This is a guest post by Don Giannatti, a photographer and teacher based in Phoenix, Arizona. The opinions expressed in this post are his alone and I am only providing him this space to hear his perspective on a rather tempestuous blog post by Gary Fong, also a photographer and now entrepreneur.
I am not a wedding photographer, but I flirted with it a bit from 2005- 2008. It didn't end up being my cup-o-tea. So understand where I am coming from – a commercial photography background of 35 years. I teach lighting workshops now, and mentor photographers wanting to get into the world of commercial photography. I am not the one to come to for wedding photography information, but this post by a celebrated wedding photographer kinda got me thinkin'. And that can be a scary thing sometimes.
1] “Prices are low because photographers are terrified of being asked the question – “how much do you charge?” Because you're afraid of rejection, (and you want to get hired) you either a) publish a artificially high price, then let the client negotiate you down (this is a snowball of trouble) or b) find out what the competition is charging, and charge less, and throw in a free engagement session.”
Well, not always. Sometimes markets change. I know several high-end shooters who are doing well… because they are damn good at what they do. Perhaps the clients are getting more savvy in what they want and maybe they don't want to spend $5K on a wedding photographer who isn't worth it. The recent downturn in the economy has hit upper-middle class people the hardest in many ways, and finding a way to lessen the cost of an already rediculously expensive party is not something that is only borne out in photographers. Offering free engagements is marketing 1.0. By maximizing the value to the client without incurring much out of pocket is a time honored tradition of marketers in all kinds of genres. We got a fee printer and an iPod Touch last year when we bought my daughter's MacBook. To the point of being terrified of the “how much do you charge” question, it is a matter of personal fortitude. Personal comfort. If one is confident in one's price, there is no terror. Walk into a Ferrari dealer and ask how much the red one is. They do not feel terrified at all. Confidence in one's work will take one past the terror and into the garden of being paid what one wants to be paid. By the way, I paid $2400 for my first Macintosh (1986). In today's money, that is about $10K. Why? Competition, cost of entry, supply and demand… so many reasons. Or – even more terrifying… maybe the work isn't worth the price being quoted. Yeah. Tough nut to swallow, but if no one is buying the price is too high for the value perceived. Simple.
2] “Photographers do so much post-processing, they don't work hard to obtain the PRICELESS moment.”
This seems non-sequitur to me, but I think I know what you mean. A photographer who shoots shit and just believes it is fine – “I'll fix it in Photoshop” may be dealing a lot with your first point (see above)… ya know.
3] “I remember when I started photography, “filters” were all the rage. Shooting a beach? (Half Tobacco filter). Shooting a unity candle lighting ceremony? (star filter). Shooting a portrait? (Don't forget your vignetting filter). Photographers went out of their way to find situations where they could use their filters! This is what happens when you take your bride and groom into an alley and make them wear sunglasses and jump in the air. Barf.”
So if your client asks for that shot (agreed – stupid) what would you say? As a vendor to a client who is presumably paying you a lot for your time and art?
4] “Jumping in the alley? My God, you two bumpkins are so lame? Such a stupid idea for a shot… I mean, really… gotta barf now.”
OK. I think I would try to lead them to another shot, but in the end, they are the client.
5] “You know what happened to those images? They're laughed at today because they're as outdated as orange shag carpet. Same thing with Photoshop actions. If you process your actions with photoshop-heavy gimmicks (I especially am befuddled by the aged-film action, this is so fake looking) then someday the grandkids will point to your silly over-processed, over-saturated, over-sharpened, barbie-doll skinned looking face images and giggle, and go gramps, your wedding photos are silly. Face it. They are.”
Avocado Green appliances.?
Wide Belts on poofy skirts?
?Hose with seams up the back
Leisure Suits ?
Velour “Jogging” wear?
Your point? Things and styles change. What is cool now may not be cool then. Shooting for the clients needs means following some trends the client wants. If you are shooting and showing a more traditional style of photography and getting the gigs you need, then what does it matter? If you are shooting and manipulating the hell out of the images and getting the gigs you need, what does it matter? Point is that there are all kinds of things that go in and out of style. Just a facet of time that catches up with all of us. I have been married for nearly 30 years. My kids howl at the wedding photos… not because of the cheesy photography (and it sucks big time) but because of the way we looked and what we wore.
I don't remember the hairdressers or the tux folks worrying about what that would look like in 20 years back then. Only what looked good on the ‘special day' that was planned. It would be great to be able to look into a crystal ball and make all the necessary changes in today to fit tomorrow's needs, but… well, that is not part of our world right now.
6] “And photographers who know they're going to sit on Photoshop for three weeks gimmicking up their images with cartoonish looking effects typically rely too much on the processing and not trying really hard to let the impact of the moment sell. THIS by the way is what rich people want.”
Then I hope to hell it is in the portfolio of the photographer looking for someone to shoot their rich people's wedding. Whatever a photographer does, it must be in the portfolio that they show. If you are a bumpkin on Pshop and do most of your work there, with only ‘fodder' from the camera, and people like what you are doing, then you are – well, good to go. Right?
I will no way believe that ‘rich people' are stupid enough to hire someone who they haven't reviewed. They know what you do, and how you do it before you get to come over to the ‘rich people' house and shoot the ‘rich people' wedding with all the ‘rich people' guests. They look at your book. They see other weddings you have done. They make decisions.
They're ‘rich people' not ‘stupid people.'
7] “In case you're wondering. Rich clients don't want a photo of them holding hands over a train track or standing in front of a graffiti wall. Rich clients do not want their wedding photos to look like a senior high school portrait session. Rich clients do not want their wedding photos to look like a modeling portfolio. They want to say to you – “how the hell did you capture that moment?” For that, they'll pay dearly.”
Then by all means if you want to be a ‘rich people' photographer do not do the shots in front of a graffiti wall with caution tape and train tracks and stripper heels… oh wait, that's Model Mayhem. Sorry.
And if ‘rich people' will pay dearly for ‘that', then why are they buying the cheesy stuff… and if they aren't buying the cheesy stuff, what was the point?
How the heck does someone speak for rich people who haven't spoken for themselves. And what rich people are getting the graffiti images and the caution tape and the jumping in the alley shots – hating them – and then breathlessly calling their friends to tell them how wonderful the photographer is. Seems like a Straw Man argument to me.
8] “For your silly look-like-everybody fake punchy Photoshop filter, the simple-minded client will find the cheapest person who looks like you do.”
Well, that is a good point. Mediocre is mediocre and that means NO ability to stand out from the crowd. I totally agree. Want better clients? Shoot better images. A lot better images. Is that hard? You bet your ass it is. That is why there is so much mediocrity killing mediocrity in the worlds of photography. No secret there.
I will address this though … the thing that rubs me wrong about so much of what is discussed in forums and online. The point of ‘rich people' being the only clients worth servicing. And the notion that people of smaller means are ‘simple-minded' just knocks the breath out of me. I cannot even describe the sadness that something so elitist would be said about good, hard working people who may not have the disposable income to present a $45K wedding to their daughter. My oh my.
I am not an elitist, but I do have my price point. And no, when I did shoot weddings it was mid-stream in my town (around $3500 per with no addons). I don't shoot $750 weddings and give people the images on CD. Never did, never will.
But I truly hope the young people who are trying to bootstrap a wedding for only a couple of thousand get a good shooter who will. I don't want them to not have pictures because they are not ‘rich people.' I don't want the industry to turn into some sort of elitist entity that exists totally for the Tony Class who have the ‘big bucks” – the ‘rich people.' That thought sorta makes me want to – well – barf.
9] “Your signature look should be the fantastic moment. Like this series below taken by our awesome wedding photographer Jessica Claire:”
10] “I am just waiting for the day when I see a bride and groom sitting in a white high-key background leaning on the numbers 2010. I'm sure somebody has already done it.”
And that means what to you? That the photographer is lame and stupid? That the couple is lame and stupid for doing that? Why does everybody want to impose their notion of what is good on other people? What makes it anyone elses business what kind of work the bride and groom want and get… as long as they are happy. Who gives a shit if the 2010 is pink? If I had a nickel for every lame ass photograph out there, I wouldn't have time to do this. I would be speeding around the world on my own jet trying to find the perfect vinyl copy of “A Love Supreme” for my $5M stereo system. Stupid shot idea? You bet. My business? Nope.
If it sucks, and the clients hate it, and he gets no clients…well – “Hello, Welcome to WalMart”…
Will the destruction of the photographer bring you great joy? Will it make the industry better? Will his/her demise be something to cheer? Maybe for Judge Joe “I Gotta Pelican Case” Brown, but not for me.
Instead of laughing… help. Instead of condescending humiliation, offer guidance and mentorship.
11] “Shoot-to-burn DVD's – standard going rate around L.A. is about $750 for a DVD of high – res images.”
For some people, that may be the limit of their expenses. Is that a problem for anyone? “Fkn cheap ass poor people…”
Do prospective brides from Beverly Hills and Santa Monica (where, you know, the ‘rich people' live) shop Craigslist for their photographer? Is Denis Regie feeling the heat from $750 wedding shooters?
12] “Photographers say they shoot over 3,500 images. That's 20 cents an image. Why not charge that instead? Why not tell the client – “I charge 20 cents an image – and you get to keep the original file!” Are you freaking kidding me? How about be the photographer that works hard, anticipates the moment, IS PERCEPTIVE, captures the mood and the story and gives the image unmodified? I've seen many of your images. I'd pay 20 cents for them, and not a penny more. That's how bad some of you suck. Sorry.”
Well … there you have it. Work for poor people and provide a service to them and you ‘suck'. If you are in East LA and are a wedding shooter who does a great job for your neighbors who can barely afford $5K for their entire wedding – you ‘suck.'
Now, unless I am not understanding the way things work, most people look for people who are like them, or provide something to them that they need. I see this so much on the forums… “cheap CL shooters are ruining the business”.
Lexus dealers are not sitting around worrying about the Hyundai dealer down the road. People who sell $2500 wedding dresses are not sweating the cheaper stores or online. Bakeries are not vying for a chance at the bottom of the pile… I know, I was just involved in finding a cake with a client. Damn!
I must say that last time I was in LA there were several people driving Kia's and Focuses… you must suck too. Sorry.
13] “Do you know what I think of your silly Photoshop action-look? It reminds me of one of those Hyundai Sonatas that have been lowered with neon lights in the undercarriage, a big ass subwoofer booming, spinning wheels and sparkle paint. Yes, someone had to say it, and I'm saying it. To a person of taste, if you overgoof your photos, that's what your images look like.”
Well, not everyone has the same taste level. Sinatra/Kanye – Spring Strings/Philadelphia Strings – banjo music/jazz.
And where I may – or may not – agree with your assessment of that kind of imagery, I have little desire to humiliate those that like that stuff.
14] “Negotiating your fees – this is big. Photographers put up a fake “big number” so they can look ultra-cool in front of their peers. “My packages start at $5,000” No they don't. You start at $3,500 and will put on a suit and charge your batteries for less if it's “off-season”. Or you will book your associate shooter and promise the client that you will come as well.”
I have nothing to say about that. I have no idea what you are talking about, so I have no comment. Have heard of negotiations though. There's even a book or two on the subject. Maybe.
15] “Dude, a few years ago, I know of someone who said, “I didn't start doing well until I raised my fees to $20,000″ Oh really? Do you think that would work in today's market?”
What? Not enough ‘rich people' I guess. And now I am confused. Prices too low? Prices too high… it is all going round and round for me.
16] “Get real. Have reasonable prices and do NOT let your client bargain you down. That's the beginning of a nightmare for both you and the client. The minute you say, “OK, I'll give you a reduced rate” your credibility goes down. How would you feel if your brain surgeon said – well, since it's you, I'll take 20% off, or – throw in a tattoo at no charge.”
Well, I am agreeing with you there. Creating a sensible price structure and holding to it is a very important part of finding out where you are, and where you belong. If you can't get what you charge, then maybe you aren't worth what you charge. Simple simple.
Idea for tattoo: “I wanna be a ‘rich person' so I am getting this tattoo.” Or, “Look at My Cool Tattoo, I Must Seem Like A “Rich Person” to you.” I dunno, I kinda suck at making tattoo statements cause I friggin' hate tattoos. Don't care at all if you get one or love them… just don't mean anything to me.
17] “Proclaiming Jesus in your work – any ethnic group bargains itself down. I'm serious. I grew up with Koreans. They are the worst. Oh I know a good KOREAN dentist and they will do your braces for a deal. Oh I know KOREAN movers, let's use them to save money. Same with mormons, jews kill each other with deal-making. But the Christians as a group – (I'm burping my ribs as I type this) use this to try to sway people in a cheap way to get jobs. Grow some gonads and ditch the Jesus thing in business. Just shut up about it. Seriously, shut up. You will lose all non-believers and your fellow church-goers who say “God is so good”. Oh just shut up. Do business. Get great images. Book weddings because of your STRONG IMAGES and not your proclaimed faith. Be neutral. Can you imagine what a wreck my Lightsphere business would be if I put a Christian fish on every box? Picture it. Would I sell a half million of these things? Hell no. The Europeans would fall off their chairs laughing at me. The Japanese would look at it and make the face a dog does when it doesn't understand the sound you just made. And for those I did sell, would my fellow Christians go – ooh! I want to buy this because he's CHRISTIAN. Please. Shut up. OK just shut up.”
Ummm… I got nothin'.
18] “Workshop Bullshit – I honestly have never seen such a carnival circus of posers in my life trying to pitch “education” on business success. These people don't earn jack at photography. The ones who do earn – shoot. They're too busy to stop what they're doing and write an outline and create the class materials to give a good class. Next photo event you go to – PLEASE. ASK THE SPEAKER WHAT THEY EARNED IN PHOTOGRAPHY.”
Agreed… there are some pretty bad ‘workshops' out there. And there are some pretty good ones out there. The ability for the workshop to be successful has very little to do with the income generated by their work. It has more to do with preparation, hierarchal information, skills with people, a devotion to the wonderful art of teaching and a real connection to those they are teaching. Even ‘rich people' who do occasionally take a workshop when not polishing their Rolls.
Ask the professors in your University how much money they made in Astro Physics before they taught it? Ask your music teacher at the University how much money they made composing before they decided to teach it.
Teaching is an art in itself. And there are damn great teachers out there who pride themselves in being a teacher. When did teachers become so low on the priority list of some people?
Man – some people are just totally hung up on money – ‘rich people' and I get that. But denigrating people with that time-worn BULLSHIT phrase about ‘those that can do and those that can't teach” is such a total slam at the people who work hard to make other people better. I hate that phrase and I believe that people who repeat it are more bitter and small than the ones they are demeaning.
19] “Do it right there in front of everybody. Watch that person squirm because they talk about business success, and they've never achieved it. Doing great in the business of photography is very very tough, but it's totally possible. You HAVE to be the person who NAILS the unforgettable moment, tells the true story, helps people relive memories.”
And one who “NAILS the unforgettable moment, tells the true story, helps people relive memories”… cannot teach?
20] “It is not going to be easy to be successful if you try to copy somebody's blog images by buying a set of Photoshop actions and copying poses. This is not the stuff that memories are made of (oh we will never forget how we sat on that park bench back-to-back). It's the memory-making photographer that will get the loyal following and earn the high income, which I believe, is still possible (but it will never again be like the hey-day, not with digital cameras getting more advanced every year). But if you can be a master of the moment, people will beg to hire you – at your fee structure.”
Offend, denigrate, humiliate, insult – and inspire. Sort of.
21] “This is not the stuff that memories are made of (oh we will never forget how we sat on that park bench back-to-back). It's the memory-making photographer that will get the loyal following and earn the high income …”
It is the photographer who delivers superior work, listens to the clients, leads by example, and builds a strong, steady business will succeed. Digital has opened a lot of what we do to people who were not trained as we were trained. And some of them suck, and some of them are kicking our asses. The ones that suck, well – they suck, so who cares.
The ones that are kicking asses need to be listened to, and push those of us who are getting our asses kicked into a new place. Happens all the time. Makes hanging a shingle out after buying a ‘Blad and a Norman system and being ‘in business' seem a little lame. I agree… we will not be going back there. Ever.
But I harbor no resentment to those who are entering and kicking ass. They are the beginnings of a new order. And that is what it is.
BTW… “and earn the high income” may not be the reason I would ever suggest for someone getting into the photography business.
From Seshu: Care to comment? I would value your perspective in the comments section below.