We live in an incredible time. This is the age of digital everything, with far fewer limitations on some of humanity’s wildest imaginations. You can reach a worldwide audience in literally seconds through social media platforms, blogs, articles, news, and so much more. From snapping to tweeting; Facebooking to Instagram, and all the way to the wonderful world of Google, we stay connected. In photography, this rings increasingly, and sometimes alarmingly, true. Even a brand new photographer, without much of a following, has access to thousands of people; with their fingertips to the keyboard. It’s mind-boggling to think about, and simply awesome, all rolled into one. That being said, there is a sense of devaluation throughout our industry that is leaving behind an ugly black trail to the art of photography. Images are produced in literally milliseconds, and with a simple click of the button, they can then be processed and published in just a short amount of time. On a daily basis, photographers, hairdressers, tattoo artists, and every other kind of artist are offered “exposure”, “trade”, or the ever-humiliating “practice for your portfolio”, in exchange for doing a service for someone else. Empty promises are hardly seen as hollow anymore because they are full of fluff and colorful flowers that distract us. Anyone can buy a professional SLR from their local Walmart, make a free website, and start a business in literally minutes! Even after 10 years in business I still get these offers and I catch myself feeling disheartened as I see it happen again, and again, and again.
Who is to blame for this? Cheap clients? The Internet? Local “Momtographers” (stupid word and I’m sure there will be a future blog post on this!)?
Instead of pointing fingers, I’ll quickly explain that I don’t believe it is anybody in particular. I believe it’s a result of a rapidly changing environment in which everything is always accessible to the public… for free. While I can understand it can be difficult to grasp a value to the intangible, this is the screaming reason as to why I am an advocate for selling, offering, and creating beautiful prints (look! More blog posts!).
How can we, as professionals, combat this devaluing and ignorant mindset? I’ve had many photographers come to me with their heads low, as if there is nothing they can do to change this. I’m here to tell you there is plenty of options to increase your client’s (and the community you live in) education on the business and importance and value of photography.
I will start by explaining that there is never a way to escape those who wish to trade for their ‘abundant exposure’ and ’super sweet deals’… But for every free-loader, there are 100 other people out there that love your work, will pay you what you’re worth, and be return clients for years and years to come. And this is where the work starts: you need to find them, educate them, and change the mindset they currently live in. It’s your job as the service provider to do this, and SHOW them (don’t just tell them!) how valuable your talent is, what they are paying for, and how important this industry is and should be to them.
The first and foremost thing to do?
Know your value AND Know the value of others in your trade.
Every day I use social media to connect with individuals like myself throughout the world, and on these many platforms, I constantly hear photographers and artists complaining about cheap clients not willing to pay for “what I am worth”, or underestimating their value… Then, devastatingly, I see these same people, hours later, turn around and ask for people to trade with them. “Who wants to trade family sessions?” “I’ll shoot yours, if you shoot mine!” “I need professional headshots—who wants to trade?!” It goes on and on. While I’m not against trades or a good deal (I mean, let’s be honest—we all want a deal), expecting a deal or a trade from fellow colleagues, while simultaneously expecting clients to not ask for or want one, is not only hypocritical, but dishonest, and unethical.
If you can’t value someone else in your same profession, why should a client? How much did you pay for your last family photo session? Headshots? Wedding? Life is tricky. I understand that every one of us is in a different situation and at different times of their life. But take a step back, and self-evaluate. Ask yourself: ‘how much would I pay?’ Not hypothetically – REALISTICALLY.
HERE IS A NOVEL CONCEPT: You are only allowed to charge exactly what you are willing to pay yourself.
Of course, artists are not solely to blame, but a growing problem that starts with us, can end with us. If you get lucky and happen to find a photographer that values your work as you value theirs, AND they need a trade at the same time… Fantastic! It should feel like free Slurpee Day. If not, remember what you’re telling your clients:
Photography is an investment. Plan. Save. Remember the value. It’s so much more worth it when you work hard to earn it.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” –Mahatma Gandhi
As simply as I can put it: be your own ideal client!