Let’s make a deal…

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Last week I was talking to a potential client who was wanting a portrait session for her baby. She wanted my full session and she planned to buy three 16×20 prints. When I told her the price she said, “Oh, that’s way too much money… especially in today’s economy.”

“Well, for the time involved and the level of work I produce, it’s a fair price, ” I said.

She declined to schedule a session.

It’s very tempting to adjust your pricing “on the fly” when trying to get a customer. I’m not saying you shouldn’t adjust your prices from time to time. About every three months or so I take a good look at my entire pricing structure to see if there are any places where I can make a change that will bring me more money or more clients. But I’m not the flea market. My prices are not negotiable. (that’s not to say that you don’t sometimes have to make up something on the spot. There is the rare occasion when someone asks me to do some sort of job but I’ve never really done before and I have to instantly come up with a price in my head.)

There is a perceived value when it comes to photography. The average customer has no way of knowing just how much time and talent it takes to produce truly good photographs. If your work is good enough to attract potential clients to your studio don’t sell yourself short by trying to be the lowest bidder for a job. You may find yourself with more jobs but you won’t find yourself with better clients. Whenever I have a potential client who seems more concerned about the price than they are about the quality of the work I know that it’s a client who’ll be perfectly happy hiring a photographer who’s prices are lower than mine (and presumably is not as good). I let them do just that. Dropping your price down so that you can compete against someone who isn’t in your league will work against you in the long run. Any referrals that you get from that client will come to you expecting to get the same sort of deal. Now, instead of working your way up towards being a top-tier photographer you are going in the opposite direction, working down and trying to compete with the low end. In the long run, that’s just not a good strategy.

Now, like every hard and fast rule there is an exception. Not too long ago I got a call on a Saturday afternoon from a venue coordinator where I do quite a bit of work. She had an event that night that was looking for a last-minute photographer. She said that the client wanted two hours of coverage and a DVD with all of the images. She was willing to spend $400. My first thought was, “that’s not enough money. I have an hourly rate, I charge a certain amount for a DVD, and the total is more than $400.” But then I thought, “I don’t have anything booked tonight and I would be helping out the coordinator who sends me work. Plus, my in-laws are in town and staying with me so wouldn’t I rather be making $400 to get out of the house?!”

So I took the gig and as it turned out the client wanted me to set up a portable portrait station. Which I did. And then, when the party was late getting started, she asked me to stay an extra hour at my regular rate. Then, two weeks later I started getting orders from the people whose pictures I’d taken at the portrait station. When it was all said and done, I ended up making more than twice the original quote. Now, it may seem like this little anecdote goes against everything that I’ve been preaching in this post, but it really doesn’t. Because what’s important is that you have some sort of structure, some sort of rule to help you get through these sorts of decisions. If this client had called me two months earlier and tried to book me at that rate I would have said “no”. But if they’re willing to wait until the day of the event and take a chance that I’m available then yes, they can get a bargain.

Sit down, make a detailed list of what you charge, and stick to it..

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. That’s a great article, I run into much of the same need to “stick to pricing” in licensing requests and even one-on-one teaching opportunities, and it’s a good reminder to not give in to the impulse to lower your prices.

    (I’d love to see a followup article on setting prices in the first place, too.)

  2. My biggest decision on pricing is always Time vs. Product. I’m always debating how to structure the two: Charge more for shooting time and less for the prints or the other way around. Trying to find the right balance can be tricky.

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