Photographer Heather Lahtinen of the Flourish Academy recently took on one of the most common complaints among working photographers: that cheap photogs are “saturating” the market and stealing all the jobs by undercutting better photographers on price. Lahtinen says this is “the biggest load of crap” she’s ever heard.
This latest video was sparked by a comment on one of her earlier videos, in which a viewer pointed out that photographers have no problem advocating for cheap knock-offs like Godox’s V1 flash (compared to Profoto’s A1), but can’t seem to face the fact that clients will do the same thing when hiring photographers. And while Lahtinen agrees that this is how we treat commodities, she explains why treating your photography services as a commodity is a terrible idea.
“If you want to play in the ‘commodity’ lane and be compared on your prices, yeah, you’re gonna be made when someone comes out who is cheaper than you,” says Lahtinen. “But if you manage to step out of that lane and sell yourself based on value and experience, then you never have to worry. Never once […]”
You have to have a differentiating factor in your photography—be that the relationships you’ve built with clients, the experience you bring to the table, or some other value proposition. Otherwise you have only price to lean on, and your photography becomes a commodity like the Profoto A1: “just” photos that can be easily replicated by a competitor for cheap.
“People hire people, not photos,” says Lahtinen.
Lahtinen’s argument is very interesting, because it’s not necessarily the typical response to this complaint. She’s actually saying that you can and will regularly beat out objectively better photographers who are also cheaper, by focusing on building relationships and being the “person” a client hires, not a “commodity” that can easily be swapped out for a cheaper version that may be just as good.
“When you are a photographer, typically a solo-preneur, you can make a personal connection with people,” says Lahtinen. “And that relationship trumps price every time […] Photographers who complain about other photographers have a scarcity complex; [they] are worried about saturation in the market because they play in the commodity lane.”
This isn’t infallible advice by any means. New photographers, for example, can’t rely on relationships that they’ve built or experience they can sell. But it’s an interesting perspective on how (and why) making this fundamental shift from commodity to value/relationships can change your outlook and, with any luck, your results as well.
Check out the full vlog up top to hear Lahtinen elaborate on all of these points, and let us know what you think of this argument in the comments below.
Image credits: Photo by Clem Onojeghuo, CC0