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You Be You, I’ll Be Me: A Note to Photographers on Pricing


If you are a member of any photography groups, I can guarantee you’ve seen the issue of pricing come up often. One of the favorite activities of some photographers seems to be analyzing/criticizing how others run their businesses. It’s wonderful to be able to ask for advice in these groups, but unsolicited criticism, or random rants on how everyone else is doing it all wrong and you’re doing it right, are never okay.

One of the main complaints I see is “you are devaluing my business by charging less than me.” I know, right? I mean that’s a complaint in every business. I wish Louis Vuitton would quit running all those ads talking about how Target’s $20 purses are devaluing their product. Oh, you haven’t seen those? That’s because it’s a ridiculous mindset.

If you are going to price your product at a premium, if you are going to charge top dollar, freaking own it. Be top-notch, be in-demand, be the luxury experience that top dollar prices necessitate. Realize that different people have different priorities, different budgets. And different in no way means inferior.

There is no way in hell I would buy a Louis Vuitton purse. My last purse came from Goodwill, it was $3, and it serves its purpose very well. I would never complain about someone who buys luxury purses, just as they shouldn’t shame me for having different priorities. Some people can’t, or simply don’t want to, spend thousands of dollars on photography. And that is okay. Some do, and if those are your prices, you need to work hard to find those people.

I’ve heard often from more expensive photographers, in condemning cheaper photographers, “well you get what you pay for.” I mean, maybe, if you’re comparing heating/cooling systems for your home? Or pricing out roofing materials? I suppose if you see your work as simply another consumer product, you might think that way. But I’m an artist, and art doesn’t work that way. It simply doesn’t.

So many factors go into pricing — demand, trends, popularity, the area of the country you’re in — that the saying “you get what you pay for” simply doesn’t apply. Pricing does not necessarily correlate with “quality” of art, whatever that even means.

Another popular argument in groups is “if you’re not doing in-person sales, you’re doing it wrong. In fact, here I’m posting a receipt from my latest session so you can see I made $2,000.”

Um, okay.

I think it’s in somewhat poor taste to brag about what you make. I usually don’t see people in other professions posting their paycheck on their Facebook walls. Also, simply showing the money you brought in has no relevance to actual business income. Perhaps you have much bigger expenses than I do, so you have to charge a lot, and that’s totally cool. But it doesn’t mean you’re making more money than I am. Or perhaps it does, and that’s fine!

The awesome thing about running our own business is that we get to make our own decision for what works for us. The mentality of “oh that poor photographer doesn’t charge enough” is ridiculous. I will assume everyone has thought about their own business plan, their own needs, their own expenses, and are charging accordingly to those. Just like I won’t say to someone, “Oh my god that’s ridiculous you’re charging way too much,” I would never tell anyone they are too “cheap” either. One of the best local photographers I know doesn’t charge a dime for her sessions. And that’s fine.

I charge $350 for a boudoir session, including images with print release. I think $350 is quite a bit of money. I am thrilled to get that for a photo session. I realize most of my peers charge upwards of $1,500, and that is awesome that works for their business plan.

For me, I don’t want to have once-in-a-lifetime prices. I get to see women who just want sessions for themselves to feel great, then they come back when engaged, then they come back for a couples session, then they come back for maternity photos, then they come back with baby for a mommy and me session, and come back to reclaim their confidence in their post-baby body.

I love being at a price point that makes that possible. I love having other things that contribute to my income, such as amazing client trips and events, so that I can keep my sessions as reasonably priced as possible. I absolutely love what I do, and I love being able to do a lot of sessions. That is what works for me.

I’ve had people tell me, “well if you raise your prices you’ll get a higher class of clientele.” What kind of arrogant elitist classist bulls**t is that? I love my clients, thank you very much. I’ve worked with stay-at-home moms, fast food workers, nurses, doctors, teachers, every profession you can think of. For some, that $350 is nothing, they can pay it easily, and for some, they save for months to have the money for a session, and I value them all exactly the same.

If your business plan is working for you, awesome! That doesn’t mean you should impose it on anyone else. And if it isn’t working for you? Look at your own policies, procedures, pricing, service, and adjust accordingly. Don’t blame me.

You be you, I’ll be me.

About the author: Cindy Johnson is a boudoir photographer based in Indiana. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Johnson’s work on her website, Facebook, and Instagram. This article was also published here.