Saturday, September 24, 2016

What's A Photographer Worth?

Shadow Catcher - Stallion Springs, California
Anyone with a camera can be a photographer, right?
I had a conversation with someone the other day. They were complaining about how much photographers cost. With an upcoming wedding, this person was frustrated with the price of hiring a professional photographer for their big day. This person said that photographers should deliver more to the client and charge less money.

After all, this person told me, a professional photographer doesn't take pictures that are all that much better than what other people take. This person told me of a time that they used a cheap point-and-shoot and a fabric backdrop to create professional-style portraits, and "they turned out good." How can photographers possible justify the amount that they charge?

I explained what goes into photographing a wedding. The preparation. The time. The photographer has the busiest job on a wedding day, putting in well above a full day's work. I explained that often photographers spend two or three times the hours post-processing the pictures as they did capturing the pictures. Then there's printing and such. One wedding can become a full 40 hour work week for a photographer.
GQ Groom - Tehachapi, California
This is from the most recent wedding I photographed.
Then there is the cost of (expensive) gear and the training to become a pro at said gear. The photographer might have employees (second photographer, lighting assistant, etc.). The cost of delivering the finished images (printing, matting, framing, etc.). There is way more to it all than just snapping pictures.

Besides all of that, no matter how confident this person may be in their snapshot abilities, they cannot create the photographs that a good professional can. It's not possible. Yes, a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in awhile, but there will be a significantly noticeable difference in image quality between the pro and the non-pro. Simply put, a good photographer can read the light and a novice cannot, and photography is about light.

If you want my style of photographs, then you have to pay me the price that my work demands. I've spent many years learning the art of photography. I've developed my eye and my style through college classes and tons of experience--lots of trial-and-error and also lots of success. One cannot simply pick up a camera and hope to capture what I create. Until you've gone down that long road of learning you cannot do it.
Airport Lobby - McKinney, Texas
A print from my days in college, when I was first began to learn the art of photography.
And even then, one person's style will be different from the next. Everybody sees the world a little different. Everybody's perspective is different. People have unique experiences. It all impacts how one creates photographs. If you are hiring a photographer, it should be because you appreciate the photographs that they create--you like their style, their eye.

I told the person that you get what you pay for. That didn't go over too well. But it's the truth (sometimes the truth is not what people want to hear). There is a big difference between someone who is inexperienced and discounted and someone who is experienced and can justify a steep price tag. This is not to say that one should always go for the most expensive option, but that one should consider there's a reason why the cheap photographer is cheap. You get what you pay for.

I've photographed a few weddings, but that's not my passion. I found that they were interesting photographic exercises. I think you really have to love weddings to love being a wedding photographer. You have to love being around lots of people (usually strangers). You have to enjoy the process. I'm glad to have experienced that, but I'd much rather be out at a mountain lake at night photographing the stars, or trying to make a unique image of an iconic landmark.
Sunset At Morro Rock - Morro Bay, California
As many times as this rock has been photographed, I've never seen one quite like this.
Those who aren't around photographers don't really understand what goes into making a great photograph. There seems to be a misconception that as long as you have the right gear anyone can capture good pictures. But photography is about seeing, not clicking.

Perhaps novices don't even understand what a good picture is. Yes, it's all subjective, but I think the more one studies the art of photography the more one can discern a good image from a bad one. How can one who has never studied photography even begin to comprehend the value of a photograph?

I think a photographer's worth--the cost of their work--comes down to how much someone is willing to pay for it. The quality of the images have to transcend the novice's ignorance of art and compel the person to part with their hard-earned cash. It has to be easily recognized as great photography.
On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Is there artistic value here?
This might explain why some of the very best photographers are starving artists. Their work is beyond the comprehension of those who don't understand photographic art. Even though their images are greater, they're worth isn't. It's kind of sad, but it is reality.

So the price that a photographer's work is worth depends on the buyer just as much as the photographer. The photographs have to be great in order to demand big bucks, but they have to be easily recognized as great by those who may not know what a great photograph is.

As convoluted as that all sounds, it's actually more complicated than that. Branding and marketing are just as important as a photographer's abilities with a camera. The better you are at selling yourself the more you can charge for your work. That's why some photographers can be successful with mediocre photography and some are dirt poor with great photography.
Red Chairs - Cambria, California
I contacted the hotel that these chairs sit in front of, hoping that they'd buy this image.
This is an area that I've always struggled with. I'm not great at the business side of art. I don't pass out business cards to everyone I meet. I rarely go to potential clients and try to convince them that they should give me business. But because of this I sell myself short. I don't achieve my potential worth.

To bring this all back to the beginning, the reason those wedding photographers cost "so much" and deliver "so little" is because the photographer and the clients have valued the work at that price point. Both parties have justified the cost. The photographer has decided that their work is worth that amount, and the clients have agreed.

But if one disagrees, then by all means find the photographer who's work justifies the price that's been set. You can find those photographers out there. Uncle Jim might even do it for free. Just remember, you get what you pay for.

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