Hi everyone. My name is Michael and I am an expert boudoir photographer who works with wonderful women from all across New Jersey and the NYC area. Finding the right photographer is hard... but with a bit of work you can keep from making a big mistake. Found the lowest priced photographer and think you've got the deal of the decade? ...Maybe not. Read below for some great insight into how the lowest price will often be your biggest mistake.
"Let me stop you right there--" are words you may hear from me sometimes when I speak to potential clients. See, I like to play Marvin the Mind-reader sometimes after I hear a client say certain key phrases along the lines of "I found this photographer on craigslist once and---" because, sadly, I know where that story goes from there.
It's not fun hearing about someone who has had a bad result with their photographer. People often have the best of intentions when they set out on their hunt, and can't immediately be blamed for their bad decisions. As consumers, we are programmed to be deal hunters from early in life. Deals are an American birthright! Deals on cars. Deals on vacations. If finding a dress you've been dying to get on sale for $100 is great-- finding it somewhere else for $75 is even better. Deals are great, but in some situations...well...not so much.
I talk to many people throughout the year and one of reasons I may hear for not working with me is "you're too expensive." This may be for several reasons. 1) They may not have reasonable expectations. 2) Someone may not be knowledgeable about photography pricing in general. 3) Finally, some folks just may not have the disposable income to work in my style-- which I completely understand. I'm not for everyone, nor do I expect to be.
Reasons 2 & 3 have workable solutions. I can certainly help educate a prospective clients and give valuable information to help from possibly making a bad decision. And this applies across all types of photographic services. As for item 3-- The best advice I offer to someone who has budget concerns is to save. Don't get a hack job. I offer payment plans in some situations, which can be helpful to people who enjoy my style of work and can pay for their products over time. I know other photographers may do that as well, so ask. As for item 1-- There isn't much I can do about an unreasonable person-- you can't argue with ignorance, so I don't bother.
Lets go back in time...
A few years ago I received a message through my website from a woman wanting session information. I called her soon afterward and before I even finished introducing myself on the phone she was already asking "I just wanna know, how much is it?" I know well enough from hearing those words even before I get a chance to ask her a few questions that I'm in for a rough ride. She's probably not my type of client. One of the benefits of being involved in sales for years is you develop certain instincts.
"I don't think I'd be the right photographer for you" I replied, which threw her off a bit. I then continued to tell her briefly about my services. We talked for about 10 minutes, and after her initial bit of phone stress we had a pleasant enough conversation about her looking for a gift for her husband.
To my surprise she contacted me once again a few months later "Remember me?" After another 15 minute conversation she said "I think I'm going to do it. I'll let you know in a few days." About two days later I receive an email, "...so sorry, I found someone who is going to give me a session, all the digital files, and an album for $75." Her email was tacitly trying to find out if I would do the same. No thank you, have fun with your session, I replied, knowing exactly what her future held.
Flash forward another three weeks and I received another surprise email from her essentially stating "OMG. I just had to let you know the disaster I went through." She seemed in good spirits despite her apparent bad ordeal, but nevertheless I hate hearing it. She stated she drove all the way to Pennsylvania to meet this woman who did her session on a couch in a garage. She wouldn't dare give these photos to her husband, and the "album" this photographer sent her was apparently a plastic 4x6 photo holder from a dollar store with a few bad snapshots in it.
Needless to say she wasn't feeling very good about her decision at that point. Great deal, huh.
The Hard Truth
If I can teach you one thing: You don't shop for photography services like you shop for airline tickets. The cheapest price doesn't win.
When you begin a search for a photographer you have to suspend your innate deal hunting mentality. Photography is not a price comparative industry. Making a buying decision by only comparing "prices" between two photographers with no further information is as meaningless as doing the same for two houses without knowing any details. With no further information which is better... the $125,000 house or the $275,000 house? That information tells you nothing. Well, by the previous reasoning it must be the $125,000 house, because it's the best deal. ...Even though we don't know any information about the location of the homes, condition of the homes, size of the homes, etc. Makes no sense, right?
More often than not, purchasing photography services in this manner this will come back to bite you in the end, a la an all-inclusive $75 boudoir session-- but people do it all the time!
Working with any high quality professional isn't going to be a discount experience, be it a newborn photographer, a wedding photographer, or a highly skilled maternity photographer. You are paying for their time, talent, and results. These people have rents and other typical business expenses to pay, and hopefully in the end, even a bit leftover for themselves. More importantly, as I mentioned earlier, you are paying for a result you set out for.
Is a $9,000 wedding photographer the only means of getting a stellar wedding album? Not at all. In photography, although price is often related to quality, I believe the real risk lies at the shallow end of the pool-- the Craigslist $199 wedding photographer, the Groupon $39 newborn session, etc. I can tell you without much doubt to tread in those waters at your own risk.
How do you protect yourself?
First, turn off your "deal radar" and avoid super low prices. A $39 Living Social boudoir offer may not be quite what you think-- even if it sounds aaaamazing and includes ALLLLLLL those digital files on a new shiny '90s technology CD. After Living Social's 50% cut, that leaves that photographer with $20. Say he/she has 4 hours wrapped up in you between the shoot, consultation (if there is one), phone time, and any editing(most likely not because of the price)- and subtract that buck invested in your high-tech CD (or the dopey included two 4x6 prints) that leaves him/her with a whopping $4.75/hr rate. Would you work for $4.75/hr? Seem worth it? Yes, I know, you got ALLLL the digital files... but crappy photos are pretty worthless, and 200 crappy photos are even more worthless. Dumb.
Second, do your homework. If you're getting married and searching for a photographer, instead of solely focusing on price, found out what that price "gits" you. This isn't as easy as it sounds. Photographers often have goofy packages and pricing schemes that can be difficult to figure out. I don't think this is done intentionally, it's just that a lot of these photographers lack business and marketing skills and wind up creating confusion. (My advice-- if a photographer has pricing that you really can't figure out after reading it over a time or two... move on.) Crazy photo packages can make it a little difficult to compare apples to apples, but persevere.
Additionally, when it comes to the "git" part- find out what you are getting for your dollars. Photography products are like automobiles. They come in broad range of prices and qualities. Does your purchase include a dollar store plastic photo wallet as your "album," or is it a hand crafted custom flush mount? --This makes a huge difference. Find out! Look at sample images and albums in person. Many photographers have consultations were you can meet and review sample albums or print work. Do it.
Finally, save. After you've found a photographer you like, who creates products you are excited to purchase-- save for it. These are items you'll keep and treasure for life, so its well worth putting off your purchase for a month or two to get it done right. You'll walk away with a smile knowing you made a smart choice-- and don't wind up with garage photos!
Following these tips, along with a bit of common sense, will go a long way to helping prevent your own personal photo disaster.
What are your thoughts? Let me know below.
Stop sign photo by mikmikko
Couch photo by modernowl