Feeling judged for being the ‘cheap’ photographer?

I officially have 93 draft posts in the backend of my blog. Yup. I’m quite easy to come up with ideas, not usually so great at following through with them. Come to find out, I have “the Edison trait” and so I’m choosing to use my left brain more. Which means I’m going to finish what I started and start turning all these drafts into actual blog posts for people to read (what a novel idea!) One such post is this one I’m about to write. Unless, of course, I get distracted by Facebook or online shopping or some other blog post idea.

Today I want to talk about being the cheap photographer and the effect that it has on the photographers who consider themselves ‘cheap’. Or even more importantly, the photographers who other photographers consider cheap.

Because herein lies the problem: lots of less expensive photographers out there are feeling judged and bullied by more expensive photographers.

A long time reader, Louise, wrote to me:

“Now that I’m fully legal and ready to get my business going, I’m so nervous about publishing my prices because I know I am cheap. I have struggled for a while with photographers blasting over the internet about how “you get what you pay for”. I come from “not a posh area” where people can’t really afford photography (even the people who really value it) so I do want to be affordable to the people who can’t afford nice photos.”

Ok Louise let’s break this thing down. I’m going to come at it from both points of view so excuse me while I play Devil’s advocate. These are my initial thoughts in no specific order, from both sides of the argument:

People can afford whatever they want to afford. I guarantee a pretty good number of the people in this “not so posh area” have TVs the size of their living room wall and go on holiday more than I do. People can afford whatever they value. I know you say that even the people who really value photography can’t afford it. But do they like/love it or actually value it? There’a a difference. Now, I’m not saying that you need to tell these folks to scram just because they’re using their money to buy food and shelter and not photography. But I’ll tell you that my best clients are normal working class people who have to budget in their family session and take advantage of my payment plan to buy their images. You really shouldn’t make it so easy to hire you that you’re a disposable commodity like the end pieces in a loaf of bread. I’m also not saying that you need to be expensive to drive this point home. Because that’s just not fair to anyone.

Anyone remember the post I wrote about the good delusion? Well, that applies to just about everything in life. It’s about perspective and point of view. So on that point, I will say:

There is no such thing as cheap or expensive. There is only value. And that value is intrinsically different to each and every person on the face of this earth.

What is cheap to me is expensive to someone else. So, dear Louise, if you’re feeling ‘cheap’, then consider the idea that you may be a victim of other people’s judgements. You may be coming under the weight of other people’s hangups and perhaps bullying from people who consider themselves higher than you because they charge more {and clearly don’t have enough work to keep them too busy to bully people online}. And being that I’ve met you and I know that you’re not shallow Hal, you will definitely get what I’m saying here.

Now, if you’ve surmised that you’re a ‘cheap’ photographer based on things like the advice I give on my blog about pricing and value and not letting cheap people take you for a ride, then just know this: when I write on this blog, I never talk actual figures. I don’t tell people they should be charging $xxx because that is different for every single market, every different experience level and every different person. So consider that maybe you’re only judging your prices against other photographers who aren’t in your market. And if you are, maybe that’s only because you aspire to be a photographer who can charge more. And you can be! You just have to connect with and market to people outside of your own demographic. And you know what, lots of photographers who charge a lot (depending on your definition of a lot) can’t really even afford themselves!

So let me let you in on a little secret: I am a cheap photographer. Yup. Well let me rephrase that…if you’re judging my prices against the prices that a photographer in L.A. charges, I am a cheap photographer. In fact, I actually had someone comment on my blog recently that maybe soon I could find the confidence to start charging more. Say what?! Little do they know the painstaking experimentation I’ve put myself through to formulate price points that have finally clicked with my demographic and started bringing in so much business that I’m booked for the next two months.

Just like no one can judge whether your work is good or bad, no one -NO ONE- can judge you to be either cheap or expensive.

Unless they are an expert in your exact location, market and target client (not to mention you as a photographer) the idea that they can make this judgement is asinine and I’d suggest that they don’t have the understanding to make any such claims.

Now, on the flip side you need to ask yourself: am I actually comfortable with my prices? Have you picked a number out of thin air based on your own financial situation, other photographers around you or the area where you live? Or have you worked to find a happy place that you know is perfect for you? I can’t tell you how many different pricing structures I’ve put myself through. Lots. The first ones were picked out of thin air, the others were set based on eBooks I’d read. And now, my prices are perfect because they have been born of the blood, sweat and tears of self discovery and experimentation.

Louise and everyone else: unless it builds you up and gives you direction (although sometimes it may hurt a little), disregard advice that causes you to feel discouraged or less than you are. Don’t let anyone make you feel small. Every single one of us is in a different place on our journey and no one, not even Chuck Norris, will ever be at the top of their game. And anyone who doesn’t have the brains to understand this doesn’t deserve you to lend them your ear.

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  • Nancy

    BRAVO!!!!!!! on all counts!!!! As always, your insight is right on for “all” of us who enjoy the opportunity to “grow” as photographers. So much to learn from these comments—hope those who need to hear this are really listening.

  • Thank you so much for this post. So many of us struggle with the pricing issue. I have worked hard too to find the price that clicks and works for me, pays my bills and myself… and to some this is cheap, others expensive…but it works for me, and for where I am now at this point in my business and my life. I have had photographers tell me that I am not charging enough and yet I have priced myself out of my own community for the most part. Most of my business is traveling to get to me. I am happy with where I am … so glad to have this confirmed… that it is okay and someone else (whom I respect) feels the same.

  • Valari Canonico

    What a great post! I love what you wrote, and think it is spot on. Another issue that I struggle with, is when my photographs are “good enough” and are they “worth” what I charge. I know this whole issue is mental as well as economics and demographics. Isn’t it amazing what issues come up when really all we are trying to do is capture a moment that someone will treasure forever?

  • frugalportland

    Great message, especially the last bit. Maybe you should start publishing the other 92 drafts!

  • Cindy

    Excellent article Elizabeth! This pricing thing drives all of us crazy. I have also found that my best clients are the ones that save for their photography session. They truly value photography. I also love your point about feeling comfortable with your prices. When you know that your prices are fair and that they are based on actual cost of goods and a reasonable profit, it is easier to handle the criticism that is sure to come no matter what your prices are. Thank you for the encouraging article!

  • Dwelling Moments

    I just want to say I love this blog…I don’t think I am a “cheap photographer” per say, but I do think that I deliver FAR more than what anyone every expects and always go the extra mile. My goal is always to over deliver and provide lasting memories of whatever my client finds important in their life. I feel very good about my business prices and when I break down the hours I POUR into each session I know that I am giving my clients an amazing deal. I don’t compare myself to other photographers….everyone has their own heart, niche, and goals and for me feeling really really good and passionate about what I do to bless others makes my day…every day! :)

  • Hope Johnson

    Ooohh I can’t tell you how many times I have seethed over photographers blasting people just starting out, who want to charge inexpensively and build their clientele. One person ACTUALLY (and quite proudly) called themselves a “photo snob” and said that with the money and training they had put into the business, they had every right to call themselves so. Yuck! They condemn people just starting out, saying “any soccer mom with a DSLR now thinks they can call themselves a photographer.” Well, why can’t they? What if that is something they are working towards? Everyone has to start somewhere. No one starts cold and just automatically knows all about aperture and all and can run right out and afford a 5D with all the fancy lenses and lights. I shoot because I LOVE it. I try to use it as a reachout tool; of course I charge, because that is all I have right now, but I try to build relationships and good, solid backup to my word and my work. If the clients are struggling, no biggie! We will work it out, I just want them to have their pictures. Around here photographers are a dime a dozen; some choose to stay in their little hole, some are very nice and will go out of their way to help photographers like myself that might need a little help and advice. That it is what I hope the photog community will come to; not competitors but mentors to those that love what they do.

  • Sara

    I really like the idea of starting a payment plan. I worked in retail, and in a Glamorous studio for a while, and for some reason forgot about the nasty old credit card that we were forced to ‘offer/push’ onto our clients. I have somehow managed to throw out all my successful retail knowledge and have forgotten how to run a business. You have reminded me. Out of curiosity, is there a program you use to keep track of payments?

  • Hannah

    As always, THANK YOU for another honest, encouraging blog post. I’ve been encouraged by every photographer I’ve learned from to be “high end.” I’ve been a working photographer since I was 16, but only started my business 2 years ago. I’m learning and growing and really honing in on my style (which I know will change over time) and don’t feel comfortable at all with the “high end” prices I’ve been told to have. I wasn’t promoting my business because I didn’t feel like it was worthy of those kinds of prices…yet. I don’t think I’m “cheap,” but always feel terrible when other photographers voice their negative opinions of the “cheap” photographer in town. There is one high volume photographer in several of my FB photog groups who is constantly having to defend and explain his business model to people who want to tear him up about it. It seems really odd to me that he has to keep defending his business when it is totally working for him.

  • valerie hart

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post. You are wonderful and this advice is priceless. Thank you.

  • Becca

    This post is fantastic. I’ve become quite irritated
    recently by some photographers in my area who actually ask for military rank on
    their inquiry sheets. Somehow it does not translate to them that it is
    completely unprofessional and quite rude to ask the equivalent of “how
    much money do you earn?” when soliciting clients. Your work is worth a
    certain amount of money. Period.

    Every single client
    should be offered the same options. Maybe my household income is higher than
    that of someone else, but that doesn’t make my money any less valuable, or your
    photography worth more.

  • elizabethhalford

    seriously?! how TACKY!

  • Megan G

    I found your blog through…well, I’m not even sure what I originally googled that lead me to it because I’ve been reading quite a few of your posts. And I read the last part of this post and just had to comment. THANK YOU! I needed to hear that and you couldn’t have said it any better.

  • Carrie

    I love this post!!Thank you so much. I feel down when i get messages from other photographers saying “your to cheap” I always say everyone starts somewhere.. I will be taking all of what you say on board. Your blog has been so helpful to me so far!! Thank you X