togsA friend of mine asked “what does it even mean to be a photographer anymore?” His question struck me because he is a long-time pro.  I mean like 20+ years – before digital – owned his own darkroom kind of pro.  I have never met someone who truly LOVES photography like he does so hearing him ask this, made me think….and write.

Isn’t it time that we answer his question and perhaps, look at other professions and how they would handle some of the questions that we, as photographers, encounter? Isn’t it time we take a hard look at the value we’re offering vs. the prices that consumers are willing to pay?

In one of my earlier articles, I address the economic forces causing downward pricing pressure on photographers. I wrote about the economic laws of supply and demand and how those laws are affecting professional photographers, putting some of them out of the business. Photographers all over the world are being pushed aside by the inability to actually profit from their craft bringing back the “starving artist” from days of old.

This article has no real answers

By the way, if you’re reading this article searching for the Holy Grail of all photography wisdom, you won’t find it. I am merely asking questions that I think many of us struggle with. I don’t know the answers and I don’t know what the future holds. I do know, however, that many of my friends and peers wish they could see the future and figure out how they are gonna make ends meet while providing a high-quality product.

Other Professions Wouldn’t Do It

Would a chef prepare his finest dish if his client wasn’t paying enough for it? Would a hairdresser do cut, color, wash, and highlights for the price of a shampoo? Would a mechanic completely rebuild a car’s motor for the price of an oil change?  Of course not.  Yet, as photographers we are constantly expected to bring our best equipment and our highest skill level to clients who are only willing to pay for the oil change.

It isn’t hard to imagine for most of us because most, if not all, of us have been “offered” the opportunity to shoot a wedding for a third of what we charge in exchange for the bride telling her friends how great we are. Can you imagine this happening at a mechanic’s shop? “If you’ll rebuild my engine for the price of an oil change, I will tell everyone what a great mechanic you are.”

Other professionals in different industries have figured out systems to say “no.” Consumers won’t ask mechanics for a deal because they already know the answer they’ll get long before they ask. As photographers, we need to figure out the same ways to offer less for a lower price.

Can we offer less for less?

I have often heard other professional photographers say something like “it’s not the camera, it’s the person behind the lens.” I couldn’t agree more. Digital Rev has produced video challenges on YouTube where they give a professional a toy camera and challenge them to get great shots. I wrote about a photographer who was given a Disney Buzz Light Year camera in China and he created some pretty great stuff.

Here is a video of a renowned fashion photographer taking the challenge.  (I recommend watching his whole series.  It’s super funny)

I think that we’re well on our way to proving that it really isn’t the camera but the person behind the lens. (within reason) With that said, would there be any merit to providing less for less? Would it be sensible to take a lower paying job but only bringing one lens and one body? Give me a Nikon D80, a couple of flashes and an 18-200 lens and I can capture some pretty stunning wedding photos. Not as great as what my D4 might do with better glass, but still, it’s the photographer not the camera.

How can we come up with ways to price our services where we offer less for less and ride the line between downward economic forces and making a  living? Is there a way to come up with packages where we shoot a wedding but bring less equipment? Basically, if you want my A-Game, then you pay my A-game prices.  But if you want to only pay 1/3 of my prices, then I will only bring 1/3 of my equipment and not worry if I miss something I could have gotten otherwise.  Same talent, different equipment and service. It’s like the mechanic who KNOWS how to rebuild the engine, but will still only change the oil if that is what he is getting paid for.

How about contracting associates to take cheaper weddings and make a little off of those?

I get it.  I really do

I am dealing with this here in Costa Rica. There are so many couples who would never pay a cent over $1,500.  And you have to really, really be careful with your equipment here because theft is rampant.  So, it makes sense for me to bring only the equipment I can carry and that equipment needs to be lightweight and cheaper than my normal stuff.

The bottom line is that we are in an age where everyone is a photographer.  My guess is that it is starting to affect your business as it has ours. My other guesses are that you’re struggling with keeping up your quality AND making a living.