Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Discounts, Worth, and The Knot

There are many times when I write complete blog posts in my head b/c I have so much I want to say and never get around to doing it.  Or I get on my soapbox and really do write a blog post and decide after re-reading it, that I better not post it.  I will probably infuriate a ton of people.

Most of my ranting and raving have to do with photography, or people who want to be photographed, or other photographers - go figure!  I have a Master's in education, and I still feel that need to teach others, and I really do want others to learn from my experiences and from others who have tread down this crazy path of self-employment, entrepreneurship, and living the life of a starving artist.

So I have finally decided that it is time to speak my mind.  First off, photography is an expensive business to be in.  I have an entire post about the costs of running this business and the costs of custom portrait photography, but I need to save it for another time.  Also, it takes a lot of brains to do this!  We are not dumb people.  No joke.  I cannot tell you how many times people are just floored when they find out I have a college degree.  Even more floored when they find out it's a Master's.  I get told all the time that they thought "I was just a silly photographer!"  Seriously?  It's about the same lines as saying to me, "So you are a photographer?  What do you do for a real job?"  Or, "You only work one day a week?"  Or, "You photograph weddings?  You must be rich?"  Bwahahahaha!

No, I'm nowhere near rich.  As a matter of fact, I work crazy hours EVERY SINGLE DAY, and if I paid myself, I could probably make more money flipping burgers at McDonald's.  But this is my real job.  And I love it.  And I am slowly gaining ground in this industry.

All of that being said, I don't make a lot of money, and I don't part with it easily.  But when the editor of The Knot magazine calls you up and says she is swooning over your work, things begin to change.  She hooked me up with their advertising person, and together they really pushed to try to get us to advertise with them.  It's a huge commitment and a huge chunk of change - especially considering where we live and what we charge.  Whether they were really swooning over our work, I don't know.  It might have just been a sales tactic; but I'm awesome, so I'll just keep believing they were really swooning.

Yet, we decided to hold off at the time.  We did not want to make that commitment and felt that our money would be better spent on lenses and some of our own marketing materials.  There was just something I didn't like about the whole thing.  AND THEN...this article happened:

Wedding Budget: How to Negotiate With Wedding Vendors

Even if you’re working with the hottest vendor in town, there’s always room to negotiate, especially if there’s a good reason to reduce costs — like having the wedding on a less-popular Friday night. Here are some more crucial pointers.

Know the market

Find out what other vendors offer for the same price point, and use this as leverage. Ask about every single thing that’s included in your package. Then find out in advance what extras are going to cost — and whether those costs can be waived.

Adopt a friendly but firm demeanor

There’s no harm in politely asking for a deal. If vendors are excited to work with you, they may be more willing to come up with creative solutions.

Be indifferent

You need the vendor to believe that if he or she won’t meet your offer you will walk away. Consider collaborating with your fiance to employ the old good-cop-bad-cop routine.

Practice makes perfect

Try your hand negotiating at a flea market to see what talking style works for you.

— The Knot

And now I am eternally grateful that I didn't give them a single dime! The advice that they gave is so wrong on so many levels. My time is valuable. And I want to work with those who want to work with me. I don't want to be forced into any situation. And if you act like you don't want to work with me, then guess what? I'm not the photographer for you! There are many others who I would be happy to refer you to.

The best response I have read to this come from an amazing wedding photographer in California. Here is a link to his original blog post:


And here is his response:

1. Even if you’re working with the hottest vendor in town, there’s always room to negotiate…

This is completely true for struggling, inexperienced photographers who use discounts as their selling point.

But the hottest photographer in town will not be cool with discounts. If you’re a great photographer that regularly books your desired number of weddings every year, then you have no incentive to discount/negotiate/haggle. And if the free market is okay with your fee (since you’re booking) why would/should you?

So this piece of advice will help you get a less than stellar photographer.

2. Know the market

Okay. So if a bride emails me “Photographer X will give me unlimited photography, a disc of all the images, every image retouched, an e-shoot, and 3 albums for the price as your base 5 hour shoot…” I will respond with “Sounds like you’re getting a great deal!” Okay, I’d be more polite than that — but, in effect, that is my response. And I’ve sent that out countless times and will continue to do so.

But struggling, inexperienced photographers who have use discounts to sell themselves will totally price match you. Again, this seriously hurts the bride who genuinely hopes for the best wedding photos she can have.

3. Adopt a friendly but firm demeanor

A firm demeanor on discount would probably leave you without a response from many, many established photographers. If someone took a firm stance with me on the issue of discounting, I would never shoot their wedding. There’s isn’t much out there that is less attractive than people who feel they are owed something that they simply aren’t.

Once again, however, this will most certainly work on under experienced/established photographers.

4. Be indifferent

This is the straw that broke my back and caused me to write this post. Mainly because there could be a bride that DOES really want a certain photographer and will end up not getting them because of this advised indifference. I couldn’t possibly imagine worse advice.

I have referred out potential clients who were willing to spend $10,000 – $20,000 booking me for this very reason. I have a rule in business — if you communicate that you don’t care about me shooting your wedding, I will believe you. It’s that simple. Nearly every established, full-time wedding photographer I know feels the exact same way.

Fact is, great photography requires more than a great photographer. The greatest photographs tend to have the common element of a great photographer with a trusting subject. And it’s almost impossible for a subject to trust a photographer if they don’t have supreme confidence in their abilities (i.e. think they’re amazing). If you don’t think I’m awesome, I would much rather send your money to someone else who you do think is awesome.

5. Practice makes perfect

I can tell you in full confidence that practicing your haggling skills at a local flea market will only help your odds at me sending you a list of photographers I think will better suit you.


As a photographer who has shot free of charge for deserving couples in the past (who genuinely could not afford it and were, again, very deserving), I am not at all opposed to doing things outside of the rate I feel I am worth. I grew up in a very poor household (which I’m sincerely thankful for) thinking it was completely normal to check behind the supermarket for thrown out food, pick up roadkill for dinner (if it was still warm :), made jokes about “dumpster diving” for “dumpster delights”, and so on.

But just looking for a discount — and having this indifferent, ”I’ll just get someone else…” mentality? That’s not going to get anyone anywhere with me or any other established full-time photographer.

So here’s my advice. If you are dead set on a photographer, you absolutely adore their work, and you dream of them shooting your wedding — but there’s the problem of genuinely not being able to afford them — email them telling them exactly that. Tell them that they are your dream photographer, and that you’ve taken money out of other areas of your budget because you love their photography that much. Then think long and hard about an exact figure that you can afford. Make one offer and make it as best you can. Add that if you had 10 more bucks to rub together, it’d be in that offer. Finish with letting them know that they are worth their fee and that you completely expect them to turn it down — but since you’re so in love with their work, you had to take the chance. And only do so if all of that is honest and sincere.

In the end, you might not get a “yes” from your dream photographer, but my advice will get you much farther than any of the Knot’s tips.


Thank you, thank you Bobby!  I couldn't have said it better myself.

I hope that The Knot heard the outrage from all of us over here in the photography community and that they work hard to repair this relationship.  Hopefully, if they get back on the right path, we might think about advertising with them in the future.  But my kids and my dogs and my very valuable family time, along with my awesome customers who love me for me, say we need to be valued.  I need to be valued.  And I am worth every penny.


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