Event Photography On-line Pricing

Selling photos online can be a lot like spear fishing…it depends on your equipment, your experience and skill, the size of the fish you’re ‘hunting’, the size of your ‘river’, the season, and of course your timing…

Why did I choose spear fishing? Because my first thought was crab fishing, but let’s get “reel”…Seriously though, we’ve been stabbing at this “fish” for a few years now, and though it’s slowly paying off, still an ever-evolving subject worthy of a lot of attention. Our attention is mainly geared toward the pricing end of event photography. Perhaps we’ll delve deeper later.

Facebook, Twitter, and others have put a giant question mark over the value of the printed photo. But, the printed photo is more like a book; whereas, a digital download is more like a newspaper article. Both have their place. One is completely different from the other. One is timeless, whereas the other has a popularity of about a month at best, and a shelf-life of about 5 years.

This week VPG posted images from our fourth Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament. Pricing was based on patterns I’ve noticed following a sort of experimentation from the previous three we’d shot using a newer, faster, more versatile system we’ve adopted. The following passage is what we’ve learned – not just from this genre, but from overall experience (rodeos, carnivals, ballet, football, baseball, soccer, volleyball, karate, Jiu Jitsu, skateboarding – all kinds of photography). However, for the “lazy and in-a-hurry”, you can click here for the quick tips, or click here for some pricing and facts.

After the first tournament, photos were up for viewing almost immediately. I’d put our new Lightroom to the test, and it saved a ton of time. From an attendance of about 330, we had several hits displaying lots of interest, and a few sales. Sales were in the $300 range. Good, but unsatisfactory considering the amount of interest (hundreds of hits daily) on this particular gallery. My guess was that our prices were a little steep for many. Okay, but pricing is relative. “So, let’s see what happens next time.”

The second tournament we shot was in Dallas, TX. It was projected to be twice as big as the previous, but ended up being about half the size, due to traffic conditions resulting from the “Red River Shootout“. The outcome? We came home tired and only having broken even. Online sales -BOMB. “Why?” you might ask. They were priced the same – 4×6′s starting at $9.25, up to hundred plus dollar mulit-image posters. The main difference was that we’d experimented with allowing our photos to be dragged and dropped, or “right-clicked” if you will. At the end of the day, maybe two or three visitors found it worthwhile to pay us for our services. The rest must have been happy to have our watermark on their free low-resolution photo. Although we were prepared to exchange a little financial momentum for its equivalent in exposure, we hadn’t anticipated the vast hoards of ‘opportunists’ out there. Devastated!

Outcome from the second tournament was about $60 online, and the new knowledge the that working class citizens of the United States (or at least in Texas and some of the surrounding area) will take what they can get. After putting myself in their shoes, I can’t say I blame them, though I don’t agree. Lesson learned. When it comes to intellectual property, too many people have no problem with stealing.

Shoot three – Austin, TX about four months after the first. First, this tournament fell on a Sunday – not the most ideal day. But, still on the weekend, and finishing up just in time for pro football fans to see the Dallas Cowboys. Second issue, the mats were black and lighting was low! Though our photographer made adjustments, this takes time during the quick-edit stage of production (when going through over 1,000 images). Thirdly, we guessed that 50% of the attendants had seen us the last time, meaning the novelty was worn down a little, and it was only four months since some of them made their previous purchase.

This third time, we experimented with lower prices. This took some consideration! First, our photographers work hard, and constantly. For anybody familiar with action photography, it’s not like shooting Peggie Ponytails in front of a backdrop in controlled lighting with predetermined poses. No, the action goes on and on, and unfortunately, the refs won’t let you ask to do that one again. So, you stand holding a 5+ lbs. camera up to your eye, while running back and fourth for hours at a time… Our prices – “dirt cheap”. Images were “right click resistant”. Low resolution downloads starting at $3 and 4×6 images starting at $5.25. Our target demographic was the working class adults who had sufficed it to drag and drop the images last time around. Our aim – to capitalize by way of bulk. Cater to the masses, and do as we’d done the first time ’round.

Third shoot outcome was, first, that the lighting created a lot of preliminary touch-up work therefore delaying the upload time by an entire day (uploading several hundred images takes a few days already.) Secondly, the prices didn’t make much of an impact. We made one bulk sale to the owner of a martial arts team – about $175. But, aside from that, Broke Joe was still broke. And he did not want what he could not get (for free).

Shoot number four (8 days ago). “Assess what we know.” We knew that drag-and-drop is great exposure and horrible for profit. We also knew that pricing isn’t much of a factor. As you may hear me say a million times in this blog spot, a person is either ready to do business or else they’re not (negotiating is only worthwhile if you can tell the difference between these two types). This time, we priced images down the middle – low resolution downloads and 4×6 prints starting at $7.25, up to hundred plus dollar multi-image posters. We also knew that timing is everything. Post ‘em while they’re hot! THIS TIME – our main computer went down two days prior, meaning a slower processing time once again…

Fourth Shoot results, to date, are four medium-level sales at about $15 each. Posting completion took 5 days, and THAT FACT took a toll on sales. Statistically, our number of visitors to this event dropped from 100 plus, to 46 on the fourth day after the shoot – meaning we missed our window. On one hand, we know that the prices are friendly enough for those interested. On the other we know that we missed our window shopper window. Sales will likely trickle through, but no more hundred plus visits to this page.

To date, our first of these four trial events (using our new gallery system) was the most productive. We’ve learned a ton after these and many other events throughout the years. So, finally, here is what we know about shooting an event. And, although circumstances (explained from shoot number four) make the following tips strictly theoretical, they qualify more as an educated assessment than a random guess:

    Quick On-line Pricing Tips

  • These are Action/Event-specific tips. Portraits and other genres are completely different subjects.
  • Shoot intelligently. Nobody wants to buy a picture of the back of a head. If you’re the main photographer, take advantage of your closeness to the action. Take the photos others can’t – close-ups. Also, candid shots are seldom the goal for sideline shooters. Closing the show. Time your winning shots, closing shots, raising of arms – etc.
  • Offer only quality shots. If you post just anything, people not only feel as if they’re potentially wasting their time, he/she won’t feel much like they’re missing out. But, if all they see are good shots on your link, well, they’ll stay and look to see if they’re in one of those.
  • Know your demographic. Youth are great for sales, as parents love their kids. Adults are working people who may or may not like something unless it’s socially appetizing. If your event is a special one, everyone might be interested in a little something. Price accordingly
  • Protect your photos. If you can protect your images from “right-clicking”, and you wish to profit – do it! In America, “home of the FREE” takes on many meanings. Or be ready to take the exchange.
  • Offer variety without drowning your client with options. Gloss, Matte, Metallic, or Lustre is too many options for a person who just wants a 4×6. Make some of the decisions for the client based on what you think their event represent.
  • Timing is everything! If you must, stay up late editing the first night. It will pay off. A person might look once, twice, maybe three times for the results. But, in today’s quick-click society, you have a very small window of opportunity. Business 101, half your chance is gone the moment your client ‘walks away’ the first time. Three days, at most, for full sales capacity.
  • For large events, price friendly and profit from bulk (though you don’t have to practically give them away!). For smaller, more intimate events, price to your liking. Medium pricing is fine. For elite events, price them like they’re worth the purchase, or your service won’t be appreciated.
  • Pricing tips in general: Odd numbers are psychologically more acceptable than even ones ($7.15 looks more appetizing than $6.00). Replacing the big, fat round zeros with something friendlier is better, even if it’s more. Don’t ask me why. Just try it. Statistics!
  • HAVE COPY – business cards, signage, and/or an email list are key. One of these is better than none.
  • Depending on the type of event, we typically insist on being mentioned (loud speaker) by the production people. Legitimacy is established when the “founders of the feast” mention your name.
  • Depending on the type of event, a portrait area can be a big money maker. In a formal event, people like to be dressed up. In a tournament, the winners would love to take a portrait. Set up a backdrop, lighting, and a border, to keep soccer mom from using what your time, money, and labor produced. Portraits have been our biggest sellers.

3/23/10 – UPDATE:
On February 20th, we shot the NAGA, a well organized and well known organization in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world. After posting this blog, I was on a mission to find some concrete answers. Taking what we’ve assessed above, I applied that knowledge to this well-organized event, and added a little extra organization to the photos.

If you’ve checked out photos from our past events, they’re well displayed, but there’s an excruciating number of photos to sift through. So, this time, I took the time to create an intricate gallery that was simpler for the client/passer-by. First, I separated the photos into sections: ‘with gi’, ‘no-gi’, ‘portraits(with their prizes)’,& ‘highlights’. Second, I broke those into three sub categories: men, women, & youth. Also, I offered all these categories in a ‘quick links’ section to the side (much like the quick tips anchor at the top of this blog). Lastly, I beat our upload deadline by a day. I received a call from a client who had ordered some stuff at the tourney only minutes after going live. Not only does this prove that timeliness is key, it also means that people are excited and checking on their results.

The outcome: To date, sales have been at about $500. Still not gold, but definitely worth the time! It always feels good to get back from a weekend at the lake to find that you made a few dollars.

To date, our average sale, from all events, is just over $25 dollars. This proves my notion that – not only is price a relative thing, but also that a person will enter your site with a mindset to purchase or simply not – you shouldn’t sweat the lost causes. So, the numbers are up to you.
Our most successful pricing has been sort of a middle tier pricing. At VPG we offer downloads, prints, and various novelties. The following are only a few top-selling examples, to give you a head start on pricing. If you have trouble reading between the lines, you can always click on a gallery photo and pretend that you’re going to buy, and see our full pricing set-up that way.

  • NOTE that VPG is working on streamlining a lot of our printing. If your print process is costly and laborious, you’ll want to add that into the following equation.
  • Low Res. Downloads – $7.25 A top-seller.
  • Medium Res. Downloads – $21.25 Why so “high”? Because we lose control when they start printing, and it represents us. So far no complaints. Clients who want prints are happy to buy them. Those who want digital usually just wanna use it on their website anyway.
  • 4×6′s – $7.75 – another hot item!
  • 8×10′s – $17.25 – We sold a few of these.
  • 11×14 – $37.35 – Sold a few of these as well.
  • 24×36 – $105.25 None sold, but wanted to share a large item with you. These sizes are more popular with high-end events and especially as portrait wall art (that’s a different blog!)

We at Visionary wish you the best of luck! Let us know how/if this works for you! We’d like to know.

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