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Competition, Pricing, and The Sony “Mistake”

Can we, as an industry, pause a moment and take a deep breath?


Okay.  Straight talk coming your way today, fair warning.

I submit that as a profession, we:

1) Spend far too much time thinking about how our competition is pricing their work,

2) Misunderstand who our competition actually is, and

3) Waste considerable emotional energy on being upset by said ‘competition’, making ourselves miserable and insecure, instead of pouring that energy into the things that matter.

There, I said it.  I may get angry letters over this, but it feels good to say it out loud.

Please understand who your competition is, and who it is NOT.

The perennial woe of photographers is all the “newbies” who charge nothing for their work.  It’s time we accept that freebie sessions (and newbies) aren’t going anywhere.  People need to learn their cameras, and to get people in front of their cameras they are going to offer free sessions.  Yes, it shifts people’s price anchors and makes some people devalue photography.  Yes, that is upsetting.  (It’s also common in every freelance field, from graphic design to writing to acting to music.)

But in no way are the free-session-givers my competition.  Or yours.

If someone was considering hiring me, and jumped at the chance to have a free session with someone else instead, they weren’t my target client to begin with. 


I have two distinct client groups.  One group is well-off and ready to spend money on a photographer, and they rely mostly on referrals (not Google) to find one.  To reach these people, I simply have to build relationships with those they already trust.  The second group is a gaggle of loyal followers who simply love my work, follow every blog post, and want to hire me above anyone else.  Although I’m often ‘out of their price range’ they have caught the vision of what I’m doing, and they save up the money to hire me.  (Humbling.)

Neither one of those groups is going to be tempted away by someone offering a $0 session. 

A financially high-powered family is going to be cautious with money, sure, but they are not going to be interested in ‘bargain art.’  They want someone who knows what they are doing and can produce consistent, predictable results that they can hang on their wall.  The second group is also not going to be price comparing, because they have a relationship with me and are already imagining my images on their walls.  I’m absolutely not the greatest photographer on the planet.  I never will be.  But I can spend every second possible creating and maintaining meaningful relationships.  You can’t put a price on that.

I never for one second considered having anyone but Liz Frandsen photograph my wedding.  I had followed her, I knew her, and I trusted that she would give me exactly what I wanted.  I didn’t care that I had to fly her in from another state.  I didn’t care what her packages cost or how much photography ate out of my budget.  She was it.

We need to be spending our energy building those kinds of relationships with people – not fretting about how much other people are charging.  Once someone is committed to acquiring a certain level of art from an individual they trust, bargain-basement deals fall irrelevant by the wayside.  Is this scary, hard to believe, and hard to do?  Absolutely.  But it is possible.

Just in case you think I’m lying, I offer you an actual email that I received from a non-photographer businessman who reads this blog:

I have been reading your advice to photographers for some time now and find it refreshing and engaging.  Of particular interest to me has been the apparent angst among the professional photographer community about prices – in particular: charging enough to be profitable.  Perhaps your photographer friends would benefit from the point of view of at least one of their potential clients – me.

I am not a photographer.  Oh, yes, I have a very nice camera and out of the thousands of photographs I take I do manage to come up with a handful that are perfect, but they are simply accidents of light, subject, and automatic camera settings which combine for a fortunate happenstance.  But you people – professional photographers – need to understand that people like me consider using your services because we know you are artists.  It is your creativity for which I am willing to pay.  You can turn a photo session of a couple in a junkyard into a love story on the most interesting stage in the world.  I can’t.

Snapshots are great, but photos worthy of hanging on a wall for decades has to cost something.  (You wonder how many art patrons ended up regretting having a masterpiece created for them.  Like, “oh, dang, I wish I had not paid Leo so much to paint that weird picture of Mona!”)

You can do things I cannot – and like any other thing I cannot do (such as plumbing) – I am willing to pay an expert to do an expert’s job.  It is your talent, your mastery of the camera, and your eye that are valuable to me, and I expect I will need to pay what they are worth.

Photographers who charge between $2,000 and $6,000 have to understand that they made a decision about their market already.  They are not going for the $59.95 customer or the $800 customer, so quit worrying about customers in that range…just provide the best experience for $2,000 that is possible.

So quit fussing so much about prices.  Choose your market and go for it.  Make it as easy as you can for me to use your services, but if you are not profitable, I know you won’t be around the next time I need you.  Do your best work for me and know that I enjoy recommending experts to my friends.

Boom.  Straight from a potential client’s mouth – and one who is not some wealthy super-splurger, either.

Running your own business is scary as heck.  It’s natural to want to look around you and make sure you’re ‘doing it right’ and ‘staying competitive.’

And it’s darn smart business practice to know what your competitors are doing and to stay in touch with what is happening in your market.  Absolutely.  But instead of just responding to the market, why not see what they’re not doing, and use that to drive the market?

Why not take that energy you spend worrying about others and pour it into making your images, your client experience, your business a wonder to behold?  Why not practice so much that you’re churning out better and better images?  Why not charge what you’re worth and invest in killer education to push you even farther?  Why not become so great at connecting with people that those ideal clients will want to hire no one but you?

I saw today that Sony is lowering its tablet prices in anticipation of the upcoming iPad 3.  If I were Sony, I’d quit rubbernecking at what Apple is doing and go out there and create my own insanely loyal following.  Sure, they can make money chasing after the bargain-hunters who aren’t enamoured enough of Apple to pay top dollar.  Nothing wrong with that.  It’s a good market, and possibly a profitable one.  But an exhausting one.  If customers are not loyal to you and arrive at your doorstep purely on price, they’ll leave as soon as they came when someone else lowers their prices.  That makes for a tough job, the terms of which will be constantly dictated by other people.

I’d rather have the loyal following.

Let’s go create one, shall we?


UPDATE:  The original article mistakenly referred to Samsung instead of Sony.  The text has been updated accordingly.  Apologies!


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  1. Diane on February 29, 2012 at 11:20 am

    I couldn’t agree more! I am sick of hearing this conversation on just about every forum I visit.

    I’m a ‘newbie’ myself, and I have offered free sessions in order to build a portfolio, but I need to review my current prices and packages in order to reach those discerning clients. I started blaming my lack of business on the (fairly deprived) area in which I live, the low-income people that live around and about, and the apathy of the general public, and of course the current economic downturn. I’ve also had a crisis of confidence in my work, but that is slowly improving.

    It’s really been hard to get going, especially as my husband and I are both unemployed and need to make something work, and soon.

    • Jenika on February 29, 2012 at 5:13 pm

      Hang in there Diane! We all go through that scary time when things are tight. Unemployment is a rough patch – last year I was definitely chanting to myself “I’m not unemployed, I’m self-employed!” Kept me going anyway. I wish you well as you continue on. Thanks for the comment.

  2. tim on February 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    GREAT article, but I would expect nothing less. I discovered your blog about a week or so ago and anticipate every post you write. Very engaging, insightful and one I am learning from. Thank you!

    • Jenika on February 29, 2012 at 5:09 pm

      Thanks for the kind words Tim! 🙂 So glad to hear that you’re enjoying it.

  3. Kerri on February 29, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Agreed, 100%, and guilty of said thoughts as well. Thanks for the pep talk. Perfectly delivered.

    • Jenika on February 29, 2012 at 5:14 pm

      Thanks Kerri. 🙂

  4. Marcia on February 29, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    I just have to ask…Are you living in some secret condo in my head? You always seem to pick things out of my brain. lol Wonderful article, and as usual the release was timed just as I was discussing this very thing with my husband.

    My pricing decision was a part of my recent relaunch. Instead of trying to please everyone who even looks my way, I’m now focused on a select clientele who are interested in purchasing one of a kind pieces of art.

    Thank you for your dedication and hard work in putting together these informative articles.

    • Jenika on February 29, 2012 at 5:14 pm

      Ha, yes, your mind is my second home 😉 Haha. These are things everyone goes through! I’m so glad that you’re focusing in on who you want your business to target. Congrats. Glad I could help!

  5. Stacey Anders on February 29, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    I so appreciate this post! Exactly what I needed to hear to motivate me to make my business all it can be! Thank you so much for your wisdom and inspiration!

    • Jenika on February 29, 2012 at 5:15 pm

      You’re welcome Stacey! 🙂 You can do it!

  6. Britt Anderson on February 29, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    Fantastic advice….fantastic words of wisdom!

    • Jenika on February 29, 2012 at 5:15 pm

      Thanks Britt! 🙂

  7. Allison on February 29, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    As always.. right on the mark. I started my business just over a year ago, but was in the photography game for 10 years before that, shooting for friends and family. When I started the business, I started slow with lower prices, and always felt guilty when I heard other photogs complaining about undercharging. I felt like I was doing a dis-service to my fellow photographers, and to the business itself, even though I wasn’t ready to charge more. Talk about self-deprecating. I just upped my prices, but not because of what anyone else said; it was time and I was ready. Photographers, and artists in general, have the worst case of “The Joneses” I’ve ever seen, and it’s high time we rise above that. I love to work together with photographers in my area, to collaborate and have fun. It’s refreshing to see someone else’s point of view and talk it through with them, not just about business but about art and photography and all the fun parts that we sometimes forget about. *Hops off soapbox*

    • Jenika on February 29, 2012 at 5:23 pm

      Great soapbox speech, haha. 🙂 Thanks for listening to mine. I went through that too when I started – I didn’t even think of them as free sessions, I thought of them as “I need to practice with actual people” sessions. Once I produced consistent results, I started charging, and increased the price slowly. It’s only fair to charge commensurate with your abilities anyway – we shouldn’t pressure people into charging hundreds of dollars when they’ve only owned a camera for a few months! THAT would actually be worse for the industry because then there would be inconsistent work priced at that level, and so people would be suspicious of true professionals charging that amount if they had gotten ‘burned’ in the past! Ahh, anyway. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. We’re all in this together, so we might as well speak honestly with each other. 🙂

  8. Shaun McGuire on February 29, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    I can’t describe how much sense you make. I have been considering this for some time now. I started in the selling a product game just under a year ago. So far I have been fairly busy with shoots every other weekend while holding down a day job too. I was starting to think that people were coming to me because i was sending out the wrong message. I was cheap.

    I’m now strongly considering the idea of a change of my vision. I’m going to start with the above. A total rethink of what I believe I’m worth. Followed by a rethink of my pricing structure. I have decided its make or break. Charge what I’m worth and either bring in some clients who respect that or do without. Otherwise its not profitable and a waste of time.

    Great help thanks again.

  9. robyn on February 29, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    Good pep talk. I’m about to raise prices because I’m booking so far in advance. I fear upsetting my loyal following, and it makes me sad to lose them because I love them after a few years. So, I hope I get to keep them. But, raising prices is always tough because of the scrutiny we face, and at the same time, I am so tired from working such long hours for such low wages, producing results that are not the best in the world, but are good, and are different from my “competition”.

    So, good pep talk. Thank you.


  10. Heather Morrow on March 2, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Such a wonderful post filled with insight. Thank you for inspiring me to get out there and do what everyone else isn’t. Thank you!

  11. Lydia Myers on March 7, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    I am just JUST starting out (like two months ago) in this business, and have been feeling discouraged. Thank you for this post! I feel positive and very “I can do this”-ish now!

    • Jenika on March 7, 2012 at 8:24 pm

      Yay!!! 😀 You CAN do it Lydia!

  12. Bethany O'Connor on March 13, 2012 at 2:31 am

    YOU HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD!!! Thank you for this helpful insight!!

    • Jenika on March 13, 2012 at 2:39 am

      Thanks Bethany! 🙂

  13. Liza on September 1, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Thank you….your posts are such joy to read….

  14. Patricia Peeters Photography on December 2, 2012 at 12:33 am

    Hi,I’m from Belgium and started my business in Oct 2012 so i’m just starting.I’m taking pictures a few years now and it became a real passion,a great passion that I wanted to start something .I think your site is a real bless to all photographers,because what you writing is so true. <3 it ! I have munch trouble with charging enough and I still feel bad about it.I give a few times free sessions so that I can built my portofolio and that some peoples can see my work.I know there are a lot of good photographers outside,but for me is so important to give each picture a little peace of art with all my knowledge and heart.Having so munch trouble to charge enough money,and I know I have to do so if I want to continue this beautiful journee.
    My goal is to give the peoples a great experience as a humain and great souvenirs .
    I learn every day from it !

  15. Andy Craggs on March 4, 2014 at 10:41 am

    bang on the money as always, this is possible one of the best posts I’ve read and has helped me to refocus where my target client base needs to be. Now to work on getting there!!

  16. Jill on March 14, 2016 at 11:21 pm

    I’m a postpartum doula. Those of us in the birth worker community are having this conversation a lot lately! Thank you for this great post!

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