I know you are thinking it…I can see it in your eyes (or hear it in your voice when you get that invoice!). If I was independently wealthy, I would do this job for free. But alas, I didn’t buy stocks in Microsoft or anything (and the money I keep sending to Visa is somehow NOT working out in my favour), so I have to put a price on the work I do.
You may notice that when you look at the prices for various photographers, it seems to be alittle all over the map – everyone seems to do things differently at different prices. There is no secret formula that helps when it comes to determining prices and value. That is a calculation each business makes for themselves (in every industry, not just mine), and is based on so many different variables that go way beyond the cost of the piece of paper that ends up in a frame.
A husband and wife photography team in California, Shawn and Pamela Richter of Caught on Film Photography, recently wrote a great article for their clients about explaining WHY custom portrait photography is priced the way it is. It has been passed around in the online photographer community, and many people are linking to it and sharing it with clients, friends and family. It simply and succinctly explains that question.
(I will say though that my process is alittle different than theirs and my timelines are also different. I spent alot of time and money in 2007 on streamlining some things internally, including moving back to online proofing and upgrading to a much faster computer system and processing software. I am now down to about 6-8 hours per session up to the point of taking payment. Then there is more time in creating the final products, which varies depending on what it is we are putting together.)
This article reminds me about a quote (and forgive me that I can’t just put my mouse on it to get the exact wording at the moment), but it describes a man who meets Picasso and asks him to paint his portrait. Picasso agrees. He tells that man that the price is $5000. The man gasps and says how can that be, it only costs $5 for the paint and canvas. Picasso agrees and says that it will be $5 for the paint and canvas, and $4995 for knowing what to do with it.
This doesn’t only apply in photography. I remember this quote every time I am tempted to take on a special project that I don’t have special expertise in. Really, I am no gourmet cook, yet I manage to make a semi-half decent meal everyday that we can be satisfied with. But, when I need something very special, something very amazing and luxurious, I go to the experts for that and make a reservation at a fabulous restaurant (and whip out that Visa again to pay for it all – see, Visa LOVES me, but doesn’t give anything back – kind of a one-way love affair. But that is another story).
Another example is my hair – years ago, when I became a stay at home mom, I needed to find ways to trim the household budget. Up til then, I had been going to a wonderful stylist for years, but felt that as an at home mom, I couldn’t justify that cost anymore because she charges quite alot and really, who did I need to have “amazing” hair for – my kids loved me in a ponytail! So I started going to those drop in places – you know the ones (the ones that on their TV commercials use models and professional cuts to make you think that is what you can get too – not unlike how the store studios create their advertising for those $10 portraits). All I can say is you get what you pay for!! I tried that for awhile, thinking I was just not getting the “right” person, and once I found that person I would be fine. Well, needless to say, that $10 stylist with the skill of my $100 stylist never materialized, and I went BACK to my first stylist and it is worth every penny (she is at Voila in Waterloo in case you are wondering. I love that salon!).
My final example is this one – I ask my husband this question all the time (usually after he is rescuing me from yet another problem on my computer that I caused) – “what the heck to do people do when their computer is acting up or not working when they aren’t married to a computer expert like I am”? Cause seriously, he does everything with these computers, makes our old systems work for years past their normal life expectancy and never once have we lost anything to crashes or virus (even on these “cheaper” PCs – just a dig for all the Mac lovers out there! You know I love ya…and I can bet Visa loves you too!!). Well, they hire experts (I married one instead – not sure yet which is the cheaper way to go…just kidding honey!)
Everyone has a household budget of some kind (some are more “theoretical” than others I am sure ha ha) and people will spend extra money and time on those things that fall within their value system. There is a cool financial planning book called “Smart Couples Get Rich” and the first half of that book actually deals with the concept of understanding your values BEFORE you decide what to do with your money. Cause it makes a difference…
What do I value (besides great photography)…
For me, while I love the idea of a beautifully decorated home, I don’t value it above other things, and thus we don’t spend much money or time on it (and we do the painting and stuff ourselves). Similarly, not so much in spending lots of cash on a fancy car – I admire them (gotta love a turquoise Thunderbird convertible…mmmmmmmm….) but it is just not a value priority. We need a car that will get us around safely and at relatively low cost (cause gas prices aren’t helping us on that front these days).
(all of that will change though once I make my millions – if money is no object, then my perfectly decorated home in the country will be at the top of my list, along with my turquoise Thunderbird convertible!)
For now, I am into the little luxuries – a great haircut, a fabulous coffee, a great pair of shoes, a pedicure (oh how I love those, and they just aren’t the same when you do it yourself), and I can’t forget fresh raspberries- don’t care what they cost cause I just LOVE them (we travel every summer to Raspberries Galore like 4 times a week – good thing they also sell really great pepperettes for my DH or he wouldn’t be so happy about what I spend there in the month of July). And my Ipod, I just love finding new stuff to put on there, music, audiobooks, the Daily show…even some very funny videos from YouTube (my latest find at Youtube…if you like swearing and dirty jokes, just go there and search for Jimmy Kimmel and Ben Affleck – I can’t link it because it is pretty bad (as in HILARIOUS and inappropriate), so only go look if YOU want to see it). Oh and books, I have got my own library here! I have an indulgent kind of personality I guess.
Okay, that went on a tangent way beyond what I was thinking about this morning (I have had a couple too many of those great coffees I think), but I hope that the article does help explain alittle bit about the pricing of portrait photography. I, of course, think it is worth every penny – not that I am biased on that or anything!