Cheap Photographers Only Kill Themselves, Not The Industry.

October 2, 2010 | • Philosophy • Resources

First, thanks for all of your input on the first blog post of this series. As usual, your comments are far more interesting, entertaining, and thought provoking than anything I write here. If you haven’t read through those yet, you should. What’s interesting to note in the comments there is how the tone of comments changes through the 100+ of them. They start off friendly enough and then somewhere in the middle a few feathers begin to get ruffled. That’s fine. That’s welcomed. It’s a very interesting time in our industry right now and it’s good to have passionate discussion about it. The smart photographers will sit with open minds and get a bit introspective and take a look at their own business practices. The stupid photographers will sit from on high and just point fingers OR sit at the bottom and think, “I’m banking an extra $1,000 a month that I don’t claim with my $800 camera!”

Anyway. Check out that photo above. It’s some stop light advertising for a wedding photographer advertising weddings starting at $350. Man… that’s cheap. Is this person part of the problem in our industry? Absolutely not. I admire the hustle. I admire the fact that they are trying. Now –  if you are the type of pro photographer that looks at that and says, “This is everything that is wrong with this damn industry! You can’t be a pro charging $350 for a wedding! What an A-hole!” Yeah, if you’re that photographer let me challenge you.

Think of the brides out there who don’t have a budget but want some photos of their weddings. Maybe there are young couples getting married who don’t have the parents to pay for a big event or they don’t want to start their young family in debt but they would like someone to come take some pictures. Are you saying that if they can’t afford a $3,000+ photographer then they don’t deserve photos? Are you saying that if they can’t afford a Mercedes then they shouldn’t be allowed to drive? Shame on you. Not everyone can afford pro level prices. That doesn’t mean they can’t have some level of photographic services available to them.

Let me tell you a little something about my journey being the cheap photographer after the jump…

I started out shooting bands seven years ago for free. Then I charged $50. Then I charged $75. Then I charged $150. Within a year I was up to $250 and I leveled off there for awhile and I was busy shooting bands. My goal was to shoot 10 bands a month at $250 each and fill in the rest of my financial needs with second shooting for Marc and and any other jobs I could gather. After a year of marketing to bands I was shooting 20 bands a month at $250. I doubled my goal and darn near became the Olan Mills of music photography. You know what happend? I almost lost my business.

This is what happens when you are the low ball cheap photographer. You either don’t get enough work to stay alive and you have to quit the business or you get so busy being the low ball cheap photographer that you can’t keep up with the workload and you have to quit the business and that’s what happened to me. You can only stay cheap for so long before you have to make a change to your pricing to either stay alive because you aren’t getting enough work, or to get fewer clients so you can keep up with the workload and actually have a day off from time to time.

Some of you may be reading this and think, “20 bands at $250 each = $5,000 a month = $60,000 a year.” and you’re thinking you would LOVE to have that “problem”. If you are young, single, no kids, no pets, living in a crap apartment and drive a crap car and have no plans of paying taxes then yes… $60k a year shooting seems really nice but let me tell you what it’s like in the “real” world.

First of all, thanks to our tax codes you can go ahead and take about 30% of that and give it to the government. If it’s not in income tax it will go to taxes somehow so just budget for that. I want to buy a house one day and to do that as a self employed person I have to show that I actually make money doing this. If I don’t claim my income on my taxes then I have no paperwork to show that I have income when it comes to buying a home so I claim every penny I make. It’s very tempting to hide income and it’s quite easy to do as well but one day it will catch up with you and you’re going to be hosed. Render unto Caesar and all that. You just have to.

So our $60k just dropped to $48k a year. How much does it take you to live? Let’s put you in a $900 apartment + utilities, add some car insurance, a set of tires, a new transmission for your crap car, a 24-70 2.8 lens, food, and some beer money. Life can easily cost around $2,000 a month in many places. Especially places that actually have 20 bands a month to grace the doors of your business. That’s $24,000 so you have $24,000 left in income for the year.

Wow! That’s a ton of money! Awesome!

Now throw kids into the mix and your life easily got $1,000 a month more expensive. Now we have about $12,000 a year in profit. Not bad. $1,000 extra bucks a month. Oh wait. You’re shooting 20 bands a month. That’s a lot of driving. I totally forgot to add gas in this mix. Oh yeah, and you need some insurance on that new lens. You think you’re going to get 20 bands a month coming in the door without some sort of advertising, networking, marketing, and web presence? Nope. Tap, tap, tap on the calculator and I can tell you for certain that when I was bringing in $5,000 a month on bands I had about $250 left over every month. It could take four months to replace a $1,000 camera. Please note that you haven’t bought so much as a new pair of socks with this budget. You’re eating cardboard three times a day as well. Want to take a vacation? No can do. Want health insurance? Hahahahahahahaha! That’s a funny one! You want health insurance. Silly photographer! You’re ONLY bringing in $60,000 a year. You can’t afford health insurance. Better budget for some vitamins.

Look at the workload as well. 20 bands in a month. It was rare that I shot more than one band in a day so that’s 20 days of shooting. You have 10 days left to do the post production, answer emails, network, spend time with friends and family, sleep, etc. You’re in a dying marriage. You’re trying to keep your business alive. You’re trying to be everything to everyone. Husband. Dad. Artist. It’s a hard life that can lead to a divorce lawyer. Not that I know anything about that at all. Replace divorce lawyer with car wreck or cancer or broken arm. You’re barely staying alive bringing in $60,000 a year and I was living in a cheap place and driving beater cars. I did have a small studio space and that was part of my marketing. I was competing with other young music photographers and I had to separate myself from the small pack of us in Atlanta and part of that was stepping up from the coffee shop office to a studio space.

I was so covered up in work that I couldn’t keep up with it. I either had to start raising prices or I was going to die. I once figured out that I was making about $5 an hour. Note that I quit a $10 an hour job for this. Hmmmm. Nice job Zack. Be your own boss and make less than a slacker in a copy shop.

Did you visit the site of the photographer in the photo above? Notice that they are out of business. No idea what they are doing now with their life. Maybe they raised their prices, ditched the brand, became a better photographer, and now go by the name of Joey Lawrence. :)

When I started raising my prices I didn’t get as many clients as I used to but my income stayed about the same. It helped me take a few days off. It helped me take a breather and work on my business. I started diversifying my income and started attracting new clients. I could start focusing on my craft again. I got my very own set of Pocket Wizards after two and half years of shooting full time. I started to see the value of what I do. The clients I attracted saw the value as well. And that attracted new business.

My pricing for bands is a tad higher than $250 these days. I’ve seen real growth in my business and at some point I’ll have to blog about the fact that I am not where I am today without the help of others to get me here. I didn’t do it on my own and I still don’t do it on my own. People like Michael Weeman, Erik Dixon, Kara Pecknold, Sherri Innis, and Dan Depew have helped me as I’ve branched into new opportunities and those new opportunities continue bringing in opportunities. I still hustle. I still have to continue pushing. There are photographers that are far more expensive than I am and there is an army of shooters under cutting me to the bone… but I stay afloat. I’m still alive. I still don’t have health insurance. Still haven’t purchased my home. Still shooting Alien Bees instead of Profotos. I don’t fret over the cheap photographer. I actually tip my hat to you and say “Good luck and good shooting.” It’s a hard life but at the end of the day… for those of you who can’t seem to do anything else with your lives… photography is the greatest job in the world no matter if you’re getting $50 or $50,000 for a shoot.

This isn’t the post about pricing you may think it’s becoming. That’s for a different time. I’ve laid this all out to make the point that cheap photography has it’s place. It has it’s place for clients who can’t afford much and it has it’s place for photographers trying to build something from nothing. It’s part of becoming a full time working photographer in an age when so many want to become a photographer. I have a lot of respect for John Harrington. By a lot I mean boat loads. I understand what he’s saying in this post about shooting for free but I have to wonder… how in the hell did he get started as a photographer? I’m pretty certain he didn’t buy a camera one day and start invoicing $1,000 a day the next. I don’t think he landed his job at The World & I magazine without some sort of portfolio of work that I can only imagine was made up of pretty cheap photo shoots. Maybe I’m wrong. I am the antithesis to every point he is fighting against in that blog post and I’ve built a career off of it and from what I can gather – I didn’t kill the industry doing so.

Hyundai didn’t kill Mercedes. McDonalds didn’t kill Ruth’s Chris. Wal-mart didn’t kill the mom-n-pop shop… oh wait.

Up next… Microstock. Now there’s something to look at.

Sometime after that I want to have a discussion about shooting for free as if that discussion has been beaten to death already… because guess what… Shhhhhhh. Don’t tell anyone… (I still shoot jobs for free every now and then.) Shhhhhhhh.

Cheers, Zack




Discussion

  • Jason Young said on October 2, 2010

    Shit, I thought I took my ad down!

  • Antonio Rosario said on October 2, 2010

    Great post. Though I think you might have considered blurring out the guy’s name and phone number on that pic up there, just out of consideration. Just saying.

  • Keith said on October 2, 2010

    Great article!

  • smu said on October 2, 2010

    ^ LOL :)

  • JD said on October 2, 2010

    You, Sir, are as sharp as a tack. Love your advice or hate it (too close to the bone for some?)you can’t argue with real life experience….and that you have in spades….Good on you, Zack….I continue to watch with great interest…

  • Paul Pratt said on October 2, 2010

    Zack

    I’m with you. Everything you said makes perfect sense to me. Nail, hammer, head.

    Cheers

    Paul

  • Brian said on October 2, 2010

    That pretty much sums it up I think. It’s right on the money.

    And it’s helped in my attitude and thinking.

    Thank you for this.

  • wrecklessgirl said on October 2, 2010

    like my father says, “the market will have its way with them. always does.”

  • Leeann said on October 2, 2010

    I recently commented that the number of sessions I have in October makes me nervous as he’ll, because it’s so many. Another photographer in my area told me the same thing – raise prices or get ready to work 24 hours a day. It’s scary, but I’m going to have to take her and your advice. This post came at the perfect time for me, so thanks, Zack.

  • Michelle Feeney said on October 2, 2010

    Wow, I think I held my breath, teared up and laughed all while reading this post. After taking pictures for 10 years together we decided to jump in. But I think we’ve been extremely lucky to have started at a time when so many photographers, like yourself, are sharing these stories. We are soo lucky to have access to you on your blogs, twitter and the like that we have more than enough information to make educated decisions for ourselves. I think my biggest hurdle at the moment is patience. Patience with the learning and growing and being ok with where I/We are right now. Being ok in all of these moments. Our story starts with Chris Bartelski who introduced us to Becker and Dane Sanders and Escalate Live where we learned about David Jay, Jasmine Star, Jeremy Cowart, CreativeLive, Chase Jarvis and you, Zack Arias. Then there are all of the connections to all of the other amazing photographers and inspirational people we’ve found on Twitter. It simply boggles my mind. Thankful, grateful and in full on amazement of the possibilities. Much love!

  • Sean said on October 2, 2010

    Zack…great points. I laugh every time I see people criticizing those they view as amateurs because they are charging so little or doing work for free. The range of markets for photogaphy services are vast. There are those people who simply cannot afford the time or talents of a truly amazing photographer. New photographers need to break into the business somehow, somewhere and it’s sort of impossible to charge $3000 for a wedding, regardless of how good you are, if you don’t have anything to show the person who is going to hire you.

    If you believe you are good enough to charge top dollar for your services why would you want to even deal with someone who is willing to pay $350 for an entire wedding? Seems like a waste of time for everyone.

    Keep up the great work, Zack! You are a true inspiration!

  • Zoë G said on October 2, 2010

    This is the feedback I got from the groom from last weekend’s so-called ‘cheap’ wedding: “Yesterday I married the love of my life and also I found the photographer I am going to work with forever.”

    Those words *will* put food on my table. And I got the chance to grow as I shot my first Niagara Falls wedding — and got paid for it! Win-win for all involved.

  • Andy S. said on October 2, 2010

    I’m going to plop my dearest girlfriend down and make her read this. Twice.

    She is on me about doing freebies, and cheap work. She thinks I should be making more. In her defense she is biased. She thinks I’m pretty awesome. I disagree, but that’s neither here nor there.

    I don’t see how ANYONE doesn’t start out for free. I sure as hell wouldn’t hire anyone to do anything without some kind of reference to their work. You have to prove yourself BEFORE you get my money. Trusting someone to just know what they’re doing isn’t a gamble that most are willing to take when money is involved.

    For now, I am that cheap photographer. I’ll shoot damn near anything for damn near anything, but whatever amount that “anything” is my goal is to get the result that says “I paid this photographer a fortune, and I love what he produced”.

    Eventually, I hope that leads to the ability to charge a price relative to my work.

    You nailed it when you said this is the best job. Whether I never break into the industry in the capacity you have or if I eternally do cheap shoots…I’ll still be doing this in ten years….twenty years. After all, don’t we ALL do this because we love the craft?

  • John salgado said on October 2, 2010

    Awesome Zack, I am really digging this topic as I am in year 3 of trying to make it as a full time wedding photographer,it hasn’t been easy,needless to say, pricing has always been an issue with around 50 weddings under my belt I haven’t felt I can’t command the average price for my area, I am a little below and the referrals that come in are also in that price range so I feel I am getting stuck in that ” budget box” With more experience, someday i’ll get there. Anyway, thank you so much for putting yourself out their for all to see ,I really appreciate it.An PS Have you heard ICE CUBES new record ? Loving it. Peace…

  • Matt said on October 2, 2010

    Good article, but recheck your spelling and grammar… It makes you look stupid

  • Ray Carcases said on October 2, 2010

    Another excellent post because it makes me think and that is the best compliment I can give to anything I read.

  • Culotte said on October 2, 2010

    As a photography student, it’s great to hear the analogy “If they can’t afford a Mercedes that doesn’t mean they can drive?”
    I cannot wait for the day that I can afford to work with clients on an individual basis and meet them halfway, without breaking the bank. Or myself. :)
    Thanks for this, on lots of levels.

  • Culotte said on October 2, 2010

    And @Andy S., Amen!!! :)

  • Jeremy Corbin said on October 2, 2010

    Zack,

    You’re the man. When my wife/business/partner/better-half talked about where I should price myself, I priced myself outside of the “$100, anything goes” photographer. I did that for many reasons. Am I so busy I can’t think straight? No, of course not. Do I make more in 1 job than they do in 3? No, of course not, but I’m using my time to raise my family.

    I find your post to be spot on with what photographers need to hear. But my question is this: How to we educated the client about what job bracket they fit into? Some clients just don’t see the worth…that is… the difference between the $100 guys and the $1000 guys.

  • Eunice Brownlee said on October 2, 2010

    What a great and well-written post Zack. It’s a great follow up to my sentiments that there is a professional out there to fit any budget, but by all means, hire one, don’t rely on the do it yourself method.

  • Dan said on October 2, 2010

    I always enjoy your perspectives, Zack.

  • Ramit said on October 2, 2010

    Right On Zack.
    Pricing has always been a sensitive issue. Quality vs. Quantity has always been a BIG question. One can shoot 365 days, and one day decide to have a life and double them. The trick is to learn and think from the finance point of view. Double the price. Half the projects. If you get more – You cracked the deal.
    That’s how I try and think of it as. But yes. its more complicated than that. :)

  • Michael Gowin said on October 2, 2010

    Your breakdown of the revenue vs. costs is excellent, Zack. According to their research and surveys of 250 studios in the US, Professional Photographers of America (PPA) recommends that home-based studios need a target sales volume of $150,000 per year to be healthy. Pretty much shoots the notion that you can make a living off of $60,000 in sales dead in the water. But you already made that point. :)

    And, yes, everybody has to get started somewhere. I’m still doing it but working toward those higher revenue figures as well.

  • Brian Stevens said on October 2, 2010

    Another point that should be made is that you shouldn’t let the discount photographer dictate your business. There comes a point where you have to say to that bride “sorry, I cannot shoot your wedding for that low.” It’s not fun to take nothing instead of something, but I think doing so is a part of growing your business.

  • J Quinton said on October 2, 2010

    Great advice Zack!

    Personally I’m going charge $1,000,000 per shoot. I’m going to constantly work on personal photo projects to build my portfolio…and sometime in the next 20 years I’m going to be both good enough and find the right person to say YOUR HIRED.

    Thus banging out my entire career with one job. Then go back to shooting personal stuff again. ;)

    Justin.

  • Aubry Canales said on October 2, 2010

    Great read……. I made the jump to working smarter, not harder about 8 months ago and it has made a world of difference in my life! Thx Zack…

  • Jose said on October 2, 2010

    haha, I loved this Article.. this is pretty much where I am in life right now.. still working a full time job that i hate, and doing cheap shoots I’m also in the middle of increasing my pricing. I feel like I’m letting myself being taken advantage of sometimes and don’t like the feeling. But thank you for writing this.. It’s put me in a better mood and mentality.

  • Sierra Murphy said on October 2, 2010

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is exactly what I needed to read today. :-)

  • Aaron Ziesemer said on October 2, 2010

    I am very glad I read this. I have not been doing this photography thing for very long, seeing what other people say and knowing how I do my job. I work extra hard right now to make small steps to getting better and charging a few bucks more each time. at the moment I am at the low price of still charging 300 for a wedding. I know the value of pricing more for my work and gaining more profit from each opportunity. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences with all of us.

  • Will Byington said on October 2, 2010

    Excellent post… Just as many of your blogs before… I almost felt as if you were writing my story. You are an inspiration. Keep it going…

  • LarryD said on October 2, 2010

    I liked where the article started… there really are people out there who could use even a semi-skilled photographer at a free-cheap price. My brother-in-law took most of the photos at my wedding (budget <$100) and he couldn't press the shutter button without jerking the camera so all of the shots are crap.

    I have a decent paying job with benefits, so if I ever start doing photography for hire I might target the low end. I shoot because I enjoy shooting, not to make a living. Shooting for those who might not be able to afford a photographer otherwise has some appeal.

  • Wilfredo said on October 2, 2010

    1) Fantastic piece Zack

    2) I graduate from Art school in a few months :: am I ready for the world? Time will tell..I’m a 30 something graduating with a bunch of 20 something’s…Scary place to be in right now. But you know what Zack, cause of your insight and your ability to communicate with the world — I think I will be ok. When we hung out in Seattle, I truly took all your words and have placed them in a keepsake — from time to time, I will revisit some I will use what you’ve said to me as fuel to move forward. Thanks dude..I truly appreciate you and your group. :D

    p.s. hello Michelle! :D

  • Brian James said on October 2, 2010

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences Zack. I always enjoy your posts.

    A couple quotes I loved from this post:
    “Better budget for vitamins..”
    and
    “photography is the greatest job in the world no matter if you’re getting $50 or $50,000 for a shoot.” – I couldn’t agree more!

    Thank you Z.

  • David Ruiz said on October 2, 2010

    Zack, Thanks for the eye opener. I admit I find myself on a high horse looking down at cheaply priced photographers. I know I’m not the best and just because somebody charges less than me doesn’t make them a less talented photographer. There are boat loads of photographers that are better than me. Thanks again for writing this. Definitely a reality check I needed.

  • Lorrie Prothero said on October 2, 2010

    LOVE this – exactly how I think – the only thing I “require” of photographers is that they have integrity, don’t start selling your work if it’s not really worth selling yet – make sure you do enough ‘free’ work while you’re getting your portfolio together and working on sellable skills

  • John Carl said on October 2, 2010

    Yes, yes, yes.

    This is the perfect response to all the big photographers publicly bemoaning cheap/free photography. Their error is not acknowledging that, yes, people can raise prices over time. It’s how we all got our start. It’s how it always has been and always will be.

    It’s not going away.

    Let’s just get better and stop complaining about everybody else.

    The sky is not falling. The industry is fine. Work harder. Hustle.

  • Christian Anderl said on October 2, 2010

    hey zack,
    there´s a lot of stuff i wanted to write while reading this .. but in the end – just thank you for that post! ;-)

  • Jeremy Hall said on October 2, 2010

    A great commentary on this topic continuing your thoughts from before. Thanks for always being willing to just put it out there and call it like you see it.

    When people try to point at others to blame for their own lack of success, therein lies the problem. The cheap photographer will never completely undermine the demand for those that do better work. We are just seeing a new digital era where a lot more photos are being taken at lower prices. Better photographers are just having to work harder & smarter.

  • Jeremy Cowart said on October 2, 2010

    Zack, I get asked about what I think about these topics all the time. From now on, I’m just going to start saying “Go read Zack’s blog. His answers are 10x better than mine and 10x more eloquent.” And thus you’re also part of the reason I don’t blog. Cause you’re like, smart and crap. Thanks a lot, jerk. Keep being awesome. Whatever.

  • Takki said on October 2, 2010

    I have followed Zack’s blog for some years now. He has a story to tell. A story we all need to hear. When thinking about Zack Arias, I think about this cool dude, he’s friends with all the big photogs out there, has his own Workshop and DVD, teaches in Dubai. I might even get jealous at times. But then I read this blog post and it brings me back to my feet. This dude has been working his bones off to live his dream. And all that he has and does today he totally deserves it. He is faithful and sticks towards his commitments – first his family ! I have been watching him grow – in skills, in business and in character. Zack has become a true inspiration to me. I am so thankful that he puts his thoughts on his blog, cause they challenge me. I am so thankful for his DVD and his blogposts, they have inspired me to try flash photography and I am loving it.

    I hope that one day I will meet Zack personally to thank him for all that he has done just by laying out his life and be as honest as one can be.
    Thanks Zack for telling your story and letting us being part of it.

  • Night said on October 2, 2010

    Heya!

    Nice post, here in Italy things are kinda different: as a IT tech you’ll go around 22k € year that after taxes become nearly 12k €.

    As a photographer depends on what you shoot, but it’s kinda hard to get bands pay you 50€! Weddings are a entire different story, they goes from 3k to 1k. But the are some people that make them at 100€… but they are killing themselves off.

    Anyway g’luck,

    see you!

  • Ben said on October 2, 2010

    This is a great post, Zack.

    I’m right in that place, raising prices because I can’t handle all the work, and wondering if there will be any more clients. I have a young family that gets me, not very often. I have bills that get paid, but not much more.

    This helps. Perspective from the “suckcessful” Zack.

    The other day I realized that 4 years ago I would have looked at what I’m doing now, and thought, “wow, he’s really made it!” So, now as I look at you, I’ll realize your level of “arrival” is subjective, just like the rest of us.

    Ben

  • Ed Verosky said on October 2, 2010

    Concerning this and the previous post on this topic, I wanted to quote a section of my recent post:

    “Right now, many professionals are having a hard time making it work. Some blame the economy. Some say the new technology and huge increases in the competition for jobs, coupled with the devaluation of imagery is killing their businesses. But, I think anyone with a bit of skill, a unique style, and the ability to sell what they do can make a go of it. If you want to turn pro, now is as good a time as any. If you are already a professional and enjoying it, keep it up and find new ways to keep things moving.

    I have to say, however, that when I hear a photographer mention that they’d like to “go pro” someday, the first thought that comes to mind is, why? Why would you want to bring money into the equation where something you love to do is concerned, especially if you already have another way to pay your bills? Amateurs have all the freedom and potentially none of the compromise. They can do it for the love, choose to photograph only what/who they want, whenever they want.”

    The rest of the post (http://www.about-photography.com/2010/10/proud-to-be-an-amateur-at-heart/) mentions the realities of the wedding business and why it might not be right for some people. Do a few $350 wedding gigs and I think they tend to figure that out soon enough. In the meantime, however, it doesn’t help anyone else either.

  • jr said on October 2, 2010

    amazing Zack… your the Man… Yourt totally right… Hyundai dont kill Mercedes…

  • Mitch Wong Ho said on October 2, 2010

    A great follow on from the first post.

    I think the key is charging what you are worth and what the product is worth. If you are charging $350 for a wedding, ensure the client is aware of what they get for $350.

    How does the community uplift the $350 photographers out there? By mocking and looking down on them OR encouraging and nurturing them to be better photographers and business people?

  • Leanne Williams said on October 2, 2010

    Really good read, thank you! If only the people charging that low were only getting clients who could only afford so much and not get some people who are just cheap. I think a lot of portrait consumers still do not understand the value of photography.

  • Nour El Refai said on October 2, 2010

    You nailed it.
    Honestly, I think you are very creative and you deserve much more than this, but I am also sure that there many creative people out there who don’t even have a chance.

  • Carl Spring said on October 2, 2010

    I am in the early stages. £75 shoots for bands now, once I get more and more that will be £100 then £150.

    Another tip is always invoice the day rate you want to be charging and then discount etc. to get the rate they are paying. Means you don’t get pigeonholed as a cheap guy. Pretty sure you taught me that Zack.

    Always good to hear balanced views on this (both Zack and replies). I am sure every photography wishes they can do a £2000 day rate off the bat, but you can’t.

    A lot of seasoned Pro’s forget this and moan about their business being ruined by it.

    I think in a lot of cases it is more that the cheaper guys are doing an as good if not better job. If you are going to charge top dollar, you need to produce top results. If people are doing a better job than you for less money, rather than moan about it on forums and the like, figure out how you can up your game to justify your prices.

  • JACK said on October 2, 2010

    I like you Zarias, you ain’t no jive turkey.

  • Mr Eddy said on October 2, 2010

    Hi,

    Interesting, it goes exactly the same way in France where I live. And as a young photogrtapher, I am release to read that I’m not wrong in the way I’m rtying to run my business.

    Just one question, how did you managed to find so many bands ? 20 per month, it’s 240 per year oO

  • ATLDOC said on October 2, 2010

    I just want to know who took the picture of the picture? I don’t really like the exposure. : )

  • Feuza said on October 2, 2010

    as a mother of two hussling to be the photographer I want to be, I so love this post, I know what it is to take all earnings and to have to buy um buy food, I also know this passion and desire to be better, to have better equipment and to attract all those awesome great ideal clients, recently some one said to me there is an event but only for established photographers and no newbies, really so when do you go from a newbie to established, don’t know,
    there will always be shoot and burn and there is a market or perhaps need for that, that will not go away, it would be easy to point that out and blame that for why I am not succeeding, which is such a bad and selfish idea, then I do fear for my future in photography when I see Dennis REggie partnering with Bella pictures,not a fear that bella will take away business but fear that I will not be booking if great photogs are not booking and having to partner with their anthesis, then will I survive in this sought after dream of mine which I am not say I am right to feel and think this way,
    anyhow great way to see all these topics and some one else said they are lucky to have such great advise from folks like your self and I agree

  • Tim Shapcott said on October 2, 2010

    There’s something else out there. Another justification for cheap. How about having a 9-5 job that you love, and a wish to shoot weddings for the love of it?

  • Trish said on October 2, 2010

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been worked up lately over unbelievable expectations from potential clients. Haven’t lost my ground, but I really needed this today. Thank you for reminding me of my own mantra which was waning. Bravo

  • Guildford Photographer said on October 2, 2010

    Great blog post.

    I don’t think it’s actually possible to shoot something for free. You may not charge any money, but for whatever reason you do something, it is always for a reward.

    I shoot for no money sometimes. Occasionally it’s just because I feel like being nice, or because someone simply looks good, and the reward for me is having a nice image to place in my portfolio. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not charging money, the real enemy is not charging enough. Just like you say.

    John Godwin
    http://www.john-godwin.co.uk

  • Elysia said on October 2, 2010

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    Yes, I stopped reading your blog and checked that website! :)

    What you are saying/blogging is simple business practice that as a creative person you (as in all of us) forget about because we are so caught up in “are we good enough”. I, thank goodness, had awesome teachers for photography and they taught me to stop and think about all the minutia that goes into having your own business.Not just the gas that goes into my gas tank, not just the wear and tear on my car but also the TIME that it takes for me to go to point A to point B to point C to get the product for my customer. When you work for someone else you think about that “hey, that’s my time you are eating into” but when you work for yourself you forget that it takes time to put together a finished product.

    I could go on and on but then I would be blogging on your blog! LOL! So thank you again, awesome blog post!

  • Matt Radlinski said on October 2, 2010

    Cheap shooters do put pressure on the middle market, though. In my Florida town there used to be 5-8 full-timers in the $2000-$5000 range, and they’re all part-timers now. Or just out of business. True, cheap shooters hurt themselves most of all, but they hurt middle-market shooters, too. Naturally, though, when you’re getting married at the Ritz Carlton you don’t hire a $350 photographer.

    So the middle market’s dead. All that’s left is high end or rear end.

  • Bryan Mitchell said on October 2, 2010

    What I didn’t hear you talk about were the clients who want the world but don’t want to pay for it. This happens weekly for me. Be it a wedding client, a magazine editor, a portrait client, a band, a TV network. Can they be educated, I don’t think so. So I have to find the clients who will pay what I want or think is fair. It gets exhausting though.

    I just deleted everything else I wrote. Way to long. Good thoughts and ideas here, thanks for starting in Zack. I do have to say though, no health insurance with kids. I could never do that. Feels to risky for me.

  • Danielle said on October 2, 2010

    Tonight’s one of those nights that I sat and read your post like its the damn gospel. Very good points… and incredibly encouraging. I love how transparent, helpful and goodhearted you are. It’s just simply wonderful. Thanks so much.

  • Jezzer said on October 2, 2010

    A very good read Mr Z. I did a cheap wedding 8 years ago because the couple could not afford it and I don’t regret it at all. Im not quite up the food chain yet, but I think where I live the “all in” Wedding in a box (venue/food/drinks/disco)for £3000 including a photographer, will kill cheap shooters. If your 25% of the newlyweds costs then they won’t hire you.

  • Opinion said on October 2, 2010

    @za
    i am agree with you, very understanding. and realistic.

    there is nothing save and guarantee under this heaven. for those who thought they can sleep comfortable for the rest of their life. let me tell you. you can not rest on any profession or you will get soon get behind. is tough but thats the way life is.

    there is a market for everyone and you have to make the difference.
    it is some how funny…because those who complain so much at the end they are not too good compere who charge $350 for a wedding.

    i know photographer in miami that charge in the range 0f $2000 to $5000 for a wedding. and i can see a lot of terrible mistakes an imperfections that remind me any amateur. they make the same stupid poses, and they charge the same boring photography concept we see today everywhere. why to so much money for that?

    i want to see the work of those whom complain so much!!! let me see if what you charge is justified. HTIS IS NOT THE WORLD OF WORDS IS THE WOLD OF IMAGES…SO LET ME SEE. WHEN LEAVING A COMENT PUT A LINK TO YOUR WORK.

  • Matt Radlinski said on October 2, 2010

    @Opinion

    “WHEN LEAVING A COMENT PUT A LINK TO YOUR WORK”

    lol. where’s yours, buddy?

  • ST said on October 2, 2010

    great article Zack.
    you really open photography in many interesting perspective. :D

  • Jon Chiang said on October 2, 2010

    Great Post Zack, keep up the great work!

  • Jenna said on October 2, 2010

    I want Zack to shoot my wedding for $350.

    When he does that’s the sign that the cheepo photog has ruined the industry… it’s also the sign that I have divorced my husband and am remarrying… I don’t see that happening either.

  • Phat Photographer said on October 2, 2010

    30% in taxes?!? I’d die for that, since Federal alone gets me about there, add in ~10% for CA state tax and self employment (SSN, payroll, etc) tax and my accountant has it about right when he tells me to put away 50% of my income to pay quarterly estimated tax. Anyway, your larger point is well made, though I think you forgot about retirement unless you’re counting on SSN :) . ….every time I think about where my tax money is going to, I shed a tear.

  • Opinion said on October 2, 2010

    @Matt Radlinski
    I am an art director for an advertising and design firm in south florida with a deep knowledge in photography. A master in fine art (painting) If there is something you can fool are my pare of eyes.
    I can paint what you see and take with your camera. how do you like that?

    you really don’t need my portfolio

  • Opinion said on October 2, 2010

    Another thing get rid of democrats or your business are going to get even works …this is an advise for someone who lived socialism, communism.
    Man you got it here, don’t waste your time and be active you eventually will lose your country as you know it if you don’t fight for the constitution of your country.

    I love freedom and U.S.A need to be smart…if you screw it I only need to continue may walk to some place else…if there is any one left !!!

  • Esther said on October 2, 2010

    Thank you.
    My sister and I live in a small town and we have several awesome photographers here, but they are priced higher than we can afford. So we decided to use the little training we had and offer pictures to the young families like us who want/deserve pictures but can’t afford much.
    Because of this my MIL has had us take family pictures the last 2 years. My FIL passed away suddenly and I am so glad that we have family pictures because they couldn’t have afforded them otherwise.
    A newborn just died of SIDS and what a treasure the “cheap pictures” are to her family.
    My sister and I are not ‘AMAZING’ we are learning and becoming better with each shoot and we love doing it. But it hurts when you hear/read people say , ‘they are just a mom with a nice camera’ ‘you get what you pay for’ ‘if you want bad pictures then pay less’.
    Thank you for letting people know that there are photographers out there that love photography and feel that everyone should be able to afford family pictures! And cheap doesn’t always mean bad.

  • Benjamin Lea said on October 3, 2010

    Zack,

    You’re larger then life but so grounded at the same time. It’s so inspirational the way you do business, the way you open up to genuinely teach others I understand why you are the amazing person & teacher you are but why has it taken so long for there to be someone like yourself in the industry?

    I’ve not really started shooting so I haven’t really started charging. I dont know when to jump out of my day-to-day job and into what I’m really passionet about.

    I’m a true belieber that if you follow your passion then money will follow. I try not to jump into anything with money in my mind although at times that proves hard for us all.

    I feel like your on a journy with these blogs and I truely think we are all on it with you.

    Keep blogging!

    Oh,

    And COME TO AUSTRALIA!
    :)

    B

  • Amanda said on October 3, 2010

    I am a cheap photographer, as a matter of fact, I often work for free (with limitations). Why? Well, because I am working on my craft, my technique, my style. I have yet to get that all figured out, and until I do, I will continue to refine myself, share my talents and enjoy what I do with little to no money changing hands. Eventually when the time is right and my kids are all in school, I can dedicate more time to a business. However, right now, I am working hard to be the very best I can be, so when I finally do start that business, people want and value what I have to offer.

  • Novak said on October 3, 2010

    maybe those “less expensive” photogs are taking a page from little Joey L, and only use a Polaroid!

  • Doug said on October 3, 2010

    I wrote a similar thing last year on a forum based in San Diego. I basically said that amatuers are killings the pros, and most are giving away their images for photo credit only. Most people basically said “they don’t care about Pro’s” “It’s their photos, they can do whatever they want with them”. Without the pros, the amatuers would have nothing, and please remember, just because you went out and spent a few hundred dollars on a DSLR. It doesn’t turn you into an instant pro!

  • Justine Cardell So said on October 3, 2010

    Great post Zack. A real Eye Opener!!! Keep up the good work. Keep inspiring us!

  • orchard rise said on October 3, 2010

    Thanks Zac. I’ve been involved in the music “industry” for years – sounds as if it’s one thing, not some huge mess of all sorts of layers overlapping all over the place. All the same arguments there – too many cheap bands willing to play for peanuts, too many bad products that are over priced destroying the credibility of the noble and truly artistic few, too many upstarts thinking they can buy a backing track and suddenly be a number one hit. Truth is, some people know how to run a business, some don’t, some want it to be all about the art, others don’t.

    I think it’s just a matter of being clear about what your plan is – your blog helps us think about why we do what we do.

    For what its worth, I’m currently shooting for free for mission organisations that I believe are working to help make a better world – I just want to use my camera and the few skills I have using it to help out. Nice to be a in a position where I can do that.

    Keep up the awesome work, and we love that you keep us inspired and thinking !

  • orchard rise said on October 3, 2010

    PS : Like Benjamin said – COME TO AUSTRALIA !

  • Florian said on October 3, 2010

    Wooow,

    hot discussion, and first things first … I am NOT a photographer, I am just a guy that’s interested in photography and loves to share his work. I don’t earn any money with my photography, and I don’t want to let it be my business.

    A photographer has experience, passion, creativity and a reliable and constant portfolio. I married 4 years ago and a bunge of people around me have DSLR’s and do nice photo-work. But my wife an I decided to take a professional photographer an we spend that 2k to get these kind of special and unique pictures of our special day.

    “Cheap photographers” don’t kill the industry. If you are a photograper and you have self-confidence in you and your work, you know that you are good and you know you do great stuff … you don’t have to worry.

    It’s all about business !!! It doesn’t matter if its about photography or e.g. home improvement or computer science. There are always people who think: “I do it myself, I go to my favorite hardware store and buy that pipes and fix my bathroom instead of calling my local well known plumber”.
    That’s life, every business has to deal with this “problem”.

    Today, 13 year old girls and boys who love to explore their PC or MAC developers environment, are able to develop iPhone Apps and websites – in sometimes a very high quality. They don’t kill that market. These girls and boys are our tomorrow developers.

    Zack, I agree with your statement, that there are a lot of people who can’t spend that 2k for wedding photography. And there are many companies and CEO’s that can’t spend 10k or more for a commercial shoot. There is a market and business opportunities for everyone. You have to decide in what kind of market you want to “play”.

    For that decision you have to analyse the market you want to “play”, thats so important. You have to know, who will be my colleagues, what style is required and what is the average pricing – and am I good enough and am I able to survive with the average pricing.
    That’s your decision – if you can’t survive you have to react an either change your pricing and market or your business. And this is not a photography phenomenon – it’s just standard business!

    For a long time, photographers had a monopoly position. Expensive and bulky equipment and special agent know-how to deal with that stuff. Today nearly everybody can buy a consumer DSLR and a kit-lens and start shooting. That doesn’t mean that he or she is a good photographer – but it also doesn’t mean that he or she are crappy as hell!

    Entering a business – it doesn’t matter what business – is easier than ever before and we all have to deal with that fact.

  • Ben McLendon said on October 3, 2010

    ZacK, another great post!

    I guess I’m lucky, holding down a solid day job as an IT guy while working nights and weekends to build a multimedia business. But then there are the 80-90 hour weeks… all work and no play…. etc…

  • Tati Giustino said on October 3, 2010

    Very, very good post. Once I’ve been bad with that… I thougth I was losing job for cheap photographers. Now I do my price and my job… (sorry about my terrible english)

  • Matt Foden said on October 3, 2010

    Great article Zack- Sometimes I think its a question of confidence, and not valuing the work that you do as a photographer! Well done for making that step up in pricing- believe me the same here in the UK!

  • Mike Sweeney said on October 3, 2010

    Yep.. yep and more yep. Funny how 60K can just evaporate when you are not looking. I have not shot cheap which means it’s the long road to building up my business but thats ok. I have a day job right now to fill in the gap so that is a big help. As you said, I keep working at the craft and things are picking up bit by bit. And yes, I do some pro bono work for a very few select groups like OpLove.

  • Edd Carlile said on October 3, 2010

    Great post Zack.
    Hit the nail on the head when you said that not everyone can pay BIG money for a photographer for the most special day in their lives.
    Good luck to those affordable Photogs if they deliver nice images to the client and the client is well pleased.
    Happiness all around.
    Cool. :)

  • DJH said on October 3, 2010

    Well.

    I get your point. I think people would be stupid to remain cheap at all times. We all have to start somewhere and to build your portfolio you have to offer cheap/free work. I’ve done a lot of it but I am at / getting to s atage where if you want me to do work, check my site I’ll do a good job for you, so you’re going to pay for it. You can’t stay cheap for ever. There has to be a balance and people have to want to pay your prices. Your right. Working cheap will lead to basically, if you really work it out $5 an hour. It all takes time to process, backup, e.t.c and it’s only after doing the work do you realise, this aint good. It happened to me with headshots. All the work involved, I was basically working for £5 an hour, so I readjusted my process and became more efficient and charged more.

    My attitude now is. Pay me or go somewhere else and get it cheaper. If you’re good you can charge if your not, then hopefully all the people that got it cheap somewhere else will eventually come to you, for quality work from the process, to the customer service to you as a person..

    http://www.state-of-mind.co.uk

  • Kenny Smith said on October 3, 2010

    Zack speaks, I listen.
    Best insight on this issue I have ever read. Thanks for posting it.

  • Bob W. said on October 3, 2010

    Awesome post Zack! I’m just starting my business and hustling to get a portfolio together, website, branding ect…I’ve been fighting with myself about how to start charging and this post gives me the insight. I do have the full time job that pays the bills…but am retiring soon after 30 years as a firefighter and want to make just a little something enough to support my equipment “habit” Thanks Zack…you rock!

  • Seth Thompson said on October 3, 2010

    This was a timely read for me. I have done a lot of really fun (with good image results) shoots for nothing, or next to nothing. Just this week I realized that my days of working for free (and on the cheap) are behind me; I just didn’t notice right away because I love what I do.

    Like you, Zack, I am a photographer raising children and paying rent on a studio space. I have done the math to determine what I need to make in order to stop living in the red (a SCARY high number), and to help determine my day/shoot rate.

    Now begins the nausea-inducing phase where I start saying “No”, and holding firm to my rate. But the scariest part for me is this: I’ve been told by other professional photographers that what I do is “national level editorial”. Whatever that means…I guess they mean I needn’t concentrate on trying to become a big fish in a small pond. Which I’m cool with; jumping in over my head is where I try to live. Looking beyond my region, the list of potential clients is so overwhelming it causes a kind of shut-down. I don’t know where to start.

    One thing I do know is that there is a lot to be learned from your story. Your openness about your rise/struggle is truly inspirational. And explodes the photographers’ tradition of playing everything close to the chest. I work with some guys from the old school. Man, are they a secretive bunch.

  • Stephanie said on October 3, 2010

    Brilliant article! I follow Becky Earl’s link on Facebook…I will be checking back in with you!

    Thank you!

  • Zauberer said on October 3, 2010

    You are so right.
    Nobodys starts as a pro.

  • Everardo said on October 3, 2010

    Well said man!

  • IPBrian said on October 3, 2010

    Zack,

    I will still say, people will pay for a good photographer. Talent goes a long way, but people will also still pay the kid at Sears to make their family portraits…there are markets for everything. You simply need to find your niche as a professional. I guess what I am saying is you make great points (as always).

    On another note…get some damn insurance man…catastrophic coverage if nothing else…a serious injury could take you out!

  • tracy said on October 3, 2010

    Pricing really confuses me, I am the cheapest in my area. But most of my enquiries said I was too expensive, the only one who booked me asked why I was so cheap.
    But the bank are hassling, I have to start earning anything soon, so I keep lowering and lowering my prices. Then I read posts by photographers saying don’t be so cheap. Arghh.

  • Matthew Carter said on October 3, 2010

    Thanks Zack. As always, I really appreciate your transparency and for being a champion for the underdog.

  • Ahmad Aki said on October 3, 2010

    I agree zack. Tottaly right!

  • Joe said on October 3, 2010

    Superb post. Just superb.

    1. People who go with the lowest price have no brand loyalty–they just gravitate to the cheapest option. That’s true in any business–be it department stores, car repair, suits, architects or photographers.

    2. I totally get why people start out doing TF work and then maybe go cheap. It’s a good way to acquire experience and references. But I think a couple of posters missed your point–you try and run a business that way at your own risk.

    3. It’s very easy for everyone to feel insecure about pricing. The space that you seem to be in now (good for you) and that any sole proprietor or entrepreneur needs to get into is: if you’re a one/two-person shop, you don’t need to get the entire world’s business. You don’t need to be insecure about other people getting business. The cheap/price undercutting competition is ultimately unsustainable. It’s like having a bagel shop that sells bagels for a $1 a bagel–you’ve got to sell a gazillion of the suckers to be able to pay the rent and eat and pay your help and you put in a trillion gazillion hours.

  • NYC Photo Studio said on October 3, 2010

    Excellent post Zack!!

  • Donald E Giannatti said on October 3, 2010

    I refer to this as the “Get a Grip on Reality, Son” series, Zack.

    So very true, and have written much along the same lines.

    I will always remember three different epiphanies from years ago.

    1. I had the opportunity to join a group of very high end fashion shooters one afternoon in SoHo. They sat there and bitched a blue streak about the other shooters who weren’t there. ALL of the names were like Gods to me… and all were simply competitors to them. I rarely bitch about other shooters… period. I remember thinking how much less they were to me for doing that.

    2. Being asked to bid on a huge project by a big time art buyer (who was being an annoying twit) – on the phone – after awakening from a adult beverage induced coma.

    I quoted a ridiculously high amount that seemed designed to not get me the job. She was quiet for a moment and then asked “Does that include European Distribution as well.”

    Now it was my turn to be quiet… I was really at a loss. She jumped in and said… well, if we double that figure we’ll just include Europe.”

    I was dumbfounded. In Phoenix a ridiculously high quote for a 30 minute photograph was nothing for the people in NY. I made more on that single portrait than I normally made in a month. And probably still left money on the table. Lesson learned.

    3. We were doing a lot of work for a Silicon Valley biggie and needed to get some shots done for one of their divisions. The marcom had a ‘preferred’ list and we needed 3 quotes. (Back when I was a creative director for a large agency)

    5 shots of people on their cellphone with blurred people moving around them. Color. US and Europe Ads. Six month run.
    To be shot in San Francisco near famous landmarks.

    Quote 1: $ 62,000
    Quote 2: $105,000
    Quote 3: $260,000 (client chose)

    For five shots.

    I took the same RFP and sent it to 3 photographers I knew.

    San Diego: $22,000
    Denver: $23,000
    Phoenix: $12,500

    So when we start talking about how some people undercut and all that crap, we need to keep something in mind.

    Once, back in 1999, a photographer got $260,000 for a job someone in Phoenix would have done for $12K.

    Relativity is a very important part of every discussion.

  • kevin osmond photography said on October 3, 2010

    What about licensing a photo? U shoot alot of bands, do you charge for commercial license?

    What about pre and post production?

    Im trying to built up my business, i need a way to boost up my client list! ;P

  • Alex H said on October 3, 2010

    Great post Zack, I shot a wedding last year and charged a very small amount for the work put in. Albeit it was my first wedding, however, my final pay per hour was about $12. Not to mention the family said they wanted more and more things added on after the fact. It is definitely a fine line between being cheap and underselling yourself. I know that a lot of photographers out there scoff at cheap to free photographers, and say that they are destroying the middle of the market but look at the big picture, the “middle class” is becoming non-existent as a whole. So maybe it’s a combination and that looking at one microcosm and putting all the blame on it is a bit too shortsided and ill advised. The great thing about this country is that we can have these discussions and try to come together to resolve problems. It also allows us to decide what we charge and who we solicit our products to. I like that you remember there are people who still want and still deserve to spend their hard earned money on photographs for an event they want to remember for a lifetime. That is why we do this right?
    Take care, thanks for all the insight and knowledge you provide to anyone willing to read.

  • adam said on October 3, 2010

    Zach, I doubt you’ll even get down this far, but I just want to thank you. This was one of the most encouraging things I have read in a long time. Thanks for having the guts to say what you do. I’m still dirt poor, paying 1500/month with my wife on student loans alone, delivering pizzas while I try to get a business off the ground and we paid $800 for our wedding photographer. She’s rocking now, and her prices are steadily going up. Make me feel like I might actually have a shot at this

  • zack said on October 3, 2010

    @Adam – I read every comment. It’s Great to soak in the discussion.

    Cheers,
    Zack

  • neilm said on October 3, 2010

    Thanks for your insight. You don’t start driving & able to do 70mph down the motorway immediately. At the same time not everyone is able or willing or prepared to pay £1800+ for a wedding photographer.

    Yes it is not sustainable to work your arse off for buttons but you have to serve your time before charging more. It’s like any job, you have to work your way up & be able to show a skill level to justify the price.

    I am still working on developing my skills & take all opportunities to learn more & get feedback from more experienced shooters. I am happy where I am and the people that hire me are happy with my work. Yes it would be nice to earn more buth then the pressure is on to deliver.

    Not everyone is aiming to go pro & is happy to be able to pay the mortgage or car from the extra income. We are all over 18, or should be, so are able to take responsibility for our own actions.

    Thanks again for all the education. I appreciate it.

  • Debbi said on October 3, 2010

    Microstock next
    I cannot wait for your take on that…I’m betting you don’t like it and I’ll bet you never did it

  • Chrisdavid42 said on October 3, 2010

    Hey Zack,
    Long time reader, regular commenter. Here is my take:

    Yesterday, I shot a wedding for free. I busted my ar$e. I hustled. 2 of my friends who are building photography businesses second-shot for me. All in all we probably gave about $2500 worth of coverage (in our area,)not including the images or prints.

    But that’s not the whole story.

    Point 1: If you go to my website you will see that I “charge” $950 for 8 hours of coverage. A fair price considering my experience level and market. You will also see that I have NO wedding portfolio. Zack said in a post, and i think in a couple of his trainings, that the real definition of a professional is the ability to show up and get the shots, regardless of the environment or situation encountered. This kind of experience can only be earned by “running and gunning,” by logging hours behind the lens under pressure to perform, by learning from your success and failures in that pressure cooker of paid work. 10,000 hours is considered to be the benchmark for expertise; you get that through school(i’m almost 40 with a career and a large family, not an option), assisting (ya right? For who?), or by working at a cut rate for people hiring in that price range.

    Point 2:I already have 3 jobs. A full time career, and two part time jobs. More days than not, I come home exhausted from my day job, not because it is hard work, but because it is not my passion; because I just contributed 8 hours to pushing paper for the gov’ment that doesn’t affect a thing in the greater scope of the world. Will the next generation remember me for my ability to write behavior plans and interpret administrative rules. I think not. Photography is fulfilling for me in several ways. It is harder work than the current job I have (physically), it stretches me creatively, and above all it gives me the chance to make somebody feel like a rock star if I do it right. To have someone say they don’t like to have their picture taken because they hate how they look, and then be able to produce a portrait that they like of themselves is incredibly gratifying to me. To bust my ar$e serving a family on their special day in order to preserve those memories for years to come is the essence of why I want to photograph weddings. I love serving other people well.

    Point 3: I had originally negotiated about half-price for this wedding because of my reasons stated above. About 4 weeks prior to the wedding, the groom found he had a life threatening condition and lost several weeks of work, cutting their wedding budget in half. The bride choked up when she called to tell me that they couldn’t afford a photographer at all, and could they just pay me for the engagement photos I had done even though they weren’t sure how they would do that. I had known of the groom’s illness and was half expecting this call and so had already decided to shoot the wedding anyway.

    What is my point? There is more to every story. In today’s market the only way to really get experience is to work cheap, (the advice I keep hearing is don’t work too cheap). I just raised my prices to the edge of what I would be able to afford as a large family living on a single income. That is very scary to me, because if I can’t afford it I wonder (emotionally not naively) how others can. I believe that you have to determine what economical market you are pricing for; at this time there are a lot more families that can only afford a $100 portrait session than there are that can afford a $500 one.

    Another blogger recently posed the question “why would anyone even want to be a photographer in this market?”; I believe the answer to that question is going to drive your pricing and your business plan.

  • zack said on October 3, 2010

    Wow Chris. Great comment. Well said.

    Cheers,
    Zack

  • Chrisdavid42 said on October 3, 2010

    Thanks Zack.

    A little bit of interesting trivia. A few minutes of internet research revealed that it looks like the person who posted the add in the picture has moved onward and upward, changed her business name and now charges more.

    Ironically, I would bet she would say that she had learned some of the same lessons you talk about here.

  • Paul Deveaux said on October 3, 2010

    This is business 101: have a sustainable business model.

    If you don’t know what that means you do so at your own peril.

    Zack, thanks for the reality check.

  • Stephen Jackson said on October 3, 2010

    I’m not sure I ever viewed the cheap wedding photographers as filling a needed niche before now. I guess I thought that in an economy where everyone’s trying to pinch pennies, a cheap photographer might be a threat if the bride/groom don’t think of the photographer as being that important on their list of needs for the wedding.

    I do agree though that people who can’t afford $1000+ should have some level of photography they can find other than Uncle Bob.

    But I do have a question… It seems you’re saying the reasonable way for someone starting off from scratch with nothing is to be that cheap guy. What about second shooting to build a portfolio? Is that even an option for editorial photographers, or is that something kind of unique to weddings? But if I’m going to be my own Devil’s advocate, I guess even if it’s a way you could go about it, not everyone can find a photographer in their industry near their area who would be willing to let them build a portfolio on their backs.

    I guess all I’m saying is that you’ve given me a lot to think about. Not sure if I’m doing a 180 on my own opinion, but it’s definitely not as black-and-white as I made it out to be in my mind.

  • Andrew said on October 3, 2010

    Hey Zack, plenty to think about here.

    When I look at the last weddings I attended – the couple did nothing about a photographer. I dont shoot weddings (not interested) so I didn’t offer and they didn’t asked.

    Half the guests were sporting DSLR’s and videos cameras so the happy couple will end up with a bunch of images from those who attended I suspect – me included, cause I love making images, and I dont feel guilty for a minute. It was what they wanted and it suited their style and neither the $3000+ photographer or the $500 shoot and burn guy missed out cause it was never part of the plan.

    When I got married 20 years ago, even then we didn’t use a pro, it was a part-time weekend shooter. Were pro’s complaining about these guys then? Maybe maybe not but the only issue with the images is what we looked like 20 years ago!!

    The only difference between now and then is that with digtal it’s easier (cheaper) to get started and with the internet it’s easier to get your work seen so naturally the amount of competition someone faces has increased. In the end people will pay what they want/can afford and most people know that you get what you pay for.

    Cheers, Andrew

  • Nico said on October 3, 2010

    Once again a very interesting article that deals with the very nature of any business : make money!

    Something that is too often forgotten in the teaching of photography!

    At the end of the day the taking pictures part is only a tiny part of running a successful business.

    More often than not it isn’t fair, and I really feel sorry that you can’t still afford health insurance.

    Keep going, thanks for the help!

    Nico

  • Tiffany said on October 4, 2010

    Great post. When I got married I couldn’t afford the photographer I wanted so I went to the next best I could afford. Did the pictures look as good as I would have liked? No, but in the end I got what I desired most, professional pictures of our day. Did the cheaper photographer take the more expensive’s potential client? No, because he was not on the radar when it came to affordability. To me they have nothing to do with each other. I wasn’t simply searching for the most beautiful pictures. I was searching for the most beautiful pictures i could afford. If they were priced the same I would have based my decision on the look I wanted. That’s where the competition is.

  • Tara said on October 4, 2010

    I don’t really have anything original to contribute that hasn’t already been said.

    This method has been working for me. I started free, then gaining some knowledge and experience – charged a little and a little more. This post made me think and I did a google search for my area.

    I’m right in the ballpark of what the two studios charge – a bit under but my overhead is lower as well since I don’t rent a studio space at this time.

    As to those wondering the benefit of ‘free’ or ‘cheap’. The first big wedding (besides a couple of civil ceremonies – which are nice but not near the pressure or all day coverage!) was this May. Large wedding party, over 200 guests, and man was I one stressed photographer. But the bride took a chance on me, we worked out a deal (which was beneficial to her in that I think I made maybe $2/hr). But that one bride has been my marketing department.

    Seriously. When people ask her who to hire – they all are referred to me. From one bride I’ve booked three weddings next year. Not bad considering that I have only ever done two formal weddings. And in these parts it’s early yet for booking. She is extremely happy, she even gave a large tip. And her positive review in a small community (less than ten thousand) is great! I don’t regret that choice at all. (not to mention the other ten bookings from her referral)

    I have been enjoying the posts. It just makes me think of ‘why’ I do something instead of just doing it. Sometime I always did in my formal career and something I need to do with this career to make a go of it.

    Thanks Zack, it’s nice to hear some thoughts on the business end.

  • numbeos said on October 4, 2010

    Great post as always..Also looking forward to listening to you about microstock?
    murat

  • Zarli said on October 4, 2010

    Where do I fit into this scheme? I think I’m a pretty good photographer, but don’t want to quit my day job. I just want to shoot because I love it. Most of my jobs are free and the few I do charge are cheap.

  • Benjami Lea said on October 4, 2010

    Zack,

    Sorry to double post but I watched your interview with CJ today and I honestly felt like I was sitting there with you guys just having a beer

    there was a lot of talk about getting out, husseling and busseling and while it sounds amazing easy how do you do it?

    I’d love to see a post maybe even a video blog on step by step how to ‘get out there’

    Mingeling isn’t the hard part, I’m fine with that but I want to make sure I am targeting the right people

    Maybe you could share some tips on getting to know people in the industry? At what level should we be doing it? Once we start shooting? When we have a semi decent portfolio to bring along?

    Should you just show someone your work, then try and get some assistant work even if its free?

    Anything you can muster up would be really cool insight

    Cheers

    :)

    B

  • KJ said on October 4, 2010

    As a guy who is just starting out in photography I guess we have to start off SOMEWHERE, and cheap it is. I’ve done many things for free in order to create a sort of portfolio while gaining experience and techniques. Plus the clients really can’t fault you for crap results cuz hey, they’re getting it for free.

    As for cheap… I guess it’s reasonable to climb the ladder but also like you said, some people obviously cannot afford premium prices but they, too, deserve photos taken. Everyone does. In that case, a situation I haven’t been in yet, I would probably lower my prices but also not post-process as many photos… I wouldn’t really know, maybe if I really like the couple and have a good time I would.

    Luckily I live in a tax free city (Dubai), though a very expensive one at that.

  • Pye said on October 4, 2010

    Great post Zach, I agree with it 100%. Here is our studio’s experience which only goes along with everything you are saying:

    Back in November of 2007, my partners and I quite our comfortable jobs in corp america to work full time on our web startup. Two weeks after we quit, the real estate disaster hit, and shortly after we were full on in recession.

    Our web startup funding was pulled, we had completed 70% of our website product when our team sat down and decided to pull the plug.

    It would be an understatement to say it was uncomfortable paying rent and living expenses each month from my savings account in the middle of the biggest recession we have seen in my lifetime. It was then that my two partners and I decided on leveraging our design skills to get into print/media design.

    This route eventually took us to start shooting for our clients ad campaigns that we were designing despite the fact that none of us had ever picked up an SLR prior. We made the investment, and once we had the equipment we thought, “hey this is fun, we made a decent investment, let’s try this out.”

    After a bunch of apprenticeships, we decided to focus on wedding photography after WPPI in 2008. We shot our very first wedding under our own name mid 2008. In the early days, we hustled like you have never seen. We came out our first year having shot over 100 weddings, and I can’t count how many engagement/portrait sessions. We took whatever we could get, $250, $500, $700, etc. We were hungry, not only in the sense of putting food on the table, but also just in the sense of learning our craft.

    While our expenses heavily out weighed our revenue our first year, it was nice being able to hone our skills with lower budget, lower pressure weddings. Let’s be honest, you can pretty much guarantee that a $500 bride is going to have much different expectations than a $5,000 one. We were able to grow gradually in skill to match the pressures in each particular price point.

    Since mid 2008 we have now shot well over 300 weddings and probably around 400 engagement/portrait sessions. Our average income per client went from $400 to over $5,000. However, we would have never been able to do so had we not hustled, had we not taken whatever we could get; and while it seriously stinks to think that you shot for 12 hours to make a few hundred dollars, it was that mentality that allowed us to grow our studio so quick.

    Despite the fact that our quality and style has vastly improved over the past 2 years, we have never had a dissatisfied client. Why? Because throughout we have always charged a fair price based on our experience and quality of imagery.

    I have all the respect in the world for those people that are hustling and trying to earn a living in this or any industry. Those people will either eventually be rewarded for their efforts, or they will leave the industry to move on to something else. There are 2 reasons why no professional photographer should be discouraged or upset at the industry when seeing other’s charge $300 to shoot a wedding, or $50 for a portrait session, or whatever ridic low fee for their service.

    Number 1 – I would venture to bet that 99% of those photographers offering these rates are either new to the industry, are hustling, use inferior equipment, provide a lower quality service, do this as a side gig, or perhaps all of the above. Why? Because as anyone trying to run a viable photography business knows, a person cannot charge those prices and be profitable over the long run. Can they do it for 6 months, or a year while they are learning, yes. But, not if they want to have a viable business.

    Number 2 – If you are worried about lower budget photographers stealing your business, this is more of an issue with your product/service, than the industry. If people see that your product which costs $1000 is just as good as so-and-so’s which costs $500, then consumers are just making the smart choice. When you offer a product and service that is considered a value at any price point, whether it is $1,000 or $10,0000, you will always see a healthy amount of customers.

    Today, our studio services a mid-to-high-end group of clientel. In addition to the 3 partners, we have a full time studio manager, 2 new lead photographers in training and over 12 part time office and shooting staff. While we are still very small potatoes when compared to all of the other super successful photographers out there (Zack included), it is nice looking back and seeing where we have come since those $350 wedding days =).

    Hopefully, I am not coming across as a blow-hard. If one or two words in this comment have been of some value to someone somewhere, then i’m happy.


    Pye
    editor of SLR Lounge (www.slrlounge.com)
    partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography

  • CW said on October 4, 2010

    Why should I bother putting in as much effort as I do to getting the best photos possible for my time? For that low a price, they get what they pay for. I’m not going to be hustling my ass off, trying to get perfect exposures, or that perfect moment for them.

  • Vincent Pang said on October 4, 2010

    I have to agree with you to a certain extend. But everyone will need to go through the $ 250, $350 ….. route before really charging their client for ‘professional fee’.

    As some has pointed, they even do it for free just to gain experience.

    And the number of these photographers are too much as DSLR has become affordable that it is killing the industry.

  • GenoD55 said on October 4, 2010

    You make some great points here, Zack. Those starting out really do need to find the optimum balance of “value.”

    And the “value” is applicable to both parties; those providing the service and the peeps gettin’ the end product. The end product comes with what is visual as well as the intangible.

    For example (and paralleling photos) – my wife has a student painting a mural on my daughter’s bedroom wall and the work is progressing well – spectacular – actually. Throughout the process she has included the assistance of my daughter (mutually interactive) and this is priceless. I asked my wife what she was charging for the project and was dumbfounded at the price – WAYY below what I was expecting. Time invested, I figured she was working for about $7 an hour for a non-commodity item; WTH!!

    The value provided by her work and interaction with my daughter goes far beyond her quoted price. As a result, we added additional money to the project and offered to photograph the project as it progresses for her portfolio, if she opts to use.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that “client’s” can have a say in defining value and building confidence for the artist; sometimes expediting the evolutionary process of finding the “sweet spot” for the artist’s services.

    Best wishes to you and your family -

  • Heather said on October 4, 2010

    Amanda post #72- I couldn’t have said it better.

    I actually just raised my prices after a year and half. But I have found out no one is willing to pay my new prices. And trust me they are still cheap when looking at other’s prices. I have considered changing my prices but like my husband told me, “that rn is getting paid $25 an hour and your time away from your family is as valuable.”

    Love the post series Zack!

  • Jason said on October 4, 2010

    Great post Zack. I agree there is a niche for all price ranges of photographers. I shoot low cost weddings for many of the reason you outline. I also shoot bands at a low cost too, most notably The Brothers in the Cross. I’m growing a business here and to do so I shoot low to get portfolio and get a foot in the door. Also the folks I often shoot for honestly can’t afford much.

    I shoot my first wedding as a gift, they asked and I did not charge. I wanted the experience. I have another one scheduled this coming year, it’s not a big business but it is fun.

  • Lech said on October 4, 2010

    Great post Zack – I think its important to remember that we all have different needs and levels of engagement in life. Some of us are shooting for bread while others can afford to shoot purely for soul food. All this competition only strengthens the product the educated and inspired can deliver. Anyone can get lucky for a wedding or two, but I find the real value of a professional comes from reproducibility. (Yeah say that 5 times fast). This ability to create amazing images each and every shoot (not shot), but getting at least a handful of images that make someone say “Wow, you must have a nice camera”! :)

    Keep living the good life brother.

  • enotsm said on October 4, 2010

    1- Just about every industry is in flux right now and complaining about “undercutting newbie self-taught digital photogs”. Isn’t gonna get anyone anywhere.
    2- Is photography more of a “service” or an “art”? Because I’m pretty sure everyone has the right to be artistic.
    3- So does knowing “ProTools” and using “AutoTune” make me a real musician? Or do I have to actually know how to read/write music?

  • Jon Prentice said on October 4, 2010

    Zack,

    First, very nice post. The “mercedes” analogy had never crossed my mind. Certainly, everyone deserves photography.

    I started my photography business two years ago and can certainly relate to the quandry of raising prices vs losing my two customers vs pissing off my friends and family who are used to getting things cheap/free. I can also relate to this whole issue from a different industry. I’ve worked full time as a Linux/Unix Admin for over a decade. The software industry has gone through a situation not terribly different than what the photography industry is going through. Open source software, linux, etc. Ten plus years ago there was a lot of arguing about how this free stuff is going to help or destroy IT. And in the middle of that was a tech bubble burst. Good times! But as we all know, the industry didn’t die. Did some companies go out of business? Yes. Did some no-talent MCSE’s have to go back to serving coffee? Yes. Are we as a whole in a better place? As long as Larry Ellison doesn’t destroy MySql, absolutely! Those of us that kept our jobs had to work harder and diversify into other disciplines, like networking and programming. The sysadmins I work with now versus a decade ago are amazing! The things we can do now with the small number of people and the tools we have available to us is fantastic!

    In short, this is not a unique situation to photographers. Frankly, I think it’s great and necessary. I’m in the same boat as the rest of you. I might not make it. The math’s definitely against me considering I’ve already survived one of these storms. However, I’m excited because this is how society/industries/crafts progress. It hurts, but when the dust settles, I’m confident we’ll all be much better off.

  • Chase Gustafson said on October 4, 2010

    Great awesome post. I view it as a starting point for the industry.

    Heres the antithesis:
    Those who want to pay the least usually demand the most.

  • Hafe said on October 4, 2010

    Its awesome to hear a famous B.A. pro not talk down on “cheap” photographers but make the distinction between cheap and crap. You remember what it was like to have to charge pennies for the work. And just because it was cheaper it was bad.

    I catch some flak from local wedding or portrait guys about stealing their business. And poking at me about my lack of D3s and bags of lenses.

    I take it as a complement that they are so concerned to email me and not the guys on craigslist doing a wedding for 250 with their Cybershot set to full auto. Turns out not all pros are dicks and when I get there I wont have o be one!

    -Hafe

  • Jeff Richardson said on October 4, 2010

    don’t bitch about cheap photographers just be/get better! last time i checked both quality of product and experience (and the bathrooms) were better at ruth’s chris

  • Craig said on October 4, 2010

    Honesty– one of the reasons I read your blog and bought your creativelive session. Honest answers, honest stories– real life situations. Continued success Zach and thank you for the continual stream of helpful, useful, honest material.

  • mike from cal said on October 4, 2010

    Nice post Zack. Interested to see how this unfolds. To me it’s a struggle because on one hand photography (the art) needs to be open to anyone and everyone. But photography as a career wants to be more specific and specialized. It’s just the gray area between the 2 is very vast and just that, “gray”. I shoot film and I have little interest in the digital-only shooters that are being processed from the art schools these days. All I can say is that the “edge” that we have is in the foundation and experience we have gained in photography as an art form. The more it becomes less of an art and more of a vocation we become part of the problem. Keep it up bro!

  • kristin said on October 4, 2010

    thank you so much for this post. you shared the same opinion i’ve had ever since i started–i’ve read discussions on this same topic but you’ve said it much better than anybody.

  • Chris said on October 4, 2010

    Zach you make sense…and I totally agree. There are $$$ photographers, there are $$$$ photographers and there are $$$$$ and up photographers…they all fit in the market(s)…but that is just it, photography covers so many markets that it is hard to have a discussion about all the different ways low-balling – by either the photographer or the client – one market or the next…it effectively cannot be broken down as its so much different across the board. I’ve shot weddings before…when I started I knew my experience in photo-j qualified me to charge at least $750 for a wedding and so I did but I had only been to one wedding in my whole life so what the hell did I know about a wedding or all the different types of religious ceremonies that constitute various weddings? nothing…but each time someone hired me I bumped the price up a couple hundred dollars cause I was learning about what I was shooting which created value that I could then stand upon…eventually I looked around and noticed that my photography and knowledge of how to shoot a wedding were equal and above many in my market and at that time I was charging $2300/wedding…so there you go. But that is “retail” photography, essentially, which is in stark contrast to en editor calling you up from a very large newspaper and asking you to shoot an assignment at the border for $125 and accepting that assignment because you “need to get some experience”…the editors that call up with this “offer” should be slapped in the face immediately…I mean don’t insult me, if you can only afford that (even though your a huge newspaper) then call the local college not someone who has a long client list…so that is something else to consider – the fact that we all (photographers and editors) are involved in this. And here is another scenario…a local business called up and needed photos for use in a trade mag and use for their website/etc…the budget was mid-$$$ and the amount I need to keep my doors open (based on 80 shooting days a year – yes I wish I was actually shooting 80 days a year, but its somewhere to start to get an idea of what I need to charge – is high $$$/day) and I could have just shot it for what their budget was but instead worked with them on their needs – use license terms on time, # of photos, print rights for the trade journal, etc – and at the end of it kept my rate and provided them with what they needed plus…in other words I “added value” instead of cutting cost so that could keep my doors open and in turn be available to serve their needs again…the end result was an email from the client that stated “wow, it sure pays to hire a professional!”. nuff said, right? there is room for non-pros that don’t charge much and “do it on the side” (a pro that is threatened by this photographer doesn’t understand their own value) and there is room for pros that charge, or accept assignments, for a various amounts. A person with a camera is just a person with a camera just as person with a saw is just a person with a saw until they can show that they know how to use the tool…the frustration however is when a large corporation robs the industry by offering little or nothing and the photographer that is qualified to ask for more and/or turn down the assignment accepts it and justifies it as “making a connection” or “getting the credit” or “just for this first time”. Basically when someone wants to hire a pro they call a pro, when they want to hire someone that “will do”, pro or not, that they think they can get something good enough, for cheap, they call that person…if that person is you and you don’t see yourself as that person you owe it to yourself to turn it down or ask for an acceptable fee…I mean realize that part of your job is to convince the market that you are worth something and not just a person with a camera.

    hope to hell this makes sense at all as this little box I’m typing in is very hard to edit any of these thoughts, haha.

  • Chris said on October 4, 2010

    also, Zach…in your post that is about “working for free”, it would be cool to differentiate between working for “free” for a client and working for “free” say on a personal project. Even though this should be pretty obvious, I think it sometimes gets lumped together. I have not and would not work for “free”, unless it was for a charity or similar…I will on the other hand work on a personal project that may lead to providing some imagery “for free” to someone for personal use. As an example, more than a few years ago I shot an assignment for a music magazine that was just starting out and they basically didn’t pay or paid very little…I shot the assignment for $25 and it took them 3 months to pay me, wtf?, but the exchange of $$ was worth it to me because it is an exchange or worth and it was a magazine that I thought was pretty cool and needed to survive…and its still around. So I did not do it for free because I think all of us should exchange value…I mean if I have no budget on a personal project and ask someone to help me I’m going to at least buy them lunch for fucks sake…so “free”, no way. And lets keep in mind that this was for a company/mag that was just starting out, not a huge corporation. So a contrasting scenario would be that a corp calls up and ask me to shoot their story/concept/idea/assignment for free, would I do it? hell no. would I do it if they were calling me up to shoot the assignment as totally my concept, my freedom artistically…well that is something to think about but then there is no embargo on images, there is no way (as there never is in my book) an exchange in copyright, no work-for-hire, etc, etc, and I would still expect my expenses to be covered…so please include all of the details in your working-for-free scenario.

    thanks!

    nice blog, btw.

  • Tim from Ohio said on October 4, 2010

    I’m just wondering how many bookings Greatest Love Photography got from you including a photo of their poster.

  • Charlemagne Obana said on October 4, 2010

    Never mind health insurance, what about insuring your equipment or liability in case one of those band members tripped on your tripod, smashing up your expensive camera and lens. Then the member couldn’t perform because of a sprained ankle from the trip so the band hires a lawyer to recoup his inflated medical costs. There goes your business!

    Thank you for the perspective Zack.

  • zack said on October 4, 2010

    @Charlemagne – I have 2 million in liability plus 100k in loss/theft/etc for $600 a YEAR. Meg and I need an extra $750 a MONTH for health insurance.

  • Erin said on October 4, 2010

    I hope to see “Opinion” get a guest blogging gig soon.
    ;)

    I can’t shake the idea that good photographers who don’t charge enough also affect the industry, even if they’re not around long. Don’t you think there are plenty of good (or good enough) photogs who will step in to take the place of the ones who can’t pay their bills? Then the cycle repeats.

    Especially with the slow death of newspapers, a lot of quality photographers are on their own and probably not charging what their skill level is worth.

    I guess that’s similar to what Matt said. The problem is in the middle market. I’m curious as to what you think about that.

    This discussion would be so much awesomer in person, but I’ll just hope that my post comes across as sincere, even though it’s on the internet.

    PS. Glad you raised your prices instead of dying!

  • Kara said on October 4, 2010

    Zack, I think one interesting factor in this debate is the difference between markets. I read the John Harrington article you linked, and he makes some great points for EDITORIAL photographers. As a freelance writer, the effect on editorial gigs hits home. Cheap freelancers haven’t killed the industry — it’s still possible for the best writers to get work — but they’ve narrowed it. There are limited jobs to begin with, and hiring the cheapies (for articles, photos, or illos) is an easy wasy to slash the budget without, say, firing your art assistant.

    But in portrait photography, the market is wider — think of how many newborns, babies, kids, families live in your area compared to the number of magazines on the shelf at Barnes and Noble. So there’s room for cut-rate photographers to screw themselves over without really hurting the portrait industry. Writing is my chief source of income, but I get a pretty steady flow of work as a family photographer. And my personal opinion is that the people who are willing to gamble their time and money on a photographer who charges $50 for a disc of blurry photos — they were NEVER going to hire me. If the $50 guy didn’t exist, they’d go to Sears. If Sears didn’t exist, they’d buy an EasyShare and download Picnik and be perfectly happy.

  • Jeff Heinz said on October 4, 2010

    I love how there is always someone bustin your chops for spellin and grammer. anyway…. To the folks that get bent at me for shooting for free…. dont shoot for free if you dont want too!
    My name is jeff, and i shoot for free. Well i shoot for no money. I dont see it as free. I get paid in smiles, i get paid from the looks on parents faces when they the best photos ever taken of their children.
    Call me a weekend warrior, a hobbiest, a non-pro, call me whatever you want. How can you get your panties all up in a bunch that i am set up down at the local coffee shop shooting FREE baby photos, when i am the only photographer that ever even approached the shop owner with the idea? I have a dozen examples of places i will go shoot for Free and see “Professional Photographers” business cards stuck to the bulletin board, yet no one working there has ever even met the “Professional Photographer”!
    Professional Photographer Specializing in Engagements, Weddings, Graduations, Funerals, Seniors, New Borns, Babies, Children, Cars, Waterfalls, Water Drops, Keg Parties, and anything else you need a photo of!
    I am a photographer trapped in an engineers body and one of most blessed people on the planet that i get to love my “Profession” and love my Photography.
    oh…. and guess what…. I have offered several times to assist, second shoot, haul gear for “Professional Photographers” for FREE and i have never been taken up on the offer.
    I am looking forward to you post on shooting for Free. Keep up the awesome work Zach, in photography, family, and Life!
    Peace

  • Rob said on October 4, 2010

    Put another way: Photography is a market and where you fit in this market is based on the demand for the product you supply to that market. OR: if you don’t put the “right price” on your stuff, the market will eat you alive, whether that price is too low, or too high. That’s just market economics.

  • claude etienne said on October 4, 2010

    Hi Zack,

    Thanks for another great article. I was checking out Chase Jarvis’ blog and he just announced that he was hired by a luxury watch company. This gig is taking him to China where he will be onboard a sailboat to document a world renowned adventurer. The reason I bring this up is because like you mention in the title of your post, cheap photographers are not gonna kill the photo industry. There will always be room for guys like Jarvis and you, for the weekend warrior, and for those who charge very little for their services. Looking forward to your next post on stock photography. That should be an interesting one.

  • Deanna said on October 4, 2010

    Hey Zack, and everyone else who is reading these fantastic posts and commments. I’m loving the conversation.

    I have something to add to Chrisdavid42′s statements about pricing when you start out, and it’s about education. I hear (& read) very disparaging comments/opinions from trained professional photographers about ‘self-taught’ photographers. I’m in that category…if you consider ‘self-taught’ to mean ‘didn’t go through a recognised and certified educational institution’.

    From my perspective (and that’s what it’s all about, really, isn’t it?), self-taught is a completely inadequate description of the process I’m undertaking. Plus, it doesn’t give ANY credit to the huge number of insanely generous and inspiring individuals who have become my teachers, my mentors, and my go-to-peeps for all things photography.

    When I decided that this was something I wanted to actively pursue, I spent the better part of two years devouring books, listening to podcasts, immersing myself in online education resources, practicing like a crazy person, shooting everything I could, bothering the HELL out of my family…all the while raising two very small kids and having a part time job. And that’s before I even started thinking I was maybe getting close to possibly being ready to start considering suggesting to people who I knew quite well that I might be able to take some photos at their kid’s 3rd birthday if they wanted me to. I’ve been to university (a couple of times), and I’ve gotta tell you, I got WAY more done on my own time, learnt SO much more directing my own education, than I ever did in a formal learning environment. Now that’s a very personal thing, but in my mind, I HAVE an education, and I’m continuing to build on it every day.

    And here’s another thing…I’ve got a plan, and have had it right from the start. Once I was at a skill level I was comfortable with, I planned on shooting my friends for free for 12 months to build up my portfolio. I hoped I’d find some photographers I could second shoot for. I knew what I wanted to shoot, I knew what I wanted my shots to look like, and I knew it would take some time to get there. I knew once I started charging for my services, that I would start pretty low (but not too low) and would raise my prices as my experience built.

    I’m now 10 months into being a working photographer. The 12 months of free shooting didn’t happen, but only because people starting insisting on paying me. I want this to last. I don’t want to burn out. I have kids and a husband, who deserve my time and attention and love. I’ve found my thing, my vocation, and I’m going to treat it with respect. I’m going to keep learning, and I’ll keep shooting for free whenever I freaking well feel like it.

    Thanks, Zack, for putting into words the stuff a whole heap of committed, excited, determined, self-taught photographers are thinking about and experiencing. You’re ace!

  • Mr. Me said on October 5, 2010

    “And cheap doesn’t always mean bad.” No, but usually it does. You know why? Because, it takes time and experience to learn to do anything very well unless you’re Mozart at the age of 4 composing at the piano, but even then, he studied and practiced for years after to get really good at it. But you’ve just started. So while you may think your product is not bad, odds are, it has to be.

    And you, unknowingly, are exactly what the problem for the industry encompasses. You believe, for some feel-good reason, that people “deserve” photos taken for them at discounted prices for which you happily peddle your low to mid range experience of photography to profit off of them on. In other words, you’re quite happy to take their money for your lower grade crude and try to make yourself sound noble while doing so to justify it. What bull.

    The truth is you sell at a low price because you can’t get the higher price you’d really love to get. Unless you’re a total moron, you don’t strive and aim and work hard with the intention of making the least amount possible. If you do, your doing your family a disservice.

    People don’t “deserve” photos or any professional services or products they can’t afford. They don’t deserve a house if they can’t afford one. They don’t deserve a car if they can’t afford one. They don’t deserve a TV if they can’t afford one. And certainly not a very well done professional portrait. That kind of service and product ought to be of the highest quality and aesthetics, and not a low end attempt simply because you’re able to anymore than I ought to become a chef because I have a pot and a pan, That means refining your technique and developing better skills and increasing your talent – but then, your price ought to reflect all that value, should it not?

    And let me tell you: those poor, poor people who can’t afford to pay a decent rate for a pro seem to be able to afford to buy pack after pack of cigarettes. And beers. They have babies and cars and eat lots of food… IOW they spend money somehow, somewhere, don;’t they? But they spend it on whatever they want, wherever they really like to spend their money. Then after they wasted their weekly $100 bucks on their lotto ticket habit you don’t know about, or bought that $300 bag of weed you don’t know about, or pay for some meals out or junk plastic toys for their kids or buy that daily cup of coffee at Starbucks or cheat Uncle Sam out of some tax money by fudging their tax returns… all that you didn’t know about… they turn to you and lament how they can’t afford to pay for no professional photographer, oh no, boo hoo. And you buy it. Fact is, bud, they CHOOSE not to want to afford it. It’s all about choice.

    They’re never going to earn another dollar? That’s it? No more income for the rest of their lives? Then having a photo is the least of their worries. OH? They DO have incomes coming in? Then they can afford it.

    But what the hell do you care? You’re willing to take their crumbs in exchange for your product, right? That’s all it’s worth. Under the guise of being Robin Hood to make yourself feel better because you don’t have the balls to actually sell and get a decent wage so it’s easier just to give it away for what they offer… or you can’t better your product so as to be worth more Because you don’t have the right stuff in you – do you realize while you’re crying for these mooches, you’re actually cheating yourself by subsidizing their purchases, taking food off the table from your colleagues and contributing to undermining your own industry, you idiot?

    Of course, that’s just my opinion. And you’re entitled to it.

  • Suze said on October 5, 2010

    Hi Zack,

    My philosophy is that you only need to be concerned about that which you can control… sure, be aware of your competition, but ultimately you can only control your own stuff.

    As far as freebies go- here’s what I happened to me this week. Had one couple try to screw me down for a wedding (clearly had money), no was the answer. Had another couple(clearly had little money), asked for no discount, but tried to work out what they could do away with to get the photography they wanted- gave them a break. Hey it’s my business- I can do that right?
    Thanks for blogs that start ‘lively’ discussions! :)

  • Joe McDonald said on October 5, 2010

    Heather on 123
    You might consider looking at the market you are targeting.

    Check out Jen O’Sullivan. She often explains why it is important to nail that down and how to develop a target market.

    Joe

  • Joe McDonald said on October 5, 2010

    Zack

    Thank you for the compelling information you shared. It makes one think. I noticed a lot of subsequent questions that might be answered by some of the resources that I have included here. This is just a small sampling that I have come across in my research regarding pricing.
    Pricing is a very fluid subject and will require much work for one to be comfortable with at any point in time. But remember it should be changed periodically to keep up with your target market, your experience and your goals. I hope I am allowed to list these links.

    http://www.ppa.com/articles/268/Vital-Signs-Commercial-Photography-How-Much-Should-I-Charge.php

    http://asmp.org/links/32

    http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/pricing.html
    http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/cdb/cdbcalc.cfm

    I find that this site has useful information to help you with developing your pricing
    Some of it is free while some is available for purchase.
    http://bananasedu.com/tools/
    http://bananasedu.com/2010/01/20/how-to-price-photography/

    http://photofocus.com/2010/01/25/and-you-call-yourself-a-professional/

    http://www.startworkshop.com/blog/2010/1/18/the-price-is-right-are-you-priced-for-your-market.html

    http://www.gettotallyrad.com/blog/guest-authors/alicia-caine-talks-happy-places.html

    http://www.stacyreeves.com/greatestpricingguideever.pdf
    http://www.hopelandstudios.com/blog/wedding-pricing

    http://digitalprotalk.blogspot.com/2009/05/portrait-day-wednesday-what-do-you.html

    Thanks again for all you support.

    Joe

  • Jon Bunda said on October 5, 2010

    Hi,Zach
    Another great blog … I think you have nailed this one perfectly

  • Hutch said on October 5, 2010

    Thanks for brining us down to earth Zack.

    Lots to think about.

    Hutch
    in Calgary

  • Scott Scully said on October 5, 2010

    I totally agree with you Zack, work for cheap and for free to get off first base, acquire a strong body of work, build from there. It’s easy for a photographer at the top of the food chain and with half half the Whitehouse and pentagon (Mr H) in his portfolio to tell us not to work for free, but hey had to start somewhere, just like us…

  • John said on October 5, 2010

    would it be rude to ask who your policy is with? – I have been looking at this myself recently..Thanks

  • zack said on October 6, 2010

    John – I’m with Safeco.

  • Surly said on October 5, 2010

    I have a day job where I make about your example and struggle with a mortgage, wife, and two kids. I don’t know if I will ever be able to make the jump. More importantly, my skills simply aren’t there anyohow. One point I see only touched on in the comments is if you raise your prices your skills had better be there. If you raise your price similar to the higher paid competition you better damn well be ready to do as good a job as them. Make sure you are a good value for the higher price before you raise the price is what I am saying. Great post again Zack and I’m glad someone is challenging Mr. Harringtons ideas. Not because he is wrong but because there needs to be a dialogue and not just retweets of his post.
    Cheers-

  • Justin Thor Simenson said on October 5, 2010

    First off, thanks for the great post. I love this discussion and am glad your talking about it.

    Photography for me is not a hobby or a profession, it is my passion, my art medium. I have 2 “day jobs” that pay my bills.

    Here is my take on things:

    I do take on clients and do shoots and I do not charge much, just enough to get that new lens, or to get a couple new prints, or fund my next project. Maybe it is the hippie culture I grew up in, but to me it is the right thing for me to do. Am I hurting the market/industry? Hell no, I personally know some full time photographers here in ABQ and they are doing well and their clients are not even close to the level of my clients.

    But I also do shoots for free. Just this past weekend I shot a concert for 7 hours for free. It was a concert of local bands, in a park, and was free to the people, no money was exchanged for anything. AND to top that, I am giving my work to the bands for free. CREATIVE COMMONS BABY!

    I keep my photography my art because of a simple reason; I want to do what I WANT, not what the client wants. If I was to quite my jobs and try to make a living with my art, I would not only be starving, but homeless and divorced (again).

    The best thing about what I am doing is that, like you said, I am helping people that could not afford a $3,000 event photographer or product photographer. I am helping them take a step up with their work as I help my art take a step up.

    Peace and love,
    -roaming photographer

  • Kjartan said on October 5, 2010

    Reading your post and reading all the comments + the aftermath of what happened to the photographer who’s poster you photographed I’m wondering:

    What would be the best idea for a starting photographer in terms of getting to those mid-to-high ranked photographer gigs?
    Having a throwaway domain where you build up a portfolio doing free/cheap shoots, then drop it and create a new one once you have a port good enough for the $3000 shoots…
    …or would you keep the same domain and just change your pricing structure?

  • Tim said on October 5, 2010

    wow, zack! impressive post. if you continue like this you’ll even outperform mcnally’s wise words ;o)
    so thanks again for the usefull info and thoughts! cheers!

  • Rich Charpentier said on October 5, 2010

    Great post again Zack! These last two posts have given many of us a lot to think about. Personally, I’m thinking about some changes in my print and photo business.

    Looking forward to the next post!

  • Trish Badger said on October 5, 2010

    Thanks Zack, for being honest. I agree with your post 100%. I think photographers that work for free or charge less should just motivate us to be better photographers.
    I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had not shot some things for free in order to build my portfolio when I was still just doing photography as a hobby.

  • vinpix said on October 5, 2010

    From someone who loves giving away my services for free to those growing with me… GREAT post!

  • Gary D said on October 5, 2010

    Great post. I really believe its not about money at all. I don’t market my photography business by price or even my images for that matter, yes important to shoot as good as you can but I market myself as a person. I don’t think about who is better or who’s not or who’s cheaper or more expensive then me. My clients are hiring me and my personality and how we click. I price my gigs as for what the need and based on their budget. I have to love what I shoot and I have click with the client for my images to be the best that I can be. I have to have fun and when I’m having fun my clients are even have more fun. The images are important but their experience is important as well. I never had a money issues.. If its fun I’ll shoot it, if not i’ll pass, I know I will not being doing them any good.. I know to some this might be weird or a little selfish but it works for me..

  • Randy said on October 5, 2010

    Well put.
    No one gets started in this industry without testing to hone their skills. The issue is when clients looking to make budget cuts drop their regular photographer and go for someone cheaper (or free). Having worked with such people in earlier years, I can say that every time I worked cheaply or for free with a client who could obviously pay the going rate, the shoot was always poorly produced, and everyone involved left feeling used.

    However, tests, in which every professional involved volunteered their time to create art for the progression of their careers, usually go just fine.

    Photographers, especially young ones, are easy targets when looking to cut budgets, because they hate to negotiate and have much less ground to stand upon than say, printers.

  • Keira Welter said on October 5, 2010

    I used to be angry when people charged less or no session fee at all. I thought that my clients would rather go to them than me however, this is not the case at all. The photographers who charge little to no money will do one of two things; price themselves out of business or fill a market I do not want. My clients are of a certain income and order a large amount. I dont want someone who is going to pay $50 for a session fee and then only order $100 worth of portraits. It’s not worth my time away from my kids or the hours I put into my work processing, photoshopping and making sure each image is up to my studio’s standard.

  • Christopher said on October 6, 2010

    I was a sales rep for FujiFilm, enjoying a side business as a photographer. My wife and I bought our home in 2002 to raise our two toddler-age boys and my two teenage stepchildren. Seven months later (two weeks before Christmas), I was laid off by Fuji. I felt it was the kick in the ass I needed to pursue photography full time. Having previously sworn that I’d never shoot weddings, I jumped in out of necessity at $500 a pop. When my commercial/corporate and portrait work finally reached a point years later where I could quit weddings, I bailed out – even though brides were paying me $3k-$5k to shoot their special day. But my heart wasn’t in it, and it just wasn’t right to collect that fee for something I dreaded shooting. (Don’t get me wrong – I always gave my best effort and produced beautiful images for my clients). Anyway, the point is that there are aspiring photographers out there who are getting into wedding photography for the paycheck. My advice is. . .don’t do it. You’ll kill your passion for photography while working never-ending hours to meet-negotiate-prepare-shoot-edit-post-print-archive and deliver finished products long after the honeymoon is over. Find your niche in advance. Decide what you really want to shoot and pursue it. If it turns into a business that will support you – fantastic! If you fail, know in your heart that you TRIED, and go back to enjoying photography as a hobby. Not everyone who desires to be a professional photographer actually attains that goal.

  • Morgan said on October 6, 2010

    Hi Zack
    first of all thanks for your great blog but i have to give my little piece on the subject.I need to explain that it seems very different country to country and in France where i’m from the people who entered the shoot to burn market in wedding photography won’t be able to raise their price because of the perception that people got if someone is a shoot to burn he still be (maybe the french cultural i don’t know)
    In order to be perceived as a good photographer i had to state my price at 2K and i shot just 1 wedding as a business owner i have to take risks now i shoot 20 weddings / year at 2000k and i’m struggling to raise my prices because if i do so i will lose my entire referal base so ok low prices have to be but in photography why amateurs wanted to cut half of our revenue because they got a dslr i own a stethoscope and i’m not going to open medical house if people starting their own business with low prices and low quality that’s fine but if you deliver a A quality why working and that same low level have the gut to compete with real prices and you’ll see that business won’t be that good i can shoot every day 365/year 5 covers shot of national paper but if my income is 2k why bother ? let me ask you one Question Zack what if Mark Seliger implant himself near your studio and shoot band for 50 $ will you have the same idea on the subject ?

  • Randall Douglas said on October 6, 2010

    All the downside issues have occurred to me. But it also occurred to me that we are part of a golden age in photography. It may go up slightly as all cell phones get cameras — particularly in the third world. But basically the numbers of photographers striving to do professional level work is at an all time high. I think this will be remered in the future mostly as renaissance period for photography and there will be less focus on the photography at this time as a product of period where things broke down. That will be part of the description, but not the focus.

  • D Payne said on October 6, 2010

    I just wanted to say a quick “thank you” for this post. I have come across numerous occasions where I have been “told off” for offering cheap services, which I will always defend by the fact that the clients I have offered these services to, would not have been able to afford an expensive pro. I am not a pro. That’s not to say I never will be (or that I don’t want to be one), but doing cheap weddings has offered me an opportunity to start to build up a portfolio of shots, which I can use if I ever actually go for properly paid work.

    I don’t think cheap photographers ruin the industry. We generally live by the phrase “you get what you pay for”, which is largely true of photography. As talents increase, so the photographer will likely put their prices up.

  • Dana-from chaos to Grace said on October 6, 2010

    Count me in as one that was self-taught as well. I’m not ashamed of that by any means, I’ve worked HARD and I still see myself as learning.

    I shoot a lot of stuff for free for organizations and I LOVE it! I discount my prices for certain families who cannot afford beautiful portraits, because let’s face it…..*I* couldn’t afford me! So I enjoy giving people a break.

    I also trade with friends for goods and services who can’t afford it either.

    I think it does keep you grounded. Keeps you from getting too big for your britches.

    In fact, truth be told, I’ve PAID to take photos before! My dream is to shoot mission trips for Missionaries, and my very first mission trip was to Mexico, and I PAID to go and document the trip. My dream is to go on a Compassion International mission trip solely to take photos.

    I’m just a small town photographer that loves the Lord and loves giving back to people. I know I’m odd, people tell me all the time. But I’ll be remembered for my “free” stuff. ;)

  • Tracy Eau Claire said on October 6, 2010

    I’m a little embarassed to say that this is the first time I’m stumbling on your blog, BUT I think I’m going to be here for awhile.

    This is the smartest piece I’ve ever read on the photography industry.

    Thank you.

  • Ashlee said on October 6, 2010

    Great Post! Loved it!!

  • marisa said on October 6, 2010

    great post. i totally understand where you are coming from. i too was the cheap photographer when i started out, to some, i still may be cheap, but to me, i make enough for me to live comfortably. in the end, one has to realize that even the high end photographers didnt pick up a camera and start shooting 5000 weddings. we all have to start somewhere.

    and like you said, not every bride can afford a high end photographer. i know that when i got married i could barely afford anything! but just because there are couples that cant pay high end prices does not mean that they do not deserve to have their wedding day photographed.

    its a business, we have to work to get there :)

  • Chantel said on October 6, 2010

    Love. This. Post. Thank you!!! I hired a student to shoot my wedding, it was all I had the money for. She got $400 bucks and I can now outshoot her with my eyes closed but I’m very glad I have those images. If I ever get married again, I’ll be hiring the best but that’s just a change of viewpoint. ;)

  • Sheila said on October 6, 2010

    This is an interesting article. I just came to your blog for the first time and WOWZER a great article. I am that cheap photographer. I am starting out, I did my first wedding for free and after that, started charging $100.00. Now that my prices have gone up .. that is alot of freaking work, I am still getting calls. I shoot all weddings under $1,000.00. I have no schooling in photography. After 2 kids, I didn’t have time so I have researched alot of hours on what I needed to learn. What started out as a hobby, has turned into a full-time job. I don’t see the point in spending $3-5,000.00 on a wedding. My brother did, his photographer takes the picture and then sends to a company to be processed and charges no less than $3,000.00. Heck, anyone could take a picture and let someone else process the pictures for them. Photography has come along way. I do see so many people pertray being a photogapher just because they have a nice camera. When infact, they know nothing about it LOL!

  • Joe McDonald said on October 6, 2010

    Zack

    Thank you for the compelling information you shared. It makes one think. I am new and yes I have done several weddings for free; just for the portfolio and experience. Once I get that up then I will target a different market that knows the value in what I offer.

    I do feel guilty about doing them for free and the potential impact I am having on the industry. But nobody is knocking down my door so I can get my portfolio pictures for my business. I’ve had to go up to a couple of weddings ask them if I can shoot and have had good luck doing it. I have created good a good product and developed some new relationships.

    Pricing is a very controversial subject and will require much work to be comfortable with at any point in time. It is fluid and should be changed periodically to keep up with the target market, the experience and the goals.

    I have noticed a lot of questions in this posting that might be answered by some of the resources that I have come across in my exploration of pricing. I would appreciate hearing from others if they have found good resources on pricing.
    I hope links are ok on this blog.

    http://www.ppa.com/articles/268/Vital-Signs-Commercial-Photography-How-Much-Should-I-Charge.php
    asmp.org/links/32
    http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/pricing.html
    http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/cdb/cdbcalc.cfm
    bananasedu.com/tools/
    bananasedu.com/2010/01/20/how-to-price-photography/
    photofocus.com/2010/01/25/and-you-call-yourself-a-professional/
    http://www.startworkshop.com/blog/2010/1/18/the-price-is-right-are-you-priced-for-your-market.html
    http://www.gettotallyrad.com/blog/guest-authors/alicia-caine-talks-happy-places.html
    http://www.stacyreeves.com/greatestpricingguideever.pdf
    http://www.hopelandstudios.com/blog/wedding-pricing
    digitalprotalk.blogspot.com/2009/05/portrait-day-wednesday-what-do-you.html
    http://www.jenosullivan.com

    Zack – Thanks again for all your support.

    Joe McDonald

    -

  • Joe McDonald said on October 6, 2010

    Zack

    Thank you for the compelling information you shared. It makes one think. I am new and yes I have done several weddings for free; just for the portfolio and experience. Once I get that up then I will target a different market that knows the value in what I offer.

    I do feel guilty about doing them for free and the potential impact I am having on the industry. But nobody is knocking down my door so I can get my portfolio pictures for my business. I’ve had to go up to a couple of weddings ask them if I can shoot and have had good luck doing it. I have created good a good product and developed some new relationships.

    Pricing is a very controversial subject and will require much work to be comfortable with at any point in time. It is fluid and should be changed periodically to keep up with the target market, the experience and the goals.

    I have noticed a lot of questions in this posting that might be answered by some of the resources that I have come across in my exploration of pricing. I would appreciate hearing from others if they have found good resources on pricing.

    PPA, ASMP, NPPA, Bananasedu, Photofocus, startworkshop, Alicia Caine, Stacy Reeves, hopelandstudios, digitalprotalk.blogspot, Jen OSullivan

    Zack – Thanks again for all your support.

    Joe McDonald

  • Dawn said on October 6, 2010

    I am a huge Zack fan:) Just watched One Light DVD the other night (both parts:) for the 3rd time.

    I felt compelled to chime in on one point. I think there is a difference between a “cheap photographer” and a photographer who is developing a new business with passion and understanding for learning. The “cheap photographer” doesn’t do this for a living and the passion but for the money and only the money. Yes, we photographers do have to make a living (we deserve to be paid for our level of experience and expertise – proportionality) but we also need to address an industry standard of committment to value and professionalism. For those that are just starting out and those who are experienced – we don’t have to be licensed to do what we do for money (or for “free”). So we have to go the extra mile to make it worth the client’s time no matter what we charge – free or thousands of dollars. You need a license to give someone a manicure, operate a vehicle, care for your child(ren), hell to inspect your $5 tee shirt from Old Navy. But not to take the time from our clients to create images of once-in-a-lifetime moments…

    Here’s where we get off track (both the Professional Photographer be it in talent, skill, heart, body, mind, sweat equity and the Cheap Photographer who is just in it for the money or the “fun” of it). I’ve been in this business for seven years and in the past two years I have been heartbroken over the recent married couples (I’m not a wedding photographer, those individuals are the bravest of the brave photographers in my opinion) whose portraits I’ve made of them, their families, their children and hear “we have no wedding photos” the photographer:
    - “skipped town with our proofs and our money”
    - “never got us our proofs”
    - “didn’t deliver anything but horrible images”
    - “completely disappointed us”
    - “didn’t respect our needs and time”
    - “left us with nothing but stress”

    My point is the “cheap photographers” don’t/can’t take down the industry (I embrace that fact) but they are stealing the money and memories of the people that hire them. There are no “do overs” for wedding photos (or for that matter maternity photos, newborn photos, the first birthday…).

    I love the points made in many of the comments and in Zack’s post. Perhaps the concern shouldn’t be on those who have dedicated themselves to investing in their experience, their education, and their art but those who don’t have the integrity to keep the industry in good stead.

    Honestly there’s a huge difference in having a client come to you and tell you a truly horrible heartbreaking story about another “peer” who took those memories, those moments, and their money (or their time – which is also worth something) and talking with and/or advising a peer, like in these posts, who truly desire to do more, be more, and know more. I’d just like the cheap photographers who break the industry to go away but for us to all foster those fledgling photographers with the best information, education, and support (no matter what they charge ‘cuz the market CAN handle it) so that photographers don’t take on the connotations that lawyers now hold in our society.

    Thanks Zack – for giving us a place to have open conversations about making the photography industry a better place by sharing information and perspective:)

    xoxox, Dawn

  • James May said on October 6, 2010

    Good blog, I’m a professional photographer but i couldn’t afford to have photos of my own wedding, so Qdos to those who do weddings for cheap!

  • Viktor Enns said on October 6, 2010

    @Zack – i think this may be exactly the right thing for you to read (if you have not already):
    dan ariely’s “predictably irrational” – the book is amazingly witty and smart beyond belief (and costs about $4 on amazon). it talks about human irrationality and how to go about it in daily life.
    but the part i encourage every photographer to read (at least) is right at the beginning where dan talks about the “decoy effect” in marketing. the decoy being the less desirable option out of three. meaning – if you want to sell a service at a certain price – introduce a very similar service at a higher price and the customer will go for the service you want to sell. show them something they can compare. introduce and “anchor” point for them to relate to.

    best example i can come up with is the oriental bazar where the seller haggles with the buyer and tells him to buy for 100 bucks when he needs to sell for only 20 bucks. they go back and forth. yell a whole lot, drink tea and get to a satisfactory price of 50 bucks. a win/win – well for the seller anyway (the buyer had at least an eventful encounter). but you get my drift.

    viktor

    praise to Zack:
    bruv – i love how you write! every time i read something you wrote i feel a connection as if you were speaking out of some undiscovered part of me.

  • rock said on October 6, 2010

    All of this talk of experience level (newbie, novice, expert, master, etc) reminds me of something famed physicist Werner Heisenberg once said; “What is an expert? Many people will tell you that an expert is someone who knows a great deal about his subject. To this I would object that no one can ever know very much about any subject. I would much prefer the following definition; an expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject, and how to avoid them.”

    So Zack, thanks for teaching us how to avoid those mistakes.

  • Stephanie said on October 6, 2010

    Thanks so much for that article! It is very inspiring. I am the “newbie” in photog land, so I totally understand it. I hear so many of the Pro’s dogging the “newbies,” and I have to admit, it hurts… You have to start somewhere right? They all started out somehow didn’t they? I am still learning, and I make sure to make this very clear to my clients. I do not hide anything from them, and if they are still ok with it, then we book the session. I honestly believe “you get what you pay for” especially in photography. They are not going to get a $3,000 wedding for $700.00. I know that, and I am ok with that. I have raised my prices slightly, and honestly, I do still give free sessions occasionally just so I can add to my portfolio. They aren’t getting a full on session either… I am struggling getting business, so I have much respect for the Pro’s. They didn’t get to where they are today, without starting out on the bottom. I hope that eventually, I will be one of those Pros, and I will always remember my humble beginnings. Once again, thanks so much.

  • Maria Trader said on October 6, 2010

    enjoyed this! thanks!

  • Linda said on October 6, 2010

    Thanks for your great article…its content is extremely timely for where I am at in my photography right now. I do see where “budget photographers” will always have a place in the market. When I’m talking to clients that have avoided family photos for 10+years because of the high cost involved with sitting fees and completely overpriced prints…it makes me very sad. Finding the balance between making high quality photography affordable for those many people who don’t drive mercedes and not killing myself is what I need to figure out next. Thanks again, for you insights and sharing your experience!

  • Luis Murillo said on October 6, 2010

    @Antonio Rosario No need actually…it’s in a public place and you can’t expect privacy in a public place… :)

    Zack, Really love this series, everyone is always talking down on the new photographers that are trying to start something. Jasmine Star said that she came up with her prices because of the types of clients she wanted and I guess we all do that…like you said not everyone can afford to pay US$1000+ photographers.

    Great series and it’s good to hear about this subject from someone who has their ideas straight and doesn’t just want to talk down everyone out there…

  • Safariman said on October 6, 2010

    Interesting article.
    It’s a function of the free market to charge as much as you can get away with, and as long as easy entry into the business is possible, it’s just great.
    It’s also great that the higher priced, more professional photographer leaves room for the aspiring beginner. I trust most prospective brides can make an appropriate value judgement.
    It is a shame for all of us that rules, regulations, and taxes add so much to all of our costs. I’d like to see that change, too. That’s another story!

  • Mollie said on October 6, 2010

    Love this article, I see this every day working in a photo lab on the side.

  • Linda said on October 7, 2010

    Wow! What a great article. I’ve just opened my business, created my 1st price list, booked my 1st client and am probably considered “cheap”. I feel great after reading your article. I have a 3 year plan and how I want to get there. Thank you for the voice of reason! Your my hero of the day!

  • Faith Stone Photography said on October 7, 2010

    Wow! On 29 September I posted an article that rings the same bell. Hop over to my blog and tell me what you think:
    http://faithstonephotography.blogspot.com/

  • sean sillick said on October 7, 2010

    Hi Zack,
    Great post with plenty of relevant points.
    I’m totally in agreement with chrisdavid42, pye and many others – you have to start somewhere!
    At £750 per wedding I’m what I would consider a cheap photographer – not the cheapest by a long shot, but certainly pulling in half or maybe a 1/3rd of some of the photogs I know here in the UK per wedding.
    The reason? I’m just starting out and I need the experience and the portfolio.
    What I don’t need is the wedding with the huge budget and even bigger expectations – and the stress that goes with it.
    I’m charging what I feel is reasonable for my level of experience – and those prices will go up over time, as right now I’m shooting as much as I can to build that experience.
    And yes, often I will assist at other weddings and shoot for free. It’s not always about the monetary gain when you start out… although it sure would be nice to be charging enough to make this more than a part time job!

  • Sylvia Brogdon said on October 7, 2010

    Great post! Thanks so much for sharing it!

  • Audrey said on October 7, 2010

    hahahahaha. The web site doesn’t even work. They must be out of business. :)

  • Niels Johnson-Laird said on October 7, 2010

    Zack, thank you for another down-to-earth blog post on the economics of starting a photography business. You are one of the very few pro-photographers who inspire me to value my own work and to have the confidence to actually ask money for it. LOL.

    I finding the rantings of such people as Harry Harrington kind of irritating now…to use an analogy…who would have the confidence to climb the ladder after being urinated on from the rooftops by pro-photographers.

    I can only speak for myself, but the only reason I started charging for my work is because professional photographers, like yourself, gave me the confidence to believe in my own photography and to see that it has value. So when I read another pro-photographer ranting about amateur photographers all I see now is a scared individual lashing out at potential competition. After all, I’ve seen the work of many so-called amateur photographers that is fantastic!

    BTW, like you say the web site in the picture is no longer available, but the public Facebook page is still online [http://www.facebook.com/directory/pages/G-13686#!/pages/Wilmington-DE/Greatest-Love-Photography/93691560602]. The sad thing is I think their work is worth more than they were charging, IMHO. It is a shame no one gave this photographer the confidence to value their work more, and charge accordingly.

  • Pamelala said on October 7, 2010

    Interesting post. Photographer friends often say I should raise my prices, but I may have less overhead than them, I don’t spend tons of time editing and I don’t do 3 hr family sessions. I don’t have viewing/proofing appts. in my home after the shoot. Time is money. It’s all relative. I have been told I am wayyyy too expensive by others then they go and buy themselves some gucci accessories. It’s all relative!
    @ Pye. Wow, that is inspiring!
    @ Kara. Good point, there is room for all price markets. But, hey, don’t knock picnik, Picnik rocks! :o P
    @Tiffany, totally true and
    @ Genod55, true too
    I think the main thing is develop YOUR style and stay true to yourself. Peace!

  • John Morris said on October 7, 2010

    Wow, I shoulda found out about this entry 2 days ago. Had the same conversation with someone whose better then I.

  • Justyna said on October 7, 2010

    I must say I disagree with you to a large degree. The only point I’ll agree on is that we do, all in fact need to start somewhere.

    However, there is such thing as price undercutting and unfair anti-competitive tactics.

    Yes there is room for all kinds of pricing, but if you do the bottom line, below cost pricing, you are doing a disservice to the customer and the industry.

    There are cheap alternatives to custom photography. If someone cannot afford it, they can do something else. This is not a “must have” item.

  • zack said on October 9, 2010

    @Justyna – For weddings I think photos are a must have. Remember where the food and cake ultimately end up. Flowers are dead in a few days. Rings and photos last much longer and we can only hope the vows do as well.

    Internet startups usually start below their costs. That’s why they need so much venture capital to start. The discussion here is “build value” before you can cover your costs. I’ll make that a blog post in and of itself.

    Cheers,
    Zack

  • DT said on October 8, 2010

    Wonderfully written and an extremley informative post Zak.

    And thanks too for all of you have chipped in with your views. All of this has been very useful in helping me to decide which road I want to take with my photography.

  • Walter said on October 8, 2010

    Great topic Zack! 177 responses, impressive!

  • Rob KNIGHT said on October 8, 2010

    Excuse me… but does’nt level of experience count at all? I would love to see the big hitters help out the young newly weds with thier pictures…. for $350. Maybe I’m wrong but hav’nt seen Mike Colon doing a $350 shoot?
    Thats because of the level of experience and practice, and the expectations of those clients he has.
    There is a sea of prospective customers all with thier own ceiling price, from $300 to $1000′s. Do you expect the cheaper photographer to give the same results as the higher priced one? Especially in terms of post-processing and printing to the customers requirements. YOU should decide your own level based on your skills and results. Your clients will soon advise you the market you because your results are the ones that dictate if you can charge $100′ or $1000′s. Nothing of any value comes easily. Normal photographers will get normal money. Non-Normal ones will get non-normal money (whatever that may be!) Nice weekend. R.

  • Brian Muntz, Muntz Photography said on October 8, 2010

    Zack,

    Is it not our faults? How many One light seminars do you arrange each year? Many photographers today have turned to the seminar/workshop circuit! Which casts a thick glaze over the entire photo industry! Now I am NOT against seminars and workshops, not at all, I’m just simply posing a question, a question that is rarely considered; Is it not our fault.

    I mean just look to the “How to” mags/books section in all local book stores!! Everyone, in an effort of personally self-gratification, greed and hope for a better career (or even need for a better one) are turning to the GODS that speak of such sucesses! with an attitude of Yes You Can, with my 9 step program! hahaha

    Photographers have turned into mercenary teachers! :P

    (oh and check out this article… http://www.ultrasomething.com/photography/2010/10/how-to-ignore-how-to-guides/)

    Cheers,

    Brian
    Muntz Photography

  • zack said on October 9, 2010

    @Brian – I get what you’re saying. I try to be a voice in the industry that this craft takes hard work. I start each workshop off letting people know that there are no magic bullets and that you can expect to spend the rest of your life trying to master this craft. I make no glossy statements that there are X easy steps to success.

    I do agree that there are many workshops, books, blogs, and videos offering the well paved path to being awesome and they rarely, if ever, deliver.

    Loved that link!

    Cheers,
    Zack

  • Jun madayag said on October 8, 2010

    Zach this where I am now an this article is really an eye opener. If ever you’re in Hong Kong please email me and would love to have beer with you and pick your brains. He’ll why not set up a workshop too

    Jun

  • Ashley said on October 9, 2010

    Zack, you are my hero!

  • jay.eads said on October 10, 2010

    just finished the first post, and all the comments, now the second post, and all the comments.

    wow. lots of people talking about these subjects. good!

    one thing that the internet has made interesting is that the whole bloody world can be ONE market if you’re a travelling photographer. that makes knowing your market tricky ;) for example, the price for a good wedding photographer in dallas, or seattle, or new york, well, it’s not the same as eugene, or french lick, or etc. etc. but if you travel, you have to set prices. tricky. do you alienate your hometown to get the bigger bucks elsewhere? or put that thing down, flip it and reverse it.

    tangent maybe.

    i started free. then cheap. then slightly less cheap. now i am upper middle for my area after 3+ years and booking more each year than the last. i’m just pleased that the trend is upward. small victories one after another, right?

  • Warren Williams said on October 10, 2010

    I’m considering setting up this sort of business model on the side. I’m sure with those prices, we could be close to 365 weddings per year. Heck, even a few double booking days, if the venues aren’t too far from each other. ;)

  • Whitney Ward said on October 11, 2010

    Zack, You are UHHHHMAZING! That is all! =)

    -Whitney

  • Janine White said on October 11, 2010

    The fact that the website on the poster can not be found sums it up perfectly.

  • Fábián Gábor said on October 12, 2010

    Zack, that is so true what you wrote.

    Let me tell you my story. I’m living in Romania, we feel the effects of the financial crisis.

    The average salary here is about $400 (yes, 4 houndred) a month! The AVERAGE! So imagine somebody’s face when I tell him that I’m shooting 20 photos completely retouched in PS at $100. They think that’s very expensive, so I have to shoot at $50-75.

    The average wedding price is about $350 for a whole day, and only a few of the talented photographers are shooting for $400-500.

    The main problem is that the equipments prices here are 50-100% higher then in the US.

    I always tried to be above average, to be one of the most talented photographers in the area or even in the country, but believe me, it’s very difficult. If I go above the average rates, no one will be interested in me, they will look after a cheaper photographer.

    I’m very desperate about my future. I’m 23 years old, but can’t imagine what will I do a few years later.

    I can tell that the cheap photographers are ruining everybody’s business, even their own too, but how could they be convinced that they are doing it all wrong?

  • Doug Jackson said on October 12, 2010

    It’s exactly the same here in the UK. PR and editorial photographers are getting less and less while more office jockies buy a good d-slr and think they are photographers, because they work for free and get pictures published…difficult times. Thanks for your post, from the all the UK photographers who I know will read this.

  • Gabe Sturdevant said on October 12, 2010

    Zack,

    You are truly an inspiration. I am just starting in a market that does not have a lot of photographers (small midwest town) but you still have to start somewhere.

    Your words encourage me. Photography has been in my family since my great-grandfather. Were any of them professionals? No.

    Did I clean out my grandmothers basement and find over 35,000 (still counting) negatives and pictures? Yes. Would I love to be full out, to the wall photographer? Hell yes. Will it happen by charging $500 a pop for weddings with no portfolio or examples? Doubtful. Its like any business, you start with what you can do and move up.

    Remember, I am speaking from my market, I do not know about others. There is demand. I put a free posting on CL just to see what would happen. I got more people wanting to pay something, even if it was just buying dinner, than to have it free. A lot of people here never even think about getting pictures taken at their wedding, or some engagement photos. Or if they do, its mom with her pas with the attached flash.

    As people, we value the shot, the moment in time that can not be replicated. The look on dads face as he walks his little girl down the isle. The look on that band or singers face when you say this is for their cd jacket. You can’t replicate that person, that time that moment, no matter how hard you try. Is that band successful yet? Define success. They have a cd coming out. So what if 5,000 people buy it, and half that are their friends. It is a lot more than some people ever do with their lives. They are trying. To me that is the success. That one song or that one picture that comes out where somebody you don’t know says “Wow, nice job.” Somebody put money where they have an interest or an internal value of the product.

    I am shooting a wedding next week that is cheap. When I say cheap, I mean, they spent $300 on everything, food, decorations, and a tractor for a hayrack ride. The rings are being carried in a John Deere hat. It is that cheap. Am I willing to go photograph it? Yes, for a couple reasons.
    1. I am getting experience. It is something to put into my portfolio.
    2. I am getting reimbursed for gas (part of their 300)
    3. The bride is in school for graphic design and wants to get some experience editing. Good collaboration project.

    Like you said, you have to start somewhere.

  • Dan Rude said on October 13, 2010

    Zack,

    You present the best perspectives that are as much about life and priorities as about photography itself.

    People reap what they sow. You sow good seed and will certainly reap a good harvest along your life’s path … and your philosophies help guide the rest of us to do likewise. I see health insurance, house, and new car in your future:)

    Thanks for sharing your insight and wisdom, and for sharing it in a fun-to-read way.

  • Ursala said on October 13, 2010

    Zack…I love you…I know I’ve said it before, but I want to be you when I grow up! So wise man, thank you, again!

  • Obi said on October 13, 2010

    … sorry to deviate, but is there even any other blog that gets this number of comments per post !!!!

    … by the way .. keep it up Zak

  • Fábián Gábor said on October 14, 2010

    @Obi: don’t think so… but Zack is getting more and more famous, and this post is one of the greatest I’ve ever read from a photographer.

    A small group of photographers have been discussing this topic a year ago, but it seems, that nothing has changed.

  • Becky said on October 14, 2010

    Thank you.
    Bottom line is somewhere between personal integrity, passion and going on faith. But I think the days of the $7500 wedding photographer may be in the past. I hear a guy in a webinar say he make a minimum of $1K from each senior portrait shoot. What??? Who has that kind of money? Most families I know are just covering all the other day to day expenses.
    Can’t wait to se the next post…

  • Carrie Evans said on October 14, 2010

    a friend gave me the link to this post and man, was it timely. I had just this morning been accused of slipping into MWAC territory (I had to look that up, I’m so out of the loop), by giving a websized CD of my client’s galleries with their session fee. So I’ve been waffling all day about rules and uppity photographers and feeling pretty crappy.

    This is some good perspective. Thanks.

  • melanie soleil said on October 14, 2010

    perfectly said zack! you rock!

  • Jason V said on October 15, 2010

    Wow, interesting perspective.

    I DO some family pictures for friends. I normally charge between $25 and $50 plus print costs. (local prints) So, I’m ‘earning’ about $5 per hour without including any cost of driving and such.

    However, I’m getting paid to learn at this point. The truth is I SUCK!!! Repeat it a few times: I SUCK! I SUCK! I SUCK!

    They are so nice to let me experiment and learn with their families and get awesome feedback, AND they pay me. OK, so they get a Couple good pictures and rights to use them, but it’s cheaper than school! :)

    (I do make them promise never to share payment amount with anyone though. Hard to raise prices if you have a baseline)

  • Jason V said on October 15, 2010

    PS: The only person that I’m stealing business away from is JC Penneys and Sears (or whoever is offering the free 8×10 that month)

  • A FACE BOOK GROUP said on October 16, 2010

    You should check out Bruce Allen Hendrick’s group on Facebook… “Photographers Demanding Mandatory Certification” The guy is a real piece of work who slams every argument that opposes his. It’s a huge debate (Well, it was a debate until he deletes your comments and blocks you) about this subject. It doesn’t help that a “professional photographer” is harassing other photographer committing slander towards their name in a public group.

    There are a lot of angry photographers out there, but what it really boils down to is – they can’t handle the competition. It’s a digital age. Photogs must recognize and move on.

  • Joe A said on October 18, 2010

    Zack – GreeeeeeEEEeeeaaaaT! write up man…

  • Alvaro B. said on October 18, 2010

    this post is like a kick on the nuts. I’m a young peruvian freelance photographer and I constantly struggle with the need of new clients who really appreciate what I do and are willing to pay the real cost. Sometimes I had to be that cheap ass photographer and charge so little for a really big work. I still consider myself as an amateur photographer who can’t be compared to real pros, but I think I still deserve a nice monetary recognition. In a country like Peru, where photography is not considered a serious job or, even, a developed skill, is so hard to get shoots or even be considered for something else than weddings.

    After this post, I’ll probably be charging the same amount of money I charge today, because I compare myself to a Hyundai (because of my lack of experience in the business). But there’s a chance to grow and do some new math to now how much I’m worth.

  • Rebecca said on October 18, 2010

    Awesome post! Thank you! We all have to start somewhere.

  • Chuck Alimo said on October 18, 2010

    Great Post. I am in the latter half of my first year being a photographer. I have read many blogs and other related posts warning of setting low rates. But the fact is, that if i do not shoot for free or low rates at this stage then I should just put my camera on ebay and hang up the hat.

    So far my work has ranged from art to band photography to weddings (1 wedding). The wedding I shot did not pay much, but without shooting that wedding for cheap, what would I have to show to a couple looking for a wedding photographer? Nothing would be the answer. And the same goes for bands, if you have no work to show then why would they hire me as opposed to someone with a proven track record.

    Fact is is a hard business to get into and to do it you do have to have love for what your doing or it ain’t going no where. And to get your name/brand out there, you have to shoot for free or cheap.

    Example: with bands, what band is paying top dollar for photographers? Those would be bands with established names and income. These are also bands that have lists of photographers they’ve worked with before. How do you get your name in that list? By finding the bands that don’t have these budgets and shooting them. How can a band pay you as a photog $500 for a show that they are only getting paid $200 for? They can’t. And can I as the photographer starting up afford to lose that job/addition to the portfolio? The answer is no, as a starter I have to do that shoot, and produce the quality of a $500 job for $50-100 in order to market myself so I can get a chance to get my name into the hands of those that can afford to hire me at the rate I think I am worth. And that I think is the key – as a newbie, while I may be believe I have the talent and eye to earn top dollar, I have to have product o prove it. Just like life, we aren’t born into this world knowing how to walk, first we crawl.

  • Chuck Alimo said on October 18, 2010

    and to all of you – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Chuck-Alaimo-Photography/139457396082296

    I would love some honest critique of my work.

  • Smith said on October 18, 2010

    Love this post. I have read so many blogs by “pro” photographers attacking us “cheap” photographers.

    Right now I’m charging what I think I’m worth. As I learn more and experience more I will charge more, but for the rest of the world in these “great” economic times they can’t afford pro prices. Why should they settle for Kmart pictures in Kmart when I can charge them a little more and they get much better quality pictures?

    Seriously, I had a”pro” shoot my wedding and as of this day (11 years later) he still holds my negatives hostage. We have even offered to buy the negatives from him.

    The old adage goes “you get what you pay for” Sometimes I do think I undercut myself, but at this point I’m learning and I’m getting paid to learn. Woo-hoo for me! How many people can say they make money while learning.

    Maybe someday I’ll go “pro” but hopefully if I do I won’t be a snobby photographer and look down on those who are learning how to fill my shoes. You have to start somewhere….

  • Boki S said on October 18, 2010

    I’ve seen great work by cheap photographers and crap by “pricy” ones. Those with high prices established themselves earlier and can now just pick the fruit of their old fame. It might even be a matter of prestige to hire some of them while the quality of their work does not justify the price.
    And how about the “photo mafia”? Yes, you read it right, there is such thing (in Serbia and maybe in other places). Photographer gets hired to shoot a wedding and after completing the church ceremony they head to the restaurant to shoot the drunk guests (that is a major part of income) they are not allowed to enter. All restaurants have their in-house cheap photographers and newlyweds are forced to make a choice – crapy or no photos at all!
    With all the taxes you pay be happy no one bulies you out of your shoots and replaces you with a cheap band photographer…

  • Bruce DeBoer said on October 18, 2010

    I’ve never really understood why this is a debate. Econ 101 – supply and demand. Marketing 101 – product differentiation + relationships

    High supply, low demand, low product differentiation = commidity = differentiation based on price.

    This is where photographer’s exist until they figure out how to dig out of the commodity market or get lucky. If you don’t like it, quit. If you still like being a photographer, suck it up and get back to work – simple right? Com’mon folks – let’s stop discussing the same ol’ shit. It’s been like this since I began in 1980 only a little tougher now.

    Consider this just a little tough love from an old pro who’s still fighting the same battle you are – I’m hoping everyone takes this in the best possible way ’cause that’s how it’s intended.

  • Jakob said on October 19, 2010

    Great blog! Big companies are selectively using pricing below production costs all the time to win marked shares and ruin the competition. So I really can´t see why someone would blame a starting photographer to use the same methods only on a tiny scale.

  • Kylie Macey said on October 21, 2010

    Well said Zack. At the moment I’m in my third year of a visual arts degree majoring in photography and I know how hard it will be to ‘break’ into the industry. A fine arts photographer has even more difficulty. In order to make a living I’ll need to diversify and hopefully make a living shooting architecture and interiors but to do so I’ll need a portfolio to show clients. It’s a catch 22 situation. I can’t charge if I don’t have anything to show so I’m currently shooting for free, off my own back to build up my portfolio and then i’ll go from there.

  • Mary Anne Morgan said on October 24, 2010

    Ughh, this blog shoots me straight through the heart. I am somewhere in the middle on this whole thing. I have raised my prices a couple times, and am STILL drowning not charging enough and spending too many hours processing and missing my life. Any recommendations for finding a good business model to follow? I love my job and want to quit almost everyday.
    Tired of the merry-go-round.
    Thanks for this post. Now, if I could just DO something different with my business!

  • Robert said on October 24, 2010

    Zack, you are just great.

    I Could not agree with you any stronger even if I wanted to.

    What Great Post.

  • Steven said on October 25, 2010

    Chuckling here, I think the industry may have missed the point.

    The issue is not whether the Pro competes with the Amateur or vice versa that kills the industry. It is the rapidly growing impression of our Clients that “anyone with a digital camera” can do the work that kills the industry.

    Pro and Amateur, cheap and expensive alike, need to start learning how to educate our Clients about what they are REALLY buying and why it has value.

    We are professionals simply because we have; A. Gathered the expertise to be able to deliver exactly what they want, when they want it and B. most importantly, Developed specific ways to communicate that VALUE to our clients.

    Cheap Photographers dont kill the industry, photographers who cant educate Clients do.

    Steven

  • Al said on October 27, 2010

    My First wedding was Free.
    My Second wedding was 800 dollars.
    My Third was 1200 dollars.
    The Fourth will be 1500 dollars.

    I shoot them all with fervor and every time I shoot I learn something new. If I didn’t shoot the free one, I wouldn’t have known I could do this. We all start somewhere. Pride is easy. Humbleness is rare.

    Great Post, Zack

  • Christian Niklaus said on October 27, 2010

    Fantastic Insight As Always.

    I shot for Starbucks Gift Cards for over a year as I built up my portfolio :-)

  • Rob Oresteen said on October 29, 2010

    Great insight Zak. I love the common sense about some brides do not have the money to pay someone $1,000.00 + for a wedding. Not everyone has parents who can kick in.

    My first wedding I shot for free for a couple who didn’t have the budget for a photographer. Surprisingly, they were not exceedingly cooperative the day of the wedding, but I still managed to get some good images. 2 years later they are happy beyond belief looking at their pics. As weddings go, this was no Bussink capture, but a little better than what some in the Chicago area charge $1,500.00 for. I learned a lot. They have something that otherwise would have been a foggy memory.

  • Steve said on October 29, 2010

    I recently split off by myself and getting those first couple bookings without a decent portfolio is rough. I got one wedding this year and already have two next year. I’m not the lowest priced but I’m probably one of the lowest with a legit business (LLC, taxes, backup equipment). Still planning on renting equipment for the next couple weddings because I’m not going into debt for this “hobby”. Maybe down the line I can make it full time. Fingers are crossed.

  • Tyson said on November 1, 2010

    Wow Zack,
    Thanks for the great insight. Shooting for free can be fun but everyone has to make a living. Its great to hear the experiences you had. This is something every photographer goes through at some point.

  • Lorelei said on November 2, 2010

    Thank you. It’s about time someone commented on both sides of the spectrum. I’m currently the “undercutter” but it’s because I’m starting out. I know I need to raise as I go/learn. I’m tired of others giving me grief about it.

  • Corporate Photographer said on November 3, 2010

    The only time you can start raising your fees is when you are booked out everyday. If you have spare time sitting around doing nothing, its better to earn $10 than $0- its not rocket science- Grant

  • Pradeep said on November 4, 2010

    Great article. I wish all photographers read this.

  • Someone said on November 4, 2010

    Zack’s dead on, every couple needs at least decent photos of their day or their newest little family member, their parent’s 50th wedding anniversary… (that said, i have little sympathy for the people who think of photography last and spend thousands on everything else “don’t haggle me down to $300 on your kid’s bar mitzvah then tell me the reception’s at the gaylord national” – but that’s a topic some friends and i have been talking about lately.

    i shoot the odd free or super discounted job, i do it because i know the budget situation the client’s in… and i look them in the eye and do my best vampire diaries impression and say:

    “I’m going to do this show shoot for you, with portraits and meet and greet starting at six, and some after show shots probably working til 2 am, and i will do it for $250, but you will tell anyone you meet that you paid me $800. (and you will get me an all access pass so i can get from stage left to stage right quickly and put my shit down somewhere moderately safe)”

    “I will tell them i paid $800″

    “and rights” i add

    “and rights”

    “oh yeah, and all access”

    “Yes, all access too”

    not so much for me and my rates, but for every other photographer at my level or better in my city trying to feed a themselves and pay the rent.

    and, during that shoot, when a gibson rep started talking to me about shooting for them, i said ‘here’s my card, we can talk later, but i’m working now’

    when she dropped that shooting for gibson was paid in “free concert tickets” I told her I didn’t need the work that bad.

    where I’m at today, i don’t need that, i used to work at the best venue in town so I can go to any concert i want free, i have a full time salaried position as a photographer, and i don’t really need to beef up my live music photo book, that’s where i got serious… if i want to, i’ll do it on my own time for myself for free or paid as the example above.

    and don’t get me started on the whole “WHY CAN’T/WON’T GIBSON GUITARS PAY FOR PHOTOGRAPHY” rant.

    Do free/cheap jobs. do them from your heart, do them for charities, do them for people you know are on a shoestring, do them because you know those people will cherish the work… do them to beef up your book… do them to network and meet new people…

    but don’t give it away to Gibson guitars unless you really think your work just really isn’t “there” yet… seriously, it’s going to be an ad… that should be paid for…

    damn. that’s decent dating advice too.

  • Tweety Thuy Dong said on November 5, 2010

    I’m exactly like you except i’m asian and i’m a woman!!!
    Love the blog! keep it coming!
    I refuse to go back to kinko though;-)

  • Matt in Dallas said on November 5, 2010

    Not everyone can afford to dine at a four or five star restaurant. There has to be levels in service since there are levels in clientele. Everyone wants to be a chef, but you might have to start out as a fry cook… Great post!

  • Maureen Cassidy Photography said on November 8, 2010

    Great blog post. It really helps the photography business when people are educated. Thanks for taking such a lead role!

  • Eric said on November 15, 2010

    Zack, ok I didn’t read through all the comments but I’m pretty you no one picked up that you forgot to mention blogging for 3 hours a day everyday also takes it toll on income and having a social life! Cool post dude, really helped me to look at things differently..

  • Eugenio said on November 24, 2010

    I’m from Nicaragua ( Central America). I really like this post. I’m one of those Cheap photographers in my country, even I’m almost unknown photographer, but read your post make me feel that “it’s normal” begin from those free jobs. To succeed, you have to start somewhere, right?.
    I have a very good job, my wife has it too, so even when I’m not doing this ( at this moment) to live,this post make me think about the real cost of my work, and why I can’t be a CHEAPER forever!

  • David Glazebrook said on November 29, 2010

    Isnt it funny that the post on this blog for this are 99.5% pro Zack and his position (as I am :-) and that on the “other” site they are pro “never to work cheap or free” … just an observation.

  • Wes said on November 30, 2010

    Lawyers do pro bono work all the time.

  • Paul David Drabble said on November 30, 2010

    I can see your argument but it is a flawed argument. What it doesn’t allow for is the cannon fodder effect. For every low ball photographer cut down in the charge to success there are another two prepared to pry the SLR from his (or her) dying hand and continue the charge.

    Think 1942 Russian front 1 rifle between 4 Russian soldiers and a handful of bullets each to stop what was then the might of German army. Eventually not only did they stop them but turned them back and took Berlin from them. But back to the photography, Cheaper non pro equipment with ever increasing quality does result in more people who in the past thought I would love to do that but cant actually giving it a go. Many do not understanding the business model and eventually drive down prices which clients get used to so when you try to push the prices up you loose business. Rule one Business negotiations Start with a High number and negotiate down. That’s because it doesn’t work the other way around ask any wealthy successful business leader.

  • David Wittig said on December 1, 2010

    Zack, you have always impressed me by your wisdom and “groundedness.” Thank you for taking the time to write another great article.

  • Texan Mama said on December 6, 2010

    Hi! Got this post forwarded to me by a friend and I’m glad she did.

    I am just starting and I charge nothing or next to it. I’m okay with it so why does anyone else give a damn? I mean, the proof is in the pudding. If my shots suck, I won’t get any business no matter how cheap (or expensive!) my prices are. If I am an awesome photographer, then I will follow the course you did and either get burned out and quit or finally raise my prices to be more in line with the critics.

    I guess I just don’t understand the disagreement here. Clearly, if a person wants cheap photography, they are going to be able to find it. And if a person wants to pay more for a photographer with bigger equipment and a studio space and a bunch of assistants, etc., they they’re going to find that too. There’s a niche to be filled – I’m trying to fill mine for the middle-income family who wants quality photos at a reasonable price.

    Thanks for the well-written and smart article!

  • Alex said on December 11, 2010

    This is an excellent, excellent post.

    I seriously do not understand all the Zack bashing in the comments.

    If anything, he is actually -helping- noobs by posting this and sharing his knowledge and experience. So for those who are asking for the more experienced pros to go help out noobs, well, this is it right here. ;)

    Also, if anything, Zack’s post here could, in effect, cut into his business by convincing other photographers to raise their prices. Thus, you can conclude that he’s not worried about being undercut, as some of you assume. He is confident in his material and wishes to share his knowledge with us. He doesn’t want us to make the same mistakes he made in the past.

    So build the confidence you need to succeed, and don’t undercut yourself. Basically, just be true to yourself.

    Thank you Zack, for writing this and putting a realistic perspective on the photography business.

  • Ian Plant said on January 27, 2011

    Brilliant artical

  • Fuzzy Duenkel said on March 29, 2011

    I wonder if you’re sending mixed signals. First you have no issue with photographers charging $350 for four hours… then you share the folly of not charging enough to shoot bands to live on.

    Explain the difference to me.

  • Zack said on March 29, 2011

    @Fuzzy – You have to start somewhere. I had to start with $50 bands and get moving up from there. I’m ok with photographers going out and shooting bands for $50 but they need to understand they won’t make a living doing so. They have to increase their skill, talent, and price.

    I’m not a fan of people preaching “charge more!” when skill and talent are still in their infancy. There’s a price point and market for everyone. From clients needing photos to photographers shooting them.

  • Karen said on March 29, 2011

    Great Post

  • meow said on April 1, 2011

    You said in your article that you started out charging $0, then more, then more as you got better.

    Who are you to judge now that you’re ‘pro’ and have lots of experience. Maybe you caught them on the upswing. How do you know? I think you’re being overly hard on these poor people. Times are tough right now.

    Why don’t you post some REAL suggestions for people getting started in the industry – how to get experience, how to get clients when you have no experience, etc. Everyone started somewhere. There is very little information on this on the internet. Everyone is always either a pro or not a pro. There’s no in between?

    So what I’m saying is: make a contribution instead of just criticizing some poor person who didn’t make it.

  • Zack said on April 1, 2011

    @meow – I’m not criticizing. I’m pointing out the fact that you have to start somewhere. That somewhere is usually the bottom. That means you have to start free or cheap. Build your business. Build your experience. Build a name for yourself. As those things grow so does the work you are shooting and the types of clients you are attracting. There isn’t a lot of info on the net about it because there is no formula for working your ass off and cutting out a path for yourself in the jungle. I make my contribution in this post by saying “Hey, it’s ok to be cheap. It’s all right. Don’t fret about it right now but don’t stay there either. There will always be people entering the industry filling in the low end. Your job is to get out of there as soon as you can.”

    Cheers,
    Zack

  • Calvin Ang said on April 3, 2011

    I agree with the sharing, photographer is a profession. Some rely on this to survive and some do it for the sake of fun. But most importantly one can compare those professional works and amateur. Hope they choose the right one as wedding is once a lifetime “thing”. Thx for sharing…

  • Charis said on April 4, 2011

    Hi Zack, i got a question and is bother me, how about to take FOC photograph to those who can’t afford to pay? And the other hands which we are not ruined the photography market or industry rates?
    How we gonna keep the balance, and how we gonna judge that from this point of view? Hope to hear u soon.

  • Zack said on April 6, 2011

    @charis – Not sure I understand what you’re asking.

    Cheers,
    Zack

  • Mike Clemons said on April 27, 2011

    nice shot at Joey….

  • Kimberly Davis said on June 2, 2011

    Enjoyed this post. Important thing left out is Business & Liability Insurance. No health insurance Zack? What are you doing? I had to go to the ER last December for a terrible stomach virus that I know would have killed me in a few days from severe dehydration. The total bill was $14,000 and insurance knocks it down to $4,000 and I owe $1100. Without insurance, you would be paying the full $14K! Health Insurance is necessary for everyone, I hope you will reconsider that one!

  • Sonya Sanchez Arias said on August 13, 2011

    Love this post Zack!!!! Keep up the good work you make our profession proud.
    Just adding a few of my thoughts that I already shared on a similar topic on linkedin. . . .

    This is not about us and them amateurs vs professionals, this is about each photographer and how they value their work. Let’s try to remember there are a lot of so called professionals out there putting out a lot of crap, and there are many amateurs who are putting out some amazing work. Let’s not forget that all professional photographers were amateurs once.

    This is not about pointing the finger and blaming hobbists and amateurs. This is about focusing on what’s not working for you, why it’s not working, discovering what does work for you and your style of photography and finding the right clients who are willing to pay your price.

    Why do some cars cost $10,000 and others cost $250,000, they both do the same thing right, get you from point A to point B? How is it that a dress made out of 2 yards of fabric can cost $20 in one store and a different dress made out of 2 yards of fabric can cost $2000 in another store? How can a meal made out of similar ingredients cost $10 at one restaurant and $100 at another? How is it that I can buy a painting on the street for $30 or go to a gallery and pay $30,000 for a painting the same size? Did the frame cost more to make? Were the paints more expensive. No people pay more money for things because they have a perceived value of their worth. It’s a personal thing. Everybody has their price point.

    As a photographer with 20+ years of experience, my goal has always been to create quality images that showcase my client’s products to their fullest potential. The clients who have been with us for 10 or more years understand and respect the value of my work. You’d be surprised how many clients are willing to pay well for quality, talent and great customer service.

    When I make the decision to pay a higher price for a product that I know I can get cheaper somewhere else, I do so because I have decided what it’s worth to me, I decide what important and why, and in so doing I justify why it OK for me to pay more. All this talk about needing to charge more for photography because of higher overhead is in my opinion is incorrect, even if I had no over head and lived at home on my parents couch, I would still charge appropriately for my work. “The photography is free, I charge for my experience and talent, and that’s going to cost you”. “I’d rather give a client one shot that they can’t live without, than 100 that they can live with.”

    Just want to end with a few more random thoughts that give me perspective:

    Buying a camera doesn’t make you a photographer. It makes you a camera owner.
    Good photography has nothing to do with the camera and everything to do with the vision and talent of the photographer behind the camera.

    A professional photographer is an amateur that never gave up. Photography is not a profession for the lazy. It takes hard work, dedication, talent, flexibility and an open mind to survive.

    Remember It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

    Don’t waste time regretting the past or complaining about the changes that may cause you discomfort, change is, and always will be the essence of life.

    Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle (amateur photographer) wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion (professional photographer) or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion (professional photographer) wakes up. It knows it must out run the slowest Gazelle (amateur photographer) or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle… professional or an amateur… when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.

  • Logan said on August 22, 2011

    I agree, people are giving a terrible impression by giving away cheap or even free wedding photography! Hopefully the trend does not continue!

  • Jess said on October 4, 2011

    Thank you for this article, I just took a BEATING on a photography forum because I admitted that I took photos with my point and shoot and made money from it.

    I don’t claim to be a ‘real’ photographer, and I do know that my camera isn’t up to professional standards but it cost me $120 and I’ve cleared over a $2000 with it. Not too shabby for a hobby. The people that buy my photos know I am using a point and shoot (duh) and they’re happy enough to keep asking me to do it. My boss uses my photos for the company website, and I am taking all the photos for the new brochure he is making. I have people calling me and contacting me thru Facebook wanting me to do their senior photos and such. I have been flat turning those people down, I wouldn’t feel right because I KNOW my camera isn’t right for that. My boss on the other hand can’t/won’t comprehend that he needs to get a professional to take his photos for him…someone with a DSLR, he just doesn’t see the benefit/need for it.

    Most of my money making has been at horse shows, rodeos, team pennings…places where people are too busy to take their own photos. We have contacted professionals to try to get them to come out and get turned down constantly…does that mean we should not be allowed to have posed photos?! These people have enough disposable income in THIS economy to buy $10000 horses, feed and tack them (with $1000 + saddles), spend hundreds on outfits to wear for a three minute ride, thousands on trailers…these people HAVE the money and the will to buy photos..but the pros turn their noses up at the idea of coming out. So I clear a spot and charge them $15 to take their pic…they’re happy enough but if we could get a pro to come out and take action shots (WAY beyond my camera’s ability) then they could make MUCH more. (the one show I went to that had a pro, his booth was covered UP, the woman in front of me wrote out a check for $800 like it was nothing)

    so anyway, thank you for giving me a much needed boost. I am saving my pennies for a DSLR, but even then, I’ll just be taking pics for fun and friends and filling in where we can’t get pros to go..

    but I suppose weddings are more exciting.

  • Ah huh said on October 21, 2011

    Sounds like you have a lot in common with middle America my friend, except they might not be making 60,000 to start, actually I know most of them are not. Did you really just factor in the cost of your divorce before your even married?

  • Morgan Glassco said on October 21, 2011

    This is the first post I have read on this blog and instantly added it to my RSS. I really appreciate the 360 view given to the perspective of the new guy. I myself am new to photography, so new I haven’t had a paying job but have seen lots of whining about the industry and the “cheap” photographers. I know I will start at the bottom and work up. The saying goes, you get what you pay for and that somehow change with photography.

  • Rob said on October 21, 2011

    Its funny to me that so many photographers think that either normal rules dont apply or photography is somehow unique in having low end competition.
    Every industry/profession has an entry level. $500 an hour lawyers don’t worry about $100 an hour lawyers. Can both make a contract, write a will or file a law suit? Of course they can but they do it for different clients.
    I have spent my entire adult life in the military. I make a lot more now than I did when I started and I don’t lose any sleep worrying about the kids showing up at the recruiting station. I get paid more because of what is between my ears, for my “body of work.” My assignments are no different than referred business – as my skills advanced I got “better” assignments and more pay.
    I think the photographers who complain about $350 weddings probably are charging too much for their work.

  • Dr CHuck said on October 21, 2011

    Simply excellent.

  • Damien said on October 22, 2011

    I have just been directed to this post by PetaPixel. I, as others above, am just starting to take the first considerable steps into the photography industry, with a love for photography I developed at university 11 years ago, and after 7 years of being a high school art teacher. “Follow your dreams students! And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!” I would say with heartfelt honesty while stamping my own hopes and dreams down, down, down due to lack of confidence in my own abilities.

    No more.

    As you’ve stated in your post – and which I whole-heartedly agree – there is definitely a place for free/cheap photographers (that’s where I’m at at the moment). Where else would someone start if not the bottom of the ladder? Where else would someone develop better skills, confidence in their own burgeoning abilities, get a name for themselves (it’s “who” you know, not “what” after all) etc etc etc then if they didn’t start at the bottom working for cheap?

    It’s what’s between the lines of your post that is the most beneficial for start-up photographers and professionals to remember: the business will weed out the detritus. It will be those who can grasp the idea of business, competition, money, and cost (both business and personal) who will survive – and they’ll (more than likely) realise that they can’t stay the cheap picturematographer for too long and no longer be the cheap guy undercutting everyone in an unsustainable way.

    It’s like any business. There will ALWAYS be someone who will offer to do the work cheaper and faster (and generally crappier) than someone else. It’s the same in any industry. The difference being that people will recognise quality and will be willing to pay for it in the long run.

  • Alex said on October 22, 2011

    Why do you have “after the jump” in here when there is no jump in your article. This is not a newspaper where jumps are used.

  • Zack said on October 22, 2011

    @Alex – If you view the post through going my blog page by page there is a jump button. Once you are looking at the page after the jump it is no longer there.

    Cheers,
    Zack

  • Gerald said on October 26, 2011

    Great post Zack. It seems that all of the “budget”would have been clients I’ve run into want the professional work without the price. For the most part they will take no education on what kind of experience and product they’ll get from an experienced and trained photographer. They really are not your customer and they’re best left to someone who can and will shoot their wedding etc. for cheap and “learn” their craft…hopefully their customer will say “that’s good enough” like they do when they take a digital shot with their point and shoot. Shooting for cheap is not really a desirable place to be for photographer or customer.

  • Jeremy Goertz said on October 31, 2011

  • Tulsa Tom said on November 3, 2011

    Did video kill the radio star? I don’t think so. The world is big enough for all the players. You are all way too young to know what it was like in L.A. in the Rollei twin lens wedding days. Everyone was bitchin then too. And there were ugly moments in those darkroom days. So this argument aint new kids. Just the names and faces change. I did freebies and cheapies many times for many reasons. I got paid diddly by large publishers because they could and did. The best cheapie I did was for Ed Macmahon in 1971. He wanted some personal shots of a little radio station in West L.A. called KPOT. 1000 watts of illegal FM jazz and rock. The FCC never did find out what apartment building they were casting from. But I digress. Follow your heart shutter trippers. You will quickly find your price and clientelle niche or quit.

  • Jodie Lemke said on November 5, 2011

    Wow! Thank you. I needed to hear that. This was very well said!

  • blackshadow said on November 6, 2011

    Excellent post Zack, it closely mirrors my thinking.

  • Otto Haring - Miami said on January 11, 2012

    I LOVE the photo!!!! :) :):) $350 bucks…! :) :):)

  • Otto Haring - Miami said on January 11, 2012

    “When I started raising my prices I didn’t get as many clients as I used to but my income stayed about the same. It helped me take a few days off. It helped me take a breather and work on my business. I started diversifying my income and started attracting new clients.” THIS IS SO TRUE!!!

  • Paul Saxby said on January 21, 2012

    It comes down to simple math…

    Decide how much money you want to earn….devide that by the numbers of days you want to work…that tells you how much you need to earn each day… Most photographers work it out the wrong way around by deciding how much they want to charge before they realise that it’s not going to be anywhere near enough….

    I am in the lucky position that I only work 40 weeks a year, I don’t work weekends or evenings (unless it’s a really good job) and I never let work interfere with my home life…. It took me a long time to realise that my health and family are worth much more to me than worrying about cheap photographers under mining my business. I charge what I feel I am worth, if clients feel that’s too much I send them elsewhere and wish them the best….

    Zach, keep up the good work, you are an inspiration to many of us.

    Paul

  • Amanda said on February 4, 2012

    Out of curiosity, I visted their website and just as I thought…it’s “dead”.

  • Zack, what a seriously thought provoking post, your opening comments on how the comments will hold so many gems is so true. Whilst this topic is often debated with heat and angst you have presented a solid thought provoking article in which the true gems come from all the comments left by others. It’s taken me over an hour to read! Thank you for sharing and challenging everyone else to share in their comments.

  • Raphael said on March 3, 2012

    Wow, a couple of years later and the conversation remains alive!

    When I saw the ad, I thought it was some clever marketing – FROM $350, then fine print: you have to pay up to $100 per photo you choose!!! Just like those glamour photo sales pitches “Get a free makeover and shoot worth $250!” (Then you have to fork out good cash for every photo you want to keep – and they usually do a good enough job that you want to keep a few)

    But, they’re out of business so that’s probably not what they were doing – just simply pricing themselves out of the market!

  • Kevin Nguyen said on April 14, 2012

    Thanks for stick with Photography and not went back to Kinko, Zack! Thanks for all the inspirations!
    Kevin

  • Amy said on May 23, 2012

    Wowzers, such great words & such great timing on this post, Zack. Thanks x a million!

  • LiLi said on June 18, 2012

    Zach, your honesty was refreshing. Being one of the affordable photographers who offer various priced packages for those who are on a budget, I agree with so much of what you wrote. However, I tend to believe that there is ENOUGH for everyone. We live in a world of abundance and we tend to get what we think we deserve. My goal is to offer a variety of packages, so those on a tight budget have some options to capture their happy memores.

    A co-worker stated that the Internet and the photo sites who have thousands of photographers selling their work on sites such as Photobuzz, Photoshutter, etc.. are taking the work away from the elite photographers. My reply was, the Internet has opened up the entire world for all artists to bring their talents to so many and why should the elite be the only ones having fun.. What B.S…. this co-worker is a snob and her photos are not that great… The eye of the beholder runs true.

    There is a Disease running rampant in the world and the disease is “NOT ENOUGH”…
    There is enough for everyone…..

    Have fun creating memories…..

    LiLi

  • Arie said on June 23, 2012

    Zack, agree or disagree, I’ve always found your posts or lectures honest and from the heart. There is a tendency for photographers to have knee-jerk reactions when they see someone they don’t think is worthy to be in the industry and worse, blame that person for their own failures. It’s really not a problem limited to the photography industry as when times get tough, people are always looking for an scapegoat which usually tend to be a minority group of some sort, but I digress.

    I agree with you here. There is a market for every type of photographer, but if the photographer is good, they better get a business plan if they plan on making a living (or at nice side business).

  • Gregory Leech said on July 13, 2012

    Zach,

    Great post, I was a combat photographer in the navy for 13 years, graduated film school at USC in 83, worked with some fantastic film crews for about 10 years,freelanced all over the world, blahblahblah, bottom line after living the dream for over 20 years I felt like I was not getting paid enough for my services and certainly not enough to live the lifestyle I wanted. So I sold out went into sales, made a lot of money and a good living for me and our family; now the kids are grown and I am slowly stepping back into my true love and passion. I really enjoyed reading your post and I along with my new photo partner are re-entering a photographic career. We look forward to the challenge and will reference this blog as we grow our new adventure, if you have a chance we would enjoy any input, Gary Gregory Photography on FB for now until we complete our web site.

    Greg Leech
    Thanks again for the grin,

  • Deion Kim said on July 24, 2012

    Love this post. We all gotta start from the bottom and work our way up right?

  • FF said on August 8, 2012

    Can you remember when reverse psychology stopped to work with your? Now think of how many many “cheap” photographers out there are still that old! Then you will know how much this entry will wring you.

  • Jan Formann said on September 30, 2012

    In Germany people think generally: what is for free or too cheap, is nothing worth.

  • Jessica said on October 20, 2012

    Good, cheap and fast. Pick two.

  • LENOCE said on November 25, 2012

    I have been paid as much as $12,000 to shoot a wedding back in ’08 (it was a fluke, they were rich, and it was in J*’s, [b]‘s hood Orange County) and I have been paid as little as $350 to shoot a wedding.. was that 15 years ago when I started? nope! I started at $1200 back then! $350 two weeks ago for a one hour ceremony on the beach!

  • Roberto Farren | MA wedding photographer said on January 14, 2013

    Very interesting read and as relevant today as when you wrote it. The industry is still standing and there are those still entering it every day doing exactly what you’ve outlined. It’s knowing when you have to step up and charge your full worth and not continue to undercut yourself (not the industry) that will make or break you. That and continuing to put in the work!

  • Ezekiel e. Photography said on January 14, 2013

    Great article, so many people are looking for bargains or places to pinch pennies when it comes to all of the elements that make up a wedding, you can blame todays tough economy for that. Photography is not a place to save a dime or two it is one of the elements that lives on way after the event. A sirloin instead of a filet mignon no one well remember in 2 years, underexposed images or missed moments last a lifetime. That is the difference between a pro and a hobbyist.

  • Ed said on April 6, 2013

    Wow, nail on the head indeed!
    I’m a new photographer, I’ve been shooting for fun for about 20 years, and after some prodding and encouragement by some pro friends, have taken my redundacy from airline flying to pursue photography as a career. After a bit of mentoring I launched, and following my mates advice, have gone in at market rates (albiet the lower end due to my “new” status. I find myself competing with the weekend warriors, who are shooting weddings for $500 on their department store bought 10mp dslr’s. Right now my tack is to get prospective clients to actually look at what they are getting, educating on value, not price. Get them to look honestly at my shots beside the under exposed or badly lit/composed amateur ones. There was no way I would, or could go out at charge that low for what I do, but I expect in 10 years the cheap ones will be consumed with their new hobby, and be selling watercolours at the local sunday markets anyway.

  • April Maura said on August 9, 2013

    This post is a lot of food for thought. I am a new photographer and just starting out. I have built my portfolio and am wanting to in the next coming months to start charging. Since I am new, how does any new photographer set the pricing? Is $50 for a session to cheap as a new photographer?

  • Zack said on August 11, 2013

    @April – As you are just starting you are going to be priced pretty low. I’ve done a lot of $50 shoots in the past. The key is to grow and get out of that pricing model.

    Cheers,
    Zack

  • Frank said on August 15, 2013

    Hey Zack

    I enjoyed this post. I stumbled on it after reading your Muhtar Kent (I had a question there, pls refer) post. I can make some argument about how cheap photographers have effected the industry but I won’t. I think if you can’t recognize that your not being honest. I will say that most all industries are competitive and I mostly agree with you. Photography on a pro level wasn’t as competitive yrs ago. It has become like any other industry and the laws of economic supply and demand with drive prices down. Now, one thing people also have to remember is that the marketing and advertising of pro level cameras these days have put them into the public eye and all to readily available to anyone with a few bucks. Many of those people decide to venture into photography with no photography knowledge at all. It’s great if your self taught and good but so many ‘cheap’ photographers don’t know an f-stop from a train stop. Having a camera in your hand doesn’t make you a photographer and people ultimately get what they pay for. Finally, there was a day when people would put together there own shoot for a portfolio piece but now people take actual jobs for free or cheap for that reason and some people don’t understand the value of the business there in.

    Sorry to be long winded
    Frank

  • Joshua Reber said on September 24, 2013

    Is $250 too much for someone that’s been shooting a year?

    I think the hardest part is the marketing side for me, it’s hard to know where to start, especially when you are on a budget….

    a small budget in fact.

  • Angelika P said on October 16, 2013

    Great shots zack, good post, keep up the good work.




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