An Open Letter to the Photography Industry
As an industry, we need to do better. For our craft, for new and experienced photographers alike, for those clients who don’t get the full information.
We need to stand up to those who devalue our work by misleading clients and new photographers.
It’s time to stop allowing it.
Let’s look at some examples of the disinformation and major hurdles blocking us from earning a livable wage — and what we can do about it.
Wedding Websites Promoting Unlivable Wages
Popular wedding websites promote that the average bride pays “$2K” for wedding photography. If you charged $2,000 per wedding shoot, how much would you earn?
The average full-time wedding photographer books around 25 weddings per year. $2,000 for each wedding adds up to $50,000 annually. But given a higher profit margin of 25% in the photography industry, this means a wedding photographer who charges based on wedding websites’ “averages” would take home $12,500 per year.
How can we allow these non-experts to promote such poor pricing? It’s below minimum wage. It’s not enough to earn a living and support yourself, much less your family. This misinformation gives engaged couples inaccurate pricing expectations, and it misleads new photographers on how to price themselves.
The issue is that wedding websites typically create their cost guides based on couples who report how much they paid for wedding photography in their reviews of these websites. Yet budgets and pricing vary by location, some people may misreport their data, and some may have received discounts from friends or family members. Many don’t report this information at all, skewing the numbers.
Simply put, this is an irresponsible method for gathering and sharing data — especially data that impacts our livelihoods.
We call on all photographers who pay these websites monthly to reach out and demand that they use actual data that supports a livable wage.
Photography Software Companies
Devaluing the craft (and using photographers to gain access to their clients)
Last year a popular platform added a consumer print service that boasts that they “let photographers earn money while they sleep.”
Sounds great — but what does it really mean?
After years of photographers asking this company for more professional level products to sell to their clients easily, they responded by making a consumer print company available through the platform. Photographers using this company don’t get to set their pricing or profit margins. Users pay just seven cents (yes, seven pennies) for prints, and photographers take home only 60% of this not-very-profitable profit.
On top of that, photographers are required to give their clients’ contact information to this company. So, you get 60% of 7 cents, all so they can gather email addresses from your clients and make money from them.
Photographers had simply asked for an easier way to sell professional level products to our clients, not quicker access to a consumer site. Despite this company’s boasts of “letting us make money in [our] sleep,” this is just another way to devalue our profession.
We call on all photographers who pay for this software to speak out about how this truly does not help us make money while we sleep, it just took away a major source of our income stream.
Misleading photographers about what to charge or how to run a business
Another popular software company claims to “educate” photographers on pricing, but it says that a newborn photographer should charge $250 per session.
Factoring in time and profit margins, a newborn photographer charging $250 per session would earn $2.50 an hour for a highly skilled, extremely time consuming, back breaking genre of photography. Even the hospital photographer who does back-to-back shoots charges more. Where does this company get these outrageous prices? Surely not from their photographer base!
Similar sites offer vague guidelines about mini sessions, misleading photographers, and prospective clients. Leading sites say mini sessions are “15 minutes to an hour.”
But let’s be clear: The reason mini sessions are cheaper is that they are quicker, not only in the length of the shoot but in the amount of prep time and travel time required for the photographer. Mini sessions are back-to-back. The location is chosen by the photographer. They provide upselling opportunities for the photographer to make money.
Sites claiming to educate photographers have a responsibility to encourage photographers to value themselves and their work. They have a responsibility to share guidelines that enable photographers to earn a living wage. Otherwise, their “educational” information is dangerous and setting photographers up for failure.
We call on all photographers who pay these websites monthly to demand that they use actual data that supports a livable wage for us.
Gig work, a relatively new phenomenon in our industry, sounds positive at first. Companies promise that they’ll do all the marketing, and you’ll get a hefty portion of the (absurdly cheap) session fee.
They tout to new photographers that they’ll take care of the administrative and business tasks many photographers loathe, and the photographer will make money.
But when you calculate costs, travel, and editing time, photographers who do gig work make less than someone working at a JCPenney photo studio. Yet they have no healthcare, no guaranteed 40 hours of work, and no copyright either.
As these sites have grown in popularity so has the amount of disgruntled photographers speaking out against the company for years, pointing to low pay, poor communication, and unrealistic client expectations.
We call on all photographers who are thinking about this option to email us so we can help you decipher the fine print of what you will be actually earning, so you go into it with eyes open. We can also help you find options work that will earn you a livable wage.
TikTok and blog sites make matters worse by providing tips on how to get cheaper rates. But these damaging “tips” are really trying to scam photographers out of earning a living.
For instance, some influencers suggest to brides tell photographers you need a photographer for an event, then surprising them with a wedding. We all know that photographing a wedding is completely different from photographing a birthday party or a corporate event, and this advice is completely unethical.
We’ve also seen the “fun” suggestion, “Get a free boudoir shoot from your photographer when you’re getting ready for the big day!” Of course, a full boudoir shoot is a very different story from the five minutes or so allocated for getting ready photos.
These influencers encourage clients to push for low prices using shady strategies, creating a major headache for photographers trying to make a living.
We call on all photographers who see this misinformation to call them directly out on this misinformation or share with us so we can advocate for everyone.
So, What Else Can We Do About It?
We need come together to correct damaging, inaccurate information about photography pricing. And we all need to do our best to educate both new photographers and clients about the industry.
We need to value digitals. Digitals are just as valuable, if not more valuable, than the printed work. It’s your end product. If you include digitals in your packages, just make sure to price them accordingly.
We need to talk about editing. Social media has made it seem to clients that editing is so easy and just a click of a button so there has been an influx of oh you can just edit/ fix / photoshop that for free -right? Urm no, please just wipe your kids nose and I won’t have to spend hours in photoshop erasing boogers and recreating nostrils :P) Normalize that additional editing outside of what is included your package isn’t included for free. Charge for your time — the back and forth and the hours it takes you to make additional edits.
We need to value our work and our time. I’m sorry you don’t like your outfit in your photos. It isn’t my fault so I can’t offer you a free reshoot. I remember asking my hairdresser to take my hair to my natural color. I hated the way my new color looked. Do you think I paid for her to redo it? Yes, of course I did. I paid full price since it takes her the same time. Time is money.
We need to talk about the hours it takes to run our businesses. People don’t see the many hours of editing that take place behind the scenes. They don’t see the many hours of marketing, or the many hours of administrative work. You deserve to be paid for your time.
We need to normalize talk of profits and charging for our work. When you’re a professional, photography isn’t just a hobby. It’s not a simple task that anyone with a camera can do. It’s a business. We deserve to be paid for our time, talent, and experience. The only way we can get there as an industry is by talking about the costs and the hidden time.
Let’s treat ourselves with the same respect that we give our clients.
Let’s Make a Change
It’s time to take a stand for our industry and speak out about what we deserve.
Photographers have businesses.
We have costs.
Our craft takes a lot of time. Running our business takes a lot of time.
We don’t take home everything we charge. It’s the revenue that our business needs to pay for costs, and even to pay ourselves. If we are one of the lucky ones, we get paid more than minimum wage for our art.
It’s up to us to advocate for ourselves as professionals and make a positive change for all.
Email me at email@example.com with any misleading information you find, so together we can make photography a profession where we can earn a living on our art again.
Jane Goodrich is an award-winning photographer whose underlying mission is to support and empower other photographers in reaching new levels of profitable success. With a background in business and marketing, vast industry experience running two successful photography businesses, and building The Photography Business brand, Jane is one of the most respected photographers in the industry when it comes to running a successful business. Jane took her knowledge and experience and poured it into
— a business management software platform for photographers that will genuinely support photographers in setting their pricing, running their business effectively, and marketing and monetizing their services. In addition, we’ll help photographers navigate the challenges and cut through the misinformation.