Last week, I wrote about "false professionalism", the idea that photographers want to come across as someone who has unobtainable expertise, even though they know that their 11 year old cousin could slap some VSCO filters on photos in Lightroom too.
I know this because I'm fully aware of how replaceable I am as a photographer; I've almost developed a brand as a cheaper replacement to other photographers myself. I charge less and work more, and I've been shocked by the gradual, steady growth that has brought me over the years. Photographers have thrown shade my way because I charge so little, as if I'm undervaluing photography. Photography, through being so accessible and frankly, easy, has already undervalued itself.
The foundation of my strategy is that simply, I'm a makeshift photographer. I keep my costs low through duct tape and "just enough" equipment. I only need to charge for gas and time and maybe a lens I just bought.
I used to have an hourly rate, but abandoned that idea about a year ago. I used to work for a couple photographers who had studios for their professional portraits and product photography. They had big companies as clients, so they had more overhead to deal with. I asked these photographers how much they charged per hour, and I heard numbers in the $130-$150 range. As a college student with a crappy DSLR and one single lens and maybe a flash, I was charging $120 per hour!
These guys who had way more costs than I did were only charging a little bit higher than me. What a scam! Here I am being told by college to not undervalue my work, while actual working photographers who had risk in their businesses were charging the around same as I was. Who do you think it was working out better for?
I changed to a more negotiation-based cost structure since having all of these realizations, and I saw the amount of business I had double over the past year. I know how low I can go for a particular shoot, and I sit down with the client and come up with a win-win cost that helps us both. I never lose money, and the customer never feels ripped off.
What we have now is this arbitrary pricing structure that many amateur-pro photographers have that covers cost 10 times over and they scrape that sweet, sweet cream off the top. Sounds great, but there's no way this shrinking market will be able to sustain that much longer.
I'm thinking of the wedding photographers who shoot local weddings and still charge $3000. That might make sense if you're shooting only film and you're going to spend 24 hours straight in the darkroom afterwards, but the secret is out. We all know through the "coffee shop hangs" on Instagram and filmic looks of wedding photography, that most photographers sit in front of Netflix while cruising Lightroom with a couple clicks per photo. A typical wedding is one exhausting day of work + a few hours of relaxing "photo editing" time. The only other profession I can think of that charges that much for that amount of work would be a lawyer or something. The fact that an early 20s, no life experience photographer can just up and charge that much money for something like that is CRAZY to me.
Granted, if you're traveling/pay an assistant or have ACTUAL costs, than yes, you need to charge more. For me, Will Malone, with the few costs I have, it would feel morally wrong to charge that much.
With everything I know about photography, my mom could easily learn and steal any business I have. That's true for almost all photographers, especially when we take the easy way out and claim to be taking risks that we aren't taking. The secret is almost out, and in a few years, it's going to be impossible to charge the amounts that are being charged today.
That's how the grocery store chain Aldi carved out a market for itself. Anna and I used to spend about $70-$100 a grocery trip at Publix, and now we shop at Aldi for the same stuff and only spend about $40-$60 a trip. You'd have to be dumb to not get in on that.
The photography market, namely the wedding photography market, is on the brink of a huge change. All it takes is a photographer who charges realistically, one who lowers his costs and charges leaps and bounds lower than your run of the mill photographer. If you're willing to charge under $1000 for weddings and just work more, I believe the world is your oyster right now. If your only overhead is time and gas, why not take advantage, lower your price but get more business? Seems obvious to me.
Pro photographers who work with big names are charging $150 per hour. If you're straight out of college, have very little equipment and very few expenses, you're really only charging for time and effort. Say you charge $2000 for a local wedding that goes on for say, 7 hours, you're expecting to be paid $285 US DOLLARS PER HOUR. There is no other profession that doesn't require years of school and experience that allows for that kind of pricing. Yet, we've all watched some Youtube videos and took photos of our friends for fun at the coffee shop, so now we can charge an absurd amount of money for it.
It will not last. All it will take is someone who comes in and changes the landscape and starts charging an acceptable amount as well as doing good work. In the beginning when I would be asked about how much I would charge for a wedding, and I responded with $2000 or something crazy like that, guess what? I wouldn't end up shooting a wedding. Because me charging $2000 is GREEDY. But we don't talk about that.
We don't talk about how cool it is if you've spent any time getting good at something, to be greedy in what you charge for that service or skill. The creative world (design, photography, etc) is full of greedy people who think because they are good at something that they deserve piles of money. Here's the thing though: The reason there are so many designers and photographers out there right now is because there is ZERO risk involved in getting invested in those two skills. There is no barrier to entry, yet somehow, we become entitled because apparently what we do is very special.
The shrinking of the photography market is getting faster, and I see it every day. I don't see anyone buying photography anymore, but rather, buying the photographer. No one is cruising the web looking for a photographer to shoot their thing, they pick out photographers because they were recommended someone because they are a good guy (or girl). They are buying that print from you because they want to help support you because you're their friend or they like you. The more greedy and absurdly high-priced you are the less access you'll have to the market. Gaining trust is more important to the photography business than ever, especially as photographers are getting known as scam artists.
At the end of the day, the market is the market. If you're charging too much for a wedding or portrait shoot, you're just not going to get business. And that's that.