I Can't Afford You and a Jar of Peanut Butter

by DM Werner 2 years ago in career

I want to get a family photo session with you but I can't afford your rates. Will you give me a discount?

I Can't Afford You and a Jar of Peanut Butter
Beach Sessions For The Family On Vacation

How many times have we heard the "I can't afford you" as a reply after telling a potential client our rates for customized photo sessions? Either have a high end truly boutique experience or not have the shoot, burn $40, and receive a zillion images on a CD-ROM kind of photo session.

I can’t afford you AND a jar of peanut butter & a cheap loaf of bread from the dollar store to feed my kids tonight.

When you are in true poverty you are in survival mode. Ask me how I know. Been there a few times in my life.

You are not thinking about paying big bucks for your kids' photographs. You might not even have a phone to make that call nor the gas in your vehicle to get there. That’s if you even have a vehicle.

If you are lucky you are employed and working six days a week. You don’t have the energy to go chase photos.

For the most part people who call us and say they can’t afford us are using that as a stall tactic or a bargaining tactic.

They may be getting a wake-up call to what we charge.

We have no regulated pricing standard throughout our industry.

For example, I know an auto mechanic has a labor charge around $100 an hour, ballpark figure.

Plumber, electrical, AC Repair usually run $65 to $95 an hour. How do I know this? Because usually me or my neighbors have had things repaired.

Most of my neighbors have not gone to a professional photographer and have no reference point about our pricing. We all charge such different rates. We all sell such different products and services. We create custom products for our clients.

I think this is where so much confusion comes in when they call us up. I still get asked how much is your 8x10?

I don’t even sell 8x10 photos anymore. My smallest size starts at 12x 18.

And so begins the educating part to my client.

When they say they can’t afford us, many times what they are really saying to us is tell me more. Tell me what you do. What do you provide? Maybe I can rearrange my budget for a few months to make this work but right now I can’t whip out $550 out of my checking account.

I worked retail for many years while putting myself through college. I dealt with lots of customers who were very wealthy, lots of average income and lots of impoverished.

I managed a dry cleaning shop at one point. AKA The Cleaners.

The wealthy would bring in very expensive clothes and duvets for dry cleaning.

Joe blue collar brought in uniforms for wash and press. Heavy starch.

The impoverished brought in used clothes to be repaired or hemmed so they would fit the next child in the hand me downline.

The owners made a ton of money by serving different income clients at the same kind of shop.

The poor were always friendly and grateful.

The working guys would love to tell stories and say "see you next week."

The wealthy would always b*tch and complain and want free work or discounts.

I’m not sure what all this has to do with the custom photo service we provide, but what I do know is it taught me I can serve all kinds of clients in all kinds of ways.

Taught me to be flexible. Taught me to be grateful that I am no longer adding up my nickels and dimes to buy a loaf of bread and a .99 cent two-liter of Pepsi anymore.

I find ways to make things affordable for most people who call me. I don’t lower my prices for the most part, I fit them to a service that they need and can make a few payments on.

One or two in advance, one the day of the session, and one before the order goes in.

Does it take longer for me? Yes, it does.

Do I have to chase payments? Occasionally.

Do I sleep well at night? Does it provide a cash flow? Yes.

Do I ever forget where I came from? Hell No.

So unless you have ever been really struggling- gone without food, running water, electricity, health issues etc, maybe what I just typed out on an iPhone, which at one point in my life I never thought I would ever own, maybe you just don’t get it. Never will. And to that I say be grateful. Be very grateful you never struggled for food, a roof over your head or a safe place to lay your head at night.

Just a view from the other side of the tracks.

DM Werner
DM Werner
Read next: 4 Ways To Find Inspiration As A Beginner Photographer
DM Werner

I’m a travel writer and I specialize in writing articles about photography, life and living in an RV full time.

I love living on island time. Surfers & coastal scenes are my favorite things to photograph with vintage analog film cameras!

See all posts by DM Werner