Sunday, January 23, 2011

The artist and the client

I was on the internet last week when I came across an article by Blair Blanks. She addressed the issue that photographers and clients alike, are always thinking about.

Something that photographers often hear is “why do you charge so much for a print, when I can just get one at a fraction of the price a place like Costco or Target?”; or people don’t understand why photographers won’t just “give” the client the disk with all their images.

The equation she made to this was related to books and the Kindle (or another electronic device to download books). Here is what she had to say…”Books, up until recently, were just paper and ink...people bought books not for the paper and ink, but for the ideas, the creativity, the insight, the wisdom, the artistry, the experience contained within those pages. Now, books are going electronic. E-readers are all the rage. But the price of an e-book is still only slightly less than the cost of a bound paper book (and e-books are MORE expensive than used paperbacks, and you can't lend out an e-book to a friend)...why is that? Stupid question, right? Everyone knows the money you pay for an e-book is for the ideas and artistry contained within the words of the book, so you can have them to read over and over again and enjoy for many years to come. Book authors surely deserve to get paid for the products of their hard work, right? Right!

It's the same for digital photos. Some people wonder why professional photographers charge for the digital negatives of the photos they create. I've even had people tell me they would be happy to kick in $2 for the cost of the CD! That is like telling an author you will pay him for the cost of the paper in his book, or like telling him that the e-book should be free since there is no cost to the author. When you buy a digital photo, or even a print, the bulk of the price is not for the cost of the CD or the paper the photo is printed on. Both of those are very small costs. You are paying for the years the photographer has spent learning and perfecting his or her craft, the way she knows how to get your cranky baby to smile, the way she has learned to pose you so you look your best, the tens of thousands of dollars worth of camera bodies, lenses, lighting, backdrops and props in her studio, her studio rent, utilities, insurance, taxes (we self employed photographers fork over 30% or more of our profit to Uncle Sam), her computers and massive hard drives needed to store so many digital files, child care, marketing, continuing training and education, and so much more.

Consider that for every shoot in the studio, which, with me, lasts up to three hours, a photographer will spend around four or five more hours before and after the session, communicating with the client, preparing for the shoot, then after the session, sorting through all the shots, backing up the files, editing the images for the perfect crop, color, saturation, removing imperfections, blogging the images or posting sneak peeks on Facebook; then, during the ordering process, creating a proof gallery and publishing it to the web, uploading orders to the print lab, packaging prints and shipping them to you. It's A LOT of work! The session fee only compensates the photographer for a fraction of the work she does in creating your images. She depends on sales after the session for her income. It's kind of like the waitress who gets paid less than minimum wage by her employer, but earns her living off tips. Her tip income depends on how well she does her job, and a photographer's print sales are the same.

In the marketplace today, there are many hobby photographers who will photograph you for "fun money." Many are just starting out, inexperienced, working off the books and under the table, and do not yet realize all the true costs of operating a portrait photography business. I was, about nine years ago, one of those very people who thought I only needed to charge just slightly over my lab costs in order to be successful, until I realized just how much my "business" was actually costing me and my family.

So, remember, you pay your photographer not just for the price of the paper your images are printed on, or the CD they are burned to, but for her artistic eye, her creative heart, and the hours of her life she spends making portraits that you will cherish until you are old and gray and bouncing great-grandkids on your knee. And she's worth much more than a $2 CD.”
Thank you Blair, for approaching this subject in such a wonderful way, and for allowing me to use your analogy.

One of my favorite stories from Picasso is when someone questions the cost of one of his drawings. The client told Picasso that he only had a few dollars in canvas, and it only took him a few minutes to draw it, so it shouldn’t be so expensive. Picasso’s comment back was “That’s where you are wrong sir it took me a lifetime to create it.”

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