(random leaf image from amber's photo walk. Can't do a post without a picture, now can we?)
I just read an article that I couldn't resist responding to. This article articulates a VERY common opinion in the wedding photography business. It states, in relation to new photographers charging very little:
"You’re dragging down an entire industry. If you come into the market as a weekend warrior and start selling cheapo weddings against established businesses who have already set the industry standard, every cheapo wedding you shoot diminishes the industry. You’re participating in self-destructive behavior which is against your own interests" (full article)
I see this all the time: established professionals get angry at the "newbys" for "undercutting" their business by charging so little. But I ask, what's wrong with that? Isn't that how it should be?
An example from my own experience. I once bought a used computer (never a good idea) on ebay (also not a good idea). Why did I do it? Because it was CHEAP! All I needed was something with wireless and the ability to make word documents, and it had a calculator! I was excited to get such a sweet deal.
I still have the computer. How good was it? Not. It was outdated when I bought it, it's outdated today. It shuts down without permission, doesn't start with permission, and attracts destructive toddlers without my permission. It seems to take about 6 days to start up and about 3 to shut down. If I ask it to compute pi to 6 digits, it will refuse and instead tell me what 3+4 is. Overall it's temperamental and slow.
What's the point? The point is that I knew I was getting cheap when I bought it. When it started to break down, know what I said to myself?......meh.....that's what I expected.
Had I paid an exorbitant amount of money for that laptop, and had the ebay seller advertised it as "top of the line," or "best in the business," or "cutting edge technology," I would have been furious when it started acting up. Do I regret buying such cheap technology? Perhaps. Did I expect much better? NO!
While it worries the established professionals to see newbys charge so little, it actually worries me to see newbys charge so much? Why? Because they are portraying themselves as "top of the line," "Best in the business," and "cutting edge," when in reality maybe they're a little more like my temperamental lenovo. Sooner or later, you're going to have a bride realize you're not top of the line and someone's going to get upset. Someone will get burned. Likely both will get burned.
The ideal business model?
When we started out, and for several years, we charged $395 for our opening package. Perhaps we felt a little ostracized by the industry. When someone asked us how much we charged (a question commonly heard amidst the haughty banter of the wedding photographers), we would be embarrassed about admitting our prices. Inevitably we'd get a lecture about how we're undercutting the industry and devaluing the professional. Much too shy to refute, we would consent and claim that we are in the process of restructuring. But we always felt uneasy about something. We couldn't put our finger on it. But now we can.
Here's my opinion on why newby photographers NEED to charge less.
1. You set up the expectation for the client. Most people understand the phrase, you get what you pay for. Well...if you're new to photography, don't give people unrealistic expectations about how you shoot. I think you WANT them to know that you're just starting out. It's your insurance. If they know it's your first wedding(s), then whatever you produce is going to be incredible to them!
2. It will jump-start your business by giving you experience. In our first two years in the business with our original price structure, we shot nearly 50 weddings a year. Why? Because we were cheap and we were decent. That's almost 100 weddings in two years! You cannot buy that kind of experience. Had we charged as the grumpy photographers told us we should, we would never have gained that experience and would have been stuck inevitably in "mediocre" gear.
Again I quote this photographer: "Develop your skill set first, then your marketing, then launch with a product that has the value it should and more importantly value that will last." How can these skills be developed without practice? How can you practice without clients? How can you get clients without being reachable?
3. I can't shoot everyone's wedding. There's a well known professional in the business by the name of Sandy Puc. While most professional portrait photographers bark at Target and Walmart for offering sessions and prints for under $20, she thanks them. She says, "I can't possibly take everyone's picture. I'm glad Walmart is there to take some of the burden off my shoulders."
Honestly, there's enough business out there. I can't shoot everyone's wedding, so I'm glad there are photographers out there who charge $300 for full wedding coverage. At least those brides get wedding pictures, and likely, she will get what she expects. I personally think that is awesome.
Don't let the "grumpy photographers" tell you what your prices should be. They don't remember starting out. They don't remember waiting by the phone or constantly checking email hoping that someone is interested. They don't remember the frustration of longing to be better without a chance to improve. If shooting for friends at a reasonable rate is the only way for you to gain experience and build clientele, then go for it. You won't get any flack from me!
I'm interested to hear your opinions on the matter. You have both sides of the argument. What do you think? Let me know!
See also: fast track photographer, Jasmine Star