I Eavesdropped on a Group of Writers Comparing Photographers – and What I Heard Baffled Me

“Which photographer do you think charges more?” The copy-writing instructor asked after showing us screenshots of each of their websites.

I kept it hush-hush that I knew the answer.


Was a big-name speaker at WPPI, PPA, and everything else with douple P’s and A’s.

The other?

A nobody in the speaking world. The average photographer with a wedding business.

The anticipation made my hands clammy.

Would they understand quality of work?


Who would they pay more for?

The votes came in, and it was about 50/50.

Some people cited that one website was nicer, so they must charge more. Others that look of the images were slightly more edgy, so they must charge more. But the others said the one style was more Martha Stewart Living style, so they must charge more.

In the end, nobody really knew who charged more, why, or what advantage one photographer would have over the other on the wedding day.

Then the instructor announced that one photographer started at around 10k, the other around 4k.

The point of the exercise was this: Words.

WORDS are important.

Your work does not speak for itself. It does not stand alone.

You have got to use words to explain why people should hire you.

In a sea of photographers, writers, whatever industry you’re in, quality is expected, and quality alone is not an advantage.

Your work must be of a high caliber just to play the game.

But the winner of the game?

Is the person who can use their words and explain why they can help their customer.

Because to most people, they just can’t see good vs. great.

They can’t see a 3:1 vs a 4:1 lighting ratio, and don’t understand what it means to have your “highlights blown out” or “shadows blocked up.”

They don’t understand alien-eyes, over brightened teeth, or the overdone vignette (especially the god-awful white vignette that looks like an image belongs on an 80’s Christmas ornament…And yes, I used to do that to my images too)

I know what you’re thinking. Then how can one photographer charge 10k and the other 4k and they are still both in business?

The answer is reputation, be that how long they’ve been in business, word of mouth in their community, and referrals.

And these are all valid parts of your business.

But if you hadn’t heard of either of the two photographers and your first impression was their websites, both seemed to have lovely photos and equal quality but one was more than twice the cost, who would you book?

It would be ludicrous to hire the more expensive one.

I mean, everything seems the same except price, so why WOULD you pay double?


The point of it all:

Tell the story of what you do for your clients.

And I’m not talkin “I preserve memories that last a lifetime” cliche bullshit.

Sure, we all capture memories.

Most cliche’s are around for a reason: because they’re true.

But the problem is this: everybody says that. And it’s so over-said that nobody really understand what it means anymore.

I mean, my Samsung Note 3 captures memories too, right? (I’m not an iPhone gal, don’t be hatin’)

Do you spend 30 minutes talking with a mom before her family portraits to find out all of the special things she does with her kids, like secret handshakes, the way she holds her daughter every morning when she wakes up, the way her two little girls climb and wrestle with daddy?


The power of words, before and after:

Take a look at this portrait on its own. What do you see?

You likely see a solid photograph. It’s exposed correctly (slightly blow-out highlights in the clouds), probably off-camera flash was used to brighten the three ladies and and keep the sky blue. And there’s an average house in the background.

And it’s good, but not impressive, not a “wow” image, and likely nobody would hire me based off of this one photo.

But now, put it into the context of their story, and what I did to get that story.

These three sisters spent their childhood together in this house in Meaderville, an old area of Butte, Montana that was demolished to make way for more mining.

This home was one of the few that was saved and moved. These ladies remember the day it was moved, and still have the newspaper clippings. The home was a hill that overlooked town, and the three would trek up the hill for picnics in the summer.

The home was full of giggling girls and bear hugs.

The home is still in the family and is owned by the next generation.

This photograph is part of Deep Roots, a photography project that unravels the stories of the Butte community, and recognizes the people this rich city was built on. I talk to individuals and dig deep to find out their family story.

I use the same techniques in all areas of my portrait business so that I can record what makes your family tick,

what little one-of-a-kind personality quirks you have,

so your portraits are about your family, and not the idea of what a generic family portrait is.

Because chances are, running hand-in-hand down a dirt road isn’t something you normally do.

But pulling your kids away from the rain puddles in June and watching your boys squeal as they discover a new bug?

Those are the sounds and flashes in your mind that make your family so your family.

OK. So now when you look at this photograph, what do you think?

Is this photograph suddenly more valuable?

Am I as a photographer suddenly more credible?

Did the photo go from mediocre to great?

Are you more interested in hiring me than somebody else?


So, how do I actually use this in my business?

Your website, social media pages, newsletter, what you say on the phone, all of your promotions, need to have words that speak for you, your work does not speak for itself.

Start telling the story of what you do for your clients that isn’t just taking the photos. What do you do that nobody else does? How are you different from the rest of the pack?

These are not easy questions to answer, and these are thing that have taken me 7 years to become clear on.

And honestly? Sometimes I change my mind on what makes me different.

Like all the time.

Sometimes I second guess myself. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m focusing on the right thing. Take a look at my website today, then take a look at it in a month, and all of the copy might be completely different.

But pick something.

Pick an angle, ANY angle. Are there 10 things that make your business unique?

Pick just one (or if you’re indecisive 2-3 max)

Focus on that.


And instantly?

You’re going to start standing out from the pack.

4 thoughts on “I Eavesdropped on a Group of Writers Comparing Photographers – and What I Heard Baffled Me”

  1. Argh!! Words. I am not good with them, apart from the odd ‘poison pen’ (as my husband so beautifully puts it!). I admire people who can tell a story to go with the image, one that conveys emotion and attachment.
    Very hard to do. Even getting across my emotions in writing to my friends is hard…..they are fluid with their emotions and express them openly, but I can’t. Their 5 sentence ‘thankyou’ compared to my one word….’thanks’.
    Need to work on this quick smart

  2. See this is where I have trouble… all my words conflict each other….. I am bad with words but for sure need to do this. My website needs a makeover bad 🙂

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