Let me set the scene: A potential new photography client inquires for your services. You set up a discovery call, and spend an hour on the phone with this potential new client getting to know them, showing them all that's possible, and dreaming big together. You have an amazing conversation, you share your rates and walk them through your packages, and they tell you they are 100% ready to book. You follow up a little later that day via email to get the final confirmation, preparing to send out the contract and invoice, and...... crickets.
You don't sweat it: people are busy, they'll get back tomorrow. 48 hours goes by, and still nothing, so you follow up again to check in and see where where they are at, and they respond with those dreaded words:
"Unfortunately, we won't be moving forward with a shoot, as your rates are too high."
Sure, sometimes people are nicer, and will say something along the lines of "We aren't in a position to do this work together right now." or "We can't afford you now but would love to work together in the future.", but either way, it still stings. Your mind goes down the rabbit hole of questioning your whole business model, your worth, and your value, concealing all your insecurities with a "No worries, speak soon!" in response.
I have experienced countless encounters like this throughout my career, and a common thread I have noticed in each one is a lack of understanding on the client-side about what a photographer and creative director like me actually does, and thus not understanding the value of the service. This lack of understanding comes from a lack of education about how professional creatives work in the world, and a generalized (and inaccurate) stigma that creatives will and should work for free.
Why my rates are high.
So, I am going to break down why my rates are high", so that if you're a potential client, you can understand the value of my services, and if you're a fellow creative, you can find some inspiration on how to better articulate your value to your clientele.
1. Years of experience
In a day and age where every one with a cell phone calls themselves a "photographer", this is a crucial point. I got my first professional gig when I was 15, which means I have been doing this whole photographer thing for just shy of a decade. (By the way, side note, I shot my first wedding at 16 and got paid $600 plus tip to do so, so when people come to me wanting work for less than that, it is automatic no).
While I may not have been shooting for brands, and projects worth thousands this whole time, every single job I have taken in the last 10 years has given me priceless experience. I am a professional because I know what it takes thanks to trial and error over the years, and that means I get to give my clients the best of the best, because I understand what they need.
2. Creative direction and styling
So not every photographer is a creative director, and that is perfectly fine. I am a creative director, though, so I am going to speak to that here. The term 'creative director' might seem a bit ambiguous, so let me break it down.
A creative director:
Conceptualizes and determines creative visions
Collaborates with a broader team to see a project through
Manages and oversees productions
Practically, this means that a consulting or in house creative director is sitting down with their client or team and dreaming big. They are understanding and constructing goals, and they are aligning a creative vision with those goals. From there, a creative director, at least one like me, puts together all the pieces to make the project possible: writing the shot lists, developing the mood boards, finding and hiring the models, sourcing all the props and the venues, and pulling the team together.
Being a creative director is a big undertaking and requires tact, skill, and strategic thinking. Many creative directors have teams of people that do many of the things above (yes, people have full time jobs dedicated to things just like sourcing props), but at the moment, I oversee and execute everything myself.
Styling is another key part of the process, and I usually bucket it under creative direction when speaking to clients, but I want to specifically call it out here, because styling (food, props, wardrobe, etc.) is another big undertaking that usually requires an additional person or persons on your creative team to manage. This may not come as a surprise based off of everything I have said so far, but I am also technically a stylist! Many jobs I have had over the years have required me to step in and style the products, props, the food, or even the model's wardrobes, and it might actually be my favorite part of the job. Styling also requires a level of tact, skill, and strategic thinking, and it is not in everyone's wheelhouse.
By being the creative director, photographer, and stylist for my clients, I remove middle men, get into the client's head myself, and thus deliver exactly what they asked for. And my rates reflect this; while I may have interns or assistants on set with me or helping with some back end work, I am currently an entire production team of one!
3. The value of one image
When a brand contracts any photographer to do a photoshoot, the desired outcome for every project is that the photographer creates content that the brand can then go use to sell their product or service. If a beauty brand sells a cleanser for $29, and they post a photo of that cleanser on Instagram that results in say a conservative number of 200 sales, that brand just made $5,800. This might be an overgeneralized example, but the point is that imagery has immense power to convert the consumer to purchase your products and services, and one image could provoke thousands of dollars worth of sales, not to mention the amount of eyes that are on that one image that result in reciprocal sales down the road.
All this to say, if one image has that kind of power, imagine what a beautifully curated gallery of 100+ images could do for your brand!
Marika Creative has seen our clients double their revenue since working with us (one client in less than 6 months)! That's a pretty big deal.
4. The time investment
Time is money, my friends, and there is no way around that fact. Every photographer assigns different value to their time, but personally, my time is precious and I want to spend it with clients who value it.
Another important thing to remember is that while you may only be with your photographer for 4, 6, 12 hours, or whatever it is, that photographer has an immense amount of pre and post work to do behind the scenes to make your project possible.
For example, if I have a client that wants to book a 4 hour photoshoot, the average time investment from pre-production to finally deliver could be close to 20 hours! It might sound insane, but it all depends on how involved the work is. It's important to remember that every one deserves to be paid for their labor; all their labor.
5. Costs of running a business
This point should be a no-brainer, but for many, it's not.
Running a business is EXPENSIVE. We as individuals pay taxes, but our business also pays taxes, there is insurance, the cost of gear and how that gear depreciates over time, not to mention all the services we have to use to serve clients (Dropbox, Quick Books, Dubsado gallery sites like Pic-time, Canva, Adobe CC, social media scheduling softwares like Later, our websites, email marketing platforms, and more).
Another big part of running a business is investing into the business. Education is an important way of doing this, whether through online courses or subscribing to associations that offer resources. Investing in the business also looks like hiring people for the business, and they need to get paid too! I have a business coach, a designer, a Pinterest expert, an SEO expert, an attorney, an accountant, and several assistants who do amazing work for me and need to get paid their rate for that work.
If all this feels like a lot to you, it's because it is. Running a business requires a major investment and the skills, products, or services that business provides is worth a major investment.
So before you tell a photographer their rates are too high, or you know someone who will do it for less, or you try to negotiate what they are asking for, take a step back and see the value that they are bringing to the table, how they work, and what they need to do an amazing job for you.
An amazing photographer could be the difference between a mediocre brand or a show stopping, incredible brand, so make sure you invest well.