How to get paid top dollar

Wedding in Bahamas photography by Scott Robert Lim

“Good Enough” ruining Photography Industry?

When customers settle for lower price over quality many photographers use the term (choosing) “good enough” to describe this frustrating situation- clients who want to cut down our services to the lowest price possible and not concerned with quality. Many photographers attribute this trend as a cause for ruining the photography industry, customers not caring about quality.

The big question is who’s fault is this? Can we blame the client or the artist and how can we fix it?

I don’t believe people change and all of a sudden want lower quality. I think brides/clients have always wanted the same things today just like brides 10 years ago. It is a case where the bride today has increasingly more price options for photography today than ever before. Digital has enabled an incredible amount of people to take a wide range of image quality and offer a wide range of prices.

When a person has more options in the market they can choose the service that fits their needs and if their needs can be met at a lower price they will choose the lower price, even if this lower price comes with lower quality because higher quality is not always necessary. Who needs a 500 horse power car if they plan to drive no faster than 65mph? Why pay for more quality when not needed and there are lesser priced options available?

5 Star Hotels are nice!

People gravitate to “good business” choices

As an example: let’s say my business takes me to a small town and I need to find a hotel for just one night- a clean and comfortable place to sleep. Let’s say the only hotel in town is $500/night but it is a 5 star hotel. I stay there and I love it, the accommodations are wonderful and awesome service. Let’s say I come back to this small town a year later for business and another hotel is available and is only $100 per night and the accommodations are clean and comfortable but it is only a 3 star hotel.  Most of us would choose to stay at the $100 hotel. I choose the lower quality because it still meets my needs of providing me a good nights sleep and I save my business $400- a good business decision.

Sometimes we just need a pleasant and clean room

This is exactly what the $500 bride does. Perhaps she is not interested in “artistic” wedding imagery and doesn’t need world class photography- she just wants someone to take some basic family pictures. Many $500 photographers can fill this need. Perhaps this bride wants to save on her wedding photography so she can have a nice honeymoon or afford to invite more family to her wedding. Can we blame her? Can we blame anyone for the life choices a person makes? In essence she is making a good financial decision for her needs.

CNN did the same thing when they fired paid photojournalists and hired free prosumer images- it was a business decision. News is about speed- being “first to get the story”. Their iReport increased image capture turnaround time, lowered their cost significantly without sacrificing quality they required for the job- a brilliant business move on their part- perhaps that is why their company is valued at $10 billion. However, for those paid photographers, we feel sorry that they lost their jobs and perhaps that CNN lowered their image quality standards.

Getting customers to pay more

1. Change target market to those clients that need higher quality and appreciate it.

If you don’t like the heat get out of the kitchen. If you don’t like the mentality of the $500 bride- don’t serve them! Provide service for those brides who like high quality and are willing to pay for it. Perhaps you may have to go after customers in unlikely places. Here are some ideas…

  • Perhaps get involved with charity events, networking/community groups where you’re the only photographer and with people with more disposable income.
  • Create a profile of your ideal customer and understand what things they like to do, what they buy and how they like to buy them, where they like to socialize, etc. Fish in their ponds, their social circles.
  • Network with a complimentary service with the same target customer. For example, choose a jeweler or bridal shop who markets to the same clientèle and create incentives for their clients to check out your work.
  • Host your own luxury event featuring your photography only and other complimentary vendors to help split the bill and access their mailing lists, creating a win-win situation for all.

2. Add value to your current product or service which creates a new product- revolutionize the industry, INNOVATE.

iPhone profited by changing the function of the cell

The iPhone is a perfect example. The iPhone changed the FUNCTION of the phone and made it so much more- a portable multi-media player, a computer, gps system and ultimate communication device. When Apple released the iPhone, they essentially created a new product and now instead of people paying $50 for a phone, people stood in line around a city block to pay $400 for a phone.

As for the wedding photographer getting hammered on price and is sick of it, here are a few suggestions..

  • Make sure your imagery is way above average because average work can mean average prices.
  • Hire a photography coach to help with your imagery and business and create an upscale product.
  • Create a luxury brand. Make sure your imagery has a signature style and every public aspect of your business conveys class, style, personality, professionalism and luxury.
  • Offer complimentary services that make your product more attractive and contemporary- include video services, a photobooth, their images loaded on a free iPad, etc.  Get creative.

Truth Hurts, sometimes…

Most of the time, the market is VERY accurate in determining value. We most often deserve the business that we earn. If we are not hitting the client we want, then we must face the music and realize our business is failing in areas that need to be addressed. We must take responsibility, make adjustments and constantly improve our business.

The best never worry about the competition in fact they welcome it

Don’t worry about the competition, just work on being the best photographer you can be and all the rest will fall in place. Do you think the great basketball star Kobe Bryant worries about new rookies coming in and signing contracts at 1/100 his asking price? Of course not! The best photographers never worry about new competition offering lower prices with lesser quality because ultimately we get what we deserve if we work hard and aim to be the best. When we start to blame the bride about not getting the price we want, we feel better for a few moments to vent our frustrations but our situation still remains the same and assigning blame is a dangerous trap to fall into because it leads to self pity.

Bring Something to the Picnic

The successful always bring something innovative to their industry

All top photographers bring something useful and innovative to the industry. If this seems impossible, don’t worry, your passion will lead you to improve and innovate on your work so keep working hard and it will all come together over time. Don’t be surprised if it takes you a decade to put it together- I’m working on over two decades and I’m not there yet!

The human spirit has shown that no matter what we are given in life, we can overcome and make our life what we want it to be if we are willing to work really hard and find the right information. Let us take responsibility, innovate and transform photography into something so beautiful and desirable that people are willing to pay top dollar for our efforts. Together we can change the industry by raising the bar. A change in the world first starts with a courageous change in us. INNOVATION and CREATIVITY with your imagery, services, deliverables and marketing angles are keys to GETTING WHAT YOU WANT!


If interested in hearing me speak or wanting me to speak at your photography association or event

January 13, 2012 - 9:26 pm

Libby - You’re correct on all counts here. I stopped taking low rent jobs years ago. The hardest thing though to do with the $500 guys is to get them to understand the value of investment in themselves. Their thinking here is that they spent their #1000 at the Best Buy for their camera – that should be enough of an investment. It’s not even close.

Best to you 😉


February 28, 2012 - 7:14 am

Caroline Lima - GREAT post!!! congrats!

February 28, 2012 - 9:33 am

Amy Leigh - Great and much needed article! I belong to a group of local professional photographers who have felt the need to argue price for months now, always putting each other down. We need a fresh, objective perspective on this. Thank you!

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