Facing the Shoot and Burn Faux-tographer Devil.

My recent articles have taught me that there are some universal lessons we all come face to face with in business. When I wrote the article on forgiving stealing in our industry, I had no idea the response I would receive.  Not just from other photographers, but from entrepreneurs in all industries.  Many times we get stuck in our own heads, feeling “why does this happen to me?”  “why am I the target?”  “why should I have to put up with this?”  Hearing from all of you who are going through the same thing made a light bulb go off.

We all feel the same.  

All entrepreneurs take risks, put themselves out there, and work really, really, crazy hard.  It can be an every day challenge to not take things personally.

Please know that you are not alone.

That’s why I love our little talks, my friends!  We’re all in this together!

This morning, when I received this topic from a new photographer friend in Australia, I knew instantly that I had to address it.  It is a hot, hot, steaming hot topic, and you know how I love sinking my teeth into those!

She wrote:  One topic I struggle with is competing with the $50 shoot and burn fauxtogs. I am progressing from giving just discs to giving products… with so many $50 photographers offering everything on disc, which is what most people want, its hard to get clients to paying me more!  I know that means i need to give value, and something unique.  Do you have any advice?

Do I ever!  Let’s dig in friends!

I have a confession.  I was a shoot and burn faux-tographer.

When I started taking pictures I knew nothing about business and very little about my craft.  All I had was my passion and my willingness to bust my butt.  While I offered other products, I had no understanding of how to price my work.   Most people ended up buying the disk of digitals.  That’s okay.  That’s what consumers wanted of me.  There was little value in whatever else I sold, so in retrospect, it was probably a good choice for all of us.

What I lacked at the time was a sustainable business plan.  The money I ended up profiting just didn’t pay the bills.  I had to decide if I wanted photography to be my hobby, a little extra grocery money, or a career.  None of these options would have been the wrong choice. Let me repeat that, there is no wrong answer.  I respect a hobbiest and a mom with a camera just as much as I respect my greatest competition.  We all love photography.

We all share that.

Plus, where is the line of “legitimate photographer” drawn?  Is it how you price yourself?  Is it a certain level of skill?  Is it how much your camera costs?  These are all matters of perspective.  You might be a “faux-tog” to me and I might be a “faux-tog” to the next person.  Hey, I still shoot in Aperture Priority sometimes!  Shhhhhhhhhhh.

If you are in a place where you have decided you want photography to be your career and you know you need to make more of a profit for that to be a reality, stay with me!  When you are not currently making enough money to pay yourself, your business overhead, and your cost of goods, your business plan is not a sustainable one.  That means you can’t keep your pricing where it is and stay in business for long.  We all know that the $50 shoot-and-burn photographer is in this boat.  And it’s a sinking ship.  Trust me when I say that all of your $50 competition will inevitably face this fact as well.

But that still doesn’t change the here and now.  This is our market.  This is what we are competing with day in and day out.  How do we overcome it today while these $50 photographers still exist?  What do you do if you’re one of them and you know your ship is going down?

I want to start by telling you a personal story.  I want you to know that I am in the trenches with you.  I have to overcome all of the same challenges you face.  Every.  Single.  Day.

Heidi Hope Photography is not “one of the lucky ones.”

You may think that everything comes easily to certain people in the industry.  Not this girl.  At HHP we work every single day to honor our own artistic vision.  We make smart business decisions based on our own business needs.  We consciously choose to see every challenge in a positive, motivating light.  Is it easy?  Hell no!  Sometimes it takes a long time and a lot of work.  From my last post you must know that it is often a struggle.  In the end, we choose to compete in our marketplace from a space of joy rather than fear.

It wasn’t always that way.  The first two years of running our business were pretty much chaos.  Perhaps not externally, but certainly internally.  We worked harder than I ever have in my life, sacrificed all of our time and relationships, and never seemed to make much progress.  Until the day came that we said “this is insane.”  So we pressed pause.  We planned our business.  We stopped working aimlessly.  We stopped looking outside.  We shut it all out and focused only on our own business, the work we were putting out, and our amazing client relationships.  We detoxed ourselves from nay-sayers and negative relationships.  We didn’t listen to the people who said it couldn’t be done.  That is when our business took off!  That is when pricing stopped mattering so much.

Did we lose some clients with the price change?  Of course.  I understand that we aren’t in everyone’s budget.  Eeeeeeeeees okay!  (Any Bachelor fans out there?!  Don’t get me started on Juan Pablo.)  But our pricing isn’t built around that factor.  Our prices were developed to support our business, our employees and all that goes into the great experience we give to our clients.  Without our prices where they are, we wouldn’t be able to provide all of those things we do in a sustainable business model.  We would be out of business.  Our prices provide the continuing model through which we can give our gifts.  And they give us the time to help others while we’re at it!

So is it just that we have some special breed of customer that doesn’t exist where you live?

Well, I do think HHP customers are the best on the planet, but do you think it is just a happy coincidence that they all happen to exist around us?  We started our business 5 years ago in the worst economy since The Great Depression.  After Shaun and I both jumped in 1 year later, we had no other source of income.  If we had to work 60-70 hours a week to pay the bills, we did.  And we did a lot.  Not to mention that Rhode Island is one of the least small business friendly states in the U.S with one of the highest unemployment rates.  Sorry Rhode Island, I love you, but you don’t make it easy for us!  Then there is the fact that we have created a market for a certain style around here.  We don’t just have competition doing their own thing and an even playing field.  We have people watching our moves, doing almost exactly what we do in the exact same style for less money.  You can’t tell a Burger King that it can’t open next to a McDonalds just as you can’t prevent another photographer from opening shop down the road offering the same exact thing as you at a lower price.  It stinks like my 2 year old’s diapers, but it is reality.  Trust me, I know it first hand. That, my friends, is free enterprise.  There is also the challenge of the photography industry in general and the consumers we cater to.  Times have changed.  What consumers want is changing.  We have to keep up with that.

Can you relate?

Of course you can!  Our community is just like yours.  HHP has faced all of the same challenges that you will face at one time or another as a business owner.  So those are the facts.  Now you have a choice.  Do you still want to be a business owner?  Do you want to figure out a way to overcome the challenges of being an entrepreneur or do you want to let them overcome you?

The second you blame “the industry” or “shoot and burns” or “MWAC’S” (mom-with-a-cameras), know that you are being fooled.  You are seeking to blame something outside of yourself for your own business struggles.  Worse, you are giving your power away.  The truth is that everything you need to be successful is already inside of you.  You just need to show up every day ready to do the work.

So how do we do it?

First, be an original.

Remember this.  Any competition or fauxtog that is not working from an authentic place is limited.  They are limited to being one step behind innovation.  When you are not creating from your own inner voice and vision, your work will never speak to people like true originality does.  When your work speaks to people beyond replicating a particular set or pose, money is much less of a factor.

Why?  From Coca Cola to Etsy shoppes, great businesses know that there are only 2 basic types of spending.  Purchases based on price and purchases based on emotion.  If you have no emotional connection with your consumer, then it is all about price.  Then it really does matter what other people are charging for their DVD of digitals.

The artist that can command any price has made a connection with their consumer that takes price out of the equation.  It doesn’t matter if there are 1000 new start ups around HHP this year.  There probably are!  The customers who come to us feel a connection with what we do.  Those that are not fully connected will look elsewhere, and that’s okay too!  Say it with me:  Eeeeeeeees okay!  I have even better news.  The people who are emotionally connected to your work are the best clients anyways!  They are people you want to work with, you want to do a great job for, and you consider friends.

So how do we be original and make that connection with clients?

We stop looking around us and start looking within us.  

We forget about the shoot and burn or any other place we are laying our blame.

I know what you are saying:  “Heidi, how can we forget about the shoot and burn?  How can you say that shoot and burns aren’t effecting the industry?  What about all of the really talented photographers who are closing up shop?  Haven’t the shoot and burns affected them?”

I’m not saying that shoot and burns don’t affect the industry.  I’m saying they don’t affect my business.  The way I see it, businesses who are affected by shoot and burn photographers have lost the connection with their client base somehow.  Maybe they have lost their spirit of entrepreneurship.  Maybe they are tired of it all and have given up internally, letting the negativity consume them.  Maybe they have stopped trying to figure out what the consumer wants (it has definitely changed in the digital era).  Maybe they have focused more on their competition then themselves.  I don’t know each person’s individual situation, but I can guess this:  somewhere along the way, they lost the joy in it.  At some point the work they did stopped coming from a spirited place.  Consumers don’t connect with negativity.  When the joy is lost in a creative field, moving on is the right thing to do.

Here is my advice to keep it from happening to you.

First, pay attention to your own business.  Spend time developing your pricing based on your own business needs.  I wholeheartedly recommend checking out my friend Joy Vertz  if you need to build your pricing from the ground up.  She’s a pricing guru and her enthusiasm might even make you love pricing as much as she does!  Once you have developed your pricing based on your business needs you will have the confidence that comes from valuing your work and knowing what it is worth.

As for taking the leap and changing your pricing, you have to just do it.  Do it without fear.  The fact is, if you don’t have customers willing to pay the prices necessary for your business to be profitable…. THEN YOU DON’T HAVE A BUSINESS.  It is as simple as that.

So are faux-tographers the devil?  No.  If you’re placing the blame on anything outside of your own business, your greatest challenge to overcome is yourself.  The next time you are tempted to hand over all of your power to those fauxtogs, stop yourself.  You are the one with the power to make change.  You and I and those fauxtogs are all in the same boat.  We are people with a passion and a dream and a love of our craft.  The only line that separates the successes from the failures is the willingness to take the wheel.

I’m always here to help you steer!

xo ~  Heidi

Comprendo?  No comprendo?  I want to hear from you!  Let us know what you think below!





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18 Responses

  1. Valerie

    Seriously one the best posts I have read in a long time!!
    I have been seriously getting down on myself lately, only because I am trying to compete I a market of “cheaper” photogs. Now I’m not saying all there work is bad, some are actually very good. And its about having a love for photography anyway!!
    So reading this has hit home & I definitely want to move forward, better myself & continue what I love!!
    Thank you, Thank you!!

    1. heidi

      Thank you so much Valerie! It is easy to feel down from time to time. Looking around at everything going on can be overwhelming! Keep your focus on what you love! xo Heidi

  2. Love every word. I just changed pricing to run a better business and actually (hopefully) earn money! 🙂 For the last year, I worried about what “others” thought of me. By others, I mean photographers in my area. It sucked the life out of me. I also had previous clients tell me they can not afford my new pricing. I am ok with that, because I now know who I am. Well, closer to figuring it out, anyway. I am NOT the photographer next door, I am me…aaaand our tiny town has a Burger King across the parking lot from McDonalds. They both do ok. 🙂

  3. Love this!!! I get so mad when I see photographers hating on “fauxtographers”. We ALL started from somewhere, no one found success instantly. And just like you said Heidi, if a customer is just looking at your price value, and not coming to you for your beautiful work, then they just aren’t the client for you!

  4. Amen Heidi!!! For those who have been following you through the years know that your success didn’t just walk up to your front door and knock…a whole lotta ass busting happened! 😉 I have so enjoyed, as many others have, watching you and your business grow. Thank you for continuing to share your stories and encouragement.

  5. Iliana

    Congratulations for your work is an inspiration to me. (not to imitate you 😛 )
    I’ve read your lastest post and have been very useful and inspiring.
    The truth is I’m in that boat, currently i charge 50€ per session, I send the pictures (edited)by email … but I have a reason to do so: just now started to take seriously my passion, I am a self taught shooting (I guess I’m what you call “MWAC’S”, I have learned a lot this past year, photographing friends and my own son, now I want to take my hobby more seriously and want to make it my career! I have invested in training but the truth is that I have no money to invest in large and so can practice other prices … the camera I have is not the best and little by little I managed to buy my lenses 🙂 my intension is to be able to establish myself in the market, creating a target audience and gradually grow, you think i do well?
    That is, deep down I do not charge less to steal customers from someone, but to win my own client and get growing…
    Thanks for being what you are 😀
    Lots off love

  6. Suzie


    I love your work! Thanks for posting this I am working towards building a business in this industry and boy is it hard. This was a very encouraging blog post and I am going to keep working hard and someday I hope to be as successful as you in this industry that is crazy but i just LOVE it so so much!

    I also hope to travel to Rhode Island sometime in the near future for my family photos to be taken by the women I brag to my husband about her work to. 🙂

  7. Ashley B

    As a non-photog, but a photography LOVERRR I wanted to chime in! I must say that while Pinterest is an amazing marketing tool (this is how I came across HHP to begin with and I plan to use you in the future for whenever I have children), it is also a nightmare. Photographers sometimes do not take it as an idea or inspiration, but try to completely copy it. I am here to tell you WE KNOW THE DIFFERENCE! Those that do care about the outcome our pictures and the product we receive will know the difference. I can tell when something is genuine at least and I will skip past those that are “trying” to be the latest trend or trying to be like someone else rather than what they feel and are passionate about. I know so many people who pin things on to pinterest, bring it to a photographer and say “I want this!” Not every photographer can do it “like this”. Some photographers, it is not their style, but try it for the sake of the client because they want to keep them pleased, but you can tell it is not “them”.

    I’m one of those cases you talk about where you connect with your photographer. I found a photographer I loved for my wedding. I’m not going to lie, I searched probably dozens and dozens of photographer until I found the right one. I found this photographer and it clicked. I WANT HIM TO PHOTOGRAPH MY WEDDING AND NO ONE ELSE. So, I emailed him. He was pricey. I am not going to lie. He was $4,3000 for 9 hours of shooting, a 2 hour engagement shoot, and a disc for both shoots (obviously not your typical $50 and burn photog). Nothing else was included at all. I made my wedding budget work because his work and I loved the vision and story he told with his photography. I’m one of those clients that are willing to spend the extra because of the connection.

  8. Lindsey M

    love your articles!! You are such an inspiration 🙂 I have been following your work since I heard you were leaving teaching to peruse your photography. I still see you as Ms. Votta lol! but i am so happy for you and the successful business that you have created. Do you have advice for someone who is just starting to get serious? Not so much about pricing work, but moreso becoming established. I have a decent portfolio and work for a very talented local wedding phototgrapher as “lighting and sound tech” and I do a lot of the detail shots, but in the long run my target audience is not the wedding crowd, it’s magazine/fashion editorial work/art & abstract. Anyways, I feel like I’m stuck in the shoot and burn category right now. But this article definitely gave me a different perspective into the professional world, thank you!

  9. Nannon

    I love this!!! It’s so refreshing to hear such wonderful answers to things that can be so frustrating! Keep the posts coming! Xo.

  10. Todd

    As a small business owner(not in the photography business) I loved everything in your post. The single-largest life-changing thing I’ve learned is to shift my mind from an “employee” mentality to a business owner mentality. The simplest way I can define that is changing your thinking from “That WOULD be great for my business but, I _____(can’t afford it, don’t have the time, don’t know how, etc.)” to “That WILL be great for my business, how will I _____.” Refusing to accept that the actions of someone else places a limitation on you is liberating. It gives you permission to think of ways that you CAN rather than reasons why you CAN’T. I have to continually have positive input in order to maintain that mentality(I read a lot of John C. Maxwell, Dale Carnegie, Jeff Olson, etc.) If photography is anything like other businesses than only half of it is photography; the other half of it is keeping your own mind in-check and focused on a singular goal.

  11. Such a great post! This has been my philosophy pretty much from the start (even when I was port folio building and charing little – I knew I should charge something and increase it along the way to become a sustainable biz). I’m in my second year in business, and still have a ton to learn about business. It’s crazy hard to get things going, and working 60-80 hours a week is no exaggeration.

    And, it’s tough to take the leap and have faith that the business will follow with your price increases. I am feeling kind of stuck in that I know I need to increase prices and change my business structure again – because I’m crazy busy and should be charging more and spinning my wheels less. But, my family depends on my income to eat. Due to our current family situation it would be very difficult for me to work outside the home and we have to have the income, as my husband was laid off and had to change careers with a huge pay cut last year. It is so scary to compete with others who are talented, but only in it for Target $$ so they don’t bother with business licenses and insurance, or even taxes. They charge less because they really don’t invest in their business. Even if they don’t last long, there are hundreds lining up behind them.

    But, I know i’m in it for the long haul and that means making the tough decisions and doing the work to make it work. So, I will raise my prices again in the next two months and make a new plan to grow my business, rather than bury myself in work that ends up in burn out.

    I really appreciate your honest post and advice. Sometimes just reading it from a different perspective, or from someone who’s been through it, is just the push we need to stay motivated. I have signed up for your emails and can’t wait to read more! I will share this with my photography friends too. I know running a business and having kids makes for a crazy schedule. I love your work, I seriously appreciate your willingness to give back and contribute to the photography community too. Thank you!!

    1. Heidi Hope

      Oh my gosh, thank you so much Mellissa! I love hearing from you and trust me when I say I’ve been in the same boat. Shaun and I faced the same fears as our photography business is our only source of income as well. Making small changes over time is a good way to work towards your goals with out making a giant scary leap!! We did it that way. And with every change, we would say “we wish we did THAT sooner!!” And the more changes you make with positive results, the more confidence and trust you will have in yourself and your business choices. Good luck, and keep in touch!! xo Heidi

    2. Heidi Hope

      Thank you so much Melissa! It can be overwhelming to think of it all sometimes, but you have the right outlook! “do the work to make it work” I love that! xo

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