Those three little words

Those three little words

 

Photography. Like a relationship, requires commitment, time, patience. It requires a strong will and sometimes the ability to backdown when you’re in the wrong.

It can often feel at times, like when in a new relationship, that the whole thing is building up to those three…..little…..words.

How do you know if its time?

Is it too soon?

What if they don’t feel the same?

Am I making a fool out of myself?

If you haven’t guessed yet, those words aren’t “I love you”, well they can be if you want them to be, but for me, in photographer there are three far more important words…

“Here’s your invoice”

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Now read those few questions again;

How do you know if its time?

Is it too soon?

What if they don’t feel the same?

Am I making a fool out of myself?

 

I was going to start this sentence by saying, the truth is only you know when it is time to start charging for your work. But, thinking back to the hundreds of photographers I’ve spoken to about this subject over the years is that they don’t know. They don’t have a clue. Or perhaps, they do know and are too scared to admit it.

I remember at 13 years old, sitting on a swing in a park with my first real girlfriend who was a couple of years my senior, and whispering in her ear so that my friends didn’t hear “I love you..”

She took a sharp intake of breath and almost choked on her panda pop; “Ha thanks Ordy”

Safe to say, I wasn’t expecting that response, but at least it was a response.

 

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I had the same feeling the first time I issued an invoice to a commercial customer. I was nervous, palms were sweaty. I sent the invoice via email and eagerly watched for the reply to ask “Why are you charging me?”, that email never arrived. 9 days later (two days overdue) the payment was made to my bank. That was easier than expected.

Now don’t get me wrong, not all love stories end this way, nor do relationships with clients, particularly when you’re looking to make the transition from Hobbyist to Professional.

Just to note when I say professional photographer, I mean someone getting paid to take photographs. No matter how much or what level.

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I speak to a lot of photographers when coaching and training and I’d say that 90% fall under the same category of “I don’t think I’m good enough to charge”.

They’re answering the wrong question without it even being asked. What they should be thinking is, “Does the client think I’m good enough to charge?”

Therein lies the issue.

I have talked about this time and time again. As photographers we find it incredibly difficult to value ourselves, praise our own work, admit when we are good at sometime. I find it frustrating. Many a brilliant photographer will miss out on a potential long and fruitful career due to self-doubt or a lack of self-worth within the photography genre.

 

So here is my thoughts on when it is time to charge;

  • Would you feel your images were of a good enough quality for someone to use if they received them for free?
  • Do you think you can create better images than a company/client can on their own?
  • Did the client approach you or did you approach them?
  • Is the client going to make money from your images, directly in indirectly?

If you have answered YES to any of those questions then the answer is simple. It is time to start charging for your work….

IF

…You want to go down that line.

 

If you’re not interested in making money or a living from photography then you’ve probably wasted 10 minutes reading this.. Sorry!

 

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The industry is overrun with photographers who will offer their services for free, I’m not going to bad mouth those people or ridicule them or saying they’re doing something wrong. Everyone needs to start somewhere and get experience somewhere. But, If you do fall into that category and you shoot free, then you should re-asses why you do that?

Do you need those images in your portfolio?

Are you actually getting any work from that (and I’ve avoided this word) exposure?

Or is it that you’re too scared to now so to that client, “Actually my time and skill is valuable, if you would like me to shoot this it will cost you £xx”

Now I get this isn’t a one size fits all approach, but another simple way to check its viability for your business would be to complete a very simple DR Pepper Analysis…

What’s the worst that could happen?

All they can do is say no..

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The Imitation Game..

“No Man was ever great through imitation”

Not a quote I really agree with to be fair.

Four Billion people around the world own cameras of one sort or another whether it be mobile, compact or professional DSLR. Over 1 Trillion photographs are taken each year.

Now we know most of those don’t see the light of day and sit on memory cards forever destined to not be seen by anyone other than the owner on the back of a LCD screen. That is an issue on it’s own.

But what about the images people do see? 

We are literally bombarded with images all day every day in social media. With the rise in popularity of Instagram and Pinterest, amongst other image platforms, it is easier than ever to go out and find images of pretty much any subject you want with a quick search. 

Pinterest is a hugely resourceful tool for planning photoshoots, sharing ideas, gaining inspiration. But where is the line between inspiration and copying.  And who really cares anymore?

I’ll be the first to admit, I learnt my trade of photography through seeing other peoples images in magazines and online and then copying them to imitate the look that they achieved. There’s no shame in that, and I’m not afraid to admit it. After all, how else can you learn in a practical form.

I’ll also admit that I take great inspiration from images and photoshoots which will directly influence a body of work for myself. For instance, one of my more recent shoots was based on the Vanity Fair Shoot featuring Benedict Cumberbatch. 

I had seen the behind the scenes video of this shoot before I’d seen the finished images and I loved everything about it. The styling, the background, the use of a dog as a prop to tell the story. I took this idea and ran with it. Not in the literal sense,  but created a Pinterest board to show my creative team what I had in mind and what I thought we could create on the back of these ideas and the inspiration from this shoot. (https://uk.pinterest.com/xtraordphoto/harriotte-shoot/)

The point is that the inspiration I took from seeing a behind the scenes video and then the finished images was enough to get my mind working. Yes, I wanted to create an image very similar to the one featuring in Vanity Fair, but, I only wanted to if I could create my own spin on it. That is the important part to remember. You can take inspiration from anywhere, other photographers, classical art, street graffiti. The fact of the matter is that there are very few truly original ideas or concepts anymore due to the sheer size of the industry. It’s not only prevalent in photography, but, we are seeing this in the music industry also with very similarly sounding songs, whether intentional or pure coincidence. Now as I said before the most important part is putting your own spin on it, or making it your own. There is no way, especially out on location, that I could have created exactly the same image. It’s just not possible. I wanted something similar as a base image to work the full body of work from. This would be just one image in an editorial set which was being shot for a US Fashion Magazine. And although I went into this shoot knowing that that was the image I wanted to come away with, it actually wasn’t the standout image from that shoot.
 
As all of the elements on the day came into play, outfits, hair, makeup and came together we found ourselves with the perfect combination (down to planning with a tremendous team) that delivered one of my favourite images that I’ver shot. This, this is why inspiration is good. It creates, it excites, it allows the evolution of concepts and ideas, it sets you on a path to create something and gives you the opportunity to create something totally different at the same time. 
 
So did I imitate on this shoot. Well yes I did , a little, but I also evolved the concept to create my own images and with the support of the whole team we delivered something we hadn’t planned to at the start of the day, but certainly loved by the end of it.
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Setting yourself up for Success.. or not..

So I’ve spoken before about the importance of “shooting for yourself” to maintain a good balance between shooting the work you need to shoot and shooting what you want to shoot. But……

I’ve noticed over the past few months around the various photography groups on Facebook that there are a lot of photographers looking to break into the industry professionally and work on a full-time, or even a part-time basis. No problem with that.

But what I also see a lot is photographers shooting genres they’re very unlikely to get paid work in and shooting very little if anything of genres they will get paid in. This just doesn’t compute for me.

I guess its a little like a footballer who wants to be a striker, but attends goalkeeper training everyday and thats all that people know them for. Or thats the way I see it anyway.

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I talk to photographers all day long through my 1-2-1 mentoring, my training and the groups I run and its pretty much the same across the board for photographers who are looking to make the jump from part-time “amateur” to a full-time “pro”, a lot of these guys aren’t setting themselves up for success. They don’t particularly understand what it is they want to shoot, but more importantly, what it is they may have to shoot in order to succeed.

In a dream world I would fly around the globe shooting fashion campaigns for big brands. Yes, that’s the dream. Yes I’m taking steps to try to do that, but at this moment in time, that dream doesn’t pay the mortgage and put food on the table. So what do I do?

I shoot the jobs I have to shoot to ensure my family has a roof over their head, food and some of the nice things in life. This is shooting what I have to shoot. Doing this allows me the time to shoot what I want to shoot. Don’t get me wrong I’m still quite strict in the work I take on and the genres in which I work. I won’t accept just any commission but ones that work with my brand and previous experience.

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Commercial Photographer Newcastle

Now shooting what I want to shoot is a bit of a dual meaning. It’s shooting something that is fun for me, interesting and helps me stay creative. But it’s also adding more work, experience, knowledge and depth to a portfolio that is aimed at achieving my goal of working within a specific genre or part of the industry.

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I still stand by my belief that shooting for yourself is essential in staying motivated, trying new things and being creative, but, if the aspiration is to be a full time professional this needs to be tailored in a more direct way. A clothing firm isn’t going to hire you to show off their garments if your portfolio is full of Art Nude or Cosplay images. By the same token a Sporting club won’t book you if you can’t show a degree of competence in that particular area.

My biggest bit of advice would be to find the areas you want to work in, figure out if they’re going to deliver the income you want. The chances are, it probably won’t. Then you need to figure out what else you have to shoot in order to achieve the £X you want.

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I always think back to a photographer in my area whom I’ve spoken to several times online but never met. He set up his photography business revolved around one concept which ultimately became floored. There just wasn’t the demand for this particular type of work in the industry up here in the North-East.

Rather than look for other avenues to work in, and believe me there are 100’s, he pretty much gave up on his dream of being a full time professional photographer. Now its not a case of being a Jack of All Trades, but, you’ve got to be quite dynamic in the photography industry these days. There are very few photographers who are in fact just photographers. Even looking at some of the biggest names in the industry, they shoot across multiple genres, offer training, online courses, books, etc.

So for those wanting to make the jump over to being a Full Time Pro, please think about the work you’re doing, and how it can deliver the career you want. If it’s not adding to your chances its probably taking away from them!

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Commercial Photographer Newcastle

The Land Of Opportunity or You Make Your Own Luck?

I think it’s quite fitting that this blog is written today, given the outcome of the American Presidential Race. I’m currently sitting in Starbucks (as I do at least once a week) editing, writing and generally going about my normal business day.

I see the same people here as I do every week, the window cleaner turns up around 9.05 every Wednesday morning, the same people doing the same as I am sat in the same seats every week. We rarely exchange words but a acknowledging glance and a sort of half-smile is enough to say “yes we are here again..”

It dawned on me, during a workshop I was teaching on Sunday, that this life was accidental, it wasn’t planned, it wasn’t prepped, I didn’t study photography at University, I didn’t dream about being a photographer as a kid.

I have this life I have now by total fluke.

Well, I’ll take that back a little, I am a photographer by a chance opportunity and turn of events. What I do and the way I work is down to me making my own luck.

During my early teens I watched and admired my big brother Sean. 4 years my senior, he was confident with the ladies, had a great group of friends, had a good sense of style (despite his Curtain hair cut) and most of all to me at the time was an outstanding basketball player. He broke the records at the Senior School we attended on scoring and was the first student ever to “Dunk”. Hence the nickname he got Duncan.

Sean was always a better basketball player than me, I always knew it. He was stronger, a better shooter, a better dribbler and had far more self-control on the court than I did.

By the time I was 16, I had played 22 times for England Youth Basketball team. Sean hadn’t. That wasn’t right to me. Here I was, a lesser player and yet I had more perceived success on the court. Why?.

Opportunity. When I attended my first ever Basketball training session at a Leisure Centre in South Shields I was 12 years old. I was 6’2″ at the time. I was absolutely awful, I couldn’t dribble or shoot or do anything except catch the ball higher than anyone else.

I trained on a Wednesday night for a few months, and one month a guy called Alan happened to be there as his daughter trained there too. The following day at school my PE teacher pulled me into the office.

“We’ve just had a call about you playing basketball, they want you to go for trials with England North Team.”

And it went from there, I had the massive opportunity to go to Lilleshall National Sports Centre two years in a row to have trials for England Basketball team. The first year I was a year too young and placed on the Development Squad, in the second year I was picked to be on the team. I still wasn’t a great player, still nowhere near as good as my big brother. The only difference is that Alan seen me play one evening and thought I had enough potential to succeed. If he had not been there that night, I would never had those 4 awesome years with England Basketball Team.

I look back at the start of my photography career, and it came about in a very similar way of chance. I got into photography when my son (who has just turned 9) was born. My Dad bought me my first DSLR, and showed me the ropes. The following year my Brother In Law was getting married and didn’t have a photographer.

“Do you fancy shooting my wedding Chris, your Dad could help too?”

“Sure, how hard can it be” —– It is very hard!!!

So there I was alongside my Dad, and my Brother, shooting my Brother in Laws wedding day. It was great fun. We enjoyed it and it was my first taste of wedding photography.

We sat on the evening after I had devoured the Buffet and a young couple came up to us and asked if we were free on August 28th the following year. Despite the fact they hadn’t seen any of our images from the day, or didn’t really know much about us. We jumped on the opportunity and Xtraordinary Photography was born. 80% of our business was born from the friends and family of that couple over the following 2 years. We we’re receiving the best kind of marketing possible, word of mouth.

 

If I hadn’t of had a son and got into photography, or been asked to shoot David and Caroline’s Wedding, or met that couple on that night. I would not have a photography business. I would be sitting in a Managers Office in B&Q working 80 hours a week and not knowing this alternative life could have existed.

So my path from there was set, and although I worked my photography business alongside a full-time job for a number of years, I finally made the jump a couple of years back to go full time.

That was opportunity. Now its about making your own luck. And don’t get me wrong I still get some amazing opportunities now but they are driving by hard work and putting myself in the right place at the right time.

Creating your own luck or Working to a plan, as I like to call it, is the difference between surviving and thriving. Now, I don’t mean financially, hopefully that will follow. But more so from a development of both skills and business. Because I have put myself in the right place I am now working on some of the biggest commercial projects I’ve ever been part of. That is through Networking effectively.

Because I’ve been a little bit cheeky and assertive I’ve been working alongside Pixapro for over a year now which has massively driven the Training side of my business giving me more credibility across the UK as a whole.

I have a Facebook friend, granted someone I’ve never met, but I am inspired by him daily. He has built a designer watch company from the ground up and driving himself beyond anything you can imagine to make that a success. Hard work is engrained in his body, and a ‘never give up’ attitude is what has made him successful. He has absolutely made his own luck and will reap the rewards of that in his business I’m sure.

 

I still look back at those basketball days as some of the best times in my life, and Sean would travel with me everywhere to watch and support me at every opportunity, but I’ve always felt as though for him it was a tragedy he never had the same opportunity that I did. But, by the same token, playing alongside my Brother for the college team was quite simply awesome!

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Sean has carved himself an extremely successful teaching career now, and as he slowly edges towards the ripe old age of 40, I couldn’t be prouder of his drive, his hard work and him creating his own luck to get there.

 

Commercial Photographer Newcastle

A picture speaks a thousand words, but the right ones?…

We’ve all seen great images while scrolling through social media, newspapers, news or even the old fashioned magazine….

But what makes an image bring peoples emotions to a point where they have to comment, interact or share?

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I recently posted the above picture in a group of 30,000 photographers from around the World. Now if you look at this image, it tells the story of a wedding day with rain and the bride still smiling and enjoying the occasion while hitching up her dress.

That is true, and that is what was happening here. But that aint MY story behind this image. This image is important to me because of the guy on the right of the image, stepping over and above his duties in more way than one. More concerned with the brides’ welfare and eager to help he grabs an umbrella runs in front of the bridal party and shields the bride from the rain. Lifting his camera every couple of steps to capture whatever he can.

This is my Dad, Alec.

Alec has assisted me at pretty much all of my weddings since I first started shooting. He works away from his family during the week, comes home on a weekend and gives up entire days to assist me. For Free. This is MY story behind this image. This is what makes this image important to me.

 

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Now referring back to my question above and what makes people engage. It’s the story behind an image. It’s the emotion that someone feels about the image than can be shared, empathised with even be jealous of.

If I’d of posted this image with no commentary or explanation this image would have been seen but not drawn people to interact. But because I added a couple of lines of text saying how awesome Alec is for doing this, its generated to really passionate comments from people.

Some who have lost their Dad and wish they could have this, those who want to do this for their children, and those who just think Alec is a hero. (I think that too.)

So this got me thinking around some of the more famous images in history and how different they would be if you didn’t know the background or the context of the image. Would they provoke the same level of emotion or outrage. Most likely not. Take for instance  one of the most recognised images ever. The image of the young Vietnamese girl running naked after the Napalm bomb was dropped. If we didn’t know what this image meant or what she was running from, the pain she was in, the fear she was feeling. It would never have become the image it is today and no one would know it.

Now don’t get me wrong some images speak for themselves or you can make a fairly decent educated idea of what is going on. But, that won’t necessarily pull at your heart strings, or trigger anger or fear the way that it would if there was a backstory to it to explain.

So I guess what I’m trying to get at is, do images become more interesting or interactive when the viewer knows the emotion behind it or the emotion that someone else feels about it.

It’s hard to imagine not knowing the motive behind certain images or their importance in documenting the travesties and triumphs or the human race over the last century. But imagine for a minute seeing some of the most famous photographs for the first time, without context, commentary or emotional attachment.

Four men crossing a road.

Someone standing in front of a row of tanks.

A black athlete holding his fist aloft.

I wonder what you’d feel. Would you feel the same about it. Would you feel nothing. Would you even stop and take notice of the image. Would you have even become a photographer…..

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Commercial Photographer Newcastle

It’s not what you know but…..

It’s 6.07am.

I’ve just arrived in a largely deserted hotel lobby, clamming for a strong caffeine infused hot drink. Tea is my weapon of choice this early, but to be fair I’d drink anything to give me that kick right now!

This is a ritual I do. Every. Single. Friday. Morning.

Why? Networking…..

Being a photographer can be a very lonely existence, we spend the vast majority of our time sitting alone behind a computer screen editing the memories of those who’ve been in front of our camera. It would be very easy to lock yourself away from everyone else and deal solely with your clients and thats it.

So in the (slightly adjusted) words of Tina Turner…. “What’s Networking got to do, got to do with it?”

14 months ago I decided to visit my local networking group on the invitation of a friend I’d met a few years back in a similar vein. Going and sitting in a room of 20 business people, most of which had no real connection or even need to or for photography could look a potentially foolish waste of my valuable sleeping time. Who am I kidding, my kids wake up at 5.30am every morning anyway!

So here was my thinking behind it. The average person knows about 600 people. So if I am in a room of 20 people, thats a potential of reaching 12,000 through word of mouth.

92% of consumers trust the recommendation of a friend or family member. 92%!!!!!

Bundle all of those numbers together and it makes the Networking, and more importantly, referral opportunities very very appealing.

Before attending this group my business was dominated mainly by wedding photography which accounted for 70% of my total business revenue. Portrait work and Workshops accounted for 15% & 10% respectively. The rest of my income was nominal from a couple of different areas. Now I get that those percentages are only really credible with a total Stirling value…. that aint happening!

 

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So when I joined this networking group I made a fairly conscious decision that my Wedding Photography work didn’t really need to grow. I was happy with the level of income I was earning from shooting weddings, if I could bring the levels of other work up to nearer that £ figure then it would make more sense and still give me a good work life balance.

So with that in mind I specifically targeted certain types of work that would deliver a high sale value per job with a minimal investment of time in shooting and editing. Now this isn’t to say that I wouldn’t put the effort in and take my time with the client, but more that I would work more efficiently in the shooting element and “get it right in camera” to reduce post production time.

The type of jobs I identified that met this criteria were Corporate Headshot’s, Publicity/Event Photography and Commercial images such as product/editorial work. So in a room of 20+ businesses I automatically had a link in to 20 businesses right?…. WRONG!

I don’t want to necessarily be selling to these 20 businesses, I want to educate them to sell me to their 12,000 contacts. If I can educate them around the value of what I do, how efficient it is and the results that I create it is going to increase the level of ‘Word of Mouth Referrals’ rather than only getting me exposure to the 20 people in the room.

 

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This is the long game; farming its called in Networking terms. I don’t really want an instant return, if I get that, I haven’t really done what I need to. I want to get people to know me in my group, get them to like me and ultimately earn their trust. This is when I will reap the biggest benefits. This is when my investment of both time and money into this group will pay off.

So getting back to the type of work I wanted from networking in this group. I wanted introductions to accountancy firms, solicitors, sports teams, any type of business who need professional looking head shots and team shots that needed to be shot in a relatively short space of time, and with a quick turnaround. My USP is that I could go to their place of work (despite owning a studio) set up, shoot, edit and turn the images around while still onsite, pack away and leave. Very simple, yet very effective.

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One of my repeat clients KP Simpson in Jarrow

 

Since joining this group I have seen a huge shift in the balance of where my work comes from. My commercial work has gone from being sporadically low at best to accounting for around 25% of my total business, with further growth anticipated for the next 12 months.

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Every single penny of Commercial work I have gained has come as a direct result of being part of this networking group. I work closely with an excellent Marketing company, a printer and a web designer and gain work from all three, as well as passing work back to them. There is once of the main purposes of my group. Givers gain- if I work hard to get them business, they will want to do the same back to me!

Networking certainly isn’t for the faint hearted, and its one of those mediums where you have to put the effort in and get to know people in order for it to pay off. It certainly has paid off for me, and I’ve just picked up my biggest commercial job to date for an event in 2017 as a direct result of being recommended by one of the members of that group.

Incidentally since joining that group of 20 businesses, we now have over 30. So I now have the potential to reach 18,000 people through a direct referral or through word of mouth. Pitch that up against advertising on Facebook or in the yellow pages and I’ll take it every day of the week!

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Commercial Photographer Newcastle

 

 

Value Vs Education Vs Real World

I struggled to come up with a name for this blog, purely because the content is equally as difficult to explain. I’m going to try to use analogies where possible to keep it simple. (for me to write not you to read!)

I was chatting with some of my friends who are also photographers recently and we stumbled upon a video from another photographer who also advertises themselves as a videographer. My initial opinion of the video is that it was of very poor quality, lacked great content and the subject looked extremely awkward in front of the camera. I almost sent a message to the photographer to say that it was potentially damaging their brand as they, usually, produce work of a good standard.

I mentioned this to my friends and asked their opinions on it…

“A client might not know that it isn’t good, in fact if they’ve got no idea about video they might think its great..”

Shit. I would have never looked at it in that way.

And that really set me thinking. Education is a huge part of a photography business. By education I don’t mean learning new skills and techniques, I mean photographers educating their clients/potential clients on “What Good Looks like”, referring back to some of my old retail management jargon there.

That’s all well and good, but what happens if the client skips that education phase and jumps in at the deep end to book a photographer/videographer or whatever without having an idea of what good does look like.

Let’s imagine you’re hungry ( I don’t have to imagine, I’m on a fecking diet!!) and you fancy eating something you’ve never eaten before. You head out into the high street and stumble across a market stall selling “Snail soup”, and in this instance you’ve never eaten snail soup before (I don’t even know if that is a thing). You go up to order and the lady behind the desk charges you £10 for a bowl of soup. Expensive is probably your first thought, but who are you to judge, you’ve never ordered or eaten it before.

You receive your bowl, which is more comparable to a tea cup, you know that kind you can’t your finger through the holder because its too small. You have your first taste. Not sure if you like it, you take another and after three mouthfuls you’ve finished your Snail soup.

Two things are now true. That is without a shadow of a doubt the best snail soup you’ve ever eaten. It’s also the most expensive investment you’ve ever made in the Snail Soup market.

 

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Now let’s use that same analogy in photography. If a client has never ventured into the market, how do they know what is expensive or cheap or what is good or bad. They’ve got no temperature check without education or recommendation. In essence, if the client doesn’t do their own research and goes with a first or second option then there is very little opportunity for them to be educated by photographers. Now the fact may be that they do the research and meet several people, get educated and still go with the first person they met. At least now they have made an educated decision.

So circling back around to the title of this blog; Value Vs Education Vs Real World…

I guess in any creative market there is a disparity between value and quality that is available. I know photographers who charge large amounts for commercial work, but they can justify it to the clients because of the quality they produce.

This justification IS education.

But, this is the real world. No matter how good someone is, how much they educate the client, there will still be that one person who then either does it themselves instead of booking a pro, or, aims at the low end anyway because they just don’t get it. This is also an educated decision.

Not all educated decisions are smart decisions.

So I guess in writing this blog, I was trying to find an answer to a question I didn’t really ask. To be honest, I don’t really know what the question is. However, I do believe there is room in the market for educated clients and uneducated clients. As creatives we just have to figure out which ones we’d like to work with.

I certainly know which I’d prefer.

 

Thanks for taking the time to read, don’t forget to check our the rest of my Blogs too!

 

Commercial Photographer Newcastle