Pricing to the Value of the Work

Pricing to the Value of the Work

I heard a very talented photographer say she charges less than others because she is new to the business and doesn’t think she should charge as much as the older, more established photographers.

I think she is completely and totally wrong. The value of the image to the client is neither less nor more depending on her time in business.

If the image is good enough for the client to use to sell more of his custom colored, whizbang widgets, it is good enough to charge rate for. If it is not, the photographer is wrong to be charging anything at all and the client is an idiot for running an image that will not help him sell his widgets.

The viewer of the ad has no idea the age of the photographer, nor should that even enter into the discussion of the value of the image… that value is intrinsic in whether or not it works to convince, convert, entertain, mystify or indulge.

My thinking is this;

If the work is good enough to charge anything for, then it should be regarded as an item that has the value of being priced in the current rate climate.

If I show you a photograph, and you love it, do you love it less when i tell you the photographer was only 16, or that the photographer had been shooting less than 2 years?

If I show you a photograph and you hate it, do you like it better if when I tell you that the photographer is an experienced, well respected photographer, or that the same piece is hanging in a local museum.

To me it makes no difference… If I like it I like it and if I don’t… well…

In other words the work created has no relationship to the creator’s status unless it is attached by the creator themselves. There is no intrinsic ‘beginner’ value to the image, nor is there something automatically inherent in an image shot by an old timer.

When we create images for people they can only fall into two camps in my opinion. Good or bad, and should considered that way for our clients and ourselves.

To provide a less than excellent product is in my mind a bad way to build presence, create a fan base or even grow into an artist. The reason is that since the artwork doesn’t carry any intrinsic information as to why it is less than stellar, the viewer sees it as representative of the work of the artist. The print doesn’t have a disclaimer “Well, I was just starting out.”

This is not to ignore the fact that artists grow and work that was acceptable before becomes less interesting as the artist matures. That is a different situation though. The artist still held that work in high esteem when it was created.

I know that it seems like I am rather pedantic on this, but I think it is important and can be quite a challenge when one is trying to establish a price that doesn’t make one look like a dork.

(Yes, I used pedantic and dork in the same sentence.)

And remember that when one begins pricing, all other prices are based on that model… so if you start low, it can be seen by your clients and fans as a challenge or “issue” to raise your rates. If you start high, it is seen as a value when you ‘discount’ or ‘gift’ lower rates. The value of your work stays high, but you can always bequeath a lower rate for any reason you want.

A $25 shoot fee is a bargain when your normal rate is $100.
A $25 shoot fee is a steep rise when your normal rate was $10.

Same shoot, different paradigm based on where you started your pricing.

The photograph is loved, used, published, viewed, and scaled to the users wishes… no matter how much you charged or how long you have been in business. The image now lives as its own entity, with no ties to anything but its own value.

So stop tying things that have no relationship to the finished image into your pricing. If it is a good image, it is worth as much as you say it is… and hopefully you will say it is worth much more than the amount of time it took to make it and print it.

Say it is priceless… but you will make them a deal – yeah – do that.

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1 Comment

  1. I have to say that the logic upon which your article is based is flawed. You seem to present an argument that says that if you are taking pictures, you should be charging what is expected to be charged for that photograph, regardless of whether you are new to the profession or not, all other things being equal.

    Pardon me for raising hand to ask a basic question — how can any of those other things be equal?

    Respectfully, what people are paying for is your ability to produce an image. your ability to produce an image is the end result of things you cannot possess at the onset of your career — namely full mastery of your gear, a full inventory of gear matching your eventual niche, the experience that your first year or second year or first ten years in the business brings to you, and most importantly, OTHER PEOPLE recommending you in the marketplace.

    To say that if you cannot have the guts to charge what something is worth, you shouldn’t charge at all, would be to say that if you cannot as a musician get a booking at giants stadium, then you should play for free. The argument makes no sense, because musicians start out playing for free, then for a little bit more, then as their reputation, their expertise, their gear, and their years of experience hone their finished product, the DEMAND for their product determines price —

    So, with full respect, you as an artist cannot define your own demand. The marketplace defines that for you. For that reason artists of all disciplines tend to have their works GROW in value, GROW in demand, GROW in prominence, and hopefully result in the GROWTH of their business and respective income.

    In closing, I believe that “portfolio building” for the first year by being upfront about your discounts is a completely appropriate way to gain the things you cannot have up front — experience, referrals, and reputation.

    Thank you for listening.