FAQ: Why Do You Charge What You Do?

When I first got started in photography in high school, I was one of the cheapest photographers around. The prices made sense back then. I didn’t need to make a living from photography. I was also very green. This was prior to my formal photographic training at the Hallmark Institute of Photography.

After graduating from the Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 I moved back to Clare. I completely changed my pricing and offerings. I was one of the most expensive photographers in the area. I only sold prints. I prided myself on these things. I stuck with this pricing and structure from 2013-2016. During these years I took on far less clients but every client I did take on paid very well and I was able to live off of the income from that one shoot for some time.

I also had some very problematic clients at this time. Right after finding out about the death of my grandmother, I was screamed at by a client because the area of her home she wanted to put her print was poorly lit. Another client called to scream me out while I was trying to celebrate Christmas with my family because she wanted hundreds of dollars of reprints. No reason why she wanted the reprints was ever given.

Despite being way out of the price range for most people in my local area between 2013-2016, I would still get accused by fellow photographers in other states of being to cheap and a high volume photographer. Also during this time I’d regularly get inquiries about shoots from potential clients who only wanted digital files and many others who couldn’t afford me.

In 2017 I decided to make a change. I quit shooting to meet the approval of other photographers and started putting my clients first. I changed to far more reasonable prices. I got rid of collections and products that no one was buying. I started offering digital files and completely updated my session process.

Since my pricing changes I’ve had nothing but amazing clients. I don’t make as much off of each individual shoot. I would much rather have two great clients over three problematic ones. I do not care at all about meeting the approval of others in my industry. I just care about making my clients happy.

Clare Irish Festival 2019

I had a great time photographing the 2019 Clare Irish Festival! Here are my favorite images from the event.

New Personal Work With Model Rocio in Clare, Michigan

“It’s amazing how a good day’s work will get you right back to feeling like yourself.”
Steven Pressfield

During the spring I always like to do personal work with models. In the winter I don’t shoot much. This is my slow season. In my busy season I’m out working with clients and during my slow season I am working on the internal systems for how my business runs. Michael Gerber refers to this as working “on” your business compared to “in” my business in his classic The E-Myth Revisited. After a few months of shooting less I always feel rusty. Getting back to shooting models for personal work is how I get warmed up for the busy season.

A long time friend Rocio was willing to model for me on this dreary day. We were originally planning on shooting in Gladwin. We drove to Gladwin but ended up in a torrential downpour. We decided to postpone shooting and wait for a day with better weather. On our way back to Clare we saw that Petite Park was covered in fog. We stopped and grabbed a few shots before the fog dissipated.

The first two images were shot in natural light. The grey sky and snow made for very soft light. Rocio’s loud outfit made her stand out against the snow and fog. The last image was shot with flash. I intentionally underexposed the background and used a tungsten white balance to give the image a moody cold feel. Ideally I would have put a color temperature orange gel on the flash to make Rocio’s skin a warmer color. Due to the fog quickly receding I didn’t have time. Instead I opted to warm up the light on Rocio in post. I plan on using one of these images as my entry into Art Walk Central in Mt Pleasant.

FAQ: Why Do You Have A One Week Turnaround Time?

After graduating from the Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 I had a two week turnaround time. Like clockwork a little over a week after the session or wedding I’d get an email from the client asking how the photos were coming. Usually they’d request a preview or sample as well. During my slow season, where I have less client work, in 2016 I decided to experiment with speeding up my turnaround time to one week. As I got into my busy season I decided to stick with the one week turnaround time. This is admittedly difficult to maintain during my busy season especially with weddings.

As soon as people find out I’m a photographer they usually feel obliged to tell me all of their photographer horror stories. These usually deal with one of two scenarios. The photographer does to much retouching and removes something like a birthmark or the turnaround time took forever especially in the case of weddings. As someone who tries to learn from his own mistakes and the mistakes of others, I don’t want to fall into this error. Since 2016 I’ve had a one week turnaround time and plan on sticking with it until further notice.

Why I Put My Prices On My Website

Shortly after graduating from the Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 I got a call about a potential client who was interested in a child portrait consultation. I went over to the clients home and everything was going well. We planned out the date for the shoot and figured out the specifics for the session. Then I told them my prices. At that time I was way out of their price range. It was a huge waste of both the client and I’s time.

Running a business takes a lot of trial and error. You have to be willing to learn from your mistakes. To avoid having more instances like this I started putting my full price list online. This transparency benefits both my potential clients and myself. Clients can easily see what I offer and decide if I am within their budget before we even meet. This also saves me time from having to meet with potential clients who can’t afford me.

For work outside of my normal wheelhouse, which I refer to as “commissioned work”, I don’t have set prices put on my website but will deliver a quote once I have enough details about the shoot.  

Wedding and session pricing can be found here. Product pricing can be found here.

Why I Don’t Wear Black To Weddings

It has been a standard in the photography industry for wedding photographers to wear black to weddings. I only do this if the bride and groom request it. I typically only wear black to funerals.

Weddings are a happy occasion and I like to dress accordingly.

During every wedding consultation I always ask the bride and groom what the dress code will be for the wedding. During the wedding day I want to blend in and look like a fellow guest. This allows me to get better candids. I usually wear a blazer or sport coat with dress pants, tie, and pocket square. For more casual weddings I’ll dress down.

The Biggest Shift In My Thinking Since Graduating From Photography School

I first took an interest in photography over ten years ago. I started entering photoshop contests on the now defunct website worth1000.com per the recommendation of a friend of mine from church. After several unsuccessful attempts in these photoshop contests, I decided to try worth1000’s photography contests where my entries served much better. Back in 2008/2009 I had dial up internet, so much of my early education about photography came from books and magazines. I’d spend hours reading every article in magazines like Shutterbug, Digital Photo, Outdoor Photographer, and similar magazines. My biggest goal at that time was to get my work published in one of these magazines. I entered every contest and call for submissions I could find. In late 2010 I got my first publication in The World of Photography bookazine. In 2011 I got my first magazine cover on the February issue of Shutterbug magazine. During high school I ended up getting published in several other magazines including Outdoor Photographer, Digital Photo, and PDNedu.

After high school I moved to Greenfield, Massachusetts and became a student at the Hallmark Institute of Photography. Hallmark was an intense ten month program which taught how to be a professional photographer. The technical requirements for the photos you submitted where high. I tried to shoot everything by the book. I ended up graduating with the highest academic honor for having the highest grades for the overall school year.

After graduating I was still in the academic mindset. I was still trying to create the most technically perfect photo I could find. Most of these tiny details I’d fret over where things my clients wouldn’t have ever noticed, even if a photo with and without the fretted over details were put side by side. These details were things that only other photographers cared about. But in this pursuit for technical precision I missed many of the things which made a great photo and the things my clients actually cared about. Gesture. Expression. Timelessness. I cared more about meeting the approval of photographers than getting the photos my clients wanted. My priorities were misplaced.

It wasn’t until 2017 that is shift in my thinking really started to take place. Taking photos isn’t about me, meeting the approval of other photographers, or sanctimonious horn tooting, but instead about getting photos my clients will love and cherish for years to come. I started shooting for my clients and not other photographers.

My clients want photos which showcase them. Their genuine expressions. Their personality. The people and places they love and cherish. Not photos flaunting my technical ability.

There are times I get asked to photograph locations or things that aren’t the most photogenic. Usually these are sentimental to people. Back in 2013/2014 I would have tried to talk the client out of it. Now I go with it because it is what my clients want. Will the photo win award or end up in a magazine? I doubt it. But that is not what matters. Getting the photo my clients want is.

This type of thinking didn’t just change how I shot in 2017 but it started to permeate other parts of my business as well. I changed my turn around time to one week instead of two. I started offering digital files and not just prints. I got rid of in person viewing sessions and switched to much easier online galleries. I switched from collections to a la carte offerings for prints and products. I also changed my pricing and put my prices publically on my website. I continue to tweek and adjust the internal systems in my business to make things go as smoothly as possible for clients.

During every wedding consultation I ask the bride and groom what they are most looking forward to on their wedding day. This gives me direction for how I will approach the wedding. Different couples have far different answers. For one couple last year it was all about their two families coming together. For another couple they both came from broken families and wanted a huge emphasis of the day to be on their friends. Another couple wanted a big focus on the details of DIY decorations made for them by their friends and family. At the end of the day it is about shooting what matters to the bride and groom, not trying to get a photo into a bridal magazine or industry recognition.  

Occasionally when I run into people I haven’t seen in years they’ll ask if I’ve been published in any magazines recently. I tell them no. At this point in my career I really don’t care about industry accolades and recognition but shooting good work for my clients instead.  

Ryan Watkins Photography Now On Twitter @rywatkinsphotos

A few years ago I made a twitter account. It started off as primarily a business account. I built up a decent following including some big names in the industry. Then it got hacked. I started over from scratch. Over time the new account devolved into a personal account. Eventually it became a private anonymous account where I would almost exclusively post witty observational humour. In 2017 I eventually deleted the account entirely.

In late December 2018 I decided to start a new business twitter account. I regularly post new photos as well as links to past articles. You can now follow my business twitter account @rywatkinsphotos.

Valentine’s Day Couples or Engagement Session Giveaway

Want to win a free couples or engagement session for Valentine’s day?

Get as many of your friends and family to comment with your name in the comments of this blog post!

Please use the first and last name of the couple. Only comments on the ryanwatkinsphotography.com blog post titled “Valentine’s Day Couples or Engagement Session Giveaway” published on February 4th 2019 will be counted. No comments on social media posts will be added to the tally. The tally will be updated daily.

Winners will be announced on February 14th at 10pm.

Current Tally as of February 14th 10:00pm:

Winners! Rachel Medford and Alex Crafard 18

JoAnn and Matthew Biggs 17

Kristina Bennett & Jeremy Hassen 12

Amanda Coe and Sammy Bohy 6

Alyxczia Thurlow and James Kinkead 1

Don’t Become Obsessed With Photography Equipment

Since creating the Michigan Photography Network in 2017 and starting to dabble in teaching photography in 2018, I have started to get more questions from amature photographers. A common thing I see with new photographers is they are obsessed with gear and acquiring it. This is especially true for those who come from a technical or engineering background. This seems to be less of an issue for those coming into photography from more of an artistic background. Those in the local art communities seem to care less about camera specs, new lenses, and other novelty gear. This obsession with acquiring the latest and greatest gear can become a huge financial burden and won’t lead to you getting better photos.

An amature photographer friend of mine told me recently about a trip he went on. He has a newer and higher end camera and lens combination than I do, but he wasn’t able to get the shot he wanted on the trip. Despite his huge investment in gear he wasn’t able to figure out how to get an image in the high contrast scene he wanted to photograph. If he had spent the time learning about basic photography instead of simply buying more gear he could have gotten the image and saved a lot of money.

The photography industry doesn’t do much to help with this either. A photographer I spoke with last year went on about how “real photographers” (sic) have to use Profoto flashes. I used Profoto flashes in college and they are amazing flashes. They also start out at well over $1000. I can create nearly the exact same photo as those I did in college with my current lighting kit consisting of $400 Alienbees and $15 Yongnuo flashes. The Profotos will last longer and recycle quicker than the Alienbees or Yongnuos but amature and professional photographers don’t need to use the highest end lights available. Quit trying to meet of the approval of the industry snobs and start taking better photos for yourself and your clients.

When it comes to purchasing gear you should focus on buying what you need and not what you want. A lot of photographers especially amateurs waste a lot of money on novel equipment like Lensbabies, fisheye lenses, and other weird novelty gear that will seldom get used. Over my career I’ve acquired a great deal of these novel odds and ends but have ended up selling, giving away, or throwing out most of them in 2018 after reading about minimalism.

My recent gear purchases weren’t impulse buys based off of what my favorite photo industry celebrity endorsed but instead where based on practical factors based on what my clients want. Two lenses I bought in 2018 were a 60mm macro and an 85mm f1.8. Why these two lenses? My wedding clients want macro shots of their wedding rings so I bought a macro lens. I also have many clients who get married in small dimly lit churches. During the ceremony I like to remain as inconspicuous as possible so I don’t use flash. Hence why I bought an 85mm f/1.8.

I also bought several cheap used Yongnuo flashes from eBay. Why? Because now I can give clients a lot more variety of lighting options.

Some of my best purchases for my business in the last few years weren’t even technically photography equipment. Examples? A red wagon I can pull my gear around in. A leatherman multipurpose tool which I’ve used for a wide variety of applications both on shoots and in daily life. Even pieces of foam core to use as reflectors and flags.

Don’t fall for it when people try to convince you that you need the latest, greatest, or most novel gear to get a good photo. Ansel Adams, Gregory Heisler, Arnold Newman, Platon, Joe McNally, Dan Winters, Irving Penn, and the other greats of photography have taken far better photos than I ever have with far inferior gear. Instead focus on learning the craft. It takes time and won’t be solved by buying the latest full frame mirrorless camera and Profoto two head kit.