Why pricing photographs is impossible and why sentimentality it is killing the speciality of photography as art

Large bulder in Joshua Tree national park

I once heard a story about a shipment of chairs and tables that a company in Copenhagen Denmark ordered from China. It was a shipment of 100 chairs and 100 tables for a conference hall. After deciding on the delivery from a manufacturer in china and asking for the bill, the company got rather puzzled when they saw the final bill. No where on the invoice where there a mention of chairs nor the tables. For custom this was unacceptable so the importer contacted the chinese manufacturer in order to get a new invoice. While at it they asked why on earth they had left the goods out on the bill. The chinese manufacturer had a clear and understandable answer. The price for the chairs and tables was so low, that in the context of the total bill of packing, transportation and shipment costs it did not matter. It was nickel and dimes compared to other costs. It was not the main ingredient in cost calculation, so they did not see the point in listing them. With photography you are not far from being in the same situation. The cost of a single photograph is minimal in the context of what it can cost to make it. Not all images are born equal, thus the cost per image is very different and based on multitude of factors. Any given moment can not be recreated. No matter what, it will never be the same. A copy of the work is only a recreation of the moment it self and even every copy is not born equal. The end image is in fact worthless or priceless depending on how you see it, and the base cost of making it does (almost) not matter at all in the calculation of its value. To find out the basics one has to start with the cost of doing business and cost of living. When you have done that you will then reach what the minimum price for an image should be based on your factors. But as I said before not all images are created equal so an image you take while on a down town stroll is much cheaper to make than an image you take after having rented a helicopter to get the nice view from air. Same is with landscape photography where on one hand you take a 10 minutes stroll from the car down to the beach or where you take on several days of hiking in the highlands of Mexico. How do you calculate the human effort that went into making the image?? Its difficult and almost impossible as its colored by your feelings of the trip and the fantastic achievement of your survival. In reality taking basics from the cost of creation the image from Mexico should be at least 10 times more expensive than the image you took by strolling down to the beach. 

The real reality

The real reality on the other hand is far from this. The reality is that the price of photography is based on sentimentality, not hard core business calculation simply because it would be to complicated to calculate the price of every image we take. It would be to time consuming and to complicated for the client to understand. So in order to make our life more simple, plus the life of the consumers, we average the price of our images and flatten it out. When averaging the price, making a flat structure, we have to take in account what others are selling their images for. So once again we are not basing our price of the image on what it costs to create but also on what others are selling their images for. Its cheaper for a Mexican to travel to Copper Canyon than it is for me to get there from Iceland or Norway where I am now, thus a photographer from Mexico should be able to sell his image far cheaper than I can. Here agin comes in a factor that then changes every thing. The internet and online sales. Selling through the internet has the advantage that I can get to the same clients as a Mexican photographer so in a way the selling ground for which we can base our business is similar in that way. It still leaves me though with my costs of doing business being higher and multipliable so if I want to take images in Central america. On top of that you have things like running your own gallery. Selling through other galleries and the price you have to pay for that. The only reason why a customer would want to buy an image from me rather then from the Mexican photographer is because he feels my image is better. But that is based on a sentimental value because there is no way of saying that my image is better or more beautiful than other photographers work. What I find beauty in you might not. So once again we are back to the fact that the price of printing does not matter at all and neither the price of the paper the image is printed on. It is all based on sentimental value and the willingness of the client to pay me (maybe more) than any other photographer. This brings me to the the fact that photographers of all size and shapes are losing the game over to the resellers and mostly net based resellers. The printing companies that have a good net portal with big variation of photographers for clients to choose from are the companies that are making the money in this business, not the individual photographer. Not only do they today do most of the work, they sell the prints and charge for it, but they do to get a cut from the photographers fee. Some even charge the photographers for hosting their images. This fact alone should have increased the price of photography as the minimum a photographer needs to survive has not diminished with digital photography. On the contrary. The pricing has escalated. Photographers need at least as much money and at least as much time to learn things as before. The only optimal solution would be a photography coop in printing and sales. That on the other hand has not happened on a larger scale, not so far as I know. Photographers seem to individualistic to work as a group for their own goods. The other way around this would be to auction off all images and then use take it or leave it approach to the offered price. To survive in the field of artistic photography one has therefor but few choices. One way is to create a customers "need" for owning your image, take care of the marketing and sales your self while keeping costs at minimum. This is very good in many ways but takes much time from creation and photography work. One can get an agent or a gallery, but then you would have to create even more to compensate for paying half of every thing you earn to them. Or as many do mix between online sales, galleries, agents and self serving. That again takes time and flattens out the prices of images even more. An image you sell for 500 dollars through an galleryist does not give you as much profit as if you sell it your self and if you have an image with an gallery you can not sell a copy you have your self for less nor for higher price. Selling through an online depot then skews the image also as customers are getting used to see prices ranging from 2$ and upwards.


The conclusion

The conclusion of all this is that the pricing structure of photography images is in fact, not only totally wrong, but it can almost never be totally right. The only thing that can set the price of your images are the customers you attract and the "need" for your images that you build. If you attract high income customers you are more likely to be able to sell for higher prices and get the sentimental value out of the images you feel you deserve. If you on the other hand attract low income customers you are bound to be selling your images for less than the sentimental value you want. That leads often to making volumes to compensate for the low price and by that you kill the uniqueness of the image. Or do you? You please more people by selling more copies but it is harder work. In the end no matter how we calculate, the factors for calculating a price of an images are insufficient and based on your sentimental value of not only one image but all your images in general, plus the thought of a sentimental value of the image to the image buyer. This leads to an average price of all images that makes your exceptionally good image, the once in a lifetime motive, the no way of recreating an image moment, in fact worthless. This is in fact the sad situation of doing photography business today. Even though no one is buying your photography you do not lower the price. The reason being that based on your feelings it is in fact worth more. Even though you have to stop doing business and get an other job you keep on shooting and pushing those images out to the world. Its because everything to do with photography is based on sentimentality and the urge to create. Photographers are sentimental creatures. Others are businessmen.

IPTC Caption: 
Large bulder in Joshua Tree national park

Kristjan Logason is an Icelandic photographer based in Norway at the moment, where he mainly works in fine art and commercial fine art photography.Kristjan owns and runs The art of Icelandic photography.You can contact Krissby phone: +47.916.62749