Magic Monday: Do you always get what you pay for?

Call me Nancy Drew.  I’ve wanted to do some sleuthing for quite some time, but today finally presented the perfect opportunity.

We took a small family outing this afternoon to run a few errands and we ended up at a very well known “Discount Department Store”.  Not my favorite place in the world, but as I stood waiting at the cash register I beheld the typical portrait studio directly ahead inside the store.

Excusing myself I donned the character of the new mother inquiring about prices for a session.

Here’s a few interesting facts I learned:

*The typical session at this studio is 1 hour long.  Broken down, this means 30 minutes in front of the camera, and 30 minutes at the sales table.

*The session typically captures a minimum of 7 poses.  Seven.  Did you get that?

*Would you like to purchase the CD of your images? The CD with SEVEN poses? 🙂  Sold separately, that will cost you $200.  And none of these images are edited.  (for some reason the sales clerk pushed this as a perk… “you get all the deleted images and the keepers completely untouched!“)

*But of course, the CD is cheaper if purchased in a print package.  The print packages range from $200-$300 (including the CD) and do not include enlargements bigger than a 10×13. Oh yes… and remember you’re dealing with SEVEN poses!

*Don’t be fooled by the “4.99 for over 30 Portraits!” gimmick.  This ploy  is 30 mini prints of the same image over and over.  They’re banking on the fact that you likely want more than one pose of your darling child.  This is where they’re hoping to snag you, because realistically, they don’t even make enough money to pay their sales clerks hourly wage if everyone were to only opt for this incentive.

And how about that huge enlargement you want to hang above the mantle?  That 20×24 will cost you $200.


The irony of all of this lies in the plethora of  “custom photography” photographers we see emerging all over the place.  If you have a nice camera and want to start a small side business doing portraits, go for it.  I’m all for it.  I believe that even experienced amateurs who understand their camera and how to use light, can get some great shots and most often get BETTER images than the factory discount department store studios like I described above.

Here’s a few reasons I think the custom photographers images are better :

-The custom photographer usually spends more than 30 minutes (which I often find is roughly the amount of time some subjects need to actually start to warm up and begin to be comfortable).

-the custom photographer usually utilizes unique, fun, and creative locations that add an element of interest to the images over generic studio backdrops.

-The custom photographer typically gets much more than SEVEN poses or even outfits and locations.  🙂

-The custom photographer typically edits their images and spends additional custom time in post production insuring the images are up to par.

-The custom photographer usually carries out a longer relationship with the client being highly concerned about customer service and customization.  They will spend time before, during, and after the session in one on one communication with the client.

If custom photographers put so much more time and effort into their work, usually create a much better product, offer much more in prints and products, then why…. WHY… why…?

would they charge LESS than the discount department store?

If you’re a starting professional, who charges under $200 for “the whole package deal including session and CD”, I hope this will encourage you to raise your price 🙂  You’re worth it.  In fact, you’re likely worth a whole lot more!

If you’re a consumer searching for a photographer, I hope you will see the value in investing more in a custom photographer… and if you want to read a fabulous article about WHY custom photography does cost more?  READ THIS.  It’s fantastic.

The particular discount department store I entered today used to have their own name brand portrait studios.  This was a Loss Leader for the store.  This means they knew they would lose money on the studio by pricing the service so cheaply, but were willing to take the loss because it got people in the store who would therefore spend money on other things while they were there.  (Milk is a loss leader for grocery stores… ever wonder why its always located in the very back of the store?  You have to pass all the other products to get to it, and likely you’ll walk out of the store with more than milk.)

Always interesting to make some comparisons… though the factory studio portrait experience vs. custom photography isn’t necessarily comparing apples to apples, I hope it still provides a slight bit of perspective 🙂

avatarBrooke Snow is a Lifestyle photographer in Cache Valley, Utah. She is a proud new mother to a perfect baby boy. During the day she uses her BM and MM in Music Composition to write silly songs to make small people smile and laugh. During the nights and select mornings Brooke teaches private photography lessons as well as monthly photography classes in Logan, Utah. During the weekend she dreams up crazy and fun photo shoots for her fabulous subjects. Brooke welcomes comments, questions, new friendships, new clients, and new coats and hats for her growing collection.

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12 Responses

  1. Thank you for posting about this. I am really interested in this topic. I have many friends who like to get their portraits at places similar to the one you described over hiring a custom photographer. I think there is something about how their parents always used an in-store portrait photography company and they cost more so therefore they must be better/more traditional/worth more/a status symbol?

  2. ooooh, interesting! i’ve wanted to do some research on this for a while, so i’m glad to hear what you found out. that makes me feel a whole lot more confident in my prices.

  3. I’ve seen this exact argument used to talk a spouse into allowing their significant other (photographer) to purchase a backdrop, umbrella and some speedlights. After all, a few sessions at the place you described pays for all of that equipment… assuming you can learn how to use it.

  4. Wow Brooke…this was a great article. I am a new photographer startiing out and as I work on my pricing structure I am very concerned about not undercutting myself or the industry as well as respecting that my service is worth so much more. I love this article and will definitely be sharing it.

    Thanks for taking the time to write it!

  5. Oh my gosh Brooke. This is genius. Is it alright if I post a link to it on my blog? I’ve been wanting to write a pricing post but it always ends up sounding wrong and this is perfection!

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