If you could name your own prices……

Richard Charpentier Arizona Photographer, Notes from Rich, RLC Design, The Business of Photography Leave a Comment

Most likely your favorite car would only cost $29.99 and you’d be paid several million a year.

Let’s face it though, the world doesn’t work like that.  Normally “the market” helps determine price.  Remember supply and demand?  It actually does factor into pricing determination.  Of course now we have unions, government regulation, oligopolistic competition, regulated monopoly, and more.  Even with a lot of non-market influences though, many prices still come down to limited resources, limited supply, and often times, infinite demand!

Personally I wish my vendors charged lower prices, that my health insurance was cheaper, that more clients walked through the door spending twice as much as they do now, and that I had a small gold mine available to me whenever I needed some walking around change.  Since the world doesn’t work that way though I have to price my goods and services according to meeting my own needs.  What goes into my business and life?

  • Rent:  Be it the Airstream in the Dells or a small house in the burbs.  Having a place costs money.  I also pay rent for my space at the gallery.
  • Electric:  Both at home and at work power costs money.
  • Water:  I live in the desert.  Water isn’t cheap.
  • Gas:  Getting to and from work costs me money.  And if you haven’t noticed gas prices are going up again.
  • Food:  Energy inputs are everything.  Power for the printers, power for the computer, and power for me.  🙂
  • Insurance:  Car, health, equipment.
  • Canvas, Fine Art Paper, Photo Paper:  Yeah, I buy this stuff in huge rolls.  The sad part is all the paper waste and the expense.  Folks don’t get that 1 5×7″ print on a 24″ roll costs me more in waste than I make in the print (so I don’t do 5×7’s).
  • Ink:  Yeah, Canon loves me and how much I spend on ink!
  • Licenses, registrations, and the rest:  How many expenses are in your life?

That’s the short list.  Of course there’s so much more. Phone, internet, and the rest of life.  Things cost money, and they add up.

Pricing what I do

When I first started my business  WalMart was somewhere in the back of my brain.  Price cheap.  Maybe too cheap.  The first two years of my business were a losing proposition.  The business paid for itself and didn’t pay me at all.  There were times when I had to hit my own savings beyond the initial investment to keep things going.  And I bled my savings living on them while my business didn’t pay me at all.

Last year there was a major change in how I looked at the business and my pricing.  I can’t say enough good things about “Best Business Practices for Photographers.”  Great book that helped to save me from myself, and put my business in the right direction!  Bottom line, I had to start pricing with my overhead and my life in mind.

This year I’ve re-worked some pricing for my fine art reproduction clients.  And I’ve heard a little push back on it.  Push back is good, I think it means that I’m thinking like a business owner and not “yer buddy who does your prints.”

One point of push back?  I now charge $125.00 to image original paintings, color match them, and proof the pieces (with proof prints given to the clients).  Clients are even welcome to work through final proofing with me.  We sit in the studio and tweak until we’re good.  How does that compare with the rest of the industry?

Well, my partner Ian Russel is one good example.  Prior to our partnering?  He’d pay $75 – $100 to have his piece imaged on 4×5 film.  His printer would then charge $150 to scan and color match his piece.  Oh, and his printer didn’t sit down and verify his satisfaction with the final product.  The printer would tell him when it was good.  Normally Ian would spend $250 per match.

So my move to $125 per match isn’t sitting well?  Maybe I should charge the industry average instead.  I’d make more that way per match.  While I might push away some clients, I could make more with less work for me………..giving me more time to work on other opportunities to grow my business……

What’s the bottom line from the statement above?  This is a business.  You can go really cheap and work yourself to death just to cover your rent, or you can charge realistic prices to cover your real costs and not attempt to make a ton of friends, but instead create a great client base with folks who appreciate your work.

You are in business

For photographers reading along with this there is a bottom line.  You are in business.  Period.  You must factor your costs, factor your financial needs in as well, and consider how you grow your business.  Capital expenses, overhead, advertising, feeding yourself, it’s all in there.  And if you don’t price realistically you will not remain in business and you’ll have to go back to that awful cubical working for whatever firm you worked for before!

The days of the $50 photo shoot and CD are over.  They don’t work.  While digital has revolutionized a lot it doesn’t mean you price like a big box store.  They employ the child labor of many third world nations, you don’t.  Having tons of clients isn’t always the best strategy.  Having a good selection of great clients who value what you do works so much better.

Two fun stories

Okay, we’re going italics here for two quick stories on value and pricing………

Client number one that we’re talking about is a high end artist with a huge following.  They’ve got folks waiting for new originals.

This person became a client after an interesting set of circumstances.  They had a request for a reproduction of a painting, and sent it off to a high end reproduction shop in California.  The shop charged them $600 for imaging and a proof.  The client knew I was in Prescott, but hadn’t yet tried me.  They brought a disk in from the $600 shop and asked me to review it.  Over saturated and dark.  That was my conclusion without seeing their original.  When I rendered my verdict they told me I was right, showed me the original and asked me to do it the right way.

Don’t even asked what I charged them.  I felt so bad about their paying $600 to have it done wrong that I felt I couldn’t “nail” them.  Let’s say it was less than $100 and leave it at that.  Knowing what I know now?  Should have charged $600 because they were willing to pay that and didn’t even get it done right by the other shop.

Story two happened just this week.

A regular client who is currently taking photo classes popped in.  They’d gone to Costco (all my clients know how I feel about Costco prints) in order to save a few bucks.  In all honesty they were saving about $5.60 for the print size they were doing.  The print was shown to me and the client said it was for a class project.  He was worried that the print wasn’t right, and cropped improperly.  12×18.  I examined the print and found it dull and dark.

Popping my client’s flash drive into the computer and pulling up the image in Photoshop I saw two things.  Costco did go dull and dark, and it was cropped really weird.  He’d sized it for a 12×18, and yet they massively cropped into his image.  Why?

By the way….. On my wall in studio are two images by Steve Lefkowitz.  One is printed in house, one is printed at Costco.  They don’t even look the same.  Steve left the bad Costco print with me so I could show clients the difference in print quality.  He had them reprint it 3 times and they didn’t get it right.  I printed once and got it spot on.  There’s value in that folks, don’t you forget it!




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