the pricing experiment & what I learned
Three months ago, I announced a huge shift in how I wanted to run my business. Instead of dictating a set session fee, I simply asked that any prospective client cover my costs of shooting film ($200/session) and then they had the power to choose whatever it was they wanted to pay me in addition to my costs. You can read more about it all here.
Since that time, I've had the incredible opportunity to learn some immensely valuable lessons for myself- 5 lessons, to be exact.
1. My ego wants to be paid. And it wants to be paid a lot of money.
I've had a lot of questions from friends and fellow photographers about my radical pricing structure since making the change. Mostly, people are interesting in knowing how much I am (or am not, haha) getting paid. I firmly believe that discussing pricing solely for the sake of satisfying curiosity, mostly leads to comparison, feelings of inadequacy, and thoughts of a competitive nature. Basically, I find spouting off numbers is almost never helpful and, in my case, something that I knew from the very start was to be kept strictly between me and my clients. With this in mind, I've been responding to such inquires about what I've been getting paid with a simple, "it varies." And that's the truth. Regardless of how much I have been paid each session, however, it hasn't been the actual dollar amount that's interested me most. Instead, I've been able to sit back and really see and FEEL my ego at work.
My ego will always want to get paid tons and tons of money. And I think it's a safe assumption that no matter how much I ever get paid for my photography work, my ego will always want just a little (or a lot) more. That's how it's wired. That's it's job and man alive, does it sure know how to work overtime sometimes. My silly ego says stuff to me like, "If they REALLY valued you, they'd pay you more" or "You're not good enough to make more money." Even after I've just had an AMAZING experience shooting a wonderful family and I feel so, so happy inside...I get paid and... BAM- Mr. Ego is on the scene ready and able to poison everything with sneaky little thoughts of ingratitude and lies about money equating with how much someone values me. It's been an invaluable exercise for me to hear my ego speaking up, take a step back mentally and emotionally, recognize it all for what it is, and instead of feeling worthless and not valued or wanted- to, instead, make the conscious CHOICE to say, "Hey. Shut up, Ego. I refuse to believe that just because someone isn't going to dish out $XXXXX for my work, doesn't mean they don't value what I do. It's just not true. So thank you for your input but I'm going to focus on the joy and creative high I just experienced with a beautiful family and the relationships I was fortunate enough to make while working with them. Peace."
How do I know that someone's value of my work isn't inherently connected to money? Because there are plenty of photographers who's work I respect and value SO, SO much and, AT THE SAME TIME, I'm not hiring them to photography my family. At least, not yet. Why? Because I don't have all the money in the world and, right now, I have to make choices every day about where and what that money gets used for. That's my reality.
So to get all worked up as a photographer and start believing that what I'm doing and offering people is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD so they should give me ALL the money right here, right now... Nah. I'm not buying that. It's a silly waste of emotional energy and simply not true. I know people value my work and I actually don't need a check to prove it.
But here's the part where two seemingly contradictory truths can co-exist peacefully AND simultaneously. Or, in other words, the paradox:
2. I've been undervaluing myself, my abilities, and what I have to offer my clients.
I'm still not entirely sure where or when it happened, but at some point in my photographer's journey, I started pretty severely undervaluing my work. Somehow, and without even realizing it, I began believing that I actually wasn't all that great of a photographer, on-par at best. But now, I know better. In the last three months, I've been able to see that I've been quietly lying to myself. I can now confidently say that I KNOW I'm a very capable and talented artist. I pour my whole heart and soul into every single session I shoot, am constantly making efforts to push myself creatively, take large strides outside comfort zones, and strive, above all, to deliver images to my clients that will fill their whole hearts with happiness and joy. I can't even begin to describe how hard I've worked to get to where I am. Simply the fact that I'm able to shoot families and children with a manual focus camera ON FILM, and to do so successfully, time and time again is NO small thing. I've invested thousands of dollars into my personal photography education so I can sharpen my skills, my artistic eye, and my vision. When I first started photographing families, never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be creating the kind of work I am now capable of making. Never. My Heavenly Father has blessed me beyond measure in all of this and I hope to never lose sight of that fact ever again.
I have so much to give. I do, I do.
3. My family is the most important thing in the world to me- even more so than my desire to create outside the home.
There was a time when I could leave my family and photograph others no matter what I was/wasn't getting paid. I needed that time away for myself. I'm beginning to find, however, that my creative needs are also filled in other ways- ways that allow me to still be at home. Specifically, the building up of Photo Native, creating mentoring/teaching opportunities as a way to help and connect with other photographers, and- a new development- the pursuit of researching the world of homeschooling for my girls. All of these things are worthy endeavors that also require my creativity and my time. All of these things also mean that it's no longer feasible for me to take time away from my family and these other projects if I'm not getting a guaranteed $X amount of money in return for my time and my talents. If I know my photography work and vision is worth a certain amount of money, and that my family is also my most important priority, I'm going to allow myself to ask for that money as compensation. This is how I can value myself as an artist but also, more importantly, value my own family.
(I will be finishing out all sessions previously booked under the old "pay what you want" pricing structure. All new inquires, including inquires that have yet to book a date, will fall under the new session fee which can be found on my "pricing" page of this site.)
4. I now absolutely believe that the specific families who I've been blessed to photograph during this time (2, in particular) were, unbeknownst to me, part of the reason that I decided to take on this whole pricing experiment.
Obviously I had no idea going into it, but this whole pricing shift was, in large part, purely for the families that I've been able to photograph during the last three months. There are two families, in particular, who I know wouldn't have been able to afford me otherwise but for whom it was SO important that I work with and make the images I did for them. My pricing experiment opened the doors for those two families and if you'd ask me right now if completely changing how I run my entire photography business JUST for the sake of giving two beyond-deserving families a full family session was worth it, I'd say, "ABSOLUTELY."
Guys. This work that we photographers do- this work is about PEOPLE. It's about us as photographers offering others a chance to be seen through someone else's creativity, someone else's eyes, and to capture beautiful, real, and lasting images for them- FOR THE MAMAS. That's really at the core of what us family photographers do, right? We do it for the mamas. Because we KNOW how glorious and yet how fleeting this time with our babies is. We KNOW that we never want to look back on this time in our family's young life with regret- regret for having not documented and frozen in time the details and the connections and the quirks and the expressions and the STORY of our family's love, exactly as it is, right then.
We do it because the experience of exercising our creativity while simultaneously making these images WITH and FOR these incredible mamas all while being able to bring home some additional income for our own families is so freaking amazing we can't even believe it sometimes.
So, yeah. I'd change up this little photography business a thousand and one different times if I felt prompted by my Heavenly Father to do so. To heck with the consequences. I can't see all that He can see and He saw those two mothers and knew the value a Samantha Kelly Photo session would hold for them- and NOT in a "because I'm the most amazing thing ever" kind of way, at all. But because I believe, without a doubt, in a loving Father in Heaven who is aware of the details in our lives and cares about making our secret wishes come true.
5. There is always value and power in being YOU.
This photography world is filled to the brim with an insane amount of talent. People like to use the word "oversaturated," but I prefer "exploding with awesomeness" because frantic competitiveness is best left for those who are insecure. With so much raw talent and hard workers all around us, we are forced to truly discover what we're made of- to be willing to march to the beat of a different drum- if we want to not only stand out from the masses but also if we want to always be true to ourself and follow our OWN heart and vision.
Being noticeably different, weird, and even a failure gives you so many opportunities to learn. And when you learn, you have something to teach. When you have something to teach, you are able to lead others. When you're able to lead others, opportunities begin presenting themselves and doors start opening up to you- doors that you didn't even know existed or were possible.
So what if people misjudge you? So what if people misunderstand your intentions? So what if you fall flat on your face? Those who are confident and secure enough in themselves will support you and the rest doesn't matter so just let it fall away and keep moving forward. The POWER that comes from you doing YOU will be the most surprising lesson of all.
Feel the fear and DO it anyway. Great things will come.