more. I deserve more. I also have figured in my business expenses and overhead, so when my clients hear that it’s going to cost them a minimum of $250 just to walk through my door, they’re outraged. They throw my $35 disk competitors in my face and storm out.

*sigh* It really doesn’t have to be this way.

Yes, the clients that are angry obviously do not consider the fact that I’m a higher quality photographer than the new photographers and deserve more, they just know that the $35 disk has become the standard. Because of this, even the ones that admit that I am better and worth more, think that paying 3 times more is not reasonable. Yes, this new standard has made it difficult to charge more than $100 for a disk.

So please, reconsider what you are doing and what you are charging. You’re lowering the expectations of clients across the board and making it difficult on the photographic community as a whole.

25 Responses to “For the new photographers selling disks of their work for under $100*”

  • "I’m a higher quality photographer than the new photographers and deserve more…" This is the thinking that keeps photogs stuck. Change that to marketing to your target clients or continue to educate the public, versus newbie photogs, and you'll earn your worth. Sometime only pros know the difference between pro images and newbies…not the clients. People see their kids, families beautifully even in Polaroids. The frustrations which PRO photogs seem to have in common include finding THEIR markets, in an EVER-CHANGING newbie world. Merits alone does not a career make.

  • The same goes for photographers who go after commercial gigs for so cheap that it makes it harder for those who are in this full time!

  • I agree with your article but only to a point. I "get" that it brings down the whole of photographers work, for those of you who are invested as deeply as you are. But have you considered the other side? For those who truly can't afford someone as amazingly talented as you?

    My family paid an amazing photographer last summer on a vacation to take family images. It's what we wanted, and we paid the price for it. In everyday life, with four children and a strict budget, sometimes even the 100/150 for a two hour shoot with a cd is a stretch. I thank GOD it's available. Most reasonable intelligent people realize what they are paying for, and when the services of someone like yourself are needed, they will come to you. (my guess is that family that yelled at you would never have paid your prices anyway)

    I have loved my family shots that friends or much smaller photographers that have been affordable…otherwise I'd only every have my own camera shots.

  • 5 hours? You spent all of 5 hours on post work and selects?

    And part of that time was "uploading photos?"

  • You know 500 for a 1 hour wedding is cheap right ?

  • It's a good article with valid points. I used to not post my pricing on my website for two reason. One everyone's requirements *are* different and two I didn't want to tip off local competition. I post my pricing now so that those bridal clients that want everything for nothing will go elsewhere. I don't need em. And Jen you are going off on one for nothing there! you mention Hair Salons not calling out newbie hair dressers. That's because it doesn't happen. Same with decorators, mechanics, electricians. After training they start in business charging the correct rates. ah there's a thing *after training*

  • Amber Ours

    i understand where you're coming from, but just like mcdonalds can charge 1 dollar a burger and sell 100 of them for every 1 burger sold elsewhere at 2.50 a burger even if the burger is better, the economy is what it is. Either do 30 min sessions for 100 dollars like everyone else and get 8 people done a day or sit and whine and make that in a month worth of your 200+ dollar sessions. just sayin. it is what it is.

  • Ok, I have seen posts such as this all over and I ask the same question. What does a photographer do when no one is willing to allow them to shoot as a second photographer, have tried different marketing schemes and they only have shot 3 weddings in the last two years? How does a photographer with limited experience gain traction to charge the average in the area that they live in? Especially if 90% of the people say that the photos are great. Do they continue to try and charge the industry standard and lose the skills that they supposedly develop over time, continue to pay for stylized shoots to participate in and hope that someone pays them the industry standard? Or do they follow the simple laws of business and comply with supply (the time of the photographer) and demand (how many customers hire them?).

  • I can soooo relate this this frustration and thank you for the discussion. These days anyone with a digital camera immediately labels him/herself a "professional photographer." Isn't it funny, conversely, that we don't go out and buy a sports car and call ourselves a NASCAR contender? My boilerplate response is If you want a $50 CD of images then take them with your cell phone.

    I was shooting a huge midwest horse show in August and one of the announcers actually had the audacity to approach me ringside with his cocky "I'm a celebrity because I'm the announcer attitude" and tell me "it doesn't cost you anything to take those photos." I was stunned at his ignorant rudeness. I told him that it didn't cost him anything to hold that mike and announce the show, either, did it? It started to sink in and he shut up after that. I had been chasing horses and eating dust and dirtying my expensive equipment on an aching back all day shooting hundreds of photos that "didn't cost me anything" only to be observed by someone who unfortunately does not represent the minority these days.

    The first assumption is that we're making thousands because we charge more than $10.00 for an image. The second problem I routinely encounter is that many (at least in the horse industry) cannot immediately distinguish between mediocrity and talent/quality. Someone on the rail shooting to undercut the OP shows them a thumbnail on their $700 camera which looks to be a great deal for $10; but enlarge the thing and and you see the graininess, horrid color, and soft edges. This is an image that isn't worth paying for at all. For some, the truth suddenly comes to light. Some are even savvy enough to realize that attempting to use those substandard, soft, grainy images in ads, etc doesn't muster, especially with a view toward their professional image. Yes, there is a reason we purchase professional equipment that includes lenses valued at more than the cameras some of these counterfeit shooters use. For those who truly want to be mentored and are serious about being a professional, I tell them: do it the RIGHT way; there are no shortcuts to mastering any profession.

    My advice based on years of experience: stick to your guns, never entertain those with the mindset that you somehow owe it to them to give them your work. We not only have the right to pay off our equipment, we have the right to earn a living for our exhausting work and long-cultivated talent. Simply put: those who are bastardizing the profession with a $50-$100 CD are not professionals. I find it amusing and perplexing that they are putting so much effort into transforming this profession into one that doesn't pay for any of us.

    Best Regards & Happy Shooting to All…. ~ Judy

  • Alex Klassen

    I'm not in the photography scene, but I've got enough friends in it to have been subjected to enough of these whinny articles as well. I can't help but parallel it to what i know- music recording, which is also being changed by the rise of cheaper and easier-to-use digital products. It confuses pricing, quality expectations and breaks down that professional barrier. However, I've never seen an article where studio guys are whining about it. I think everyone in the music scene is pretty happy and amazed that recording is now accessible to all. The photographer rant sounds like insecurity. I think if you truly offer a superior professional product, people who want top quality will be there to pay for it.

  • Jen McLeod

    Lol me neither. If it were answering a question like "how much should I charge" then it might be, I guess. But really, what people charge for their services is their own business. Personally I have no interest in working for pennies, but I've found that those who do already know that they're making nearly nothing per hour and don't care.

  • Charmaine DuGray

    I did not find this humorous or educational. 😛

  • Sarah Johnson

    This is a very good article! Thank you for sharing!

  • Marie

    If you market on price to attract price-shopper clients…this is how you end up killing your business, and hurt those pros who are really trying to support turf family with this trade.

  • Toben Warmerdam

    You want those people who love your photos so much, they don't really care what your price is.

  • Toben Warmerdam

    Unfortunately, so many clients are so obsessed with your price that they forget to consider your talent. This is what you pay the big bucks for. I spent $500 for an hour of my wedding photographer's time, but I was guaranteeing my own satisfaction. Its a small price to pay considering you will have those photos for a lifetime. I had a very talented photographer just recently tell me that those clients who are going to try to barter with you for a lower price are not the clients you want to work with, and I totally agree.

  • Sarah Anderson Metz

    Soooo painfully true.

  • Tonya Bolton

    Thanks for this! I'm currently a student learning photography. I have yet to do my first paid shoot so this was very helpful and informational. I solemnly swear that I will NOT offer a disk full of images for only $35, $50, or even $100. 😀 Tonya Bolton Photography.

    • Jacey Paton

      Oh my god… I have been having so much trouble with clients thinking that I charge way too much because of photographers that charge next to nothing for a CD full of digital files.. it's photogs like that who devalue themselves, which in turn screws over the people who actually need to make a LIVING doing photography. I am glad I am not the only one feeling this way! haha 🙂

  • So well said! Thank you so much for this.

  • SO VERY TRUE! I get those gasps of shock from inquiring clients all the time. And it's so frustrating when you try to explain the difference, the time, the investment made by both you & the client… but all they can think about is the 10-20 other photographers that include the all the files on the CD and the copyright. (Copyright is a whole other lesson [and vent]).

    • Amanda Hassell

      Great read. Lots of info storing away for a season when I can finish photography school & pursue an actual business.

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