Questions of Profitability as a Photographer

Posted on August 16, 2013


Question: How do the large corporate chains sell their packages of a session and 100 images for less than $10? First, they work on the premise on quantity over quality. This is shown in that everyone who goes to them has the same poses, lighting, location (their studio), and same everything.  Clients are treated as cattle. Second, there are often costs that are carried by the base organization (if there is one) that the photography studio doesn’t account or pay. Often, the base organization considers this a loss leader. This is a way to hide the true costs through accounting. Professionals won’t be able to hide their costs this way or stay in business with service like this. Finally, some work on using high pressure sales tactics to confuse clients and get them to purchase more than the base package of the low $10 price. You will notice that several of these chains have failed in recent months.

Question: Can’t I just copy John Smith’s price list off his web site? This may work for you, but each photographer is different. Your costs will be different. If everything you do is identical – the clients, the labs, the same everything – this might be true. It is best for you to figure this out on your own and determine your own prices for you based on your own business plan. While your prices may be similar, they probably won’t be the same.  Remember: Your work is your own and photography isn’t a commodity product unless you make it that way.

Question: How do photographers make discount pre-pay coupons work? One of the new marketing tools around are pre-paid service coupons. The company that markets them usually takes 50-60% of the purchase price of the coupon up front and pays you a check for the balance. You are then required to provide those services to everyone who purchased a coupon. Most set it up for a session plus two to four images, and undercut their margin. Frequently, the number of people who use their coupons before they expire are less than 60% depending on the service you use. The advantage you have as a photographer is that the clients can buy additional images or packages where you make more money from that session. You also hope to get repeat buyers. I personally haven’t figured out how to make something like this work. Many of the “pre-paid” coupon companies are wanting their customers to “walk away” with something in hand. I also don’t know how you would do this as a photographer.

Question: How do you deal with shoot and burn photographers. I don’t. They are usually out of business in six months to a year. What seemed like a good rate to be paid turns out to not be when they start getting held to higher standards. I frequently educate their clients who want my services but at their “friends” rates.  There will always be people who undercut by providing less service and think they are “pros” but hang in there. They won’t be there forever.  Always emphasize that you provide service and value for your client’s money.

Question: How do you make money doing fashion work? I don’t. Rarely do I ever get paid for any fashion work. Instead, I am paid for the work referrals I get when others see my work published or used by designers. Highly conceptualized shoots are always at a loss, as you will have many expenses but never any income directly for the images you create.  Keep in mind that your exposure to models will also help you land certain corporate clients as they are always looking for new faces.