Neverending Dilema: Charging for Photos

It should be a no-brainer, since I'm a photographer, to want to make money and charge for my photos. I mean, I have to pay my bills! I have to buy lenses and drive to the photo shoot and put food in my stomach, but that still doesn't make it any easier when a friends asks me "How much would you charge for...?" It just makes it harder.

In a perfect world, I wouldn't have to charge anything. I could take photos for people all day. It's not just my friends - it's my desire to share art and passion with EVERYONE - that art and passion being my photography. I feel like when you have to pay for something, you're less inspired, you're less taken, you're just making sure you get what you paid for. It often takes the fun out of what I'm doing, and burns me out a bit. That's probably why I keep odd jobs on the side and donate so much time. And yet, even donating drums up business - and I have people asking, "How much for...?"

So I ask myself, what do I do for each photography hour they want to hire me for? Depends on the shoot. What do I need to do for post-processing? Depends on the shoot. How long for the travel, the file dump; how much direction and effort and how much set up on my part? Depends on the shoot. I want to tell people "Oh, $60 an hour, 10 finished photos, watermarked online only." Some people say WOW, others say, oh. How can I respond, especially when those who say "oh" are my friends, are the reason I take photos so I can share them and make people happy? I don't tell them anything.

It's taken me this long to realize, you can't put prices up on your website. As attractive as it is, telling people they'll get a flat hourly rate and hoping they think it's reasonable is asinine. Some photoshoots require little prep, little post, and little travel, making them easily a $50 shoot that a person can be fine with. Others require me to build a city and herd cats, which could make them easily $100 an hour, or more. Think that's unreasonable? See my earlier post about what goes into an hour of photography.

So, I've decided this: There are cut & dry shoots. Portfolio rebuilds for models, senior photos, social media updates, and weddings. Everything else will require a FREE, scheduled meeting, whether by phone, Skype, Facebook chat, whatever - we will have to discuss our options before I price. I may lose a bit of business when people can't see exactly what I'm about on my website at first glance, but I think I'll gain the word of mouth referrals when people are stoked to find out they're the least difficult subject I've ever met, and therefore get a discount.

Let me mention, I didn't even cover travel costs (how to charge someone for gas money and time spent in traffic with no air conditioning?), how many finished photos (how much post work and why on Earth should I expect them to BUY unmarked photos!?), and how much time for each shoot (when I say it only takes an hour, I mean it, but...). And of course, bartering.

Why can't we all just barter?

So begins an open letter to Progress Energy:

Dear billing collections department at Progress Energy,
I'm wondering how you feel about Fresh Eggs, a company photoshoot, crocheted dishcloths, homemade gluten free bread, and candles? I think we can work something out...

Personality Driven Photography

Occasionally I'll turn down a job because the potential client doesn't want to comply with the way I work. Maybe that's me being a prima donna, or maybe that's me having values. Either way, I just don't put up with that. This is how I do it, and it's been working so far.

People come to me with your basic portrait shoots, business headshot shoots, dating website portfolio shoots; those are the major ones in my current business. These people are looking to get "great" pictures. They have seen examples and show me what they think is "great", and me, being a normal person above all, usually find the photos corny and hilarious. Granted, sometimes people show me photos like Taylor McCutchan and then I have my work cut out for me, but for some reason, that's rare.

So I have these nice people who want me to take cheesy, lame photos of them because they think they're good. I remind these people that no matter what they taught us in elementary school, just about everyone judges the book by its cover. Then I explain to them my method.

Tell me about yourself, only the important stuff. Tell me the things you want people to see in you, good things. Tell me what makes you different from other business professionals, or what you want to stand out on your social media or dating profile. Are you trustworthy? Social? Funny? Studious? A hard worker? Into animals?

I build a photoshoot around the traits they give me, using instinct to guide them. I watch them when they speak to me when I first arrive. I ask myself "Are they shy? Are they overconfident? Do they already know what they want to do? Are they comfortable with me?" To be completely honest, I NEVER use photos from the first 15 minutes of a shoot, because they're all duds. The subject is uncomfortable and I don't know them well enough yet. So I choose the most comfortable location, the easiest poses, and the most friendly conversation to get them talking, and the camera captures the rest.

By the end of the shoot, the client is coming up with poses or actions, regretting not bringing a bottle of beer or a fishing pole as a prop, asking me how quickly I can send them samples. I don't say this because I'm tooting some kind of imaginary horn, I say it because I was lucky enough to stumble upon a technique that makes my (unbelievably silly) slogan actually mean something. When you work this way, your subject is comfortable, and you're giving them photos that actually mean something and that will convey a part of their personality, it's true that "It only takes an hour".

Yes, I really do say that. It makes me feel special.

Making Your Subject Comfortable

So often, models & clients come voice to me that during our photoshoot, they got more direction than they had with any other photographer. This makes me proud, knowing I'm doing something right. But honestly, doesn't everyone give direction?

I guess not.

This post isn't for model photography, FYI, so I'll continue from here on a strictly client basis.

Just a note to self, or to you, as a photographer, you have to make the people in front of the camera feel comfortable. Every - single - time I photograph someone (unless they're a professional model), I CONSTANTLY hear "Oh, I look TERRIBLE in pictures" and "I'm so NOT photogenic" and my favorite "You're going to have to do a LOT of photoshop on my face".

I'm not sure if it's human nature to HATE the way they look, or if society's way of painting people who find themselves beautiful as vain, but just about everyone I meet is vastly uncomfortable in front of the camera. As a photographer, it becomes not only my job to take their picture, but to make them look GOOD, and honestly, not hate themselves.

The shoot starts and they're tense, not knowing whether or not to smile or 'smolder', turn, stand up straight, lean in our out, profile, etc; so I immediately begin with direction. I'd say it's a bit of a recipe.

60% Direction: "Turn your face this way, look down with your eyes, shoulders up, cross your hands"
25% Confidence boosting: "Now that's a great pose", "With your eyes looking that direction, you look really studious", "Standing that way makes you look very elegant"
15% Hard Evidence: Yes, once I finish a pose, if I came up with a shot that I know they'll like (instinct), I show them. It's a raw, imperfect photo, but when you tell them it's a great photo, show them they created the exact look you were hoping for, and that they look (insert adjective here), you'll start getting results.

Of course, I pepper in some joking, a few small anecdotes, and as many opportunities (without being too many) to remind them that they are not alone, everyone else feels weird and unnatural in front of the camera.

When people ask where I studied photography

In my opinion, it's one thing to study photography; the technical aspects, lighting & composition, direction. But it's another completely separate skill set to have studied what you'll be photographing. If you're going to photograph models, study 'modeling', not 'photographing models', or if you'll be photographing weddings, study 'getting married', versus 'photographing weddings.'

The difference between photos taken by someone who knows how to 'photograph a model' versus one who knows 'how to model' will be substantially noticeable. If you know how to photograph a model, you know the technical aspect, how to make them look proportionate, stunning, meaningful. But if you know how to model, you know how to tell them to stand, how their face should look, how their body should move. When you're trying to speak through a photo, you've got to know not only what you want to say, but how to say it. It isn't something you can explain in words, or you would have. And it isn't something you can ask someone to explain for you, because it's your meaning. So having the tools to cross the bridge between art and subject are just as valuable as your technical knowledge.

I rant on this way because people give me a sort of sad sigh when I answer "Where did you go to school for photography" with "I didn't". At times I feel like I should be ashamed of this - how can I call myself a professional without a piece of paper validating my claim?

I let my photos validate themselves.

If there is anyone who would not work with me because I did not attend school, that is entirely their business. But those same people who give me a sad, seemingly knowing sigh when I 'admit' to having no formal training, are the same people who can't believe I don't charge more for the photos I give them, and that's all the validation I need.

Prioritizing Passions

When you work in the field of your passion, most days don't feel like work. So sometimes it can be hard to know when to leave "work" and just "relax". Personally, those lines blur together in my world.

Before I started a business as a photographer, taking clients instead of friends out for photo shoots, photography was how I relaxed from day to day life, from school, and from stress. Now, with deadlines, payments, checklists, and reminders, every time the phone rings, I am torn between excitement over a new project, and the stress of yet another added event. It can get to the point where I just want to put my camera down for an hour, a day, a week, a month, and I don't want to feel that way.

Today, in a business meeting, talking with fellow small business collaborators, I realize that I need to prioritize.

Since I started this business, and as I look back, I realize there are many things I have stopped doing that I love: yoga, soap-making, print photography excursions, going to the dog park with my dog, watching movies, going on dates(!), having a regular sleep schedule(!). At first, I was having so much fun, I didn't even notice. People were paying me exactly how much I wanted to do something I already LOVED to do! But I ended up compromising my daily life to attain that.

I feel myself getting burnt out more easily, getting tired and sick more often, and having much less patience than I used to. Not only had my physical body been suffering all the stress and rushing and lack of sleep, but my soul was suffering for all the things it was missing; all the things that make me happy. I don't want to lose jobs and forfeit having a business, but I don't want to lose my mind and forfeit the things I love. What I need, is balance.

I'm going to sit down and write down the things I love , when I love to do them, and how much I love to do them. I'm going to look at myself, how I feel, and think about how all the things I miss doing fit into making myself better so I have the energy to perform at my job as well as the strength to tell myself, "No, not one more photo, go to sleep!". I can't expect it will be easy, because even at 19, I don't know everything (despite popular opinion), but I feel like I really learned something about myself today, something that will be valuable when I blossom into more than who I am now.

What I Actually Do as a Portrait Photographer

So tonight, I broke down what I ACTUALLY DO as a photographer. I was thinking that my prices were too high - $60 per hour for shooting with a little post processing included. I even considered not listing my prices because then I could go on a case by case basis so people didn't think I was nuts. Then I actually counted it out. Here we go, a little rant coming your way.
What is advertised: $60 per hour + 10 processed photos on a disc, $15 per each additional 10 photo disc!
What actually goes down:
-Personalize your contract to what you're actually getting, because no two shoots end up being alike, no matter what.
-Get together the equipment I need, including my own cameras, anything I might need to borrow/rent from friends, any people I have help me at the shoot who I normally buy dinner for (I usually have to call them, set that up too).
-Research for the shoot; like I said, no shoot is the same!
-Take all your emails and questions and suggestions.
Total time: at LEAST 1-2 hours.
Okay, so that's all the stuff that happens BEFORE every shoot. Some shoots it takes 45minto put together a contract, schedule, get a game plan of your 6 poses, and pack up. Sometimes it takes more than 3 hours to write a contract from scratch, talk to you on the phone or email for 30min to an hour, research your shoot and send you samples, take your samples, convince a friend to hold a reflector to be paid in Taco Bus, and pack up my stuff.
My car gets 22 miles to the $3.40 gallon. That means it costs $1-5 for me to drive to your shoot (round trip), and I am still spending time (usually about a half hour, which would be $30) to drive there. Sometimes I charge for this, sometimes I don't.
What I actually charge you for. Standing there for 1 hour (minimum) directing, snapping, moving, squatting, jumping, contorting, and being creative as you entrust to me your beauty, hoping I capture it the way you want me to. Honestly, this is my favorite part, the fun part. The reason I take pro bono jobs - I just love it that much. But this is what people pay for.
This is the secret time consumer! I have to load them onto my computer, sort through a million and one of you blinking, sneezing, moving, talking, frowning, sweating, and repeats, down to the photos that I believe are quality. This takes THE MOST TIME. Consider about 300-500 pictures per hour MINIMUM, so it takes about 2 hours to go through them all, then sort them into your folder with your information.
This is the cool stuff. The filters, color changes, curve, vintage look, black and white, exposure, vignette, clarity, eyes, lips, making your skin look naturally beautiful as it is, and whatever else you have specified I do. A lot goes into making a picture great, and making a picture EXPLODE. Take about 5-10 minutes per picture, and you get ten for free. So consider this taking AT LEAST and hour, maybe two.
The shortest process; watermark them & either zip or burn. 45min tops.
So, the TOTAL TIME, for which I charge a supposed $60 per hour:
Minimum: 7 HOURS, meaning I make approx. $8.60 per hour (hello part-time grocery store cashier)
Maximum (for a ONE hour shoot, not counting anything more than that, like promotional, event, or fashion photography): OVER 11 HOURS, meaning I make approx. $5-$6 per hour (not even minimum wage).
Next time I feel like I charge too much, I'm going to look at this and remind myself that I love what I do, and that's why I do it. (:
NOTE: This does not even COVER any promotional, product, event, fashion, wedding, or business photography. I'm not sure I'm ready to break that down.


Amelia Bartlett, 19, local photographer, usually professional.
A blog seems like a good idea in this day and age, especially with a growing local business. So, here are a few things about myself.

Above all, I am a performer, a writer, a photographer, a singer, a student, a teacher, a lover, and an open mind.
My body modification of choice is circus and yoga arts. I treat my body like a temple, and others just as likewise. I enjoy a healthy and balanced lifestyle with my fair share of craziness and spontaneity.

Photography is special to me, because while I do not hoard or collect much, I am a connoisseur of moments. Every picture should stand alone, and that's my ultimate purpose. Every picture may be worth a thousand words, but I want to make sure mine are meaningful and complete.

I should hope my style speaks for itself. I do a great deal of pro bono and volunteer work because this is first and foremost my passion. I enjoy helping small business owners and collaborating with artists. I rarely turn down trades or chances to network because connecting with others in the community is the best way to make friends. I try to surround myself with like-minded people.

This blog will hopefully be a fun and laid back outlet for little quips of information, semi frequent updates, and a place to keep myself in check as an artist and as a person.