Digging Deeper / by Annemie Tonken

Photo credit:  Summer Murdock

Photo credit: Summer Murdock

Well... we wanted a conversation and a conversation we got! Thank you to everyone who took the time to read, cheer, lambast, respond to, share, and think about our post on pricing. Though financial sustainability is not the only pillar upon which The Family Narrative was built, it’s certainly one of the big ones. We believe in the amazing people that make up the community of family photographers, and in the work that they do, and the conversation that’s blown up our little corner of the internet only served to reinforce our belief in just how passionate and thoughtful and engaged you are.

We knew when we hit the publish button that the post we wrote would be polarizing... taking a stand always is. We knew one post could never fully explore all the many aspects of pricing that any small business owner needs to consider, and anticipated some pushback about some of the big ones that we didn’t cover, but we also got a few pieces of feedback that gave us real pause, so let’s address those first.

Mistakes we made: 

First, several commenters on the blog and on IG felt like we were blaming other people for our own problems finding clients, and in rereading the post, we realize we could’ve been clearer on this topic. We don’t hold anyone accountable for our own businesses except ourselves, but believe that as an entity that’s become a voice in the larger family photography community, avoiding an honest and sometimes difficult conversation about one of the big pieces of the business that causes our colleagues to struggle and fail would be irresponsible. If by some magic everyone in the industry were to suddenly start pricing themselves in a sustainable manner, that would certainly benefit all of us, but that is a secondary goal, not the primary one.

Second, many of you felt like our choice to draw a hard line in the sand regarding price was problematic for one reason or another - that saying you had to meet a $1000 per session minimum was arbitrary at best and elitist/classist/uninclusive at worst. We had our reasons for giving that particular number and will explore those more fully in a later post, but we recognize that there are a lot of variables to consider in pricing, and we certainly never meant to suggest that someone who can’t afford $1000 for a session doesn’t deserve family photography. We don’t believe that at all. In fact, we are all big believers in creating space in our businesses to give back in our communities, especially to various disenfranchised groups to whom non-essentials like custom photography would be otherwise unavailable.

Finally, our post was focused on the business model currently favored by many of the family photographers in our community, which includes personalized in-home sessions, time spent helping clients prepare before the session, time spent editing after the session, pretty websites and custom branding and boutique packaging and rainbows and unicorns, etc., etc. Many of you raised the fact that that is not the only viable way to run a photography business, and you are are absolutely right: there are other models that can support a profitable business at a lower per-session price point. We could’ve/should’ve pointed that out from the get-go.

What we stand by:

Profitability is an important consideration in any business, and a well-thought-out strategy regarding pricing is central to the financial sustainability of a business. 

Pricing strategy is a piece of the business that many family photographers suck at. They create their pricing based on what they believe people can afford or numbers they believe people will pay for their work or what they see other people charging, and that’s just not how any successful business works. For anyone interested in having a long career in the industry, it’s something that must be honestly addressed.

Many women and many artists have a hard time assigning value to their work in the form of dollars. The majority of family photographers fall into both categories, and are further hampered by the fact that they start their businesses from scratch without a business background of any kind or any real knowledge of the industry aside from looking at other photographers’ work online. Nick MacArthur (who will be teaching at our 2019 retreat in New Orleans) recently cited a statistic that women in the photography industry earn an average of 40% less than their male counterparts, and we believe that family photography accounts for a big part of that. We believe that supporting women in business and addressing the issues underlying this enormous pay gap are fundamentally feminist issues, and we are working hard within our industry to do just that.

We will be writing a post next week addressing the main question that many of you raised, namely how a new or inexperienced photographer can manage to create a sustainable pricing model, so please keep an eye out for that.

In the meantime, our apologies to anyone who was offended by our last post. We believe that this conversation needs to be had, but know that it is fraught for many people. We want you to know that we raise it not to shame or alienate anyone, but to assure you that your passion and hard work are worth more than just a few likes on Instagram: we want you to succeed in making your business great for your clients and great for you, and we want to help if and when we can. 

See you back here soon.


The Family Narrative