From the ASMP Ohio (American Society of Media Photographers) – What is lowballing and why is it really bad for all of us?
Many people define lowballing as the act of charging less than your competition. Trouble is, that’s not an accurate definition. Lowballing is charging less than the fair market price. The difference between those two definitions is enormous.
Think about it, what’s the difference between losing a gig to a shooter whose estimate on a $10,000 project was $500 less than yours, and one who is willing to charge $1000 for the whole gig, including all the rights? In both situations, you didn’t get the work, right? However, in the first case you know that the other shooter was probably chosen because his/her style was more appropriate, or s/he has a long-standing working relationship with the client, or s/he brought something else to the project that worked better for the client. In the second case, it’s all about the money.
Lowballers usually rationalize their actions by saying that they work more days than other shooters and it provides them a living. They say that they have lower overheads which permit them to charge less and that if others want to compete, they’d better reduce their overheads and lower their rates. The problem with those lines of thinking is that lowballing isn’t about competition, it’s about desperation and fear. They fear that if they don’t charge less, they won’t get the job and thus won’t be able to feed their families. They have to work more days in order to make that living, and worry that losing any project can be a threat to survival. If they restrict usage, they’re afraid they might lose a job. It’s all about working from the negative.
And that’s where professionalism comes in. How do we define the term “professional?” Is a professional simply one who gets paid? One who somehow manages to survive (however well) on the money earned by his/her work? Or, is a professional someone who consistently takes pride in his/her work, who strives to improve his/her abilities and techniques in order to add to the profession, and who, through the demonstration of that pride and those skills, is also rewarded financially for his/her efforts?
If we intend to continue making a living in this arena, it had better be the latter.
Most of the professional photographers I know shoot because they are driven to make images. It is a vocation, in the classical sense of the word: a calling. This drive causes them to provide images for their clients which exceed the clients’ expectations on at least some level—even on the least challenging projects. They seeks that mysterious “something more” than the obvious, even when shooting the easiest object on white (for example) which, technically, they could do in their sleep.
Professional photographers do not “take pictures” like the rest of us, they make images. The word “image“ itself demonstrates this difference. A photographic image is simultaneously tangible (the transparency or print) and intangible (the art). And, with the increase of digital technology, the tangible is becoming even less and less a part of it. So it must be the intangible, the artistry, which is more important. Therefore, we must base our pricing on the value of these images, not simply the ability to show up and use a camera. Anyone can take a picture. Not everyone can make an image. That difference creates the value in photography.
Lowballing brings down the fair market value of ALL photography. And that, in the end, hurts the lowballer as well as the rest of us. Once the bar is lowered to the lowballers’ level, there will not only be no raising of it (no matter how we try), but also, sooner or later, someone else will lowball the lowballers and the downward spiral will continue. This behaviour is not professional and we must do all we can to educate the lowballer to this fact.
We are the lucky few who are getting to do that which we love for a living. We could be cleaning septic tanks or stuck in an airless office shuffling papers. Let us not cheapen this fantastic opportunity by being less than true professionals.lowballing, photograhy, photographers