An open letter to the photography industry

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As an industry, we need to do better. For our profession, for beginners and experienced photographers, for customers who do not get all the information.

We must stand up to those who devalue our work by misleading clients and new photographers.

It’s time to stop allowing it.

Let’s look at some examples of major misinformation and barriers that prevent us from earning a living wage – and what we can do about it.

Wedding websites promoting unlivable wages

Popular wedding websites promote that the average bride pays “$2,000” for wedding photography. If you charged $2,000 per wedding session, how much would you earn?

The average full-time wedding photographer books about 25 weddings a year. $2,000 for each marriage totals $50,000 annually. But given a higher 25% profit margin in the photography industry, that means a wedding photographer who charges according to wedding website “averages” would make $12,500 a year.

How can we allow these non-experts to promote such low prices? It’s below minimum wage. It is not enough to earn a living and provide for oneself, let alone one’s family. This misinformation gives engaged couples inaccurate price expectations and misleads new photographers about how to price themselves.

The problem is that wedding websites usually create their cost guides based on couples who list how much they paid for wedding photography in their reviews of those websites. Yet budgets and prices vary by location, some people may report their data incorrectly, and some may have received discounts from friends or family members. Many do not report this information at all, which skews the numbers.

Simply put, it is an irresponsible method of collecting and sharing data, especially data that impacts our livelihoods.

We call on all photographers who pay these websites monthly to reach out and demand that they use real data that supports a living wage.

Photography Software Companies

1. Devalue the profession (and use photographers to gain access to their clients)

Last year, a popular platform added a consumer print service that boasts of “allowing photographers to earn money while they sleep.”

Sounds great – but what does it really mean?

After years of photographers asking this company for more professional products to easily sell to their customers, they responded by providing a consumer printing company through the platform. Photographers using this company cannot set their prices or profit margins. Users only pay seven cents (yes, seven cents) for prints, and photographers only bring in 60% of that unprofitable profit.

In addition, photographers are required to give contact details of their clients to this company. So you get 60% of 7 cents, all so they can collect your customers’ email addresses and earn money from them.

The photographers had simply asked for an easier way to sell pro-level products to our customers, not faster access to a consumer site. Despite the company’s boasts of “enabling us to make money by [our] sleeping” is just another way of devaluing our profession.

We call on all photographers who pay for this software to say that it really doesn’t help us make money while we sleep, it just took away a major source of our income stream.

2. Photographers misleading about what to charge or how to run a business

Another popular software company claims to “educate” photographers on pricing, but says a newborn photographer should charge $250 per session.

Factoring in time and profit margins, a newborn photographer charging $250 per session would earn $2.50 an hour for a highly skilled, extremely time-consuming, and backbreaking genre of photography. Even the hospital photographer who shoots consecutively charges more. Where does this company get these exorbitant prices? Surely not from their base of photographers!

Similar sites offer vague guidelines on mini-sessions, misleading photographers, and potential clients. Major sites say mini-sessions last “15 minutes to an hour.”

But let’s be clear: the reason why mini sessions are cheaper is that they are faster, not only in terms of shooting time, but also in terms of preparation time and travel time required for the photographer. The mini-sessions follow one another. The location is chosen by the photographer. They provide the photographer with upsell opportunities to earn money.

Sites claiming to educate photographers have a responsibility to encourage photographers to value themselves and their work. They have a responsibility to share guidelines that allow photographers to earn a living. Otherwise, their “educational” information is dangerous and sets photographers up for failure.

We call on all photographers who pay these websites monthly to demand that they use real data that supports a living wage for us.

Concert work

On-demand work, a relatively new phenomenon in our industry, sounds positive at first glance. The companies promise they’ll do all the marketing, and you’ll get a hefty chunk of the (absurdly cheap) session fee.

They brag to new photographers that they will take care of the administrative and commercial tasks that many photographers hate, and the photographer will earn money.

But when you calculate costs, travel and editing time, photographers who work on demand earn less than someone working at a JCPenney photo studio. Yet they have no health care, no 40 hour work guarantee and no copyright either.

As these sites grow in popularity, the number of disgruntled photographers who have been complaining about the company for years is growing, pointing to low pay, poor communication and unrealistic client expectations.

We urge all photographers considering this option to decipher the fine print of what you will actually earn, so that you go in with your eyes peeled.

Influencers

TikTok and blogging sites make matters worse by providing tips on how to get cheaper rates. But these damaging “tips” are really trying to scam photographers out of making a living.

For example, some influencers suggest brides tell photographers they need a photographer for an event and then surprise them with a wedding. We all know that photographing a wedding is completely different from photographing a birthday party or corporate event, and that advice is totally unethical.

We also saw the “funny” suggestion, “Get a free boudoir shoot from your photographer when you get ready for the big day!” Of course, a full boudoir shoot is a very different story from the roughly five minutes allotted to prep the photos.

These influencers encourage customers to lobby for low prices using shady strategies, creating a major headache for photographers trying to make a living.

We call on all photographers who see this misinformation to challenge them directly about this misinformation.

So what else can we do about it?

We must come together to correct damaging and inaccurate photography pricing information. And we all need to do our best to educate both new photographers and clients about the industry.

We need to value digital. Digital documents are just as valuable, if not more valuable, than printed works. It’s your end product. If you include digital in your plans, just be sure to price them accordingly.

We need to talk about editing. Social media has tricked customers into believing that editing is so easy and all it takes is the click of a button, so there’s been an influx of oh you can just edit/fix/Photoshop this for free…n’ is this not ? Urm no, please just wipe your child’s nose and I won’t have to spend hours in Photoshop erasing boogers and recreating nostrils. Normalize that additional modifications outside of what is included in your package are not included for free. Charge for your time – the round trips and hours it takes you to make additional edits.

We need to value our work and our time. I’m sorry you didn’t like your outfit in your photos. It’s not my fault so I can’t offer you a free reshoot. I remember asking my hairdresser to take my hair to my natural color. I hated the look of my new color. You think I paid for her to do it again? Yes, of course I did. I paid full price for it since it takes the same amount of time. Time is money.

We need to talk about the hours it takes to run our businesses. People don’t see the many hours of editing that go on behind the scenes. They don’t see the many hours of marketing or the many hours of administrative work. You deserve to be paid for your time.

We need to normalize discussions about benefits and billing for our work. When you’re a professional, photography isn’t just a hobby. It’s not a simple task that anyone with a camera can do. It’s a company. We deserve to be paid for our time, talent and experience. The only way to do this as an industry is to talk about hidden costs and time.

Treat ourselves with the same respect we give our customers.

Let’s make a change.

It’s time to take a stand for our industry and say what we deserve.

Photographers have businesses.

We have costs.

Our job takes a lot of time. Running our business takes a lot of time.

We don’t take home everything we charge for. It’s the income our business needs to pay for costs, and even to pay ourselves. If we’re one of the lucky ones, we get paid more than minimum wage for our art.

It’s up to us to stand up for ourselves as professionals and bring about positive change for all.


The opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author.


About the Author: Jane Goodrich is an award-winning photographer whose underlying mission is to support and empower other photographers to achieve new levels of profitable success. With a background in business and marketing, extensive industry experience running two successful photography businesses and building The Photography Business brand, Jane is one of the most respected photographers in the industry when it’s about running a successful business. Jane has brought her knowledge and experience to Picsello, a business management software platform for photographers that will truly help photographers set their prices, run their business effectively, and market and monetize their services. Plus, we’ll help photographers overcome challenges and weed out misinformation. This article was also published here.

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