Monday, October 12, 2009

My thoughts on Custom Photography....

Today...I'm going to share my thoughts on the cost of custom photography....
One question I get asked the most is...
"Why don't you do this as a business?"
There are a few reasons that I won't go way into. One of the main reasons is because I am not really all that good as a business owner. Believe me...I have had MANY different entrepreneurial goals over the past several years. I have been fortunate that most of them have been great and not too cost consuming. I am terrible at keeping books. I hate keeping track of money and to be honest...I really just suck at the whole business aspect of owning a business. I really only like the creative side of anything I do. This poses a HUGE problem for me. It makes having a successful business next to impossible! The second main reason for me is that I really cannot put a price on anything that makes it worth leaving my kids and ignoring them for 40 hours a week. They are getting so big and I really feel like time is just going by so fast I can't even keep track of it. I don't ever want to look back and say "Why didn't I spend more time with my kids?" I can't imagine anything worse than feeling like I missed out on any time with them.

What I want to address today is the price of custom photography. I just have to laugh when people think I am asking too much for a session when I actually agree to do it in the first place. I love it when people beg and beg me to take photos...saying "I'll pay you!" Then...you actually tell them a price and never hear from them again. It happens all the time. People want me to do them a service. The problem? They want to pay nothing for it. I have spent way too much time doing these "favors" for people. I have realized that when I do a session for a friend, neighbor, even family members for free...it is basically telling my family that they aren't as important as the people I am taking pictures for. What kind of message does that send to my kids? Definitely not one that I want them to hear. There is a great post over at MCP Actions today. Everyone needs to read it. Aspiring photographers, professional photographers, and anyone who ever gets pictures taken by a photographer! Go read it....I will wait. It really puts the cost of photography in perspective. It is exactly why I can't do photography as a business. And...it explains very openly why custom photographers charge what they do. My favorite quote from this post is...
"So how do you price? Work backwards to figure out what clients need to spend. So many people want to skim over this because they are “arteests” and think it’s all about the talent, not about the pricing structure. WRONG! Artists work from emotions, and you better step outside of that for a moment and keep those emotions and business separated, or you will BE a starving artist who will one day look back and say “my kids are grown, where did the time go? I sat in front of that computer for hours for less than minimum wage… I wish I had that time back with my kids….” No one looks back and says “I wish I would have worked more away from my family….”

This is exactly why I can't do this as a business. I don't have the time to make it really worth leaving my kids over. I already spend WAY too much time on the computer editing photos, as it is. Really makes you stop and think about why 95% of all photography businesses fail....
I figure I spend about 8-10 hours per session. This includes prep, shooting, driving, and editing.
If I am charging $200 a session...it comes out to $20/hour. Which in theory sounds great...but it isn't true. Figure in cost of equipment, driving, paying babysitter, taxes, etc, etc, I end up making WAY less than $10 an hour. So...you figure your are making less than minimum wage for your time, then.... give away the work for free when you hand over a CD of images for nothing.
Hmmmm. Really makes you think. What are your thoughts on custom photography? If you do it as a profession...how to you make it worth your time? If you are a consumer...how do you feel about the cost of custom photography? What do you think is too much to spend?

13 comments:

utmomof 5 said...

I can so understand your reasons!! And I think your price was a bargain!! I was happy to pay it :) Those pictures you took of my family are priceless to me just like time with your kids is priceless to you! I don't think people realize how much work goes into custom photography AFTER the pictures are taken. They don't come straight from the camera looking like the finished product. You are awesome and I do appreciate your time and talents!!

Rachel said...

I definitely think it's worth paying for professional custom photography. What price? I don't know. I guess it depends on your satisfaction with the end product. For the most part the "photographers" I know charge waaaaaaaaaay too much for their services. HOWEVER... most of these so called "photographers" are simply bored housewives who went out and bought a fancy DSLR, and voila! Now they're professional photographers.

I have to argue that the reason 95% of photography businesses fail isn't because they don't charge enough, but because they charge a whole lot more than they're worth which leads to a lack of repeat business. I had a conversation with Kenneth Linge back in April about this phenomena, and he said all these wanna be professionals are hurting the custom photography business as a whole. It's not for the reasons you think either. He said more and more consumers are shying away from custom photography because they don't want to pay the price tag only to end up with amateur results.

Now... with all that said, you know I think you're amazing. I DO NOT include you in the "bored housewife turned professional photographer" category. I don't know what you're charging, but I'm sure it's worth it, and I dare say you're not even charging enough to make it worth it for you. BUT... I think it's outrageous what the majority of these AMATEURS think they're worth.

And now I will step off my soap box and go fix dinner for my family.

Kati said...

Rachel...I so agree with what you have said. I think that is another REALLY important reason for people to shop for a photographer just like they would anything else really important in their life. All photographers are different. Sure...a lot try to copy other's style...but the end result usually ends up completely different because of post processing, etc. Finding the right photographer for your family is just like finding that perfect hair dresser for me. I don't care what the price tag is...if I get the same, consistant, best results every single time. I think a lot of stay at home moms think it is a way to earn extra money and have no idea what having a business is all about. I think the craze will die down in a while. Hopefully leaving those who really know how to run a successful business and deliver quality and lasting images. It is a tough business...one I really can't ever see myself doing.

What are you making for dinner? :)

Amy said...

I love this post, and not because its about photography, but because it makes me reflect on when a business is worth neglecting your kids over! Of course, It should never be. And when do I finally admit that I have no business being in business! I don't know why I keep trying! It really sucks the fun out of whatever I love. I guess I have a lot of soul searching to do.

Kim said...

As a consumer, I freak out at the rates people charge, mostly becuase it makes it so I can't afford it. It is hard to see that the end result, a picture that will likely hang on a wall for a year or so then be in a book to be looked at every few years is worth the expense. For me it's not worth the expense, but that is my choice. And because of that choice, I don't have the most amazing photos ever on my wall, and I'm okay with that choice.

As an amateur photographer, my goal is not to make a huge business out of this, and it isn't going to take away business from someone who can afford someone amazing, as they are going to go to that type of person if they can afford it. Those who come to me know I'm a person who is an amateur photographer and that they aren't going to get the same quality. But it does provide an in between so they can still have family photos since they can't afford higher cost photographers. In my opinion, actually, the ones who are lost in the mix is places like Target and Walmart as that's who's business I'm taking.
Finally, I do understand what you are saying about your time, and I think it's more about balance than about paying for your time away from kids. For me for example most my kids are in school, so other than the half hour to hour here or there I might take a picture while they are around, the rest is taking the time while they are in school. For me, it works, for someone with kids at home it may not. It's all about what's right for you.

Finally, before I'm off my high horse here, Mormon's are typically cheap. They are taught to be frugal and they expect favors from those around them because they can't stomach the cost. Go outside Mormons and you'll get your prices without as much issues.

Jen said...

Kati- this was amazingly put. I saw the post from MCP this morning and it really gave me a lot to consider... as do your thoughts... thanks for bringing this up. its really interesting to hear all the different takes on the subject. :)

Jen
(utah peas)

Rachel said...

Hey Kati. It's me again! :)

I just thought you might find this article interesting. I know your point is that there really isn't a price worth leaving your kids for, but you might find it interesting all the same. If you read it, let me know what your thoughts are.

And by the way... we had steak for dinner. :) It was really good.

Marcie said...

Hey!

I hadn't stopped by in a while. What fun to see so many familiar faces....great job. Now, why couldn't I ever get my life in order enough to take photography classes with you years ago? Your desire to learn (and master) new things always has astounded me.

I love this debate. I get all worked up about it, but I'm on the side of the photographers. I, personally, think there are very few things more important than capturing your kids with really great photography. You get what you pay for. I don't understand why others don't get this.

In five years, one year, or even six months from now, will you have anything to show for a weekend away, a shopping trip, etc that you spent $400 on? No.

But exceptional photographs that capture your growing kids and your family at that stage are PRICELESS. You captured a moment you will never get back again.

I think people that complain about the price of good photography just don't know any better. I like what you said for shopping around. It is SO worth it to pay a little more for a great end result.

Kim said...

I read agree with the fact depending on how much time you spend you should charge for it. I however really liked this point in the second article.
2. Know your client: Some people would rather pay more for a service if it means higher quality. Some people cannot afford anything but the basics. Determine what clients you want to reach and begin arranging your price structure from here. Take note: Unless you are in similar circles and arena’s as your potential clients, you may find it difficult to keep to a higher price bracket.

This is the point I was trying to make. There are those out there who can't afford what your time is, or they see other things important. The market I hit has no less value on photography, they just have less expendable cash. Many that I'm doing pictures for are having to choose between feeding their kids or having amazing pictures. Many stay at home moms are marketing to that demographic. These are typically the same types of families who don't spend 100.00 on a hair cut and can't imagine a 400.00 shopping spree on clothing. And if these are the kind of people who are in your circle, spending that much money on pictures seems unrealistic.

Kati said...

Kim....your thoughts are all well taken. Just thought I would remind that I am not a professional photographer. Not planning to be one. I am not seeking any "types of circles" Just making a point of why I have chosen not to do custom photography as a business and point out facts to those who may not understand the cost of custom photography. (Obviously I am on the side of custom photographers who do their work very well.)

It is great that you are providing a service that people can afford. Everyone deserves to have memories captured for them...no matter what "circle" they may be in. If charging what you do is worth your time in travel, session time, editing time, etc, etc, I think that is great for you...
Maybe you are in a different phase of life than I am? spending that many hours away from my family just isn't worth $65 to me. Maybe someday I would be able to offer such a great service to people. I think it is great that you are using your passion to give something to others.

Kath said...

Kati, My opinion is that someone with your level of talent could charge waaayyyy more than you do! When you start pricing photographers, $200 is VERY reasonable. I agree that $20 an hour doesn't justify leaving the kids (especially when you count all of the extra time and money involved, too!) Can I just say how bummed I am that the stinkin' U2 concert and Savana's soccer cup tournament are the same weekend that you are coming down? I personally would pay your price and then some...I am probably going to end up hiring some yahoo down here who doesn't have half the talent you do and will end up paying them just as much or more for crappy pictures. Ugh. I wish I could transport Lake Las Vegas to Utah!

Kath said...

I agree, too, that what "too much to spend" is purely depends on each individual person and what phase of life they are in. You have every right to only work with those who will pay the price to make it worth your time.

The Hall Clan said...

Kati--So glad I checked your blog out today. It gave me a lot to think about with the jewelry thing!!! Sometimes I do the math and I'm not making much at all beyond supplies. I'm a sucker for family and friends wanting "deals". I feel good about a bit of a discout,,,but I take it to the extreme sometimes. I'm able to do mine after the boys go to bed, but that is still time away from Chad (I know it does bother him, but he's too nice to say anything.) Anyway,,,lots to think about--thanks.
I also love the brown and orange beanie for Evans shoot. Dang cute.