Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Cost of Documentary Photography

The conversation of pay is an uncomfortable one for me.  I seem to not be able to find a good landing place between not believing that I am worth being paid $30 an hour for my abilities as a photographer, and fighting to show people that I am.  I wish I knew where that sweet spot is, but as a new business owner, I am still finding my way.  Last week, I did some unofficial market research to find out what might hold people back from a documentary session.  A few brave friends were willing to say that the cost of photography is the biggest factor for them.  So, I went to a small business resource to help me find that sweet spot.  While we agreed that my rate is in line with, if not below, industry standards, when the conversation of my ideal client started, I quickly realized that I didn't know nearly enough.  It was then that I had to do a little soul searching and make a tough decision: am I my ideal client?

After I left, I thought a lot about this.  I fully understand that my mindset is different than most people when it comes to photography.  I have been living with it in my daily life for over 5 years now.  Even though my husband and I both know he isn't my client, I wondered if his feelings about documentary photography had changed because of having it around so much.  So, I asked him if, tomorrow, I decided to hang up my gear and never take another picture again, would he miss it?  I expected him to say of course, but pretty quickly, he said he didn't think he would.  It made my heart sink.  And then he paused.  He said, "But in 20 years, it will be different."  He surmised that at that point, he would miss them, and the kids would probably miss them too.  That time without them would make him realize how valuable they were and that he wanted them after all.

My son praises my work constantly, so I know my husband is right that he would miss them.  He gets it like no one else and might even be my ideal client as an adult.  But of course, in 20 years, it's too late to decide you want pictures to be a priority when you were a kid.  You can't go back.  Anyone missing pictures of their childhood or their parents would tell you that.

I know photography - all photography, but particularly photography that asks long hours of time on the back side - is expensive.  I could sit and list all of the business costs as to why that is.  But honestly, who cares?

After having this in my life for these last few years, I know that the real cost of documentary photography is what happens when you say yes to something else instead.  When you won't be able to go back and make a different decision because the time will have passed.  Your babies will have grown.  Your parents will have aged.  Your teenagers will have moved out.  Whatever stage of life you are in will have been replaced and it just won't be the same.

I am thankful I have said yes to this.  I know it means I have had to say no to a lot of other things in my life in order to buy the equipment, build the skills, and start my business legally, but that's ok.  For me, being able to holding on to this slice of life, and potentially do that for others too, is worth it.

Until next time,