Photography pricing is a topic you just know will cause problems! For example, if you feel in the mood for a hot debate, jump onto any online forum and ask the question: “Should I put prices for photography on my website?”
You can then sit back, relax, and enjoy the fireworks display guaranteed to erupt from both camps on this polarizing topic.
But why does the idea of showing our prices for photography lead to such strongly-divided opinion, and result in so much name-calling and mudslinging in the online forums?
The best answer (not necessarily the right one) could be one of these:
- Yes, we should display photography prices online…
- No, we should never show our prices on the website…
- It all depends…
Let’s find out with the help of a great video from the experts at MECLABS (Marketing Experiments)…
Showing Prices For Photography: The Rationale
What follows is aimed more at service-based photographers than those who are product-based. For example, wedding and portrait photographers are more likely to struggle with this than, say, fine art photographers trying to sell prints from their websites.
However, the product-based photographer can still benefit from this post and the information presented in the video below, so don’t tune out just yet!
Before we get into the details, we should ask another question:
Why does the topic of showing prices for photography online even come up in the first place?
What’s the real rationale behind all this, and why does it matter?
One obvious answer might be:
Will doing so result in more, or less, business?
In other words, will showing prices online satisfy website visitors’ need to know “how much” and then send them away without further engagement? Or, will NOT showing prices motivate more prospects to get in touch with the photographer to find out what they charge and start a dialogue?
For example, here are some of the arguments photographers use to justify showing prices for photography online:
- There was a survey of brides on a nationally-known blog that said one of the top pet peeves of prospective brides was no pricing information on the website. If I list it, I can pre-qualify my clients…
- If I visit a photography website, and can’t find pricing information, then I would not contact the photographer for more information, and I think my prospective clients feel the same way…
- My clients are of the opinion that if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it…
It appears from this (and from past discussions) that there’s fear among photographers that failing to display prices for photography on their website will somehow be much worse for their business than showing their prices.
Is this anxiety deserved, or could it be the result of false assumptions?
Regardless of where the anxiety comes from, many photography websites show prices to potential clients (and by default, their local competitors) without restriction.
Often, you’ll find a menu item titled “investment”, “rates”, “prices”, or “work with me”.
This is usually the first item a prospect will click on when visiting the website, regardless of where they landed.
Such behavior is totally natural, driven by a need to satisfy our curiosity without the risk of getting involved in a sales conversation.
Showing Prices For Photography Is Expected
In the absence of other questions, or the lack of ways to compare one photographer’s services with others, prospects want to know the one thing they can use to make a direct comparison with other photographers.
How else will they know which photographer is best for them?
From this perspective, it appears that showing prices for photography is something our prospects expect.
Except, what they expect us to do isn’t necessarily the right thing to do!
As marketers and providers of photography services, we know there are other (more important) reasons why someone should choose to work with us instead of the cheaper photographer down the street.
- Our empathy and understanding of the client…
- An ability to elicit the expressions we’re seeking to portray…
- In-depth knowledge of our chosen subject matter…
- Technical expertise in acquiring the desired image quickly and efficiently…
- The positive quality of the experience of working with us…
- Our ability to connect on a deeper level with our subjects…
- The breadth and depth of the creative vision we bring to our projects…
- The quality of the long-term client-photographer relationship…
Price doesn’t easily fit into any of those ideas.
If we show prices at the wrong time, this shifts the prospect’s thinking from an emotional basis to a logical one. This in turn leads to comparisons based on things unrelated to the value of what they’ll get, at least at this stage of the process.
When To Reveal Prices For Photography: A Scientific Approach
Rather than preach hard and fast rules, I prefer the science and available data, which we can rarely argue with if it’s been tested.
For example, I could spend all day trying to persuade you to take your prices out of general view, but I’m sure many of you would be reluctant.
Such reluctance is natural, stemming as it does from our own egos and inbuilt beliefs about money.
For instance, the moment we think about charging a fee for photography we’re subject to our own fears and insecurities about money.
We think such things as, “That sounds very high, I know I couldn’t afford that!” or “No one will pay me that much to photograph them!”
Such reactions lead us to imagine scenarios where people refuse to work with us, but these are only knee-jerk responses from our own internal mindset.
Experimental data, on the other hand, gathered from thousands of examples, is objective in nature, and hard to ignore.
Meet The Marketing Experiments Geniuses
At this point, I would like to introduce you to Flint McGlaughlin from Marketing Experiments. The video below is from a web clinic he taught on “when to reveal price”.
After the video, we’ll look at how the ideas he presented can relate directly to professional photographers, and the actions you can take to improve how you show prices.
Summary Of The 3 Key Principles
Here are the three major principles about when to best show prices for photography to prospects:
#1: Price Does Not Equal Cost
It’s essential, when marketing your products and services, not to confuse cost with price. Cost exists in the mind of the prospect in several forms:
- The effort required to take the action you want them to…
- Any apprehensions they have about photography or the photographer…
With those in mind, the price you’re asking may be the least part of the overall cost in your prospect’s mind.
Your job is to minimize those costs and tip the scales firmly onto the side of perceived value before showing them prices.
If prospects can simply click a menu link to go to a pricing page, regardless of where they are on the website, we run the risk that value hasn’t yet been established or the perceived costs in the prospect’s mind outweigh what they expect to get in exchange.
This is what Flint referred to in the video as “unsupervised thinking”, which should be avoided.
Remember, we’re dealing with a thought sequence, and we want to be in full control of those. Not in a manipulative sense, but by making a guided presentation with a logical beginning, middle, and end.
You should use the different phases of the marketing story to progressively increase the value of your photography. At the same time this reduces confusion, effort, fear, and other mental factors contributing to the perceived cost.
In many of these web clinic videos, Flint mentions the word “clarity” as a primary goal for the marketer. This means photographers should always try to increase the ease of understanding of their marketing copy to reduce any chance of confusion.
Increasing clarity does NOT necessarily mean reducing the length of a web page! The amount of copy needed may be more or less than you think, depending on the type of photography you offer and the responsiveness of the target market.
For example, consider the copy required to persuade someone to invest in children’s portraiture:
- Describe the situation, and the potential problem. In this case, we have parents who probably know they should invest in portraits of their young children but are on the fence.
- Show why other parents like them are undecided. You need to learn as much as possible about your target audience, including their fears and apprehensions, and the reasons they might be on the fence. Let the prospect know you understand, and that she’s not alone.
- Describe why some parents might put off getting portraits created. People are busy and life gets in the way of everything. There’s always tomorrow, next week, next month, next season. Life is already full of unexpected expenses, and photography feels like another expense until you demonstrate that it’s an investment. Perhaps she worries about taking her children to a photographer who may not treat them properly, or cause them to clam up or hide in a corner.
- Outline what could happen if the prospect continues to put this off. Children don’t stop growing just because we forget to have their portraits created, and time waits for no one. Soon, it will be next month, next year or next decade, and the time will have passed, never to be experienced again. This is a factor that creates urgency.
- Describe your solution and the true benefits the prospect will enjoy. This is where you communicate the reasons why someone should hire you, and not someone down the street or, worse, try to do this themselves. Stories can illustrate by example, as well as provide valuable testimonials. Use as much copy as needed to get the points across and don’t skimp on it!
- Present the offer with a call to action. Finally, it’s time to present your offer, and I strongly suggest a call to action that starts up a conversation with your prospect where you can introduce them to your pricing at the appropriate time (i.e. when you truly know you’ve established the proper level of value).
We can also reduce confusion through careful choice of vocabulary, and I believe this is why using the language of your prospects in your marketing is so powerful.
Simply put, if you use the words they would use to describe why they need what you have to offer, you naturally increase the clarity of your copy, hopefully resulting in higher conversion.
Also, beware of competing elements on your web pages. For example, sidebars, ads, and other distractions.
Finally, make sure your headlines and subheadings create interest and momentum. These propel the reader through the content to the conclusion of contacting you. Headings and subheadings also help those who scan your copy to find the most interesting information.
This area falls into the realm of website usability and how easy it is for your prospects to find and consume your marketing copy.
Are your pages easy to read with a good-sized font on a background that provides the right amount of contrast?
For example, white text on a black background is hard to read. You should therefore stick with the standard dark text on a light background. It doesn’t have to be black and white, as long as the contrast is sufficient to make reading comfortable.
Are your forms easy to understand and not intimidating? Is it obvious what you want the user to do at any given point in the process?
Fear and mistrust are two of the most common factors that bump up the cost in the consumer’s mind. It’s therefore important to do everything you can to minimize those.
Some of this will occur naturally as a by-product of well-written copy that addresses their most common concerns about hiring a professional photographer (and you in particular), but you still need to make sure you answer at least these five questions:
- Are you the right photographer for the prospect? If so, why?
- Do you fully understand your prospect’s needs?
- What will she experience in terms of real benefits from working with you?
- What happens if something goes wrong?
- Have other people had a good experience with you?
Once you’ve accomplished all of this and reached the appropriate point in your marketing, you’re finally ready to reveal the price to the customer – on your terms, not theirs.
#2: Price Can Be Perceived As Either Positive Or Negative
The key to this principle is understanding how price impacts the way your prospects think and feel.
Revealing your prices for photography shouldn’t be a frightening experience, least of all for the prospect!
In fact, there are ways to communicate price so that it comes as a pleasant surprise, rather than a shocking disappointment!
I’m sure there have been times when you’ve learned the price of something, only to be pleasantly surprised that it’s less than you expected.
Likewise, if the price of your photography is a positive surprise because it’s lower than the perceived value, the chances of a booking or a sale are much higher.
However, remember that the customer must be able to make sense out of the pricing presented to her!
Complex price lists with confusing options, unnecessary business jargon, or complicated purchase plans, can increase the negative cost elements of effort, confusion, and fear. This results in the chance of a lost sale.
Here’s an important point Flint made in the video on this:
In most cases, price should be presented when value is established and the fulcrum is fully weighted on the value side. It’s essential that the value must be conceptualized, imagined, and fully appreciated prior to revealing the price…
The value must be felt and experienced (almost viscerally), especially with expensive services, such as high-end weddings or portrait photography.
He also added this:
However, our research also suggests that in some cases delaying the presentation of price can actually create anxiety, particularly in industries where people expect to see the price up front. People fear they are being manipulated…
This situation is common in industries where people are often scammed, or where unscrupulous providers routinely take advantage of others with questionable sales methods.
I would advise you NOT to use this idea as an excuse to justify going back to those all-access pricing displays without seriously considering your target market.
For example, at the cheaper end of the photography market, it’s likely that many photography clients are accustomed to such things as cheap Craigslist ads, unreliable photographers, or other channels with low trust. In such cases, it might be a good idea to show starting prices, but still making sure to do so at the appropriate point in the prospect’s thought sequence.
#3: Price Must Be Tested
Product-based photographers might assume that we just need to state the price, but the degree of emphasis we put on the price can have a large impact on sales, as we learned in the video.
Remember, creating value is more important than the emphasis on price.
In the first example in the video, we saw a strong relationship between the moment the price was revealed and conversion. When price was de-emphasized early on, the response from prospects increased.
Price is a complex part of what we do, full of uncertainties. Some of those are real, and others a product of our own subconscious mind.
However, we often leave money on the table because we’ve failed to test and optimize how we present price as well as the actual amounts.
Be careful with this. In the video, the cheapest price in the example turned out to be the best performing option. However, it was for a low-risk, non-personalized, digital offer. This essentially makes it a commodity.
Most photography is seen as anything but a commodity, so different rules apply than in the example you saw in the video.
To identify the best prices for photography services, you should test them with your prospects and clients to learn at what point they stop buying or a large percentage (say 75%) of them complain about the price.
As Flint mentioned:
You need to fill in the gap between what you think you know about your prospects, and what you actually know.
Testing, of course, is all about learning, and presenting price is one part science and another part alchemy. In the end, the value of your photography business to the consumer is created by matching your photography prices and your clients’ willingness to pay.
Flint had this final thing to say about testing price:
You can’t know you have the right price until you’ve run an experiment where you’ve charged too much (and thus discovered the top threshold of “willingness to pay”)
With this research in mind, and the insights in the video, what can you do to improve your marketing with respect to how you reveal your own prices for photography?
Here are some suggestions (not hard and fast rules) for three different genres of photography.
Wedding and Portrait Photography
- Remove the link to any pricing page from the website navigation. This market segment is perhaps the least pre-educated about what real photography costs. You should therefore aim to eliminate as much unsupervised thinking as possible.
- You can still keep a pricing page on the website for reference later in the sales process. But, it should not be publicly accessible or indexed by search engines.
- Substantial persuasive text might be needed to establish value, describe key benefits, educate the prospect, and make them ready to have a real conversation with you.
- Only when you’re satisfied that the prospect understands the true value of your photography services should you reveal the price. You should then do so with the intention of making it feel positive.
Be careful not to allow your personal emotions and values about money, and what you think people can or cannot afford, to deter you from sticking to this process. Beware of making false assumptions, such as “if I take my prices for photography out of public view, no one will call me”. Such generalizations are inaccurate, since there are plenty of busy photographers who don’t show their prices online.
Fine Art Photography
- Although fine art photography is a product-based genre, we should still be careful about how and when prices are revealed.
- People invest in fine art because they’re in love with the artwork or are fans of the artist. It’s not because they’re in love with the price.
- Therefore, test the advice given in the video. Experiment with de-emphasizing the price on product pages.
- De-emphasis can be done in 1 of 3 ways. First, by changing the characteristics of the price itself (font size, color, style and position). Second, we can over-emphasize other elements on the page. Third, we can use a combination of the two.
- It’s the value of the artwork, and what it means to the prospect, not the price, that creates desire. You can achieve that through motivating, emotional copy that appeals to the viewer’s senses and feelings.
Commercial and Architectural Photography
- This is primarily a business to business (B2B) type of work, and involves a different demographic to other types of photography. While B2B transactions are more formal, there are still subjective elements at work in the buying process (many of them beneath the surface and unseen by the casual observer).
- Often, commercial photographers don’t have a set price to offer, since most of these jobs are highly custom in nature, with different requirements in terms of subject, logistics, processing, licensing etc.
- The best option is to keep prices and rates off the website, and to discuss your prices for photography services directly with potential clients, preferably face to face.
- Again, as with the other types of photography, establishing value in the mind of the potential client is critical to achieving a positive experience of price for them when the prices are finally revealed.