The State of Photographers: A Free-Writing Exercise on the Function of a Photographer in an Imagery Saturated World, Trying to Answer: “Why is a Professional Photographer Worth Paying For?”

I don’t have any new portraits to show you, so featured are some fun pictures from my vacation and a friend I ran into downtown Kitchener a while back 😀

“Why is a photographer worth paying for?”

That’s an interesting question to me. At least, I can’t get it out of my head. I’m a photographer, I charge people money for my work, but somehow I still struggle with this question.

What is it that I offer that people can’t get on their own? Do I offer something that transcends a simple purchase?

I started free-writing to try and help myself through this crisis a day ago and have started to expand on my brainstorming. This article is therefore fairly non-structured, as it follows my un-guided thinking.


Education

Not a simple purchase, no, but also difficult to convince people of or to demonstrate. I would need clients to read my boring, techy posts or my sprawling, theoretical garble to gather a sense of how much thought and effort I put into improving my craft. That, or I need to engineer a way to move a consultation or other conversation into a discussion showing my knowledge.

I think it’s best if I discount Education for now, as a way to assist in booking a client, though education is an essential part of my business where I seek improvement in my service and products.

An addition to Education is Direct Shoot Experience; the things I’ve learned from working with people and finding ways to make great images with them.

Direct Shoot Experience

How do you get great images out of self-conscious or photo-shy people? Peter Hurley in his book The Headshot details how he approaches this challenge. In many of his images his aim is a look of “Confidence and Approachability” from his subjects. He uses a lot of methods to accomplish this. He even worked with psychologist Dr. Anna Rowley to confirm his thoughts on direction and mis-direction and how his actions can effect the look of his clients in their final images.

Essentially, “Cheese” doesn’t cut it.

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Direct Shoot Experience could also be in reference to experience with the equipment and an understanding of how it works and its limitations. This is a trendy thing going around: “Light Balls.” You can find them everywhere. I hadn’t done one until recently because I didn’t feel particularly entertained by them. I knew the process from the moment I saw it, just about any camera can do it, and I didn’t feel a need. Light was fading and I bought an LED on a string earlier and I was bored, so I tried one.

Future post ideas: if you’re a photographer, maybe you can make use of these thoughts

  1. Consider ways to demonstrate education, such as in the consultation where one can provide information on photography that can help the clients or prospects even if they should choose not to work with me, or long after our time together. (i.e. VALUE!)
  2. Post more theoretical garble, like this exercise
  3. Write posts considering experiences/education that have led to changes in photographic understanding or technique

Personality

I guess I’m not a total drain to be around. This is probably where I feel least confident, even though people seem to enjoy their time around me. I struggle to over-compensate in other areas. I seriously doubt any of my clients care that I spent $3000 on a new camera and lens for some minor increases in function (and a kick-ass lens.)

I know other photographers that are wonderful to be around and are hired probably more for this reason than any other when so many photographers can make comparable work. A wedding photographer once said that the best photographer to have at your wedding is the person you would want there anyway. Steve Sims, author of Bluefishing questioned someone if they would have a beer with their accountant, and they said no: “Then go find an accountant that you would have a beer with!”

Again, I think I need to discount this. If someone walked up to me and said: “Why should I hire you?” and I said: “Because I’m a superb guy!” I doubt it would be very convincing.

Even though it’s true.

Gear

OK, studio lighting aside, everyone’s images will fundamentally look the same shot in the same conditions from the same angle. The world is moving in a direction where people are satisfied with phone-viewing and haven’t had the experience of a large print, and therefore haven’t considered too much about image quality. Outside of artistic circumstances where light must be added or editing done, this may not convince others of the need to hire a professional.

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I love large print images. They’re great for portraits, but my favourite are scenic images printed to 16×24 or larger with subjects mixed in. It’s not always easy to get a very scenic image and keep people in a high, walk-up-to-the-print-and-see-their-faces quality. Another plug for education, experience and post processing. It’s possible to get great scenic images with people mixed in, but lower quality equipment requires more know-how and time.

Convenience

The “Full Service” touch. I save people most of the pains of photography and product development. There is education in there, you can’t simply snap and print, not if you want the most enjoyment and highest quality. Before printing is culling, cropping, editing, multiple levels of sharpening, cross-examination for colour fidelity, visual checks on different screens and different social media, test printing products… You know, fun stuff. All the stuff filed next to “Accounting” on the shelf titled “Stuff that is Fun.” Some stuff that I could eliminate if I went further into debt.

Are those enough reasons for me to charge what I need so I can claw my way out of debt? Maybe. But I’m still not totally convinced I could sway someone who was on the fence about booking, or have an easy time charging what the work is worth.

Some photographers suggest that the person who might ask these questions, or not be ready to book, hasn’t the understanding of the value of a photographic product. Through this article, I assumed that they understand the value of a photograph, but they wonder “why can’t I just take these pictures on my cell phone? I took an introductory arts course, I understand composition.”

I think I need to consider that I have been overlooking a very important detail about selling: Features and Benefits.

So far, I feel I have done a great job of listing the features of hiring a professional photographer, but I haven’t dug into the real benefits of what the service offers a client, so I need to expand on the topics I’ve mentioned.

The Benefits of Hiring a Professional Photographer

… To Be Continued

 

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