I've been taking photos of people professionally for about five years now, and I still struggle with the financial side of freelancing. You'd think that after going through college, meeting other freelancers, and reading a bunch of articles on the subject would make me more confident about pricing and asking people for money. Oddly enough, that's not the case. In fact, the more freelancers I talk to, the more I realize that everyone struggles with pricing, no matter how experienced you are or not. It's really difficult to ask people for money, especially when the service you're providing involves art.
Here's where we get really transparent, folks.
I don't list my prices online because a lot of the time I just throw out whatever number I'm feeling for any given person or shoot. Sometimes I aim high because I feel confident one day, but sometimes I aim low because I feel like giving someone a discount so they can actually have nice photos. This system has both pros and cons, but so far I've felt okay using it because I do want everyone to have the opportunity to have nice photos taken of them. If you can't afford a special photographer, I want to fill that gap and help you.
Of course, most people can afford a special photographer if they save, and what's more, they should be paying full price for one. We may just be taking photos, but our art has a lot more value than you may think. (Especially when you add up the price of all our equipment and software)
Because I started my business as I was exiting high school, I began by devaluing my photos because I figured, who would pay a bunch of money to have an amateur high school photographer take photos of their senior? I charged a few bucks here and there, and whenever I did get more than expected, I graciously thanked the client. In college I basically did the same thing, especially because most of the people I photographed were struggling artists. They usually didn't have the funds to pay for school, let alone pay for an expensive photoshoot to help their career or their Instagram feed. I became more experienced, I posted more on social media, and eventually I started doing higher profile shoots. And as I started taking on more shoots (and getting more bills), I did come to realize that I am worth more.
A few months ago I did a video shoot down in Florida, and one of the artists I was shooting got on the subject of money and freelancing. When I told him how much I charged people, he scolded me. He encouraged me to charge much more, and I immediately felt both embarrassed and relieved - a stranger was giving me permission to ask for more money! Surely this was the sign I was waiting for!
Flash forward to now, and not much has changed. I mean, yes, I have started asking for more money here and there, but it's been baby steps instead of leaps. I know I'm worth more than I charge, but I still have this intense fear that if I drive up my prices no one will want to shoot with me. More than that, I totally understand where some small businesses and bloggers are coming from - it's hard to create a huge budget for photography when you can use your iPhone or get your friend to take some quick photos for you.
Speaking of friends, that's something else I've been struggling with recently. Ever since I started taking photos, I have reached out to friends to see if I can photograph them. Not necessarily for them to pay me, but because I genuinely enjoy taking photos of them. What's more, I did need the experience and I did want to see what the photos would look like in the end. It's a form of entertainment and fun for me. However, as of late, I've come to realize that I don't have the time or energy to put into some of those shoots as I did in the past. I have some friends who will consistently come to me for photos without expecting to pay me. Which is fine once or twice, and I understand how you might want a discount because we're friends. (I'm fair and I care about people.) But that has led to me being walked all over from time to time.
In the moment I don't really notice it, but upon looking back now, I can see a number of instances where people have abused my generosity and kindness. For a long while I let it slide because I was inexperienced and because I felt like my work wasn't worth much. I recognize now that that is no longer true. If you care about me and you really do enjoy my work, then you shouldn't feel bad about paying me for it, especially if you want to use me more than once.* To use a blunt analogy, that's like asking me give you free food from the restaurant I work at...and then coming back again for more the next week.
At the end of the day (you get nothing but trouble), I've realized that I'm worth more. As a result, I'm spending the second half of 2017 to get my act together and get some serious prices figured out. No more mood pricing, no more cheap shoots, no more sacrificing when I know I deserve better. And what's more, I want to incorporate my pricing into a new business model. (But more on that at a later date)
Don't undervalue artists. We work really hard, and we often don't realize we're being taken advantage of.
*Side note: I still have moments where I do offer to take people's photos for free because I want to. However, it's different when I offer in the first place versus when someone comes to me.