How photographers can maintain their day rates

Cost is a huge issue for all photographers, and not an easy one to solve either. We ran our cost webinar this week (30th Jan) and had a great selection of challenging questions during the live Q&A session that we always run after these events.

This selection of questions is probably very typical of the questions that many photographers will have. So we’re publishing them here, along with our answers to give you some support on this issue and also to provoke some wider debate and feedback on an issue that affects many commercial photographers on a regular basis.

Q:There is a huge supply and demand issue. For example, in event photography, Google is literally flooded and there are many photographers working at less than half of my rates. This also applies to corporate portraiture. The problem is this erosion of the implied value of photography leaves clients accepting lower standards, and having less to spend, as the assumption is it is a low cost product. The problem is there are so many photographers prepared to work for so little.

Eposure: We commonly hear about the lack of appreciation of the value of photography, but there is less acknowledgement about the supply vs demand of commercial photography. In any market, when the supply/demand ratio changes to make the supply higher, prices do drop. And this is what is happening in commercial photography to a greater or lesser extent across the full range of genres.

There will be many photographers out there taking the view that they would rather work twice as many days, and charge half as much and maintain their average annual income. This naturally adds to the concern by those who are trying to maintain their day rates, that this will further affect the market rate over the long term.

If you are of the opinion that you don’t want to accept this decline in market rate, then you have to really look at how you build a business proposition and sell your product in a way that will help buyers understand the value of what they are actually getting from you to justify these higher rates. The reality of the situation is, that if your business looks just the same as someone else’s who is charging considerably less than you, then you are going to continue to lose out.

Q:With long-term, year in year out clients, should you increase prices over time, based on inflation for example?

Eposure: Its quite reasonable to expect some increase in income, however you need to approach this issue very sensitively to make it a constructive discussion with your client. Firstly, you need to make sure you have done some research about the health of that company in terms of how well it is performing; a businesses that is struggling isn’t going to respond well to this extra pressure, so getting your timing right from this point of view is critical. You also need to have an approach worked out, and propose an arrangement where you both benefit from a new deal. This involves you looking at the value that you provide and making some suggestions about how you can increase the value that a client gets from you on the back of a price increase. Be creative and engaging with your approach, give them something interesting to think about that creates some conversation or discussion about your photography and what it can do for their business.

Q: Excellent webinar, but in my experience there do tend to be ‘going rates’ for certain areas and right now they seem to be under huge pressure. One issue is identifying these going rates, especially in different parts of the country. For example, I spent most of my career in London and now work well outside of it. Finding the right price-level has been very difficult, and I know I have lost a lot based on price alone. Any thoughts on how to gauge acceptable high, mid and low points in different parts of the country would be much appreciated

Eposure: There are two main points here. Researching price is important – you have to know and understand the market that you are in to be able to gauge where you sit within it. There is a general lack of resource out there that identifies rate ranges, but most photographers we speak to have a good idea based on anecdotal feedback about where they sit within their general marketplace. Secondly, if you have lost a lot of work based on price alone, then you have to re-look at your photography proposition, because the chances are it isn’t differentiating you from the cheaper competition. When we speak to buyers, they understand that there are many different rate levels out there, but they have a clear view of the rate that is right for them, based on the value that they will get from the photographer. Whilst rate is important, its ultimately the value of your work that you have to define, as this is how buyers will determine what you are worth to them and their business.

Q:
Today I was out-quoted by someone who charged less than half my day rate. How can I best make the client know they’re taking a huge risk?

Eposure: This is an all-to-common story. Businesses have a general lack of understanding about what goes into the production of the photo-shoot that they are commissioning. However, because of this, as the potential supplier, the responsibility is the photographer’s to put narrative and transparency into their quotes that fully explain what a client is getting for their money. This type of narrative also includes making clients aware of potential risks by explaining what exactly it is about you that guarantees that they will not be exposed to those risks if they commission you.

Q: From your research in to the photography market rate, what are typical day rates for the various photography types? This would be hugely valuable to members, especially if people are trying to charge pre-recession prices. Knowing how the market is changing can help Eposure members stay ahead of the market.

Eposure: Despite the fact that there are one or two resources out there that look at rate ranges, they offer a fairly blunt approach. Photographer’s don’t tend to put prices on their sites, so there is no way of really collating accurate information that looks at region or genre. But don’t forget, every photographer is in the same boat! Nobody has access to that information, which means photographers have to set their own price based on their own criteria.

The only way that this type of data would be collated would be for photographers to disclose their day rates as part of an anonymous survey, and Eposure are very interested to hear what your views are about this.

Q: If we tactically heavily discount when entering a new market or when starting, there is a risk we get locked into the discounted price going forward with that client/agent. How do we go about increasing prices once the bar has been set low?

Eposure: The key here is to make sure that the client is aware of your longer term pricing strategy right from the beginning. The general strategy for discounting is to create a body of work which you can sell to new clients. So, whilst you may experience some reluctance from your existing clients, you really need to be balancing this by finding new clients who recognise the value in this new work and are prepared to pay you the price you want.

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