What is YOUR Creative Value Worth?

Taking a break from Technical talk to touch on Business. I came across a few articles that line up nicely with a common question I receive.

What should I charge?

The million dollar question right? I probably answer differently each time, but in the end, I can’t answer that for you.

Here are a few quotes from this article:

Pricing on margin when your clients know your costs completely devalues your art.

the value of any creative business is in the creation of the art, not its production

be transparent and sell your art. That is why your clients are hiring you and what they will pay for.

We are in a creative business. We have a “Creative Value” that we should be compensated for. How then can we put a value on our Creative Talents?

This could turn into a very long post but I will try keep it short, so here are just a few things to keep in mind when setting your prices:

First thing is first. Not everyone will find Value in what you bring to the table, Creatively. Some people think that you just show up, snap a few pictures and that is it. They then say, “I can get 4×6 prints for 12 cents at Wal-Mart. Why should I pay you $x for a 4×6 print.” Well, I can buy blank cd’s for about a penny. Why can’t I buy John Mayer’s new CD for a penny? The value is what is on the paper… The treasure. The moment. The Person. Just like John Mayer creating melodies to put on the plastic CD, we are preserving memories that are put onto paper.

This mindset is OK though. You cannot please everyone, so accept that right away. As you grow in your career as a photographer, you will develop a style, seek your niche clientele and cater to them. It does not happen overnight. It is a journey.

Secondly do you have just have passion or just have skill? Hopefully you have both.

There was a period of time when I had TONS of passion but very little skill (I still feel like this somedays :-)). I would get discouraged and then 1 image would bring me back for more. Overtime I have continued to build my skills and my passion has grown as a result. Think about it. When you learn something and continually improve upon it, don’t you think that your passion would increase due to your confidence in your skill? The more skilled I become, the more passionate I become. The more passionate I become, the more skilled I desire to become. It is a win win situation. Skill building is essential and a constant effort. You must want to improve and work hard to do it. If I ever feel that I know it all and cannot learn and continue to grow, then I am going to bow out. Whether it be lighting, composition, exposure, people skills, business skills, etc…. there is something to learn DAILY.

You also must consider your time, other labor and materials used for final products. Again, pricing on these costs alone is not a good practice for a creative. I see photographers often charging x amount for lots of “bells and whistles” in their packages, but place ZERO amount on their own Creative Value. Looking at some of the package pricing I can’t even see how they can turn a profit on the materials alone. This could be a confidence thing that will hopefully improve over time while “on the Journey”.

Creative Value aside, what do YOU need to live on?
Do you have a spouse and children you support?
You need health insurance, business insurance, legal and accounting fees, taxes.
Do you want to retire someday? You better account for that too.
How about college for those kiddos? (yep, I have 5 of those to consider!)
Oh yeah, what about the costs of doing business?
Equipment breaks and gets outdated. Pro Equipment is not cheap.
Production Costs?
Studio Rent?
Auto Expenses?

Get the picture?

Whether you like it or not, if you are charging for your photography services, YOU ARE IN BUSINESS.

I LOVE making images! It fuels my passion for life, but I know that I need to be compensated so I can continue providing treasures for clients and supporting my family. It’s OK to make money. We all need it. I am thankful, so thankful that I can feed my family with a camera. Going back to the emptiness of sitting behind a computer in a job that does not fill me with passion is not an option.

I better get back to work 🙂

Comments 5

  1. Thank you for writing on this topic! What do you mean by “be transparent” though? …from the article…I read the actual article, but I don’t get it. (The coffee hasn’t kicked in yet.)

  2. Sorry David, but I don’t agree with you… You’re only as valuable as what someone else if willing to pay you for your work. Too many photographers don’t understand that part of the business.

    Here’s how to tell what you’re worth. It’s actually pretty simple.

    If you’re too busy – You’re not charging enough.

    If you’re not busy enough – Then you’re either charging too much or you need to market yourself better, our you need to market to another segment.

    In either case, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be working on increasing your value. (quality &service)

    IMHO… :o)

    Hope you’re recovering fast!


    1. Post

      This is another good approach, which simplifies it. Thanks Michael. You point out “you are only as valuable as what someone is willing to pay you for your work.” I think this lines up well with you cannot please everyone, as person a may not find you as valuable as person b.

      Good Stuff!

      Ivona, I think what the author means by being “transparent” is to not focus on just the “hard costs” of doing business but place value on the art you create. I could be wrong, but that is how I interpret it.

  3. Thanks for the post. Photography I Love it, Business side not so much but Ive been hard at work trying to educate myself. And the hardest part is pricing. Oh yeah “Battle Studies” is sooo goood I recommend “Edge of Desire”!

  4. I wise man once told me (a long time ago) I “needed a better class of client” in response to me bemoaning about not making enough money. At first I was insulted, then I sat down and thought about it. He was absolutely right. As David put it, client “A” did not find me as valuable as client “B.” It was my job to find more B clients and drop the A clients who wouldn’t pay me as much as I wanted and needed.

    Pricing your work is not rocket science, it’s just math. You have to consider ALL of your overhead AND the salary you need/want to sustain your lifestyle. The later is the only tricky part. Some people live nicely on $25,000 a year while others can barely scrape by on $125,000. Once you add up all your overhead and salary, divide by the number of jobs you typically work each year and you have the MINIMUM amount you can charge for a job. When you charge more than your minimum that’s call PROFIT — which is what every business should be making. Profit is NOT your salary, I repeat for clarification — PROFIT IS NOT YOUR SALARY!

    I do agree in part with Michael, if you aren’t busy enough you’re not marketing yourself or you need to find new market segments, but I would also add, you may need to find a better class of client within the market segment you are currently working.

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