One of the parts that I did not realize I would enjoy so much when I started this photography business endeavor was the business side of it. Believe it or not, one the most time intensive aspects of being a photographer is not spent with a camera in my hands. Rather, it is spent figuring out how to acquire clients and be competitive in an extremely competitive market. I am constantly trying to optimize what I do and figure out how I can differentiate my offerings to attract my clients.
One of the big things that takes time to figure out is pricing and payment. Honestly, my first experience with being a client of a portrait photographer was not good. My church had partnered with Olan Mills to update the church directory. Our church announced that if anyone wanted to be in the new picture directory, they would have to set up a time to sit for a portrait. So we did. My church growing up never did this kind of thing, so I thought that when we signed up my wife and I were just going to go have our portrait taken and then leave. Apparently that was not the case.
We showed up for our 15-min session and the photographer was great. He got us to smile authentic smiles and laugh by saying things that made us blush. Needless to say, the portraits came out awesome. After our 10 minutes were done sitting in front of the lens, I got up ready to leave. That is when things went south for me. To my surprise, after our portraits were taken, the photographer took us to a desk and began the process of selling prints to us. I was not ready for this. My wife, on the other hand, had some experience with this type of thing growing up and had expected it. In fact, she had already imagined that we would buy some prints to give family as Christmas presents. I felt ambushed! I believe my lips said something like, "Sure, Dear". Inside, my brain was shutting down as I looked at the prices. You see, between my wife and I, we were making decent money, but we had just gotten married and my mind had not yet transitioned from the mentality of living on a $23k graduate student stipend. That nearly $100 in prints was hard to swallow.
Pastor Robert Reeves at Calvary Assembly, where my family and I attend church, gave one of the clearest definitions of the word "problem" that I have heard. A problem, he says, is where expectations and reality don't match. For me, that whole experience was problematic. However, it was not because the sales strategy was bad. Rather it was because I, as the client, had not been fully informed on what to expect during the session. It left a bad taste in my mouth.
I am striving to learn from that experience to provide you all better. With that, I am excited to announce the next evolution of my pricing for family sessions. In the process, I will also discuss my previous pricing strategies and why I don't believe they are as sensible.
The New Model - Pay Per Image
This past Fall, I saw an ad on my Facebook feed that presented the greatest solution to pricing I had seen yet. I don't remember the name of the company, so I can't give proper credit, but it was so good that it is worth copying.
The driving idea behind this strategy is to remove all risk from you, the client, up front. When you schedule a family session, I, the photographer, take on all of the risk in the session. You would simply show up to the session and I would have to earn your money by how I work with you and by producing fantastic final images. You will be presented with an online gallery of the final edits about a week later. At that point, you will have the option to buy images on an individual basis. That will be the very first time that money will exchange hands. Of course there would be tiered pricing, so that if you buy more images, you will pay less per image. Images would start at $15 per image for the first 9 images. Starting at 10 images, the price would drop to $12 per image. There will be no obligation to buy any, so there will still be no pressure on your part. For example, if you only buy one, then the entire thing cost will cost $15. If you only wanted 3, it would cost $45. If you want the most bang for your buck, then you can buy 10 at $120. Their would also be a price set for the entire set if you want to buy them all. If you hate the images, which I predict won't be the case, then you will only be out your time. I have yet to have an unhappy customer, so it is a safe bet for me.
Why is this a good strategy?
- The expectations are crystal clear. The client buys only what they want.
- You don't need to take any monetary risk. If you don't like the edited images, they don't need to buy any.
- It allows me to present finished products only to you.
- I am incentivized to produce more compelling images because they are sold per image.
The Old Model #1 - Client Takes All Approach
I have come to this new pricing strategy by a bit of a roundabout route. My very first pricing strategy was to charge by the time spent with me. I would edit the images and then send all of the images that I believed were of a high quality to the client. At first glance, this seems simple, easy, and likely to make happy clients. However, it has major downsides. The first and most important problem with this model is that it sets unclear expectations. This model sets up an implicit expectation that a client is going to be delivered a large number of images. For example, I had some customers who were delivered between 30 and 40 images and responded, "I thought there would be more." They got a lot of great images and yet were disappointed. Because I didn't want clients to be disappointed with the number of images they are delivered, it put pressure on me to send more images than I might have otherwise done. I don't want to release images that are not my best work, and this works against that.
The other issue with this approach is that the client is paying based on time and not the delivered images. They don't even know what the final images will look like and yet they are shelling out a cash up front. That inevitably adds to the stress of the photoshoot as parents are apprehensive of their children misbehaving and wasting the time spent with the photographer. We as parents know well that the kids can sense this stress and pressure to perform. Unfortunately, that often produces the opposite of good behavior.
Finally, in my opinion, packages that promise lots of images are overrated. It sounds nice on paper, but what is the client actually going to do with the 20+ images they purchased? Most people print off only a few images and then look at the others once in a blue moon. We only have so much space on our walls. Why not invest in quality over quantity?
Old Model #2 - Minimum Guaranteed Image Count
The second pricing strategy that I used was a slight variation on the prior. The client booked based on minimum number of photos per time spent during the shoot. The benefit of this over the prior was that it provided some clearer expectations. The client knew that for the money spent up front, there was a minimum number of photos guaranteed. I know a lot of photographers price this way. It is simple and gives the client the assurance of getting a certain amount of images for their money. However, it suffers from a number of issues. It could put the photographer into a situation where they have to release images that they are not 100% happy with to the client if, for example, there were kids who were happy to sit for 5 min and then decided the photoshoot was entirely over. I have never actually had this problem, but it could theoretically happen. It also suffers from the fact that the client goes out on a limb to pay for images they have not yet seen. That could potentially cause customers to avoid booking because they simply don't have prior experience with me.
Old Model #3 - Client Selects From Proofs
Most people have heard of proofs, whether it is from school pictures or a trip to Olan Mills. A proof is an image, that is more or less straight out of the camera, that is presented to a client to choose from. The client then chooses which ones they want to buy. This is a major step in the right direction to help the client. It allows them to select only the images that they want. It also affords the possibility of a much higher quality product because it allows the photographer to focus on quality over quantity. In the past, I have used this in conjunction with the idea that the client gets a certain number of images included per the time that they spent with me. The idea is that if they spend an hour with me, then 10 images are included in the price they pay me up front. When I show them the proofs, if they like more of them than the 10 that were included, they have the choice to buy more. It presents the clients a lot of flexibility.
Sounds great, right? In theory, this is a great solution. However, I believe it only works when the photographer is doing in-person sales, which I don't do at the moment. If the photographer does not meet with the client to help them decide, there is no one to explain to the client what the end product can be after editing. Further, it puts a lot of responsibility on the client to prioritize time in their busy schedule to select images. In my experience, this adds undo stress on the client because they feel like it is inconveniencing me if they take a long time. Honestly, it really doesn't bother me. However, working with the client after the shoot to figure out which proofs they want does complicates the process. I believe that this is why it is not a good approach for my business.
If you've made it this far, thanks for sticking with me. I hope you understand that I am constantly trying to adjust to provide you, the client, the best experience with Jeromy Tompkins Photography that I can. I truly believe that this last iteration in my pricing will be solid for the future family sessions that happen starting in 2021 and can't wait to provide you my best!