Being a photographer often means trying to ignore the artist mentality that has us constantly questioning the value of our work. There's that little voice that sits on our shoulder constantly telling us we're not good enough and it can be very hard to be objective when that voice kicks in.
It's easy to see why a lot of photographers and other creatives under value themselves. We let our artistic hearts rule over our business heads and we base our judgements about the value of our product solely on the product that we make, while not being objective about that product because we are, understandably, emotionally attached to it.
The quality of our work plays a part in determining our worth, of course but it's only one small part of it. So what else impacts on our worth and the worth of our product?
As a photographer you provide a luxury service. Even if you are at the most budget end of the market the very fact that your clients are buying photography services in the first place makes you a luxury item.
No one NEEDS a wedding photographer. You can legally marry at the Town Hall for £150 and have change to pop up the pub for a celebratory pint afterwards.
No one NEEDS a family lifestyle shoot. It's a wonderful thing to have, of course - precious memories of your family are priceless - but it is a luxury item.
No one NEEDS a fashion / band / product shoot unless it's for a specific commercial purpose and if it's for a specific commercial purpose, like increasing sales or brand awareness for example, it already has an intrinsic value / worth to the person commissioning it.
If people WANT good photography to preserve their memories / sell their product / represent their brand they need to value it and invest in it but guess what? If you give your product away too cheaply not a single person will argue with you and offer to pay more.
Your intangible / perceived value
Have you positioned yourself as an expert in a niche market? Does your brand / company have a presence and are people aware of you? Are you endorsed by other experts in your industry like blogs, magazines or wedding venues? Has your work been featured in the press?
Do you have a manifesto or a clear vision? Do you have a strong ethos or principles? Do you add value to your clients and to your industry? Have you won awards? Do you specialise in working with a specific client group? Do you do other work that reinforces your value?
All of these things make up the 'intangible value' or perceived value of your business.
Look at Apple for example. The bare bones of their business is that they make phones and computers. Why are they're so sought after compared to other manufacturers of phones and computers?
They have built the perceived value of their brand by creating an experience around it. From walking into the futuristic environment of one of their stores to the experience of unboxing your new Apple product, the process of owning an apple product as compared to owning any other computer or smart phone is unique. Apple, while technically offering exactly the same service and product as ALL of their competitors, have leveraged their perceived value to set themselves apart.
Your experience and expert knowledge
If you shoot weddings it's likely that your client has never planned a wedding before. Even if they have they are probably not involved in the process on a regular basis. You know how weddings work, you know where time slips and blockages can happen. You have an awareness of what could go wrong and how to deal with it. That's all valuable knowledge that adds to your worth and positions you as an expert.
What can you share that positions you as an expert?
I have a planning guide that talks my couples through every step of the process of working with me. It's also general enough that it brings a lot of additional traffic to my website.
Showing that I am knowledgable about the wedding day, helping my couples to plan and working through logistics with them is part of the service that I provide and it is an added benefit that my couples get from working with me.
Maybe you don't want to focus on the planning and logistics side of things though. 2015 SNAP Speaker Nick Tucker and 2016 speaker Kevin Mullins both regularly write about specific pictures that they have taken, sharing the technical details behind their shots and the circumstances that led them to shoot it. This clearly demonstrates their expertise to clients and positions them as photography experts.
We all have a wealth of professional knowledge that we can share with our clients and doing so adds value and builds trust. There is also the added benefit that writing regular articles about your knowledge and approach is great for SEO.
Your investment in your business infrastructure
Do you have professional equipment like cameras, back up cameras, flashes and lenses?Do you have a computer and software? Do you have processes and procedures for managing your customers? Have you invested in a back up system and insurance? Have you invested in professional and creative development by attending workshops like SNAP? Do you outsource elements of your business to external expert services like accountants?
Business growth and development (usually) requires investment. Whether that's time investment in learning new techniques or a financial investment in regularly upgrading your systems or equipment. Investment in these areas of your business is an advantage to your customers. Streamlined processes mean you have more time to concentrate on the service you provide to them, investment in creative development means you increase your knowledge and they get a better outcome, and investment in regular equipment upgrades mean you have the best tools for the job.
This all increases the value of your offering and should be reflected in the way you think about your business. You are a professional and you have invested heavily in setting up your business so that it's fit for purpose.
Customer Experience and Care
The experience you create for your customers is a huge part of your worth. Do you send them surprise gifts? Do you send out their final set of images beautifully packaged? Do you take them out for pre-wedding drinks to get to know them? Do you offer a complimentary engagement shoot or help with the planning process? Do you send them a beautifully hand written note to thank them for booking you? Do you wish them a happy anniversary after their wedding?
All of these personal touches will win you serious brownie points with your clients but only if your basic service is on point. Be consistent, pre-empt your customers needs, be prompt and responsive in your communications, manage their expectations and make them feel valued.
If your basic customer case is right and you then create an awesome customer experience in addition, you'll have happy customers and happy customers are your best source of referrals for new customers to make happy.
So on to the pictures. Because of course your work is a factor for clients who are looking to book you, however a huge mistake a lot of us make when evaluating our worth is comparing our work to others. In reality the only person who you need to compare yourself to is you.
Are you are consistent in the work you produce? Do you create the same minimum standard of work that you've created before, every time you shoot? Can you reproduce that standard of work in a variety of settings (low light, bad weather etc)?
A couple who books you a year before their wedding is booking you on the basis of the work they saw at that time. Logic dictates that a year later your work will be better - of course it will because you'll be more experienced and you'll have invested time and resources in your creative and technical development.
As long as your work is consistently as good as it was at the time of the booking and you provide the service you have laid out in your contract then you have fulfilled your obligation to your client.
Creatively of course we all want to level up and smash it out of the park every time, so if you're work is consistently a bajillion times better than it was when the client originally booked you then that's brilliant both for you and your client.
Realistically for most of us, "better" doesn't mean we wake up one day and our work has totally changed/levelled up. It means we hone our skill, develop our eye, become more able to read light and to see creative opportunities over time. I can feel my own work has developed and changed even since the start of this wedding season and the only thing I've done to facilitate that is to keep on shooting.
If I compare my current work to work I made last year, I feel happy and confident than I am developing as an artist. If I compare it to the work of my photography heros then I feel like throwing my camera in the bin.
Don't ask yourself if your work is as good as X, ask yourself if you made your couple happy. Did you meet their expectations in terms of the service you provided and did they love their pictures? If they did then congratulations because YOU SMASHED IT.
To sum up: if you solely base your evaluation of your worth on your work then you're doing your business a disservice. If you evaluate the worth of your work using other photographers' work as a benchmark you are doing yourself a disservice.
The first step to being valued by your clients is believing in the value of your offering and your offering includes the service you provide, the customer's experience of working with you, your investment in your business, your professional and creative development and a whole other factors. Start valuing yourself properly and others will too!