Nice Shirt: Thoughts On All the Chatter About What to Charge and Pay for Custom Photography

It seems like Facebook and the blogosphere is a breeding ground for articles by photographers about pricing, what "good" images are "worth," and how we might need to educate our potential clients about these two very subjective words. These posts attempt to shed light on the hard work, money, and time it takes to be a good custom photographer (thus justifying the price some photogs charge). And, mostly, these posts come from a good place. It does take time and money and blood, sweat, and tears and all the cliches I can think of to run a small business, and the world of photography is no different. 

I won't make a list of these articles and blog posts here. Let's just say that they're definitely out there. If you know what I'm talking about, you might want to read on.

To me, it all seems weird.

Let me use a metaphor. Ok. I like Old Navy, it's a fine store. They sell affordable clothes that can be cute, too. Some might say they're not "special" clothes or "fancy" clothes, but let's be honest--those words are subjective, and I've seen stylish people rock an Old Navy outfit, for sure. And, so what if I have a friend or potential friend who loves to buy these affordable, possibly not-so-special clothes?

Do I need to "educate" her about what good taste or quality garments are? Do I need to show her genuine articles of artisan-type clothing from fancy, well-wrought brands, pointing out their qualities versus the qualities of her Old Navy clothes? Do I need to explain to her why these "special" clothes are priced the way they are?  Do I need to even ask, "Um, nice shirt, where'd you get it? Are you sure it's good quality? Are you sure you spent your hard-earned money in ways I would approve?" 

Um, no, I don't think so. Style is a choice, a luxury. It's not a moral value. We're not talking let's educate people about organic living and the environment. We're not talking let's educate consumers about sweat shops in China.

The thing is, some clients don't care about photography as much as us photographers do. They might see the difference between a cheaper photog's images and a more expensive photog's images and just not value the difference in style and quality (and let's be honest, clients can pretty much see what they're getting before they pay. That's the nature of the visual business we're in). So, if they see what they might get, and they're ok with that, good. Everyone has a budget and their own priorities, after all, and it's just not my place to say that any consumer of custom photography should--even if they can afford it--spend a certain amount.  And, more importantaly, isn't art subjective? Why would I even care to say whether some people's images are better than others? Isn't it possible, too, that some amazing photographers are actually cheaper than other photographers who aren't as "good?" I mean, what is "good," anyway? I have faith in the consumer, I respect their taste--go ahead, determine what you think is good and pay what you want for it. 

And, one more thing. On the photographer side, let's be clear: some photographers might have great websites and gear and pretty fine images, and they might be mostly professional in all of those ways. But. They might not want or need the money!!! They might, therefore, take a hobbyist's approach to their pricing strucutre.  I mean, good for them.  I know one such photographer in my area; her prices are close to zero in my mind, and she told me, straight up (not that I asked), that she doesn't want to make money.  She just likes having nice equipment and capturing good images (and they are pretty good, too).  Does she drive her surrounding market down? Yep. Is she booked out for like, a year? Yep. Do I really care? No. I don't live my professional or personal life that way. I don't compare my business to other people's.  I might take inspiration from others, but I don't think its healthy to constantly work against what others are doing. It stunts growth and imagination to be so other-focused in this way, and its just no fun.

Bottom line, I may not be the photographer I want to be. I'm always striving to be better and learn more. Never do I want to stagnate. But, I trust that I can produce valuable images to my clients, even if I charge more or less than other photographers (I'm priced right about in the middle for my city of Cincinnati, Ohio, I think). So, go ahead, newbie or experienced photographers, charge what you will. I have enough faith in my business and art and the world in general. There are enough clients to go around, and I believe that my calendar will book up regardless.  And hey, if you're new to the field and you just don't understand how your photography business might drain you personally or financially, and you still charge $100 for a disc and the kitchen sink, you'll figure it out soon enough. And I won't judge you along the way.

So cheers to charging what you want. Cheers to having faith in your own business practices and having respect for the priorities of others--whether they be clients or photographers. 

Because I'm a photographer, I can't have a post without a picture, so here's my India Jane yesterday, doing her thing and not caring what I think about how she looks. Love how kids are like that, wish we could all be more like that.