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Don’t Sell Yourself Short.

I read this post that someone shared in a photography group on Facebook about a new trend in high school seniors taking their own portraits using a self timer…and they asked (the news station that made the original post) if it was a good idea, or if a pro was worth it? Some of the comments were mind-blowing. And many of the comments on the shared post in this group were pessimistic, and sad. People that are judging their success and their worth, by comparing themselves to the guy down the street.

Just because the photographer down the street advertises as being “booked solid” 6 months out, doesn’t mean they are more successful than you. DOESN’T mean you are lesser of a talent! I see talented photographers compare themselves to others all the time, and it’s always the same story- the person they are comparing themselves to is charging $75 for a session and including ALL digital files, while they are charging $750. Or the person they are comparing themselves to has a full time job and only takes sessions on the weekend. Two days of availability a week- 8 a month- as opposed to your 20-30 days. Of course they will be booked months in advance in these cases! Don’t sell yourself short and get down on yourself by comparing yourself to someone with a business model that’s absolutely nothing like yours.

I used to be that cheap shoot and burn photographer. I was booked 5-6 months in advance all the time. I thought I was hot crap. But I was also not making a dime by the time I figured in any expenses to maintain my business, took out the additional 35% in income tax, and figured up a sad, nonexistent hourly rate at the end. I was shooting 35-50 sessions a month and thought that made me a hot shot. I didn’t know any better at the time, because I DIDN’T start out the right way and price my business as a craft, and not just “fun money.” As a career. A legit, thriving business.

When I finally almost quit- and did the research, and got a shocking revelation about what I was doing and how I was harming myself, my passion, and the industry standard, and raised my prices after VERY careful calculating, bookings slowed down. WAY down. But they still came in, here and there. Instead of 10 inquiries a week, I dropped down to 1 or 2. Many didn’t book because of my pricing. And I wasn’t surprised. For some I was out of budget, understandably. I went from $100 including digital files, up to $200 session fee alone + a la carte images or files. My minimum order requirement to make it worth my time/investment/effort was $300. Others didn’t book because they just thought it was too expensive. They were so used to the devalued shoot and burn market, that in a region surrounded by $50-100 photographers, I was “crazy” priced.

But the thing I had to keep in mind, is that I WANTED to work less. I wanted to take 2-3 sessions a week, not 8-10. And booking slowed down to that rate. It was just such a drastic change, that it felt like I was heading to failure, when it all reality, I had changed my model to what I wanted and needed, and to actually have a profitable business. I had to remember that while I was only shooting the 2-3 sessions a week now, I was making just as much in 2 weeks, shooting 4-6 sessions, as the photographer that I used to be, who shot 40 sessions in a month. But I made that in 2 weeks. Was I rolling in dough? No. Running a business of any kind is EXPENSIVE. But if I wasn’t rolling in dough, but was finally working manageable hours and doing just fine, what does that say about the money I was making shooting 10 sessions a week? It says something really, really bad. I never had time to hone my craft, or God forbid, spend time with my husband or kids. My middle was just a baby and I missed all of her firsts because all I did was shoot, edit, burn and mail cd’s. All day, every day. And I couldn’t even make enough money to upgrade my equipment, buy the props I wanted or needed, and barely pay insurance costs etc, let alone actually make a profit for myself! Why was I neglecting the ones I loved the most, for a job that didn’t even take care of them?

It amazes me all of the comments I see in passing about people who comment on $200 photographers, saying they are too expensive. They are shocked. This FLOORS me, because they don’t even realize they are expecting the person they want to hire, to work for poverty wages. They want a professional, but they don’t want to pay for a professional. They want to pay Portrait Innovation prices, but they expect a custom photographer who DOESN’T work on 50 sessions/day VOLUME, to give them a BIGGER experience, but for the same amount of money as the chain store. It’s not the same thing, folks. You can’t go to Red Lobster and expect them to give you pasta for the same price as Fazoli’s! You can’t go to Olive Garden and order spaghetti for what you can make it for at home. YES YOU CAN MAKE IT AT HOME! But you are paying a business to seat you, provide electricity and temperature control in your dining environment- a server to wait on you hand and foot- paper and ink to print your receipts on- cooks to craft your meal- the cost of the food, and the building you are sitting in! You’re not paying for a box of spaghetti and some cheap sauce. If you can make it on your own and don’t want to pay the price, then either order something else, or GO HOME.

I don’t say the above to be rude, it’s just a truth. I get just as irritated as the next gal when I take my kids out to eat and a bowl of KRAFT macaroni and cheese is $5. I can pay that for a 5-pack! But if I wanted to do that, I would go home and make it, not relax and pay someone else to cook, AND clean up our mess.

This post was also not made to talk down to cheaper photographers, but as encouragement to those who charge more, but are “outbooked” by their cheaper competitors. It’s not your fault. You DON’T suck. You’re just in a different model and a different market. Value the clients that you DO bring in, and treat them like gold. You never know when someone might become a convert from the cheaper/low service photographer down the street, or Portrait Innovations high-volume/crappy customer service customer, to your most loyal client. One of my biggest sales recently was from an AMAZING family that knew nothing other than Sears in the past. But not only did they find me by luck on Google (woo!) but we had an amazing session, they TRUSTED me, and were one of my top sales of the year. I changed her views on photography, and introduced her to the world of custom photography outside of the rushed portrait studio. I still remember when my oldest was little, we too, used to go to Portrait Innovations. I didn’t know anything different. One session, I only wanted two different shots (which sounds like a good reason to go to a quick portrait studio, yes?) and expressed that on the phone AND when I got there. They still held me over longer than I wanted to be there, took 50 shots, and were pissed when I didn’t want to buy more than the two poses I got (one of her, and one of us together. They were presents for my husband’s birthday). They weren’t concerned with the customer’s desires, but only about making money- because unfortunately, they are so cheap for a reason. They’re high volume. 5 rooms shooting at a time, new customer in each room every 15 minutes. To sit here and expect the same pricing out of a custom photographer who runs a legit business all on their own with the array of expenses that includes, spends 1-2 hours of 1:1 time with you, (not including emails/texts/posting your sneak peeks, driving to and from, etc!) and custom edits your images (yeah, your chain stores don’t do that, or it comes at a HIGH price) is just insanity.

So my whole point is this, is just don’t sell yourself short, and don’t let situations beyond your control, discourage you. You can’t compare yourself to the photographer down the street that charges 1/5th what you do…or let a potential client make you feel bad because they think you are “too expensive” compared to a generic portrait studio. Stand strong, and be your own person. Those precious angels pictured above (and one on the way) are 4 of the many reasons I treated my business as a must-profit business, and not a “just for fun” hobby. My time away from them has to be worth it- and the money I make HAS to provide for my family! Sorry for the long winded post. It started as a facebook status, and just spiraled out of control:)This is what happens I suppose when my thoughts make it onto “paper”, 1500 words later!

If you liked this post, feel free to share it if you know someone it may help. Come visit me on Facebook too! It’s a lot of fun over there  :)

Lots of love,
Amy Cook

August 26, 2013 - 5:15 pm

Megan James - Thanks, Amy! Needed that moral boost 😉

August 26, 2013 - 5:28 pm

Eileen Gray - I SOOOOO Needed to read this today :-) Thanks Amy for posting!

August 26, 2013 - 5:30 pm

Sami Riley - THANK YOU!

I may need to read this daily, haha.

But sincerely thank you, for caring enough about those of us who just need it and taking time out of your day to say it!

August 26, 2013 - 5:43 pm

Raquel - Yes!!!!!!!!!!!! That is everything I want to say and more. I just lowered my prices this weekend bc I was not bringing in enough clients and I’m very on the fence about it bc I feel disgusting doing it. I feel undervalued in my area. There are lots of photographers who produce mediocre work getting lots of clients bc they are cheap. I’d rather have 1 $1000 client then 10 $100 clients.

August 26, 2013 - 6:16 pm

amy matthews - Very well written and so true! I too started out way too cheap and in less than a year figured out that it was not sustainable. So many thoughts on all of this, but nothing I can add to what you have here. Thank you for speaking the truth!

August 26, 2013 - 6:48 pm

jody cooper - THANK YOU for sharing.. and helping keep others encouraged.. I have done about 124 (but who’s keeping count) weddings.. and still just recently had the MOG walk up me to and nicely mention walmart photography.. um really!? if she only knew what the bride and her family were paying me…

August 26, 2013 - 7:07 pm

Pam M - Grand Inspirations Photo - Well said Amy! And I think you explained so well for both photographers & customers. Thanks so much for putting this out there and sharing your own experiences with us all.

August 26, 2013 - 7:51 pm

Linda - Thanks so much for writing this! I have actually been working on a blog post about this exact same topic. I hope to post it in the next few weeks. I keep on re-writing parts because I don’t want to sound jaded. I just want to let people know that you can’t compare apples to oranges. Thanks again for this fantastic post!

August 26, 2013 - 8:06 pm

Ida - Thanks Amy. I needed that.

August 26, 2013 - 8:26 pm

Christina - OMG thank you so much Amy. I am one of those cheap $100 photographers (please don’t hate), and I struggle to raise my price or get rid of giving the digitals bc I am so worried about loosing clients but this post really kicked me in the rear. Its ok if I loose a few bc i don’t need to be shooting as many sessions every week. knowing that you were where I am today and where u are now is amazing to me, helps me make the right decision and value my self and not others value me, even though I hear “u should of charged way more, bc I would of paid double or more for this experience” Thanks for kicking my ass today.

August 26, 2013 - 8:47 pm

Sherry Ellen Photography - Thank you so much for sharing. I think you said it perfectly. I have had many people turn me down because they want the shoot and burn photographer. I don’t feel I’m to expensive considering all the time and talent I put into it. Thank you for reminding me how important it is.

August 27, 2013 - 10:38 am

Ken Gehring - Well spoken Amy, thank you for posting.

August 27, 2013 - 10:44 am

Elizabeth Saar - You have NO idea how much I needed to hear this! I have been in the thought process lately of “I charge too much”, “every other photographer is stealing my clients because they’re cheaper” etc… But reading this blog post has given me a whole new outlook and has given me hope again that, despite the ‘shoot & burners’ and the clients that are looking for the cheapest photographer, I can make it in this business if I just start focusing more on ME and less on THEM! Thank you! :)

August 27, 2013 - 11:04 am

Krista - I must say that I’m one of those “cheap” photographers! I own a Mark ii, real editing software, I have a 2000 square foot studio, 12 employees and a full time office manager! I shoot manually, I work 80+ hours a week. I don’t think that anyone in this industry will ever be happy with other photographers. If I started my business and charged insane prices I’d be ridiculed… If I work hard and pay my dues by charging less and working really hard then I’m harming someone else. This is my full time job. I have a college degree and have been a nuclear project manager and a plant manager at a medical device manufacturer. I’m not one of those moms who went to Best Buy and snagged a DSLR and started charging. Do I get annoyed at all the new “fauxtograhers” in the area… absolutely! Would I say they are harming my business… NO WAY!!!! I see this type of blog post all the time and quite often chuckle, but for some reason this one hit home. I live in an area that is still struggling from the economic issues… many are jobless, and it’s either they find someone affordable or they do it on their phone. Pricing is dependent upon geographic location, competitor research, income level, target market, etc. I make a good honest living but I work really really hard… I don’t sleep much, but I’m OK with that. I’ve met some really cool people who I would never have had the chance to meet if I charged more. I like my clients!!! I LOVE my blue collar, cowboy boot wearing, drinking out of a mason jar kind of bride… I don’t need high maintenance. Maybe in a year or two when I feel I’ve paid my dues, I’ll ask for more money, but until then… I don’t feel I should do that. It’s not that I’m not worth that… I just think I owe the other professionals in the area who have done this for 30 years more credit. I need to work longer before I go after the bigger jackpot. Just my humble little opinion!! :)

August 27, 2013 - 11:05 am

Danyel - I needed this today. Thank you.

August 27, 2013 - 11:19 am

Candi Jerkins - “don’t let situations beyond your control, discourage you” — amazing advice & exactly what I need to remember right now in my life & business. Love this honest & real perspective!

Best wishes,

August 27, 2013 - 12:54 pm

dgramke photography - thank you….I needed that.

August 27, 2013 - 1:04 pm

admin - Bless you! Keep on, keepin’ on! :)

August 27, 2013 - 5:16 pm

Jennifer Gomez - Loved this article. I soo appreciate your insight. This is very much how I feel. ~Jen

August 27, 2013 - 7:29 pm

Kristen Carter - Thank you for this. I needed this today. A reminder that I AM doing the right thing and that my family is worth the changes made to my business, just as you made your changes…

Happy Shooting!
<3 KC

August 28, 2013 - 12:34 pm

Shannon King - Thank you Amy. I needed this :)

August 28, 2013 - 10:33 pm

Alex - You are so awesome! Thank you for this post.

August 29, 2013 - 9:35 pm

Samantha - THANK YOU for this. Exactly what I needed tonight. You rock.

December 16, 2013 - 1:25 pm

valerie - You have put in writting here, what I have been feeling like the past few months. I started out as a cheap photographer to built up my skills and experience. Then I decided to open up a studio in a commercial space and with new overhead cost came higher prices, less bookings, for a while, then it picked up again, but i was still that cheap photographer down the street booking 30 sessions a month. I burned out. I did not spend any time with my family.. always working working working and not earning a penny, all the money I made went to covering the cost of doing business… Then it hit home, I found myself in the hospital for 2 weeks, and people were still demanding, and looking for the cheap prices… I made the decision to stop all this non sense and start fresh in the new year….. Gotta do whats best for us and our family… Love your blog post

December 16, 2013 - 2:07 pm

Vicki - So well said! Thanks for sharing!

December 16, 2013 - 7:50 pm

Lynn Tucker - I am so happy you reposted this. I am about to make the switch from shot and burn to a new and better model of working for me and I am scared to death! I am glad to see that it will work out and that I have to create my own and most comfortable way of doing business to fit my lifestyle!!! YOu are an inspiration!

December 17, 2013 - 1:14 am

Ashley - Hi there! I greatly admire your work and your ethic. I completely understand where you are coming from with this post, but I also found it hard not to be offended. I know it wasn’t meant this way, but I clicked this link hoping for something more encouraging for the little guys. I am one of those mediocre cheap guys down the street (although I still don’t like to actually call myself a photographer yet, I’m still building my skill set, and I do understand the difference). I aspire to be where you have clearly worked so hard to be. I can’t wait to charge more for my work but I don’t feel that it is worth more at this point. I notice that the customers I attract tend to give me 1-2 hours MAX when I prefer around 4, are rarely prepared, and very indecisive. I would love to know if you have any posts rooting for the little guy!

December 17, 2013 - 1:59 pm

Tara - I enjoyed reading this when it came to the encouragement of not comparing yourself. But when it came to beating up the underdogs I was offended. I am confident in my work. I love what I do. I only shoot on weekends and I don’t charge outrageous prices. Am I envious of the ones who do? Yes because I would love to make $300 off one of my sessions but if I don’t see myself paying that for a photo session I am not cheating my clients. I understand their is more to it. People to pay and location to scout. Maybe it is because I am one person doing this that I don’t understand maybe I will one day when it bites me in the butt. Thank you however for the encouragement of comparing though.

December 18, 2013 - 4:37 pm

melissa - Thank you for this post, Amy! I really needed to read this. I’m working to go from hobby portrait photographer to someone who can make a living doing this. It’s really difficult to raise prices–in fears of pushing people away. I forget to be confident in all of it though–and I forget that this is becoming MY business. (Not just something I squeeze in on the weekend.) I also forget that I DO have quality and a large portfolio behind me and that I am more than where I started.

January 3, 2014 - 10:54 pm

admin - Hi Tara I think you may have misunderstood because I never criticized anyone that you may consider an underdog. I actually pointed out specifically that I was never intending with my words to discourage or knock on people that charge less or work less. It was a very specific point that there are several different models of business and nobody can fairly compare themselves to their neighbor. :)

January 3, 2014 - 10:55 pm

admin - I think you may have misunderstood because I never criticized anyone that you may consider an underdog. I actually pointed out specifically that I was never intending with my words to discourage or knock on people that charge less or work less. It was a very specific point that there are several different models of business and nobody can fairly compare themselves to their neighbor. :)

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