The $100 Photographer vs. The $10,000 Photographer

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Going down memory lane, I am reminded of an encounter with a photographer 5 years ago. In his early fifties, I met him at a print lab. He was complaining & murmuring about how his client was yet to pay him the balance owed. After a few minutes of successfully eavesdropping on his discussion with a fellow photographer (stop looking at me like that as if you don’t eavesdrop on people’s conversations also), I was able to gather more info about the job in question.

He had covered his client’s wedding in Enugu where he spent about 3 days for the detailed coverage of the celebration. He was angry because the couple were yet to pay him the balance of what he had billed them. I was shocked when I discovered that his total photography bill for the wedding coverage was $100. How can a “professional” photographer charge that and survive. I was shocked because this “gentleman” had been in the photography business for over 20 years.

At that time, I was still billing wedding clients $400 – $600 for a day’s coverage. Yet he charged $100 for 3 days. He was angry at the client & I was angry at him.

The fact that he was using a film camera was no excuse. What profit will be left over to take care of his family. What type of education will he give his children. When will he be able to afford a good car for himself. Which vacation will the profit afford him. I was angry.

Fast forward to 7 days ago. I was in a workshop organized for photographers. One of the speakers, Ali Baba, talked about how a “PROFESSIONAL” photographer called him in January to “thank” him for a referral. A few weeks prior to the call, Ali Baba had contacted the photographer to ask how much it will cost for a portrait session for a “high profile” client. The photographer gave him a bill of $12,000 for the session after which 32 high resolution softcopies will be delivered on a dvd. He replied the photographer that the client only had a budget of $10,000 & they both settled for $10,000 for 30 high resolution softcopies.

As if that wasn’t shocking enough, the bigger shocker came when Ali Baba mentioned that the reason the photographer called him was to thank him because the client ended up ordering a total of 142 high resolution softcopies. Whichever way you do the maths (even if you got an “F” in your Maths SSCE or SAT), you’ll still end up with a whole lot of zeros that should make any photographer happy. Well this photographer was happy, hence the “thanksgiving” call.

My question is this: What’s the difference between these two photographers? Seriously, what is it that will make a client offer to pay $100 to a 50 year old photographer while another client will gladly pay over $10,000 to a 35 year old photographer. There are many answers to this question one of which I can already hear echoing in your mind as you read this: THEIR DESTINIES ARE DIFFERENT. I’ll leave this one to you to digest.

As for me (& my house), I’ll like to be like the later photographer when I grow up. I’ll like to be perceived as a photographer that adds so much value (albeit intangible) to a client’s life in 2 hours that they’ll deem it fit to pay me $10,000. I’ll like that. Trust me, I’ll really like that. Besides, how else will I be able to afford the Harvard University school fees that my 3.8 year old daughter wants to go to. No, you tell me. I know it’s not all about how much you make at the end of the day but its important to make enough money that will provide the kind of lifestyle you desire.

The other question is this: What “value” do you as a photographer bring to the table? The conclusion might not be as appetizing as the BMW series write up but whatever you do, make sure you’re building solid foundations for you photography business & brand. Neglect doing that & your end will be predictable in 20 years time.

It’s your call
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