Photography is kind of this tricky business, especially these days where everyone has a camera in the palm of their hand at all times. Everybody wants photos, whether it’s for their website, advertising, social media, or just to hang on their walls. But, often their perception of what it takes to create a truly professional photograph doesn’t match up with what they expect it to cost. So they’ll just do it themselves. Or low-ball you.
That. Sucks. Guess we should quit.
Or, maybe we could help them understand the value, I’m talking monetary + emotional value, of photography.
I’ve seen posts where photographers detail out what it costs to run a photography business. You know all the costs for gear, lenses, websites, hosting, storage, client meetings, etc. The problem is no one cares what your expenses care. They only care about the number they see on the quote and what they are going to get in return.
Think about it this way. When you go see a movie with your significant other, say 50 Shades of Grey, do you care whether it costs them $50 million or $5,000 to make it? Probably not. You care whether the movie entertains you enough to justify the $28 you spent on two tickets.
Same goes with photography. You either can produce an image that satisfies the needs and desires of your client, or you cannot. Whether you shoot a Canon, Nikon, or whatever is of surprisingly little interest to them. But, this is where things get tough. How do you produce an image that satisfies your client?
Start By Finding The Right Type of Client
You have to work backwards to find people who find value in photography first. You do this by being upfront with your clients. The photographer client relationship is a two-way street. You, as the creative, have to be interviewing the client as well. It’s the only way you’ll eventually get to the point where you have people who truly appreciate your work. This is really hard. Like, really hard. Especially when you’re starting out. You just want people to book you and when they do, even if it’s not for what you’re worth, you accept. I caution you not to do that.
In a PDF that we send every client who inquires with us, we say this:
Photos are more than just posed memories of a moment in time. They are direct ties to the way you were feeling at the moment, how you looked, what you wore — a window into your soul at a specific period of time in your life. When we photograph, we are painting a living memory of you and this moment in it’s entirety.
A little over the top? For some people, probably. But, those people most likely won’t be our clients. For the ones that will, those lines will resonate. That’s fine.
I also offer these words and they are probably the most valuable words you’ll read in this post:
If you’re heading into a relationship with a client and any part of it feels forced or wrong, then it is. Just politely decline or restructure the deal so that it does feel right. The last thing you can do is accept a job, then be upset for accepting the job. That job is doomed before it starts.
Then Start Listening To Your Clients
We have pretty exhaustive questionnaires for clients. That’s because we want to know exactly what they are looking for with their shoot. Even though a client may be getting the same offering as a previous client, the things that are important to each one of them will vary every single time. Some couples want us to be a fly on the wall. Others want pictures of every single thing possible from every angle possible. The point is, the more time you take to learn about your clients — their wants, needs, desires, how many children they each want (joking), the better informed you will be to provide them with value. These are the types of things that make you appear “worth it to them”. Not whether your lens cost $4,000 – they just want to make sure it works.
Do A Lot of Work For Free and For Fun
Going to kind of backtrack here because inevitably someone is asking the question, “well how do I even start attracting clients in the first place?” The answer to that question is surprisingly simple and also incredibly difficult: Do a lot of work for free and a lot of work for fun.
Free: When you do work for free, it’s better than working for a discount. Discounts are cheap and slutty. They are for companies like Big Lots, Wal-Mart, and Marshall’s. Nothing wrong with those stores, but I don’t want my art to be in the same category as those stores. Our first two weddings were free. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Our next two were full price (the full price we were charging at that time). Our next two were full price (double the original full price). There are exception to this rule, but very few.
Fun: It’s funny how often the shoots we’ve done for fun get more attention than paid shoots. There is something authentic about taking photos for no other reason than to take photos. We probably do too much of it, but, hey we love it.
Unfortunately, there’s no exact formula. But, the biggest takeaways are finding the right types of clients, listening to those clients, and then providing as much value as possible for them. They’ll talk to people who think like them, and you’ll get high quality referrals.