Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Photographers... Are you charging a sitting fee?

I’ve been straddling the fence on sitting fees for some time. I’ve spoken with several photographers and it’s still about 50/50 on who charges a sitting fee and who does not.

Having the discussion only clouded the issue even more. Charging a sitting fee is considered by some tantamount to professional suicide. Others maintain that it is an absolute must and that any serious client wouldn’t mind. If you compare the successes and failures of all business models it is still split. In totality one photography business is no more successful than the other as a whole. However, it does depend on your business paradigm.

If you’re doing more commercial work then this argument will likely never arise. If you work from any pre-arranged contract or defined consideration; again it doesn’t matter. However, if your business depends on an in-flux of retail clients you’ve had to ask yourself whether you want to charge a sitting fee or not at some point in time.

The proponents of sitting fees say it solidifies some obligation between the client and the photographer. Once a photographer schedules a shoot he or she makes appointments based on expectations of what he or she believes will happen. If several clients cancel or don’t show then the photographer loses that business as well as other business they couldn’t book because of the unavailable time slot. Makes sense to me.

The opponents of sitting fees believe that sitting fees compensate for a lack of confidence a photographer has in their own skills. They also maintain that sitting fees drive away customers that they would have booked otherwise. But because you have to “pay it forward” for a product you have yet to even receive much less see, it drives customers away.

I feel that it depends on your customer base; the type of customers you serve and intend to serve in addition to what type photography business you have. If you’re living in the rural areas of Mississippi then you may have a different approach compared to a photo boutique on Rodeo Drive. You simply have to adjust your business model according to whom you serve. I’ve personally had a bit of all kinds of customers; those that are too cheap to pay anything and expect every single picture on demand as well as those that pay in full before the shoot even takes place and still order prints afterwards.

Maybe the sitting fee should be discriminatory based on your expectation from the prospective customer. Well that hardly seems fair but I can certainly see the benefit. However, it would involve stereotyping and profiling based on whatever methodology you choose to invoke. Some photographers have opted for a hybrid approach, allowing sitting fee charges to be applied to the purchase of prints. Yet, hardcore opponents still say that amounts to charging a sitting fee no matter how you order the transaction.

You may find yourself shooting less if you’re charging a sitting fee. But would you want those clients anyway? They’re likely to make off with a couple of proofs and you’ll probably never see or hear from them again. Yet, if you’d like to maintain that everyone is honest and will buy prints based on your extremely high quality and professional work then that’s a bit egotistical if not naive in my humble opinion.

Lastly you have to come to a realization that like so many things, prints are dying except for the most refined and sophisticated clientele or clients like boutiques, models, and stock photograph archives that need them. Low pay jobs only want pictures for their social networking sites and other online sharing mediums. The art of a high end photograph isn’t as appealing as their ability to show off to all their family and friends how great they look. From a business prospective that may not be such a bad thing; more exposure right? Not necessarily. Blaze your logo across the front and see how many jobs you’re gonna get. Again, this depends on that client’s measure of influence and social circles and sadly in some lesser part the quality of your work.

While you’re trying to decide if you’re going to charge a sitting fee there is a great deal to think about; the type of clients you have, the socioeconomics of your market, the type of photographs you take, your location and whether or not physical prints will have a strong appeal for your customers.