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  • #4216
    Gnork
    Member

    Perhaps it’s because I live in a city where the median income for a family is just over $30,000, but some of the pricing recommendations I read on this forum amaze me.

    I understand that photographers need to be able to make a living off of their work, and feel that their work is valued. But asking $350+ for a newborn photo session guarantees that a large portion of the population cannot afford even decent photos. I know a lot of people in Memphis for whom $350 is two weeks’ pay. Should these people be doomed to rely on JCPenney and WalMart for their family portraits? Sure, if a fauxtographer markets themselves for white-collar suburbians, they should be ashamed. Those people can afford better. But isn’t it better that the low-income families get digital copies of their photos for under $150, rather than paying by the print at a low-end portrait studio (or $250 for a disc with only 15-20 photos)? The photos might not be great works of art, but for some demographics (namely, most of the city I live in), the low-price fauxtographers are much better than they ever expected, or have ever even seen before. They will print the photos (probably at WalMart or Walgreens, honestly), hang them proudly, and brag about them to everyone who sees them.

    Yes, if a faux is taking business from high-end photographers, I understand insulting them. But some of them are providing a service for a demographic that has been ignored in the past, and left to get generic photos from a department store.

    Disclaimer: I am not referring to the atrocious over-edited, color-popping fauxtographers, but to the fauxs who produce decent work that just isn’t up to par for high-end clients.

    In short, get your heads out of your asses, and realize that not everyone can afford to pay thousands of dollars for wedding photography when they only have a wedding budget of $5,000 or less. Not everyone can pay $300 for newborn photos when they can barely pay the medical bills from the hospital stay.

    Sorry for the language.

    #4217

    Don’t apologize.  This was well thought out and I agree completely.  Sure marketing yourself to this demographic may not provide for your family full time, but it’s not a bad way to supplement your income while providing a good service to lower income families.

    #4220
    Sharra
    Moderator

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. Unfortunately, there are many others on here that would disagree with you for providing such services at an affordable price because they have “higher standards.” What are these standards they so desperately cling to? What makes a $500 wedding shoot any better than a $3000 one anyway?

    #4226

    Photography is, and has always been, a luxury item. That is why this business suffers so much during a recession. If $350 is two weeks pay, you don’t have any right to spend ANY money on photography if you’ve got a newborn in the house (babies are expensive). I almost cringe to say this, but at least if they splurge and go to JCPenney or Walmart they know what to expect and will at least get what they pay for.

    Allow me to ask your question from the other point of view. If money is that tight for these families, is it ethical to take their money from them when a fauxtog doesn’t have the consistency to guarantee good solid work? People don’t even question this in other areas. Doesn’t everyone deserve to own a BMW? Should they be doomed to drive an old beat up Buick just because they can’t afford said BMW. If you went out and promised a BMW, took what money they had and handed them a 1/12 scale replica what would you be? The word that springs to mind is fraud.

    Besides, being inexpensive does not make someone a faux. I personally see it as a lack of pride in ones own work to provide images on a CD (printing is half of the process), but that doesn’t really make someone faux either. A lot of new photographers (real ones) charge lower rates when they first go pro. And there are a LOT of fauxs who have no concept of their skill level charging big bucks. Pros run the gamut of both skill and price, there is no need to go to a faux, you will never get a better product from your faux than you will from a competent photographer in the same price range.

    I have ridiculously “high standards” for photography, or at least that’s what they fauxs seem to tell me. I expect every single photos that you deliver (not take mind you, only deliver) from every single portrait session to be (before editing):

    Exposed correctly
    Lit well
    Framed well
    In focus
    Artistically sound
    Emotionally relevant
    Makes the subject look as good or better than they do in real life.

    Yep, those are my “higher standards.” I know that I am very unreasonable to demand that of anyone who calls themselves a pro. I also expect the client to get exactly what they were promised or more. And I expect the photographer to be able to make the shot they intend, not just spray and pray.

    That is all I ask of others, and I don’t think that is too much, though I ask far more from myself and anyone who work directly with or for me.

    Click it nailed it, before the faux boom that was exactly what new photographers, competent ones still in school, or those who shot on the side to supplement their family’s income did, gearing their work toward short, quick, lower paying gigs. Once you make the shift into full time, you have to aim your sights on higher end clients and jobs because your expenses are too high to make it on nickle and dime jobs. (A photographer has to clear $500 profit a week (or more depending on market) just to keep a decent size studio and pay the utilities on it.)

    Besides, I’ll work with clients, as will most photographers, to find a way for them to get good photos at a reasonable price. They may not get everything they want, but they will get what they need. I’ve had teens from lower income families work as salesmen booking other kids from their school for sessions in order to earn the commission to pay for their shoots because they wanted me to do them. And if they do good work without grumbling about it, I’ll discount their session and pay them the difference or hook them up with bonus time or prints in appreciation of their hard work. I’ll work it out to use someone as a model for a training session.

    The general rule of thumb on a wedding is that the photographer should be about 10% of the cost of the wedding less catering and open bar if applicable. Knowing this, I’ve put together a package that is affordable for almost everyone. My wedding packages range from $500 (Off season, three hours, ceremony, formals, cake, toast, and getaway) to $2500 (in season, two photographers, full coverage of rehearsal, preparations, ceremony, reception, formals, proof set, and press printed 10×10 custom designed wedding album). If I were in another market, I’d probably be charging double that for the big package, but about the same for the small one. One comes with a lot less, but either way you will get consistently good results you can count on.

    To answer Sharra’s question, the difference is time, consistency, and experience. If you hire me for $500, you’ll get me for 3 hours and I’ll shoot 500 shots and deliver, in general, 150 or so, every last one of which is fit to print. If you hire me for $2500, you get me for 15-20 hours, plus a second photographer, I’ll take 1500 shots and deliver in the neighborhood of 300 or so shots every last one of which is fit to print. This also takes out the guesswork as to what the best pictures are.

    If you hire Joe Smoe down the street who “has a really nice camera” and “takes nice pictures” you might get him for 20 hours for $500 bucks. He’ll shoot 4000 shots, dump them onto a DVD, unedited and sight unseen, and hand them to you. You’ll have to sort through hundreds of out of focus, badly exposed, and generally abysmal pictures trying to hunt out the 100 that are decent, then look through those hoping and praying that there is one in there that is worth making an 8×10 of for Grandma to hang up with the pictures from the other grandchildren’s weddings. I know this because I’ve had dozens of couples that I know personally come to me begging me to help them fix the photos taken by hack fauxtogs that were offering “so much more for the money.”

    #4229
    Sharra
    Moderator

    @MBC I couldn’t agree more with your standards. But as you said yourself, being inexpensive is not a faux since, as you say, those looking to go pro will charge less to get their foot in the door, so to speak. But I don’t see someone who charges substantially less as having no pride in their work, unless all they do is hand over a DVD of images unseen. That same photographer at $500 could spend all the time as the $2500 one because they look at it as providing a service that will be advertised by one of the best mediums possible, word of mouth. The photographer may not even be a “pro” at that point, but if he/she adheres to the qualities that define professionalism, I see nothing wrong with that. Yes, they may have to live in a tent for awhile (figuratively speaking, of course), but if they can accept that as the price of moving on to bigger and better things that will eventually lead to a better lifestyle, then all the power to them. Am I wrong to think that possibly you were also in that frame of mind when you first started out?

    I think that’s a fair assumption in any profession. Great lawyers will start out as legal clerks and doctors as interns. Trials of the century and cures for cancer do not happen overnight. Even as a software developer., I have come a long way from writing “Hello, world!” on a monochrome green CRT to writing sophisticated multi-tier applications for both the web and desktop for multi-billion dollar businesses. There’s a lot of pride in that, whether it’s small is output to a screen or a client is deliriously happy with a $500 shoot. Do you not agree?

    I’ve even taken the initiative to apply that professional talent to my passion. While the “what” of a photo is important whether it meets professional standards or not, for me the “when” is just as important. I’ve seen many photographs in my extended family where the person holding the photograph or in it has no real recollection of when it was taken. I’m not saying that it’s because of their age, memory skills, mental capabilities or anything of the like. I’m not even saying that they have to remember that the photo was taken at 11:37 AM on Friday, July 22, 1966, but they may if it was a very significant event like “You may now kiss the bride.”

    For me, the “when” is very important, too. I don’t really care for image names like IMG_1234.JPG or DSC_5678.TIF and I can’t stand hundreds of folders like “Christmas 2009” or “Vacation 2012.” So I wrote a small utility that renames those files into “YYYY-MM-DD HH24.MM.SS.JPG”.  That way, I know when a photo was taken within a couple minutes of what the real atomic time is, the disadvantage being it’s not foolproof in that I may not remember the exact year a shot was taken, let alone the rest of the date and time. But if I know it was the summer of 2002 or 2003, it makes for a much easier search either on screen or in the hundreds of thumbnail pages I’ve printed. I know there are other programs that may do that for me, but I wanted to have the pride in doing that for myself.

    Anyway, I’m getting way off topic here raving about something most people wouldn’t give a damn about. My point is that experience definitely plays into a lower priced wedding shoot, but not time and consistency, especially when pride is on the line.

    #4231

    The lack of pride is not in their pricing, it is in the fact that they don’t ensure the quality of the prints. You know as well as I do that where you get your prints done greatly affects the look of the image. I consider it a matter of personal pride that I prep all of my images for print, choose a supplier with a color managed workflow and who uses archival materials, I UV coat any image larger than a 5×7 to maximize their longevity and when the prints come in, I inspect them, and if, for any reason, I’m not happy, they get reprinted. I provide a CD of web images that they can use for Facebook and blogs, but if it gets printed, I want to make sure that it will be up to my standards and that my work will outlast the client. This is why I would never hand a client a CD, but I do at least understand why they do.

    To better explain the cost issue, here is a cost breakdown of a $2500 wedding:

    $375 social security tax (including medicare and fica)
    $475 federal income tax
    $210 state income tax
    $250 assistant pay
    $150 proof set
    $50 gas
    $50 consumables
    $295 album cost

    Making my grand total after everything is said and done $695 for 20 hours of work at the reception and 20 hours of work between prep and post. Making my grand total pay per hour $17.38. And I have to pay my business expenses out of that. I don’t make a profit on the wedding itself, I only start to make money when they buy prints.

    Things have changed a lot since I was starting out, no one in their right mind would have charged $500 for a wedding back in the days I was starting out. It cost you $1 every time you pushed the shutter release. If I brought 15 rolls of film for the whole wedding it would cost me $540. You did weddings at cost to get going, which meant usually charging $750 to $1000.

    Yes, in an ideal world where one could hire a competent photographer for 15 hours for $500 bucks, there is nothing wrong with that. But if you do that, you’re self employed, and they’ll tax you for 40% of that, or more. After expenses you’re looking at making around $150 for your 40 hours of work. That is what most photographers do to get the word of mouth going, but once you start down that road you are going to be going along it for a long time, because people not only talk about quality, they talk about price. Everyone they talk to will be expecting a $500 wedding as well.

    Faced with this reality, most photographers who consistently charge $500 for a wedding cut corners, they don’t pay taxes, they deliver unsorted and unedited images on a DVD. If they don’t, they quickly realize just why it costs thousands of dollars for a wedding.

    You keep bringing up how it is “the content of the photo that is important,” so allow me to address that, if the quality of the photo was of no concern, why not just ask everyone in the audience to bring their point and shoot cameras and fire away during the wedding. It is because the quality of the photo really greatly affects how that memory is remembered. As I have stated, when I shoot a wedding or an event, I am a lot more lax in some of my technical requirements in lieu of the content of the shot. I am much more likely to pull or push a shot a stop or more to keep it because of its emotional impact. But as a photographer, if you are any kind of photographer at all, you should be at least as invested in the quality of the shot as your client is in the content. This is what you do, and they are paying you to do it. No one is perfect, you’re gonna have to deliver a few shots that are less than perfect. I usually recommend that a photographer shoot professionally for 5 years or more before attempting a wedding. They are full of moments that happen only once and last few seconds or less. If you endeavor to shoot that day for someone you should be solid and consistent enough that you can get a good shot on a moment’s notice without having to consciously think about it. The important thing in a car is that it runs, but if you’re a mechanic, it is your job to make sure it not only runs, but runs well.

    As a computer programmer, you already know that file management is as personal as a fingerprint. When I deliver files I usually change the prefix and keep the four digit extension. Because almost all of my shooting is for other people, the system you describe would make it impossible for me to find anything. I can’t remember what month of what year I shot Jane Smith, let alone the day and which shoot of that day it was. I’ve worked out a system that allows me to put my fingers on any raw or processed file, with or without watermark, I’ve shot in the eight years since I started doing work with digital. I can find it by file name if they have it, date if they have that, or just by the type of shoot and the client’s name, all in a minute or less. Sounds like you’d hate my system, hundreds and hundreds of folders nested inside one another. (type of shoots(senior, family, wedding, fashion, tests, editorial, etc.), alphabetic breakdown by last name (a-e, f-j, etc.), last name of client, year and month of shoot (if more than one), folders for raw, catalogs, final export, and mastered images for both print and web, and more subfolders inside them for long shoots like weddings. Everything more than two years old are arrived with a searchable database that lets me find what disc the files are located on. I have a similar system for keeping track of negatives and prints from my film days as well.

    A good system, in my option, is one that works extremely well for you, but is intuitive enough that someone else who needed to find something on your computer could. Mine are rigidly defined studio wide because I need any assistants or associate photographers that work with me to conform to those standards, but this also lets them find images if they need them.

    #4233
    IHF
    Member

    MBC you have stated things so eloquently, that I’m embarrassed to even give my 2 cents at this point.  But I wanted in on this conversation.

    I’m going to try to simplify a by far more complicated subject, so bare with me.
    This is also taking into consideration that the photographer has the knowledge and skill behind them to take technically sound photographs.  I’m not talking faux vs pro or fraud vs. beginner, or even going there.

    2 popular successful business models:

    Custom portraiture.  It is a luxury.  Something we save for, and pay more for.  Why?  Because we are paying not only for our portraiture, but the artist’s vision, extra time and effort, expertise, pampering, exceptional service from booking and beyond, boutique packaging, and prints and properly finished products that will last years beyond years.

    Then there is the higher volume family photographer.  A more affordable option because there are no bells and whistles.  Just straight forward good service, with more affordable packaging options due to the fact that they work at a more high volume pace and spend less time with the customer and on the finished product (but make no mistake, the time spent, and the end product will be of quality)

    Now, keep in mind that neither will work without good technically correct photographs taken consistently and reliably.  When I say technically correct I mean, exposed properly, lit properly, focused properly, and composed properly.  Custom photography goes steps further and becomes a work of art as you say, but this can’t happen without a technically correct photograph to start with.

    Now what I see happening is, people are trying to give the custom portraiture experience along with the affordable packaging.  In a perfect world this would work, but in reality the photographer is putting in way more than they are receiving, and their business will fail, and they wont make it past the 4 year mark, no matter how talented or passionate they are.  (Off Topic but,  they sure do buy a lot of stuff from people who say they can do just that. Back to my statement I made way early on here.  Sometimes the biggest victim of fauxtography is the aspiring photographers themselves)

    No matter how you mix these 2 models, it won’t work successfully.  Just as a full service salon cannot be a walk in only, high volume salon, and a walk in only high volume salon cannot be full service.  Even though that’s what people want.  A full service experience on a walk in basis.
    It certainly won’t work when you aren’t successfully accomplishing what you are trying to emulate no matter the business model used.

    I challenge you to show me a photographer in business legitimately for at least 5 years that has successfully mixed these 2 business models and has made a profit from it.  PLEASE make me eat my words!  I would love to hear a success story like that and be completely wrong about this.  Because how wonderful to be able to offer the best to everyone without going in the hole, like so many think can be done.

    #4234
    Sharra
    Moderator

    @MBC Well, it seems you’ve already replied to my saying I’ve addressed your thoughts on thoughts on my misconceptions on pricing and photography so you can ignore what I said in the other thread. As for folders, I sort into events as well, but those I try to keep at a minimum and I haven’t shot nearly all the events that you have. I have reunion folders and soccer/lacrosse season folder for my kids but that’s about as far as they go. Any personal shots go into one folder per year but ultimately the files are named as I described so I have only 9 folders named 2004 through 2012 for each of those years. It’s for that purpose that I was describing my photography filing system, but yes, as a software developer (to me the term “computer programmer” is faux), I completely understand the necessity of having a useful file, backup, database and archival systems in place. That’s why I have 6 backups of everything important to me—four of local hard drives  in case any of them go bad and two off-site in case my house goes up in flames.

    I’m not knocking anything you said about quality, especially when it comes to prints. But if a photographer can charge less for the digital side and keep the customer happy, then great. But I’m not saying keeping the uninformed customer happy with mediocre work is OK either. I was just saying if the customer has a choice between photographers, all other things being equal, they will choose the less expensive one where budget is a concern. In the same vein, I’ve known couples who get married by a JP in the back yard, use a community hall catered by their friend’s restaurant and still spent $3500 on photos because 20 years down the road, no one will remember what the meal was or who sat next to whom, but they will all cherish beautiful and well-taken photos that last a lifetime.

     

     

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