This is a un-sugarcoated look into what life is really like when you walk away from the steady paycheck and enter the world of being self employed. I will be sharing my experiences, thoughts, and anything else that comes my way as I navigate the waters of being a full-time photographer. I also hope to interview other full-time photographers to share their experiences with you as well. To see the rest of the articles in the series, click here.
Anyone who has followed my Quitting Your Day Job series knows I’m not afraid to make some bold statements and share my personal experiences since I went full-time earlier this year. I’m about to make a statement that most likely will enrage seasoned wedding photographers, surprise some new wedding photographers, and make some of you cry foul! Here goes: if you’re just starting out in the wedding industry, don’t overprice yourself.
Pricing is an ugly topic photographers just don’t tend to talk about. I don’t know if we’re afraid of it, or just nervous about what other photographers will think when we tell them our prices, but money is a taboo subject in the photographer world. Now, I’m not going to be sharing my pricing with you because what I charge is completely irrelevant to you. I know my numbers, and what I charge is what I need to charge to run my business. This article was written to give you some insight into why I believe that if you’re just starting out, it might not hurt to charge less than you think you should.
Three Reasons To Not Overprice Yourself
So, you’re brand new to wedding photography. Maybe you have second shot a wedding or two and love it, or have done some assisting and are ready to start shooting your own weddings. You’re going to need to get some lead shooting experience under your belt before you can start to think about commanding a higher price for your services. That’s why I believe it does not hurt to charge very little and book as many weddings as possible while you still have your day job.
Personally, I wanted to shoot as many weddings as I could my first two seasons and that’s exactly why I underpriced myself. Now, as I enter my third season as a wedding photographer, I’ve increased my prices and have the experience needed in my market to command a higher price. Shooting for less money is not a sin; you’re new, you need to be shooting as much as you can. Second shooting is great and all, but it’s a different game being the lead shooter. Give yourself a fighting chance to become a lead shooter; keep your prices low and book as much as you can.
Now, please be honest with your couples and explain to them you are new, but confidant. There are a lot of couples out there with many different budgets – high and low. You will be surprised with how many clients you might book by keeping your prices lower when you’re starting out.
Building A Solid Portfolio
As a wedding photographer, it helps to have a robust portfolio. I can speak from experience. When I had two weddings in my portfolio, couples could see quickly that I was new to the market and though I had a decent portfolio, I didn’t have a ton of weddings under my belt. It didn’t hurt me per se, because I was open and honest with my couples, and I also didn’t charge a whole lot for my services. I knew I needed to make more portfolio images and that meant shooting more weddings. So, to book more, I charged less and because of that, my portfolio has blossomed over the past two years and looks much more appealing to potential clients.
Think about it this way: why would a couple book a photographer with less experience and that is charging the same as the experienced photographers in the same market? It makes completely no sense. Yes, they should be booking you based on how they feel about you, and all that jazz, but money does play a part in who a couple books. That’s just the truth.
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Building A Referral Base
Word of mouth is the reigning champion when it comes to marketing, and tends to lead to more couples that fit your style and personality. If you’re overpriced when you are new to the game, you will not be connecting and working with many couples. Sure, you might be making a good amount of money shooting a wedding, but maybe you only shoot four weddings that season. That’s only four couples to sing your praises. If you charged less, you might have photographed maybe ten weddings, meaning you are gaining more couples to rave about how great you are and refer you future business. This is important when no one knows who you are yet. This also goes beyond referrals from your clients – every wedding you shoot is an opportunity to meet new vendors and build relationships with them as well.
I’m all about keeping the market healthy with competitive pricing that does not completely undercut your peers, or make you look like a cheap Craigslist photographer. I’m also not telling you to charge almost nothing for your time and talent. You are free to charge what you feel you are worth, or need to charge to pay your bills and run your business. I just want you to know that if you’re starting out, don’t feel bad about charging less to build up your business. Don’t get wrapped up in thinking you need to charge all this money if you’re new because that’s what experienced wedding photographers are telling you. You need to do what feels right to you and when the time comes, you can up your prices to compete with the big fish and bring in more income.
Till next time, keep shooting, building your business, and embrace the hustle!