Undercutting and what it means

What we are creating is an industry where we don’t even value ourselves, our time, or our craft.

My thoughts:

I have seen all sides of this issue, the ‘what do we charge’ debate. I want to be really careful in writing this as I don’t have bad feelings toward anyone, but this topic keeps coming up and I feel I should give my perspective as I’ve been in this industry for a SUPER long time...

I’ve been the low priced photographer starting up a business. My first professional camera I bought (when I was twenty) cost $7000. I also had studio rent to pay and film to buy. You still needed to charge a certain amount to make payments, you couldn’t do anything for free. 

The debates existed then too, before the digital days. This is nothing new, and it’s always worth chatting about. 

The presented argument: By charging a low price are we undercutting the other professional photographers in our industry?

I honestly didn’t know what that meant when I started, and I’m sure many photographers don’t know what that means when they start either.

What is undercutting’ and why are others upset by it?

It means a photographer is charging a low rate, and by doing so they are taking away business from those trying to make a living at it. Those who pay studio rent, raise families, are sole providers, etc. Under cutters are also creating a market of cheap clients, clients who want a lot for a little. 

When we create a client base with low prices, eventually we realize that it is not sustainable. The time away from our friends + families, the stress of shooting wedding or commercial work, the back log of editing to do, results in an unhealthy work + life balance. So what does this result in? Time to raise our prices! But now we need to build up an entire new client base, one with thicker wallets all because we haven’t started with the end in mind.

What is your end? Where do you want to go with your photography business? Do you just love to take photos? Do you want to provide for your family? Do you want to purchase new equipment to create better imagery? If you know your why, that will help you determine pricing. 

You guys, I get it, you just LOVE taking photos! Great, but ignorance is not bliss. Some people hurt from the decisions you make. No one has to be held accountable for this. But maybe now that we know better ~ we will do better. I am hopeful if we educate gently, others will respond positively.

Another interesting argument is the “I’ve just started, I’m not that good” one. First off, if you really believe you aren’t good then neither will anyone else. I hope you are just trying to be humble, because this industry is highly competitive so it may be time to re-evaluate.

That being said, I think a good step would be to find a mentor. Find someone in the industry to help you. I’ve mentored and I think I learned more than the student! Don’t ask for money, but serve someone. Learn from them, love on them, and become the artist you want to be! Have a humble heart and expect that you will be greater for this time you’ve sacrificed to learn. 

So, why do I charge what I do? Because I am raising a family. Because my clients don’t go to work for free. Because I need to upgrade my computer + camera equipment to keep my workflow going. Because I want to be able to give my FULL WHOLE self to my clients, at their sessions, without resentment. Because I am running a business.

Here's the BIGGIE: Because I value who I am, and I believe that my hours of work are equivalent to any other professional ~ no matter what industry they are in.

Let’s start here: Why do you charge what you do? I figure if we know our why then our price will align with that. Here are some helpful questions:

  • How much do you need a month to survive? And with that established ~ How much do you need to earn to thrive? 
  • Do you value the photos you take? Do you love them? If your camera needs replacing tomorrow, can you afford that?  
  • And then ask this, is it fair to undercut photographers who need to work to feed their families? 

Take time for this one. You may say yes, it’s fine. And you have every right to that opinion. And you may say no, I need to honour them as well as finding my way in this industry.

Let’s move away from that for a minute, and take a client viewpoint:

What do our clients learn from us when we charge a non-professional rate? 

I believe they learn to devalue what we do because we are undervaluing ourselves. 

I believe they learn to have an expectation to get our art and skill for cheap. 

But I don’t blame them for this, as we’ve taught them these beliefs.

Now, let’s take a high end photography view:

They learn to save up money for a session with you because they value it.

They learn that our art is worth something because we believe it’s worth something.

They learn that the canvas hanging on their walls is a treasure for them.

And guess what?! If you are making a living doing this work, you have time to give a free session a couple times a year to a family in need, who truly cannot afford it! You can bless someone when others value you. It’s creates a beautiful ripple effect. 

I pray that this does not offend but inspires. It’s hard to be a truth teller and still loving. I am navigating this myself, so please extend grace to me.

xo Tammy