Getting Realistic About Pricing: By The Numbers – by BP Miller

BP Miller BP Miller is an award-winning photographer/photojournalist and co-founder of Chorus Photography based in Philadelphia & San Francisco. His work has been published in several national publications, including The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer. While he works regularly with various businesses, national and international celebrities, politicians, and dignitaries; he is also the Regional Chair (Mid-Atlantic) for the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), and can be found speaking across the country about non-profit photography as well as photojournalists’ rights.

YES, 2018 is here and like most of you I was ready to start off my new year feeling optimistic, hopeful and gracious. I’d just spent the last 2 weeks off in a gluttonous haze of holiday food, holiday spirits and not really knowing what day it was. It was GLORIOUS! I even drank too much on New Year’s Eve (something I don’t do very often) and tried to play my wife like a guitar… however that’s another blog entirely.


But come Monday morning, reality slapped me so hard in the face that I was expecting a “yo mama” joke to come with it. While catching up on emails and phone calls, this query wandered through:

I run a supper club and test recipes during week. I shoot these and post them on Instagram, but I want some better production value. Depending on price, I would want this on a weekly basis for Instagram. I’m really only looking to spend $50.

A week or two earlier, I’d gotten this:

We’re looking for a photographer to shoot our NYE party… It lasts 6 hours, and we’re looking to spend under $250.00.

And my favorite one that came in about 3 weeks ago:

Hi, we have a large event coming up and we’ve been shopping for a photographer. The event is 8+ hours, we would need at least 2 photographers and a 72-hour turnaround time. We have a budget of $500.00 for this that is non-negotiable.

Well, at least they got the “non-negotiable” right.

And you can hold your breath if you want to start the whole argument of “the exposure for you is going to be killer” (it never really is); or, “we’ll get SO much business from it” (we never do); or, that “if you just do this job on ‘spec’ we’ll for sure hire you for the next project” (they never do). Any one of these is the photographic equivalent of getting an email from a Nigerian Prince who has a large sum of money to send to you, but needs your help to do so!

There are no less than 10 different articles written by different photographers that speak to the numerous reasons as to why we can’t and won’t work for free, and how much it costs to run your own studio, so I won’t rehash all that. But I’m here today to tell you why we also won’t and shouldn’t work for anything less than what is reasonable for our industry.

Let’s go to the first request. Here’s a person that runs a supper club and wants pictures to post on Instagram. They realize the pictures they’re taking aren’t the best, and in order to grow the business, they need to up their production game.

Now, without knowing too much about what they charge per person… oh wait… it doesn’t really matter what they charge… they’re still going to have to spend the same amount per person on food! They won’t go up to the grocery store manager and say, “Hey… I’m on the supper club circuit, and we’re trying to increase our numbers… so how about you slide me some filet on the cheap?” Same thing if they’re going to pick up some wine or other spirits at the liquor store. They have to pay what the market demands for that particular product. The same thing applies to hiring a professional photographer. Our particular skill set is to make things look good through our lens using our talents and knowledge! If you only want to spend $50 on that, you’re better off keeping that money and spending it on the food because if you DO find someone to take that money for the gig, chances are they don’t know what they’re doing with a camera… and you’ve just wasted $50. It’s fine to want to up your game, but it’s not good BUSINESS sense to count your pennies while the dollars are flying out the door.

BP Miller - food

Second quote: You want to pay someone $250.00 for 6 hours of their professional time on a HOLIDAY.

I’m not even sure where to start on this one. There is a premium for EVERYTHING on New Year’s Eve. If you go to a restaurant with your bestie, you’re not going to get out of there for less than $250 or $300 and that’s BEFORE you work in what it’s going to cost to have your clothes dry cleaned from the inevitable stains you’ll encounter from other party goers! The average cost of a photographer for a party of half that time starts around $1,000.00 and goes from there. Let’s factor in that it’s a holiday and you can easily double that.

Final quote: Let’s take this one by the literal numbers for those of you who run events on a regular basis.
• To bring in a second photographer for 8 hours is going to cost a MINIMUM of $500.00 alone.
• A 72-hour turnaround time will automatically up the price significantly. We need to cull and edit 8 hours’ worth of shooting. So let’s add in an additional $500 for a quick turnaround during an already busy holiday season… and even that price is more of a Christmas gift than what normal would be.
• That doesn’t include the lead photographer’s time, which is always going to be more than a second shooter.

I won’t even get started on a Facebook thread I read recently about hiring an engagement photographer, and one of the posters thinking $75.00 was too expensive for a one-hour shoot.

Look, I can appreciate that people have a budget. Personal budgets are always going to be less than a corporate event would be, but we all must remain mindful of what our time and talents are truly worth!

Saying to a professional photographer, “I don’t understand why it’s so expensive, all you do is take pictures” is no different than saying to a surgeon “all you’re doing is taking a knife and cutting things…” There is a MAJOR difference between simply taking pictures and being a professional photographer. When you hire a professional photographer for a corporate event, it’s because an intern with a point and shoot can’t get the shots you want for archiving or marketing purposes. When you hire a professional photographer for your personal event, whether it’s a wedding or Mitzvah or New Year’s Eve party, it’s because you want it documented the right way to be able to tell the story in a way that you can’t with your iPhone. I’m always down for a little negotiation in price. It’s been done for thousands of years, and if I like you, I’ll normally meet you somewhere in the middle.

But let’s be realistic about pricing, shall we? Let’s honor the professional in all of us and be respectful of our time and talents.

Now if you’ll pardon me, I just got an email asking if I’ll work for two cows and a chicken… what IS the going rate for barter these days? I feel like my time is worth at least two cows and three chickens!

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