It’s time for a post like this. This is for the photographers everywhere.
A local survey was pasted last year. It involved the numbers- what were the photographers here paying themselves as a salary? What was normal? I’ve been in this area my entire life and part of this industry for 17 years, I watched a huge shift, which is why although I am still doing photography, I’m back in college as well, making sure I have a safety net…. but Kat needed exact numbers, and I love it that she did this.
I want you to keep in mind, this covered the Maryland/DC/Northern Virginia area. If you do not know this area, it is a VERY expensive place to live. Many people from all over the US come to especially the DC and outlying areas for work because it pays quite a bit and many jobs are still in demand. While Northern Virginia has become an extremely prosperous area, Maryland also houses two of the most expensive counties in the US to live in – Howard and Montgomery. I’m not saying that everyone in this area is wealthy, I’m just saying, overall, this metro and surrounding is not a wasteland for business. It is still thriving.
Last year’s survey for this area photographers (click here for the full results) showed the following….
- The majority of the photographers who took the survey were between the ages of 20 and 49
- The largest percentage of photographers were full-time with no other jobs.
- The largest percentage group were only paying themselves less than $10,000 per year as a salary and admit to making more than the previous year!
Did you read that right? Yes you did. One of the most expensive places to live in the US, and BUSINESS OWNERS are paying themselves less than $10,000 per year in salary. I was floored. I was sick when I read this. I knew it had gotten bad, but I didn’t realize it had gotten THAT bad. I want you to understand this math. $10,000/year full time is $4.81 per hour. That’s not even minimum wage. It wouldn’t be legal to pay an employee that salary.
I know everyone wants rainbows and ponies and not the truth, but here’s the truth. This industry used to be amazing. Anyone who was a custom photographer (regardless of whether they were new or not) could be making a salary to support their family. They could pay their mortgages and put food on the table, and go on vacation at least once a year with their talent. What better way to make a living than with something you love. Custom photography was sold as a luxury product. While not everyone could afford it, there was always Sears and Picture People (and believe me, I used them). This mass epidemic of everyone buying a camera and going into business within a few months (many illegally and without insurance), charging $200 or less and giving all the images away on CD has done a few things to the perception of the public. Custom photography as a whole, is not a luxury anymore. It is a commodity. The price is in reach for everyone. The value has been so driven down that even Sears Portrait Studio closed up because they could no longer compete. The legitimate professional photographers who are priced to have a decent salary to support their families are being portrayed as rip offs and scam artists, when THESE are the true professionals that should be held up and respected for being real business owners.
The Bidding Wars
In a panic, many photographers have lowered their prices because they let fear lead them. The problem with lowering prices is then more photographers go even lower…. so there is no use in lowering your prices “to get more clients”. That’s a myth. You will get more clients for a month maybe, and then someone else lowers theirs even more…and then there is this race to the bottom. It’s the most bizarre thing I have ever seen. You can go online and see someone say “I need a photographer to photograph my baby.” A response, “My friend does it for $200.” Then someone will inevitably say, “Well I can do it for $150” and then yet another one, “I’ll do it for $50…” But wait, there is still someone who will do it for $35. Recently, there was a screenshot going around of something that happened to a wedding photographer. She met with her client for coffee. As she was chatting price, service, etc., a stranger interrupted them and said something to the effect of she’s ripping you off, I can do your wedding for $500. THAT folks, is the state of the industry, whether you want to admit it or not. Read up on business management – REAL business management textbooks and such. If an industry competes on price alone, the entire industry fails.
What can we do about this? We will never be back to the way it was 10+ years ago. We can’t dwell on that. We have to move forward. The first thing we have to do is start HELPING this industry in every way we can. Help your fellow photographers. Educate your area. Get together with your locals and help teach business management. I know I have received backlash for pushing business in forums and such, but for every photographer that called me names, I have had some come to me and say reading what I wrote was the best thing that ever happened to their business. So maybe, just maybe you can plant some seeds that will grow. We need a ‘revolution’ of education in this industry. REAL education, not fluffy birds chirping “Follow your dream!”. What can you do? blog about it. Talk about it. If you have other photographers that read your blogs or websites, educate them! The more we can educate, the more it will reach. Make blog posts like this go VIRAL. This is what we should be sharing with our peers – ideas, hope, solutions….. any way we can built up this industry once again!
I’ve created this business spreadsheet *groan*, here comes a sales pitch… hear me out. It’s probably not what you think…… Full details are HERE. I’m selling it for $12.99 – immediate download. I could have taken advantage and put it up for $100+ and marketed the heck out of it. Instead, I made it simply affordable for everyone because something this simple being made available for everyone can help spread good things. You can see, I’m not out to get rich on it. This is my “give back.” This spreadsheet is everything every photographer, new and old, needs to make sure they are priced right. Don’t know how to price? This will tell you EXACTLY how to price. Whether your business model is shoot and burn or boutique, it doesn’t matter, this spreadsheet customizes YOUR business model. Don’t listen to what everyone else says about price – know for yourself… and gain the confidence that you are priced exactly what you need to be for YOUR situation.
Women (not that this doesn’t apply to men but the photography industry is now dominated by women, and I’m a woman, so I would really like to address my fellow women first and foremost). I understand that you tend to be the giver in the household. You feel blessed to be doing something you love and at home with your children. Please value yourself. Value what you do. I don’t care if you are new to photography. The new restaurant owner still has bills to pay and doesn’t discount his food based on the fact that he is new. You work hard. You do a great job… keep this quote in mind.
“The great the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize” – Robert Hughes
I’m not 100% pleased with my work all the time either and I have been doing this a long time, but you have to separate that from your business decisions. We complain that we are devalued in the workplace and don’t make as much as men do in the workplace. It is because we let this happen. YOU are amazing. YOU are more valuable than you realize.
There is still a market out there for all of you who value yourselves and your time, but you will not find it by lowering your prices and battling in the trenches. When people ask me, “How do I raise my prices?” My first question is, do you count on this income? Do you use this income to pay your mortgage? your bills? Many times the answer is no. My response is “What do you have to lose?” So you may have 2 clients as opposed to 10. So what? Spend your extra time on other things, and when you do work, you are being paid well for it. I have to tell you, I have cut back on my work hours quite a bit these past few months as we have had a lot of family and health issues going on. I have to say, I have been enjoying my family more. I’ve been cooking meals (which I normally didn’t have time for), keeping the house organized, running errands with my teens, and overall, spending more time with them. I’m not sure I want to go back to the stress of being overloaded with work.
Let me leave you with this thought that has been first and foremost in my head as a family member has developed Alzheimers at a young age. Value your time. Time is the most expensive thing on this earth. You will never realize how expensive it is until you run out of it.