Are affordable wedding photographers really?
Getting the most for your hard-earned money is a perpetual struggle for all income brackets. Whether rich, poor, or part of the shrinking middle-class, everyone’s goal is to extract as much money as possible from one’s labour and pay as little as possible for the work of others. But selling price doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it can come with both benefits and trade-offs. As such, one of the chief points to consider before hiring an affordable wedding photographer is whether they offer good value.
Price vs. value
The difference between price and value lies in the distinction between the tangible and intangible. Simply stated, the price is the amount of money required in exchange for a good or a service. Value is an expression of your desire for a good or a service, and its real essence “revolves around the tradeoff between the benefits a customer receives from a product and the price he or she pays for it.” In general, there are two types of buyers, those who base their purchasing decisions on value and those who rely primarily on price.
Purchasing based on price alone works in situations where you’re buying a commodity or something that’s commodifiable. Commodities are goods and services which are mostly, if not completely, fungible; that is, they are substantially identical and mutually interchangeable. Commodities include electricity, natural gas, crude oil, grains, metals and minerals, and even emissions credits and bandwidth. Traded commodities can be bought and sold in large quantities without consideration for the differences in individual units.
Beyond such pure commodities are things I consider consumer commodities or goods and services that are commodifiable in a practical sense. New cars fit the bill nicely. If I want to buy a 2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i Touring with Technology Package in Jasmine Green, I can walk into any of the GTA’s Subaru dealerships and order one. Since the car will be identical regardless of where I buy it, the only factor influencing my decision will be price and I’ll be sure to use this to my advantage during negotiations. Now, let’s assume that I have a paranoid distrust of automechanics—who doesn’t?—and I know for a fact that one of those dealerships has the most honest service department in town. That same dealership also happens to have the exact model and colour I want in their holding yard, and I can have the car by the end of the week. Both these factors—the peace of mind of not being fleeced by the mechanics and earlier than expected delivery of the car—provide me with the perception that this dealership is offering a greater value for the same product. Putting a precise dollar figure on that value is challenging, but knowing that it’s there will influence my decision to favour that seller. That’s value to me and business for them.
Wedding photography is not a commodity, yet
Although heated competition has created a genuine downward pressure on price, I believe this is mainly a problem for those marketing themselves as affordable wedding photographers. The rest of us, those serving the middle and higher end of the market, needn’t stress about it because we know how to sell our strengths.
Let’s stick with the car analogy. Wedding photographers aren’t the same model across the board. They range across different segments of the market from the stratospherically priced to the bargain brand. Those marketing themselves as affordable wedding photographers sit firmly in the latter camp. Within pricing segments, photographers vary by category. For instance, you may have photographers that are similar in the same way that versions of the same model of car are, but with different options and colours; others may be as similar as competing models from other brands. However, at no point are the photographers so similar and interchangeable that their services become fungible; it is impossible for the results to be identical across the board.
Wedding photography is not like buying a car. While the same model and trim are identical no matter where you buy it, each wedding photographer you can hire will shoot your wedding differently. Those differences can be substantial, such as when they are influenced by radically different types of wedding photography, or they can be subtle. Each photographer’s personal experiences, artistic goals, unique vision, and even random chance create subtle differences. No two wedding photographers will shoot the same event identically; cascading from that, no two photos will be alike, and neither will any two albums, regardless of who designs, prints or binds them.
Who are affordable wedding photographers, anyway?
Allow me to clear the air: when people search for affordable wedding photographers, they’re searching for cheap wedding photographers. Those advertising themselves as “affordable” wedding photographers are photographers who are inherently courting the frugal wedding market. They compete primarily on their low price points, which, in a sort of perverted way, becomes their value proposition. When others beat them on price, they lose their differentiation, and must either lower prices to regain their competitiveness, or offer some other (actual) value. The latter is tricky because it is precisely the first casualty of a price war.
To secure commissions, affordable wedding photographers compensate for their lack of experience, skill, and quality of finished product, with (sometimes much) lower than average prices. Now, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that except for the implication made by some affordable wedding photographers that they can achieve their low price points and deliver the same levels of service and quality exhibited by their higher-end rivals. That is patently false.
How do affordable wedding photographers reach their prices points?
It’s quite elementary! If this is their full-time work, affordable wedding photographers are either cutting corners or taking a loss and hoping that a large influx of work will allow them to raise their prices in the future as demand increases. An especially wicked and dishonest scheme is when an affordable wedding photographer is a ‘weekend warrior’ in disguise. Weekend warriors have full-time or part-time employment at other companies while moonlighting as wedding photographers in their spare time—mostly weekends. For weekend warriors, wedding photography is a casual gig with a relatively high payout that funds their toys, vacations, or provides them with extra cash on hand—tax-free, of course. The weekend warrior’s casual relationship with wedding photography provides them with the luxury of charging bargain prices, which makes them a tremendous risk for couples who value high-quality wedding photography. Their casual attitude is risky because they have no skin in the game. Making a catastrophic mistake or delivering work the calibre of which is significantly below their client’s expectations is practically risk-free. Since wedding photography is not their primary source of income, the loss of future business wouldn’t have a major impact on their livelihoods. Risk-averse couples would take care to avoid weekend warriors, lest they find themselves in a predicament where their guests’ casual snaps are all they’ll ever have.
Common methods by which affordable wedding photographers cut corners include hiring inexperienced photographers or students as their second photographers and by not taking an individual, photo-by-photo, approach to editing the images afterwards. Whether they’re relying on online photo editing services from developing countries or applying one-click presets in bulk and moving to the next project, corner-cutting affordable wedding photographers provide a level of quality that feels mass-produced. With my business, when it’s time to hire second photographers, I exclude portfolio-builders, students, and newcomers and go straight to hiring working photographers with proven experience, hence the associated fee. I edit every image individually and with an eye for overall consistency, both to the wedding as a whole and to the individual scene.
“Affordable” wedding photographers have another trick up their sleeves. They take advantage of the fact that couples looking for bargains will be drawn towards cheap-looking prices, so they plaster those low prices anywhere and everywhere that they can. Hidden beneath a loud, flashy, and an easily digestible price will be a summary of included services—and it’s unsurprisingly short. As a couple, you should always be aware of exactly what’s included in the advertised price. As a wedding photographer who keeps an eye on the competition, don’t be tempted to lower your prices because you see low figures advertised here and there—that low figure isn’t buying the same level of service that you’re offering.
My business does not compete on price, ever; I compete on quality, style, unobtrusiveness, and experience. All those things add up to the ephemeral thing that is value.
It’s all relative with affordable wedding photographers
It’s important to understand that no single dollar figure defines a wedding photographer as affordable, expensive, or somewhere in between. Affordability of the services, and to a lesser extent, of goods, is relative to the market in which the transaction occurs. It is also highly biassed towards individual preferences and financial means. An “affordable” wedding photographer in Toronto may be considered outrageously expensive in Argentina; meanwhile, the fees of an average wedding photographer in New York City or Los Angeles will be broaching the high-end market in Vancouver. Many factors contribute to these disparities, not least of which are cost-of-living and real estate expenses, but this is beyond the scope of the present discussion, and as I’ve stated before, photographers shouldn’t have to justify why wedding photography is expensive.
“Affordable” wedding photographers ≠ good value
Businesses that advertise themselves as affordable wedding photographers are not doing anyone any favours. Their myopic pricing strategy is contributing to a downward trend in the industry. Nor is this a benefit to anyone but the most price-conscious of consumers. Competing on price leads to corner cutting, which results in personal images that feel mass produced. That works to diminish the value to clients, creating an environment where the only value available is that of a lower price. Furthermore, price wars can erode middle-tier wedding photographers, forcing a stratification of the market into either a small cadre of high-end shooters or a large number of interchangeable “affordable” wedding photographers. It will drive couples with average budgets into deciding between significantly inflating their budgets or settling for mediocrity at the bottom.
Photographers that have not avoided the downward spiral of affordable wedding photography must rethink their sales and marketing tactics, and sell value, not price. Couples should resist the temptation of low prices with the promise of equal quality because it just doesn’t happen. Make your hiring decisions based on a wedding photographer’s value proposition and you’ll reap the rewards for many years to come. So while cheap wedding photographers chase their trends and shoot cookie-cutter images, you’ll be enjoying your timeless professional wedding photography for many wonderful years. Remember: the value of good wedding photography increases with time; it has an inverse relationship to your recollection of the day.