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Of the subtle art of price-tagging your work and why you shouldn’t shy away from acknowledging your

Oct. 2, 2023

Diamond Beach, Iceland 2019

As a ‘second-career-self-taught-female-photographer-in-her-forties’, one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn (and still do after over 10+ years) is how to establish my value. My artistic value, monetary value, and yes my self-value. How much are my work, my experience, and my time worth? And how does it reflect on how much I am (or feel that I am) worth as a person? Does it impact the perception of my artistic work or my place in the food chain?

Yes. And no. Forty-twelve? Orange cat on the roof. There is no straight or simple answer to any of the above, nor will you find specific numbers in this article, but keep reading anyway. I’m here to discuss the assessment exercise, so you can draw your own conclusions and hopefully feel good about it.

The question of value IS a tough one. It is black and white and everything in between. It is an onion question with stinky layers that can make you cry (it really does). Albert Einstein said ‘the true value of a human being can be found in the degree to which he (hey, Al you forgot the she and they) has attained liberation from the self.’ Agree to disagree, Albert, in part. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to go with ‘the true value of a human being can be found in the honest tune-into oneself.’

How do you appraise, hone and stand by your worth on the art market, your rates to clients, and - since we’re here and wondering - your inherent self-worth? How do you put a price tag on you?

As many Europeans, educated in a culture of submission to those who have come before us, I was taught to lyrically discuss that my opinion was irrelevant. In Law School in France, I did learn how to say it with panache and flawless structure. However, when I moved to New York to pursue a Masters at NYU, my grades plummeted. The main criticism was ‘you’re not challenging anything. What is YOUR opinion? What are you bringing to the table of this subject?’ They wanted to know what I thought?! Without challenging scholars' theories and adding my own views, I wasn’t getting an A. I had to bring my own perspective. I was no Monstesquieu, but hey, I was after all the only me in the history of mankind. My perception is unique. Turns out, through this process, plus a dual language and culture, I learned to recognize the existence of the value of me.

When I changed careers from Emergency Management (not conducive to raising 3 children) to photography (which I’d been drawn to my whole life), I started over from scratch. I may have had an eye for it, an artistic sensitivity from family culture, a lifetime of museums, and a stunt in art school between law school years, but I had no technical skills whatsoever. What I had, however, was a professional ability to research, synthesize and understand. So I did. One ‘F’ point at a time, one blurry failed image (or hundreds) after another, one book, one workshop, one conversation. Slowly trying to snuff out the impostor feeling many of us second-career-darers have. I gave myself the value of continuous education with time and effort (blood, sweat, tears, and so many doubts too).

I volunteered for jobs, got paid peanuts for others, I got turned down by many, and failed miserably at others as well (let’s never talk about that fundraising event in Hoboken ever again, it still gives me shivers). But through all these (occasionally) painful experiences, and still under the impression that there was a single path all photographers had to follow to climb the rungs of the photo success ladder, I was building up on the priceless value of failure and rejection. Yes, failure is the grout to the yellow brick road of success. You need it.

The more photographers I met on that road (and there was you Tin Man, and you Lion, and you Scarecrow!), the more I realized every single one had a different experience, a different way, and a difference story. My dear and talented friend, Adam Welch, currently living a very Ansel-Adams-meets-Hemingway life driving solo through the country with his dog and his enormous full frame custom made camera, chemical baths, cigars and typewriter, used to be a hospital X-Ray technician in Tennessee, and knows more about developing film and dismantling a camera than anyone I’ve ever met (I could write an entire article about him, and maybe I will. I wrote the foreword to his book on Composition). While Drew Doggett, whom I had a workshop with on the Business of Photography, was assistant to Mark Seliger, Steven Kelin and Annie Lebovitz before opening his own studio with an entire cast and crew. My point being, there are as many paths to this as they are recipes for chili, and each have their own… wait for it… value. Are you getting the gist yet?

Drew Doggett’s perspective was awakening in the matter of value. We both went far and wide to capture wild horses. Flying a dingy little plane off the shore of Nova Scotia to land on a tiny strip of sand through a thick fog in the middle of the Atlantic to reach the horses of Sable Island, does create incredible memories and value (here she goes again) to an image (his and mine). According to him, you can create value to your art as part of your branding. To a certain extent, you place yourself on the market. Unless you have tenure on the market and galleries, agents and auction houses trading the value of your work, you decide what photographer you want to be. There is no wrong answer. It is just as legitimate to be a low-rate high-quantity photographer on Shutterstock, as it is to be a high-rate limited edition fine art gallery photographer (like Drew), or a local mini-shoot holiday card/school picture photographer, than it is to be a white glove experience studio photographer. It is a choice and you have to level what and where you are selling. In other words, you have to put a number or value (oh no she didn’t!) on your product.

(1) Your life story, personal experience and education, combined with (2) the time you spent either traveling to or preparing a shot, and the costs involved, (3) the place you want to occupy in the artistic spectrum and the quality of product you are selling while considering (4) the market you are in (countryside Kansas and New York City won’t market or price the same on photo sessions for instance. Local art fairs, stock images, and international galleries, same difference). Check the competition, how the other photographers/artists in your area price for similar products, or how their quality compares to yours. All these factors come together to contribute to the pricing of your business (I didn’t say ‘value’ but… I know you know).

- How much is this print?

- Well, the price is ‘I’ve had to travel for 3 days, charter a tiny plane and fear for my life a little. I walked for 8h freezing my butt off. Then I went through 800 shots to pick this one and worked 120 hours to get it ready to show. There were lots of frustrating social media outreach hours too that I’d rather forget about, then I spent $300 to print it on high-quality paper and also expenses to get it packed and shipped.’ dollars. That’s the price (and taxes of ‘sleepless nights questioning my life choices’ percent). All things considered, I don’t make that much in the end.

- Is there a discount? I was hoping it would be 90% less.

- Nope.

- But it’s just a horse. I betcha I can go to a farm next door with my phone and do the same.

- It’s my horse, and it’s amazing. You’re welcome to do your thing.

There is one more element to consider and it’s a biggie, it has to do with how you value your creative essence and by extension yourself. It is a delicate balance of confidence against appreciation. Your own confidence with how much others appreciate (buy) your work. It is ALL subjective; not to say a tinsy winsy bit neurotic, but what artistic world isn’t. Yet it ALL matters and you HAVE to do it. Ask yourself honestly. Don’t be afraid of it. If you are at the beginning of your photographic career, there will be room to grow that value. If you’re at the end of it, honor your journey and embrace the worth. Let yourself be proud of what you’ve put into it. I get it, it’s hard and it’s even harder to say it outloud. But your work has value. Your time has value. Your story has value. You have value. Now, go put a number on it and don’t apologize for it.

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