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Why It’s Your Fault That You’re Undervalued and Underpaid

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Have you found yourself frustrated by being nickeled and dimed for your work? Does self-doubt about your skill and imagery creep in as a result of the prices you are asked to shoot at? You’re not the only one.

But what if the problem wasn’t the bargain-hunting inquirers? What if the problem was a failure with your replies to their inquires? In this article, I will give you an approach that will assist you in getting the value you deserve for your time, experience, and artwork. 

We all start somewhere. When I shot my first wedding around 2005, I charged $350. When I shot my last wedding in 2018, I charged $4,000. Similarly, my pricing for product photography increased sixfold between 2018 and 2021. My prices have increased radically over the years, yet I’ve remained fully booked in all seasons with customers that feel my prices are fair. How have I managed this? I’ve understood one truth: you charge for the value of your work, not for the deliverables. 

Do you ever get this phrase in your inquiries: “I just need a shot of… real quick”? “Just a few shots… nothing big”? This is a routine offender in my inbox. I recently received this message from a client of mine who got a contract for their product to be in a major grocery store: “I just need one shot on white, real quick. Can we do [insert a very low price]?” Using what I’ve learned, I was able to get the price up to $400 for the one shot on white, and neither the client nor myself felt taken advantage of. Let me tell you how. 

Clients don’t understand how long it takes to produce work. In their imagination, a “real quick” shot on white means you put the product on a white background, take a quick snap (which turns out perfectly because you have “an expensive camera”), run it though your magical filter, and email it. Boom. 15 minutes. The client prices on deliverables (“just one photo”), and so, they pitch a number that feels like a slap in the face to us who know the time it would take to produce it. The reality is, though, that since they are not photographers, they don’t understand the amount of time, mental energy, and expertise that goes into their requested images.

If you’re feeling underpriced as an artist, it most likely has nothing to do with the value of your work and everything to do with the client’s understanding of the process of creation. 

In order to close the gap between the price at which the client valued the job and the value you put on it, you must educate your client on the process. Give them a brief breakdown of the job. This breakdown should include: the time spent on client communication, brainstorming, gathering props and supplies, booking models, setting up your gear, shooting, tearing down, uploading files, editing, exporting, and delivering the final images. You can create a template email and tweak it as needed to streamline your process. 

I conducted an online Instagram poll with the statement: “I think people undervalue/underpay creatives because…” for followers to fill in. Creatives from all corners of the industry chimed in. Fellow staff writer Ali Choudhry said: “Low barrier to entry means just because everyone can do it doesn’t mean everyone should.”

While the market is oversaturated with “photographers,” it shouldn’t bear on the value placed on your work. If someone can do the same work as you for cheaper, then you need to complete a self-critique of your own work. If your work doesn’t stand out, your problem is not the competition. Rather, you need to find what unique twist on the art you can bring to the table,and market that. There should only be one you. 

The answer that came most overwhelmingly from creatives was perfectly expressed by Hannah Lopez: “They don’t understand what it takes to produce the outcome.”

They don’t understand what it takes to produce the outcome. And whose fault is it that they don’t understand? It’s your fault. I have absolutely no idea how long it takes to make handmade pasta, but if I did, I imagine I would not grumble so much when the pricing on the menu seemed inflated. It’s our responsibility as creators to inform the client how much time and expertise it takes to deliver their images. 

So, next time, if you find yourself receiving a figure that feels insulting, don’t take it personally. Take a moment to price out the job and send them a quote with an explanation of the scope of the work. 

What has been your experience? Have you felt underpriced and undervalued? Have you tried the approach to educate the client? I would love to read your input in the comments.

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