Premium Cameras. Premium Prices.

A photographer asked me this question on Facebook: “I’ve always asked myself: “When is it best to use expensive camera gear? Some clients are really just cheap, and I have gear priced at their price points. Is it fair to use non premium camera gear that can also do the job?”

Different cameras offer different features. It would be foolish to simply look for a more expensive camera without matching what it can do with what you need to accomplish with it. On the other hand, you probably can’t get better paying clients (or higher-value projects) if your equipment is all second-rate.

I remember that in the 70’s, when we were starting, we could not afford the more expensive studio flash systems. John and I bought Styrofoam ice boxes from the supermarket, put a hole in the bottom, inserted a handheld flash there, put aluminum foil inside and tracing paper in front, and voila, we had an studio flash. But, oops, not quite. It still looked like an icebox, so he painted the outside matte black. Hmmm…

We knew, however, that we could not attract better paying clients with such crude imitations, so we continued to save, save some more and save even more to be able to afford the legitimate studio flash systems.

It was the same with cameras and other equipment. However, so that we don’t live or work always dissatisfied with what we had, John always says that the best camera is the one in your hands. He also admonishes our younger photographers not to look for what we do not have. But there are instances when a more demanding photography job requires the use of better, more premium cameras.

For about 20 years, John was exclusively using one brand of camera – mainly because he had a whole gallery of lenses to go with that camera. When we started using DSLRs, we simply replaced the old film camera bodies with a third-party (another brand) digital camera body that we could use with the same array of lenses. But at some point, he had an assignment to shoot an airplane, flying over him. That required a camera with a much faster burst/continuous-shooting mode than what his third-party digital camera body then could give him. Without hesitation, he switched brands, and he has been loyal to the second brand since then. It’s the brand that he now represents, but only because he’s still happy with it.

Your question is, “Some clients are really just cheap, and I have gear priced at their price points. Is it fair to use non premium camera gear that can also do the job?”

My answer is: If you are a professional photographer, you have the responsibility to give your clients your best, not just your “good enough.” You can’t charge more if your skills, equipment, facilities, services –all that you offer your clients – are non-premium (read – cheap). You may argue that “some client are really just cheap,” but maybe – please don’t take offense – that’s the kind of client that you attract with your “gear priced at their price points.” If you want to attract better paying clients, then it’s necessary to offer something better that would make them willing to pay more. You may say that this is a chicken-and-egg situation – which comes first – but I would like to think that a business person needs to take the first step. He takes risks, but his client shouldn’t.

Just look around. A mall like 168 in Divisoria attracts bargain hunters. If you wanted to attract high-end clients, you would sell in Greenbelt 5. Between these two price points are a whole spectrum of shops and shoppers, and they build their shops, choose or train their staff, and sell merchandise according to the clientele they wish to attract.

It’s a business decision, of course, and as a photographer, you can start or be (by choice or force of circumstance) at any point in the spectrum. Just remember that everything in your business – including your equipment and pricing – must be consistent with that decision. Consistency – that must be the key to better business.

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