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|| News Item: Posted 2012-10-01

Finding and Founding
By James Madelin

(Editor's Note: One in an occasional series of columns on the business of photography.)

“Too many budding professionals model themselves on their photo heroes. That’s a recipe for failure… you have to find your own photographic voice - what you’re good at and love - and pursue that above all else.” Ian Batchelor, multi award winning internationally published food photographer.

Ready to find your photographic voice? You’ll need to build a business that supports your creativity and this column offers tips to help you succeed.

Every hugely successful photographer I know is more an entrepreneur and businessman or woman than they are a photographer. The exceptions are outliers who are as rare as lottery winners. No one plans their career around winning the lottery so don’t set out to be the next Terry Richardson. Set out to be the next you.

Photography technique is a relatively small part of what makes you a success. Far more important is your business acumen. You’re running a business like any CEO, company president or managing director. You need to think like a CEO.

When everyone has a digital camera, a laptop and Photoshop, a wedding photography website and a royalty-free stock archive, how can you justify charging enough to make a good living and a profit?

The key is differentiation. When photographers think of this, we always jump to the conclusion that we’re talking about taking better photos than everyone else. I’m afraid you’re simply not that special. Photos as good, if not better, than yours are likely to be all over the internet. By all means hone your craft and chase the assignments that you’re most passionate about, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that’s enough to guarantee success. Or even have your calls returned.

How to differentiate? Productising and branding. Let’s focus on productisation first. I hate the word “Product” as it’s so sterile, but I can’t think of any other way of describing this process. “Marketising” is just as klunky, so ignore the name and focus on the reasoning.

Productising is the process of breaking down exactly what you offer your clients into easily understandable chunks or products. This makes it much easier to explain what you do and easier to price. Easier to sell. Easier to market and advertise. Clients start recognizing you for what you are; easier to understand, easier to work with and providing them a clearer return on their investment.

Ever rent a car? There are tens of thousands of combinations of options, yet it’s an easy process to grasp and you almost always end up spending more than you expected. Would you like a GPS? Baggage insurance? Every possible decision is matched by prepared choices to make customizing your (think “the customer’s”) experience straightforward. Structure your photography business along similar lines so your customers have clear choices and the opportunity to upgrade (think “supersize”… it works!).

For a wedding photography business it might look something like this…. Instead of shooting a wedding for a standard price with a set delivery of, say 300 images (bad for all sorts of reasons), instead put together Standard, Premium and Gold packages to choose from. Split each package into its component parts and price each part individually so your customers can pick and choose. Then work out what your customers might like over and above each package…Their relatives will want photos. Perhaps offer a 5-page mini-book, a 20-page book and a 40-page coffee table book. Images on mugs. Canvas. A digital photo frame-compatible folder, with the chance to upgrade to a memory stick. Price each component so that building one of your packages from each individual part of the package would cost at least 150-200% more than the package price.

Commercial photographers can productize with pre-prepared delivery types (email, CD/DVD, with our without contact sheets), different resolution folders, post processing options, licensing for 1,2 or 3 years here, there, everywhere and more.

Seems like a lot of work right? Here’s why it’s worth doing…

Wait, before that a quick aside. Never charge by the hour. The only allowable exception is if the time you have to spend shooting is fixed by external events. Even then, it’s a very bad idea. Ever met someone who’s really good at what they do? Notice they do a better job quicker than their apprentice? Do you want the people you’re working with, shooting, eying the clock? Will that give great photos? See why charging by the hour is a very bad idea?

By standardizing your offering you accomplish several things that will make your business more money. First, your clients find it easier to understand what you offer. Second, they think of you as a business – you’ve set yourself apart from your competition and are easier to work with. Third, they’ll spend more. It’s easier for them to justify working with you when you’ve laid out your service so clearly. Fourth, negotiating is easier; all the options are laid out. If they want to pay less, in return you can easily respond by subtracting components of your product until you can agree a price. Fifth it makes advertising easier.

Certainty is a good thing for your customers.

Just like the car rental company, the fast food joint, the insurance agent or any other business known for having a polished sales routine, high revenues and strong profits, your up-front offer, the one you open the conversation with, should generally one of the more economical options (we’ll come onto premium pricing in a later column).

Don’t go thinking this is a gospel to be followed to the letter. My aim is to get you out of the “I’m a photographer, I take photos” and into the “I run a business whose product is photography” mindset, using concepts learned from my current career that would have made me a much more successful photographer.

Find your voice and found a business.

Branding next time. In the meantime, let me know how you get on.

(James Madelin is a professional photographer and lighting workshop tutor based in U.K. He is the inventor of the popular orbis® ring flash. He can be contacted by email: You can see his work on his Sports Shooter member page:

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