HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Every January, I start the year semi-exhausted from the Christmas rush…which, by the way, continues all the way through Valentine’s day.
Because the holidays are so close to one another I barely have time to breathe. What for some other people is a time of rest and vacation, is for me a time of hectic pacing, sleepless nights, sneaking off to edit while the rest of the family enjoys some together-time…
But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Because I love what I do.
And every shoot enables me to get to know yet another inspiring woman.
I remember when I was the only female boudoir photography studio on Long Island. But those days are long gone. The growing popularity of the niche, combined with highly improved consumer-level cameras, and low barriers to entry in photography has resulted in a somewhat challenging environment. Many consumers are unsure about what they’re entitled to, versus what the law stipulates (e.g. who owns copyright of image). Indeed many new photographers don’t fully understand at first what their rights are or how much work is involved on the back end in photography. And there is such a wide range in pricing of photography services that I understand the confusion about what professional photography really costs. When I first started, I too found it all so confusing!
But since I’ve been doing this for some time now, and I carry the expenses of having a physical studio, and I engage only with a team of stylists who are themselves licensed professionals, I’ve learned that certain policies absolutely have to be in place in order to protect my business. But every once in a while, a prospective client does not understand the reason for these rules of engagement.
So, I figured I’d share the whys of some of these rules of engagement. This can serve as helpful information for prospective clients, but also as useful information for those new to the field of boudoir photography as well.
Getting on the Phone
I regularly get inquiries via my blog or website and the request is that I immediately forward pricing info…because I already post general range information on my website, I reply: Let’s get on the phone. Not because I’m this super-talented sales person with evil intentions of roping you in. Actually, I kinda suck at sales! I say this because email is so impersonal and yet boudoir is so very personal. Price is one important decision factor, sure, but WHO you’ll be working with is just as important. You have to be sure there’s synergy and that you’ll feel comfortable working with a particular photographer (remember, you’ll be in your skivvies!) or (if you’re a photographer) with a particular client. People sometimes forget the decision process is a two way street. The engagement is long, so it had better be a good fit, otherwise it may end up being a very long couple of months. Also, email is so hard to read. Tone can really be misinterpreted, and assumptions made simply on the basis of a person’s communication style. Some people are cryptic in their writing and so much is read into that. Other people, like me, tend to be rather verbose. LOL! In the end, I’d much rather get on the phone with someone and answer all their questions in one pleasant exchange as opposed to shooting one impersonal email after another back and forth endlessly.
When you decide to contract with a professional photographer, a retainer is what solidifies your shoot date on the calendar. It also enables the photographer to hire the makeup/hair team for the shoot. The photographer and makeup/hair team will then make decisions about how many other sessions they can take on that month based on how many bookings they have. It is likely they will turn down other jobs; and this is definitely the case for proposed jobs for the same date. So when a client cancels, revenue is lost on the part of the photographer and the styling team. And if the photographer, like me, only takes on a limited number of shoots per month, each shoot matters. Unlike a deposit, a retainer is not refundable. It is a commitment to honor your shoot date and is applied to all of the pre-shoot planning and work that takes place (phone calls, emails, concept board building, etc.) Holding a date on a calendar without a retainer increases the likelihood that a client may pull a no-show, or change the date several times which wreaks havoc on the photographer and stylist team’s calendar. Sometimes emergencies happen, in which case photographers may choose to make an allowance — this may be outlined on a contract or simply be a decision that’s made on a case by case basis. My contract allows for one rescheduling within a week’s notice for any reason.
Every professional, regardless of what industry they are in, has examined the expenses involved in running their business. No business is in place to lose money. But some consider photography merely a hobby. While others, who’ve invested tens of thousands of dollars on equipment, resources, education, professional association memberships, etc. such as I have, know it is certainly more than a hobby. Expenses, plus time invested, plus expertise all interact to create a wide variety of pricing strategies. Someone who does not own a studio might charge less for their services. Someone less experienced may also choose to charge less for their services because they are still in the portfolio-building phase of their career. More experienced photographers who invest heavily in their business (e.g. better products, studio space, better equipment) will of course, charge more for their services. Comparing one photographer to another is not an apples to apples exercise. Prospects should determine where they fall budget-wise and explore photographers who provide a quality service within that range. Photographers should also take time to communicate information that will help a prospect understand what they offer in exchange for the prices they charge. For example, if a prospect tells me she can only spend 500 for a shoot and album or CD of images, I will tell her I may not be the photographer for her. I certainly do not say this to be rude, or to offend. I am simply trying to be helpful and to let her know that my services do not fall within that price range. And I then take time to explain my services and what I offer. Photography is a tough business to make profitable, particularly when there are so many non-professionals who do shoots and give image files at such low prices. But in this industry, as in so many others, you truly get what you pay for.
Timing is another area that sometimes causes confusion or stress. I always specify on my website and on my client profile sheet (which she completes right after the shoot) the timeframe I’m working with. Whether it’s six weeks or more than 8 weeks post-image selection, this is not a number I pull out of thin air. I’m taking into account the fact that I’m a lone ranger — doing all of the work involved in running a studio all by myself. There are weeks I shoot a lot, others where I can spend more time editing. At any given time I’m juggling 10 or more specific client deadlines and I do a bit of triage here — putting the most urgent ones first so that everyone gets everything they need on time. And the process works: to date, I’ve never missed a deadline! Then there’s all the post-processing and editing, which is very time consuming when it’s done right. Add to that some of the albums I work with are hand crafted, taking a few weeks all by themselves to be created once the images have been perfected, and you begin to see why the process takes as long as it does. Rush processing is something I do offer on a case by case basis, but as it requires putting a particular client’s work ahead of everyone else, and often involves 3am editing sessions, I do charge a fee for this.
A photographer’s work is never done. I’m regularly in the studio for evening image review sessions and last year, I would often spend Saturday and Sunday away from my family shooting or meeting with clients. Not to mention the calls and texts all hours of the day/night including Sundays. This year, in the interest of achieving better life balance, I’m switching things up a bit. There will be a weekend fee if a client absolutely cannot shoot during the work week and Sundays will be off the table altogether.
Boudoir photography is a creative, really enjoyable line of work, but it’s challenging on so many levels. Having clear rules of engagement makes it easier for everyone–photographer, styling team, and clients–to enjoy a seamless experience.
2015 is sure to be full of wonderful things. I’m really looking forward to upcoming fine art exhibits for my creative explorations, to working with more inspiring women/boudoir clients, to launching a new line of women’s portraiture, and to sharing my knowledge and perspective in a soon-to-be-announced new venture.
It’s going to be challenging, sure, but everyone who meets me is struck by how much I absolutely love what I do. All the great things to come in 2015 will likely be all the more rewarding if I can approach it feeling restored and with a renewed level of passion and energy. So right after all the Vday gifts have been delivered, I plan to treat myself to a spa day! 😛
I wish you all the success and joy throughout your pursuits this year!