Discounts (stopping the trend you already set)

Q. “I recently had a friend become engaged. I did the engagement session at full price. She is wanting me to do her wedding and is asking for a discount. How do I approach this? I do not want to set a trend for future clients and friends.”

A. Well, firstly, you’re absolutely on the right track. Your thinking is correct: giving discounts sets expectations and further discounts will be expected. Giving discounts does a few things:

  1. It sets the expectation that you are a photographer who gives discounts or does ‘deals’
  2. This expectation gathers a community of clients who aren’t the best for your business
  3. It devalues your brand/product (which, let’s face it, is YOU)
  4. It sends the message that what you’re selling is actually worth much less. If you can do a session for just $1, then that’s really all it’s worth no matter how much you normally charge. Think of a car. A car that costs $5k in the summer might just be $3k in the winter when dealerships are trying to bring sales in during slow months. So what can we assume? That they’re still making a profit and so the car really isn’t worth $5k. Suddenly, the value of the car is lessened in our eyes.

For your individual situation, I don’t see any reason why you can’t just say no. You haven’t set that precedent already so why do it now? As a friend, you could offer her, say, an added album for her to give as a gift or some other added bonus. So with those things above in mind, let’s talk about a few ways you can approach this right from the get-go (and if you’re already caught in a cycle of giving discounts, keep reading).

Self Esteem //

Put your camera down for a second. Because first, we need to deal with YOU. This is a business unlike any other I have run in the past. I have always been self employed. But even when I was doing hair & makeup, which is an intensely personal thing to do for a stranger, I wasn’t as emotionally invested in my work as I am with my photography. We put our finances, sleep, blood, sweat and tears on the line for this love. We work in the freezing cold, the burning heat. We invest a piece of our heart into every single piece of work we produce. And this can make it hard for many right-brained artsy fartsies to put on their business brain and put a number/price/value on their work. Because it isn’t just our work we’re putting a price on. It’s US. And even if we can put a price on our work through easy calculations about hours worked, cost of product and necessary income, it can be difficult to stick to those prices when we don’t see our own value.

This is where self esteem comes in. Now, I’m not about to tell you that you’re a great photographer. Because I don’t know you. Your lack of confidence may be warranted. If you don’t feel that your work is worth paying for and your business isn’t offering you a sensible wage, then you may need to:

I’ve said it before, but to be a great photographer, you have to be…well…a great photographer. So if you aren’t actually ready to be working in exchange for money and starting up your business, then take a few steps back. And if you’ve quit your day job already, then oh boy…you might wanna go get a job so you can eat while you learn photography.


If you truly are ready for this business and you have all the things in place to start working in exchange for money, then you need to realize that

no one will value you more than you value yourself. YOU set the bar for the value of your services and products and everyone else takes their cues from you.

Pricing //

The number one reason I’ve found people (and myself in the beginning) aren’t confident about their pricing is because they either grabbed it off someone’s else’s website or pulled it out of thin air. No store just says “yeah I think that looks like it’s worth about $___”. Services and products should be priced according to cost of materials, business overhead and your salary. No one else can make those decisions for you and so you can’t charge something purely based on the prices of other photographers in your area (who aren’t your competition btw). So if you’re not confident on your pricing, then you’ll be much more likely to slash your prices and allow others to devalue your work.

Discounts vs. Offers //

There’s a difference between giving a discount and running a special offer. These are some of the ways I manage my pricing for all different types of clients:

  1. During my viewing & ordering sessions, I have different price brackets and collections available for all different budgets so I don’t feel the need to give discounts. If one collection is too pricey for a client, I simply suggest another.
  2. I have a 50/50 payment plan available for clients who need to spread the cost of their order. 50% due on ordering with the other 50% due a month later. Products delivered on the final payment.
  3. I don’t do specials or sales or offer discounts, but I do offer mini sessions once or twice a year. This feels like a discount to the client but is in fact a whole different product from a traditional session. I’m not saying “you can get my £450 session for £150”. I’m saying “you can get a bite sized session at a bite sized price”. My last mini sessions were £150 with 20 minutes of shooting and 5 digital files.
  4. I firmly believe in the reverse of discounting. Instead of giving the same amount of product for less money, I like to offer more product for the same amount of money. So if I wanted to bring in a few extra sessions, I might offer the same sessions as usual but with an added bonus rather than a discount. It still gives an ‘act now’ message and allows you to be generous without devaluing your product.

Break the Cycle //

So what should you do if you’re already in the rut of being a photographer known for coming down on their pricing? Stop! Like any bad habit, you can quit cold turkey or gradually. But know this:

you will lose clients

You will lose the clients who aligned themselves with you purely because they knew you would give discounts. And you will also lose clients because you’ve already sent the message that your products are worth less than your price. And they won’t be cruel or malicious, but simply put, that precedence has already been set in their brain. And because of our affinity for anchors to help us make decisions, it’s nearly impossible to re-value something in our mind that already has a low monetary value.

You may have already experienced this when phasing out of the portfolio building stage of your business. I’ve said before that portfolio building isn’t about gaining new clients. Because working for free doesn’t work that way.

If you get backed into a corner and pressured to give discounts when it comes time to sell your after-session products, it may be because your clients didn’t know exactly what to expect from the word go. People mask embarrassment with anger. And you may respond to that with a knee-jerk reaction of giving an unplanned discount. You don’t have to publish an item-by-item price list on your website, but don’t keep things top-secret or your clients may get sticker shock and force you into a discount.

Our businesses will always be evolving. I don’t have one single existing client that I had when I started. You’ll outgrow each other. Because, unless you’re already a business genius, you will make mistakes and have to make gigantic changes in the way you’re doing things if you want to survive.

How //

Breaking the habit can be approached in the same way phasing anything out of your business is approached. How would you phase out a product that you no longer want to offer? Or phase out of the portfolio building stage? I can’t tell you how to do it. What if you’re one of those people mentioned above who set their prices based on someone else’s? If that’s the case, you may find it easier for me to say ‘do it this way’ than to research the best way forward and then you’ll be repeating the cycle of doing something and not knowing why you’re doing it. Which will perpetuate the cycle of not being confident in your decisions and the discounts will continue. Besides, I don’t know you or your history or your plans for the future so I can’t possibly suggest a one-size-fits-all approach to changing your business practices. Hope you still love me! :)

Put your nose to the grindstone and work it out. Because anything worth doing is worth doing well.

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  • CindySaundersPics

    Awesome tips!!! I love it! Being a fairly new full-time photographer, I have given more discounts than I can stand! I love adding something for the same value. It makes so much more sense! Thank you so much for the guidance!

  • Funny this topic should come up today when I just got asked yesterday about giving a discount on wedding packages for military families. Do you feel the same about that situation? I said I would, but later felt like I should have maybe said no, I don’t give discounts but I will give you a free (insert print product here). 

  • Laura

    Excellent post! I must say, I’ve been guilty of giving discounts, and I don’t like it. I’m going to change that right now. Thank you.

  • Lea-Ann

    I am getting ready to phase out my portfolio building stage and head straight in to asking for money very soon. I sat down, wrote out my plan and gave myself initial pricing…now I am reconsidering as I have improved over the last few months. I am very close to a military installation, we are military as well. To honor them I wanted to provide a military discount, but I think offering a print or two to military would really open an opportunity to sell more prints. I am finding people just want a cd with print release…thing is, those pictures will probably never come off the cd and when they do they’ll more than likely get printed at Walmart, bleck! I am heading in for a challenge when I start because I am going to shake up this market, and stick to my guns. Thanks for the amazing advice!

  • It is so much easier to say no to discounts when you have hard facts in front of you telling you what to charge and why you are charging it. Great point about knowing your numbers. If give a discount, that is money out of my pocket….I don’t pay my print lab less, I don’t pay less to my insurance company, I don’t give less money to my power company….it comes out of my pocket. 

  • Thank you so much, I learned so many little things by reading this and really need to sit down and think about how to approach my business.

  • Gina

    This is a great read!

  • Bob Simmons Photography

    Great information. I shall use it as I build my photography business and go online with my wife’s art business.

  • Oh dear… I’ve just finished my pricing based on Jamie’s (The Modern Tog) worksheets. I’ve managed to pick a great product line (thanks for introducing me to Loxley Colour ;) ) and I thought I’m ready to go out and rock and roll with some introductory prices. I was thinking of offering 70% off (that would just cover my product costs so I’m not making money at all) in the first month, then gradually increase my prices where I wanted them to be in the first place. I’m kinda considering this phase as extended portfolio building to get used to the workflow/ordering/delivery etc. I don’t know what to do now… I’m a little scared to go all out 100% because I’ve managed to come up with some high numbers. I did the math and I can’t really go any lower than that because I’ve got debt to get rid of, bills to pay, try to place my 3yo in nursery (I’m sure I don’t have to tell you about the extortionate UK childcare costs) and I haven’t even put in new equipment or fancy holidays I’d like to take etc. just the absolute bare minimum. My plan was to advertise the prices with a time frame that they will only be available for a certain period to set expectations. Run the first month at 70% off the 2nd at 50% off and from then onwards all out. Is this a bad thing to do? Am I devaluing myself from the beginning?

  • elizabethhalford

    I think that’s an excellent way to do it! And yes, you’re devaluing yourself. Stop that! *slaps wrist*

  • Heather

    Elizabeth, What about people who started using you when your prices where lower, some of your first clients that helped get you where you are today. They continue to use me for portraits but ask for the same price. How do I stop giving them the lower rate and give them something much closer to my current rate? To be honest, when they contact me for a session, I don’t want to fill a spot in my schedule with a client who pays 1/2 of what another client is paying. I also don’t want to offend them or loose them as some of them are friends.

  • Yulia

    Thank you very much for writing this article! I have read two on your site, and I have already had a huge shift in my thinking. I really appreciate your excellent advice and generosity!

  • This is really a funny topics. Thanks for sharing this.