Updated: May 24
Why do boudoir photographers hide their prices? That's a good question! With boudoir photography at an all time high in popularity, the simple fact is that there are lots of women considering sessions and exploring their options on a daily basis, so why do photographers seem make it so difficult to find out the price of a session?
You've been thinking about it yourself for a while. Then, one day you finally set aside a bit of time to see what boudoir is all about and start investigating your local options to see what's out there. You've clicked around to a few boudoir photographer websites, and even saw one or two that had photos which really grabbed your attention. It's a natural curiosity to know what all this costs, and after all, everyone has a budget.
You start to poke around a bit deeper... but where's the pricing? You look and look, but nothing. Some photographers may have a Pricing page-- but there is no pricing listed on the "Pricing" page? What gives? Why have a Pricing page with no pricing? Seems a bit odd. The more you look, the more you notice a trend-- NOBODY LISTS ANY F*CK!NG PRICES ON THEIR F*CK!NG PHOTOGRAPHY WEBSITES!!! You slam your laptop closed in frustration.
You're thinking... Really? After a ten hour work day I have to stop at the grocery store on my way home to get food...I finally get home about 7PM. I'm tired. I'm hungry. AND I JUST WANT TO KNOW HOW MUCH THIS PHOTO SESSION COSTS! Can't they just tell me??? Are you really going to make me fill in forms and go through a lengthy "sales call" to get this information??? Why make my life more difficult? ...NEXT!
You'll see this is the practice with many photographers of all types-- not just the boudoir world. Apparently, their pricing is a deep, dark, hidden secret which can only be unlocked via a lengthy contact form, followed by an even lengthier phone call to someone you really don't want to chat with-- YOU JUST WANT TO KNOW WHAT IT COSTS!!!
Why do photographers do that? There are some legitimate reasons that we'll get into a bit later in this post. When you're shopping for a new bag, Coach isn't hiding the price, they're showing it on their website. There's no "fill in this form so we can call you to tell you our handbag price." Likewise, when you walk into an Applebee's (I don't know...it just popped into my mind 😂) the price of a 1/2 rack of baby back ribs isn't a deep, dark secret withheld from you until the point of no return. So why then, do photographers do this?
This is the year 2020! People just want quick and easy information. Everyone is busy and wants immediacy. With three swipes on your smartphone you can control millions of dollars of infrastructure to funnel a calorie killing cheat-meal from Five Guys right to your home via Uber Eats (Shhh! I won't tell...) but a god damned local photographer is going to put you through the ringer to get the price on a few lousy photos? Doesn't seem right.
You know what is one of the busiest pages on my website? PRICING! After all, isn't that what people want, anyway? Some photographers do list full pricing, or a "starts at" price on their website. So why doesn't everyone follow this logic?
The answer is simple...and not so simple. Part of it is that photographers act a bit like sheep, and they're always looking around to see what everyone else is doing, and just copy it. Part of it is that many photographers lack a bit of self awareness regarding their prospective customers-- and what works best for the potential client. Another part is also there is a good chunk of "professional" photographers who really don't quite know what they are doing, in general. There are, though, some legitimate cases where posting a public list of prices may not be the best solution, too. I'll get into some of these cases, shortly.
So, you want to know why they make it so difficult? Below is a list of some of the potential reasons and "thought processes" why seemingly intelligent photographers hide their pricing and make it difficult for clients...for better or worse.
"I Don't Want My Competitors To See What I'm Charging... Because They Will Charge Less.."
Validity: Dumb. "I don't want my competitors to see what I'm charging... Because they will undercut my prices." This is really a thing. In the 21st Century there are still photographers whose brains are still operating in a 19th Century mentality (as if even that was OK back then...)
Their photography pricing is so special and unique that it can't get out there in the public. What if some other photographer on the other side of town is going to be spying on their website and in turn charges $20 less than them for a photo session? If this is a reason that the photographer gives for not displaying pricing... odds are there's a lot more wrong with the way they run their business than just hiding prices. There's a good chance these guys (or woman) really don't understand how developing a photography business even works. Do you think Applebees (here we go again...) is going to lose business if Chilis charges $1 less for their ribs? Or is there a bit more to it than that? This is a sad, but real reason why you can't find pricing on some websites.
The Boudoir Pricing Is So Confusing (And Nonsensical)-- You Couldn't Figure It Out, Anyway
Validity: All Too Real...and Dumb. A lot of pricing schemes in boudoir photography (and I'm sure other photography styles) are just plain dumb. To this day I still will receive an occasional inquiry regarding "How many outfits does your session include?"
Don't be surprised if you come across some real head-scratching pricing schemes. Boudoir photographers have a knack for basing pricing on some very odd criteria that makes sense, really, to no one but themselves. Outfits? Who cares how many bras you wear during your session... does that really matter? Boudoir is about having a great time and enjoying your session, not counting outfits. BUT there are still plenty of photographers who use this method, among other very strange ones against which they base their rates.
There are countless "Diva" packages, "Bombshell" packages, strange time-based packages in increments of minutes... the list really goes on and on. Can you imagine yourself going in to the hair salon and the woman at the desk asking you if you'd prefer the 10-minute haircut or the 20-minute haircut? That would be really odd, right? This is exactly what many photographers do. Why? Because they are simply copying what they see others doing in their sector without giving it much thought. "If someone else is doing it, it much be good."
There is good reason why this type of pricing isn't listed on a website, because they would need ten web pages to explain every single package, sub-package, and option available... and none of it would make sense to anyone. -The photographer, herself/himself, probably can't fully make sense if it, either.
My Price List is a "Living Document" Or I Offer "Custom Packages."
Validity: Plausible.... Photography is not necessarily a one size fits all service in every case. There are situations where a photographer may base pricing around a particular client request or need, and that's why there may not be pricing listed on a website.
Let's say a photographer offers clients multiple options for a session location: a local studio location, a luxury hotel room, or maybe even a budget friendly option to use client's home, and may base pricing on what works best for the client.
There may also be high end photographers who truly do craft a complete custom experience for their clients including hand made albums and specialty wall art which may be bundled together in various ways for clients.
To avoid confusion, a photographer who does this kind of work may intentionally leave pricing off of their website due to the nature of this offering. Look at this way-- If you saw I was selling my "car" for $47,000 would that seem over-priced to you? Not knowing any details, it's impossible to answer that question. It looks like a big number. Well, if it was a rare collectible Porsche it may actually be a great bargain! If I told you it was a used Hyundai... that may, indeed be wildly overpriced. Likewise, if all you noticed looking at a photographers website that a session was $1500 that may seem wildly expensive, but not knowing the details there could be a lot more to what you're getting than meets the eye. Without a thorough explanation of what that includes it means nothing to a prospective client...other than a big number. If it turns out that high price includes a handmade heirloom album that takes hours and hours to create, that changes things quite a bit. Context is everything.
How can you tell if you are dealing with a legit operator, or just someone who is just making it all up as they go along? It may take a bit of work. Generally speaking, this type of "custom" photography is typically high-end, and you would be able to tell by the quality of their website, the quality of their copyrighting, and the quality of their photography. All of this type of custom photography also comes at a highly *throat-clear* custom price.
The downside to this type of "Living" pricing scheme is that you can run into an unscrupulous individual who is simply trying to test the limits of what you may be willing to spend so they can negotiate a price they feel will be the maximum they can get from you for that service without losing you. If you wind up talking to a photographer and they are seriously non-committal about total pricing and constantly asking you about "How much your budget is" and constantly trying to up-sell you-- start to be wary.
One such scheme is to get you in to a session for a relatively low price, while hiding product costs until afterward. They will use a lot of constant talk about how your photos are "so beautiful" and "how can you put a price on happiness"-type talk and possibly even sit you down in front of a wall of your session prints "Aren't they beautiful!" --Then the high pressure sales pitch begins where they try to separate you from thousands of dollars to purchase mediocre photography. Who needs that?
How can you tell the difference between "Custom" good and "Custom" bad? Typically, there is one key tactic all the bad actors have in common. They will not give you any type of total session price until it's too late. Everything will be a stall or deferral until they get you in the "hot seat" after your up-front session fee and try to sell you over-priced products in a super high-pressure sales situation.
I have personally worked with clients who have been in this situation, and it is not how photography should operate. Photography isn't used car sales. Get your details up front.
Not Displaying My Pricing On My Website Motivates More People To Contact Me, After That I'll Use My Scary-Good Phones Sales Skills To Finalize The Sale.
Validity: Ehhh... Are you a used car salesman or a photographer? What's it going to take to put you into a session today, little lady? It would be funny if it weren't true. The thought here is the less they tell you online, the more curious you'll be to fill out forms and either call, or wait for their call, to get session pricing details.
The photographer believes that once he/she is on the line with you, the ball swings in their favor to seal the deal and make you a client. That telephone call is their chance to sell their services to you, and create the story of why their service is better than others and create magical tales of "uniqueness" and "non-tangibles." You'll hear lots of lingo, lingo LINGO! How fun!
It's not always an evil tactic, but making people jump through hoops when all they want to know is what a session costs, is not always the best start to a relationship. (Read: trust.) Once again, in this call you may find a bunch of stalling techniques so the photographer will be able to explain his "value," etc.
Again on the flip side, there are, indeed, completely legitimate reasons a photographer may want to talk to a client! One example may to see if you are a good fit for each other. There are also real world reasons to do this to build rapport and bonding with a client. No problems there.
They key to spotting potential evil here is, the photographer delaying any type of final "all-in" price, or attempts to constantly ask you about how much you are willing to spend... This conversation should go along the lines of...
You: Hi, I saw your website online, and I'm thinking of having a boudoir session. I wanted to see if you are in my budget...
Photographer: Thanks for the call, Lilly. I'd be happy to talk to you about my sessions, and answer any questions you may have. There are some upgrades and so forth with my sessions, but my typical client spends between $500 - $750 dollars.... here are some of the details...
You: Hi, I saw your website online, and I'm thinking of having a boudoir session. I wanted to see if you are in my budget...
Photographer: Thanks for the call, Lilly. I'd be happy to talk to you about my sessions. Boudoir sessions are so life-changing, and life-affirming, and magical, it's really difficult to put a number on that experience without knowing some further details. How much would you say you are willing to spend on such a session? ...Just to get an idea.
You: Well, I don't know, I just want an idea of a what a session and a small photo book costs?
Photographer: I understand. How can we really put a price on happiness...and I did mention how empowering this session is? Your life will be changed... How can we really put a price on empowerment? Can you really put a value on happiness? I mean is three or four thousand dollars a big price for something like that? Where do you see yourself, on the higher or lower end of that amount?
You: Err... what? What planet am I on?
Photographer: Oh, so it sounds like you may be more in the two thousand dollar range?...
...And so game goes on...
Maybe the thought with this kind of tactic is they are trying to break your will. 😂 They realize you certainly do not want to go through that phone-torture eight times with eight different photographers trying to get eight different session prices.
I'm So Much More Than A Photography Session-- It's A Life Altering "Experience" And How Can You Place A Dollar Amount On CHANGING LIVES...
Validity: Puh-Lease. This reason is the close relative to our Phone Skillz sales example above-- but the difference is they approach on the "emotional" front.
There aren't a lot of independent thinkers in the photography universe. Several years ago many boudoir photographer went all-in on the Emo front. Why? I'm not certain, but as I stated earlier a lot of photographers simply keep there ears perked up waiting for marching orders, and someone came along and decided to turn boudoir photography "Emo," so the masses followed.
This craze has slowly withered but there are still operators out there using this mindset. Now-- I have photographed hundreds of women, and boudoir photography is a great experience. Women do walk away feeling great about themselves, but let's keep it real-- Boudoir photography is simply about having a bit of fun, and (hopefully) getting beautiful photos either for yourself or a loved one that will bring you joy for years.
I'm not angling to be anyone's Spiritual Sherpa and I'm certainly not trying to lead them to some new found happiness! I'm just a photographer, not a psychiatrist, damnit! 😂😂
There are indeed boudoir photographers who leave their pricing absent, again, to get you on the phone for the hard sell of this "spiritual awakening" as a value added proposition to their photography session. These photographer care about your emotions and bringing out your "inner beauty."
These are not necessarily bad actors, these are photographers who want to place the emphasis of their business on "emotional response" more so than their technical photographic ability. The fail here is that most people going to a photographer are doing so to get great photos-- not necessarily for a "cry session."
How can you tipped off about this? Well, the photographer's website will not only lack prices, but the copy written part of the website will be almost exclusively "Empowerment" and "Inner beauty" type text... non-stop. Everywhere. All the time.
These photographers are not necessarily ill-intentioned. If you want a bit of Kumbaya with your boudoir-- go for it!
I Don't Publish Any Pricing Because People Will Be Shocked And Run Away Before I Get A Chance To Explain...
Validity: OMG...No. A photographer's chance to explain their awesomeness is in their "store," a.k.a. their website. If there is something so amazing about that photographer's work-- we'd hope they would figure out a way to translate that awesomeness into words and photos on their website. Withholding information is frustrating for clients. As I've mentioned numerous times it's a trick that really doesn't play well in the twenty-first century.
Clients want simple and authentic.
We live in a day and age where shoppers expect to find any piece of information in mere moments. With a few clicks on Amazon you've purchased a new comforter...and received tracking info within hours, and *poof* it shows up on your doorstep the next day. Magical.
Potential clients expect pricing to be on a website.
People have become accustom to this speed. Information is everywhere, and if people can't access what they want within moments-- off to the next website. In the photography universe, there is no simple answer to this. Some photographers have adapted to this, and at least offer some degree of pricing information to keep potential clients on their websites, or to have a chance to win their business. When it come to custom photography, it is a disadvantage for some photographers to list pricing. Prices without much context may leave potential clients only seeing a number...and not understanding what that number entails.
Having pricing readily available saves time for some photographers.
Some say having an open price guide available is a tool to help pre-qualify clients... and help clients pre-qualify you. Its not a great experience getting into a phone conversation with a potential client only to start to hear that uncomfortable silence when things turn out not to be in their budget. It's awkward for clients-- and most aren't going to immediately say they can't afford it, they will just politely hang up and you won't hear from them again. Not only that, they probably spent a good deal of time admiring your galleries, and now their dreams have been crushed.
In 2020, the photographer's integrity is at stake.
It's tricky. People are pretty savvy. Information is everywhere, and if shoppers can't easily find information they want-- they will move on. You, as a shopper, understand that the absence of pricing is a ploy to get you to call in, and then the photographer is going to go into "hard sell" mode. Shoppers don't want a "used car" buying-type experience.