Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Nice Photographer

I was just thinking about my wedding photographer. Actually, I think about him all the time. Now that I am an aspiring photographer, I can more accurately appreciate all he did for me on my wedding day.

I went into my wedding, like many young brides do, watching my budget and counting every penny. I had NO Idea what one photographer could do over another. I didn't understand how wedding photography worked, how much it cost, what kind of time or work was involved, etc. I only knew, this photographer had a good portfolio and he was affordable so... SOLD!

The photographer was so kind, patient, and friendly. He was prompt and he helped us get into formation for group photos as well as individual photos. He gave us ideas about how to pose and some of the photos from that day I still stare at and smile.

Recently, I took one of my photos and scanned it, just so I could look at it on my computer, and I zoomed in to 100% and that baby was TACK SHARP, SPOT ON. It was gorgeous. The bokeh was beautiful. The colors were perfect. Back then, I loved my photos because they were so special to me. They were a remembrance of my special day. Now, I truly understand what else the photos were - a labor of love on his part, an effort to produce a quality product.

{Here's where I drag my skeletons out of the closet...} Know how I appreciated him? By taking all the proofs to Kinkos, and color-photocopying them. Yes, I did that. Yes, it was illegal back then and I knew it. But I did it anyway because I couldn't afford $20 for a 5x7 or whatever. I paid for his services, I paid for an album, and that was it. But I wanted more of those pictures... so I scanned them and printed them on regular old white photo paper and I didn't care. No, of course I never framed any of those pictures, but I think I used them in scrapbooks...

I did contact him years later when my entire immediate family was looking for a family photographer. He was so kind and told me that he didn't really do family portraiture, that he just did weddings, and he referred me to another studio in the area. We also chatted about how his business was going, and how everything was changing over from film to digital (I got married in 1998, this was in 2003 that we were talking again).

All of this is to say.... it's given me a lot of perspective when people don't value my work, or when they think it's okay to copy or scan photos, or when they don't understand why photography costs as much as it does. I don't think that it's that people are rude or unthinking. I don't ask myself, "Don't they have any morals or ethics?" I don't get my feelings hurt that they can't appreciate all my hard work. Because... I didn't either. And it's not that I didn't value his craft. I think it was more that I had NO IDEA how much anything cost. You could have told me that his camera cost $50,000 or $500 and I would have believed you. A person who's not in the industry doesn't get all the time, blood, sweat, tears, pennies, struggles, challenges, etc. that go into the images behind the wedding.

Know what I remember most about my photographer? Not that he gave me a free 8x10. Not that he had a certain brand of camera. I don't even remember what we paid for him. What I DO remember about him... is that he was nice. He was kind and friendly and he made my wedding day so much better and so much easier. He was friendly with the other guests & made himself available to me when I needed him and made himself invisible when I didn't. He had great work ethic and he always had a smile for me.

I think of this when I think about my customers. Well,  I don't really have "customers" per se. I did for a while, now I don't so much but I'm working up to it. I'd like to one day. Anyway, I'm not saying that I need to bend over and kiss their butts, but that being nice goes a LONG way. A customer will come back (hopefully) not because of my prices or my location or how many props I brought to their session or how fast I got their sneak peeks on Facebook. But how I treat them, how I value them, and how I make them feel about themselves. Sometimes when I read about the bad experiences other photographers have with their clients, I wince a little, realizing what a doof I was when it came to being a good client for my photographer. But no matter if I was cheap or not, no matter how many dumb questions I asked, no matter if I squirmed in the chair when he told me his prices, it didn't change how he made me feel - like the most important client he had.

Just my 2 cents from the consumer-turned-photographer point of view.

Texan Mama


Jennifer said...

Hind sight brings about a new perspective.

Ellen aka Ellie said...

Good thoughts! I loved this post.

I "liked" a photographer on facebook, and she was constantly super critical of people who take a CD from a photographer and are happy. She claimed people don't EVER make prints from CDs. I think her constant complaining might turn people off. Such put downs are a turn off. (I don't think she provides any kind of ownership of the proofs to the customer unless they spend something like $750.)

I have used an amateur/professional photographer for photos, and she gave us an edited CD from which we had photos printed.

To this day, and maybe you can explain this, I wonder why a 5 x 7 does cost $7-10 (or more) when using a professional.

It is important to have pictures taken by someone with talent, but for some people it's a luxury, so I understand why you did what you did with your wedding photos!

Gigi said...

I don't think people really understand the value of being nice. Being nice means that people will still remember you twelve years later, as you are remembering your photographer here in this post. That's the lesson we should all take away here.

Texan Mama @ Who Put Me In Charge said...

Ellie you ask a good question and I'm happy to answer it.

Talking about why custom photography is expensive is a sticky wicket. On the one hand, we (photographers) would like people to genuinely understand why it's expensive. On the other hand, having to explain it kinda feels like we have to justify our charges. But really - as you've correctly said - photography is a luxury item. It's not a necessity. If people want photography that's decent but at cheap prices, there is always JCPenneys. But when people want a custom experience, like photography by a custom photographer, then don't want to pay higher prices for it, it doesn't make sense.

Custom photography is a small business, so all the non-fluctuating costs of business we have to bear the load for. Self-employment insurance, liability insurance, travel costs, costs of goods to be sold, costs of website design & hosting, business cards, marketing materials, etc. Not to mention the GEAR and continuing education... it all adds up.

A custom photography session, from the initial client contact to the delivery of goods, averages about 10-12 hours - shooting, editing, travel, time online uploading images, etc. If I charge, say, $150 for the session and receive an additional $350 in purchases, I receive a gross of $500. But I have to pay sales tax on that, as well as income tax. I have to budget for gear upgrades, I have to pay for insurance, I have to pay for gas to get to/from the location, I have to pay for childcare, etc. After all my costs, let's say I've got $200 left. That means I've earned $16-$20 per hour. So, you can see, if I can have higher priced prints OR if I can make a larger sale, then I can make more money. Because being in a small business, I'd like to do it to make money not just break even.

This is just a for-instance. This is especially not a real situation for me because I don't have clients, really (most of my work is for non-profit organizations so actually I don't make anything, but I STILL buy business cards, pay for website hosting, have insurance, etc.)

I hope this makes some sense. I hope I've explained myself well enough. :)