I had a meeting this afternoon with the mother of a high school student. The girl is going to have her sweet 16 party and her mom wants to have pictures taken so that one of those pictures can be used for the invitation. We sat and discussed the pricing, which is always difficult, and never gets easier. What she wants is to have 7 to 8 kids shot for perhaps 2 hours.
Of course, a photographer knows that 2 hours, 8 kids, means hundreds of pictures. It means a great deal of orchestrating and thinking, and arranging, and managing. This doesn’t even approach the crazy amount of post production that will be required to make sure each of these kids looks his and her best. I quoted a price that I thought was fair, and mom’s eyes showed the shock that always means the same thing. We shook hands, and thanked each other for our time. She assured me that she would discuss my fees with her daughter and get back to me if it was decided that I would be hired. I left smiling and happy.
You get what you pay for. That is a phrase that seems, more often than not, to be true. The smile that I wore as I left was not the happy smile of bright days good prospects. Rather, it was the smile of the world-worn and world savvy. It was a smile half hung onto a peg on the wall like an old coat that is that is remembered only on the frostiest of days. As I closed that door behind me, I knew that the mom might very well settle for a lesser photographer, and settling, her daughter would also have to settle. Forty and fifty years from now, if that girl is still living and those pictures from that lesser photographer still exist, she will look back and think to herself, it was a lesser photographer. “I got what my mom paid for, and while it is ok, it could have been so much better,” she will tell herself. But it will give little comfort when that moment that she sought to capture will never again cross the plains of this word. This mom will do what we all do as often as we think necessary, look for the easy way out, the cheaper route. But how often is that cheaper route fraught with other unforeseen costs? I am just as guilty of this, and it is this truth that also brought that sad smile onto my face. I often look back upon the missed opportunities, the trips, the time I could have spent with friends, the important things I could have done or given to my kids, and I am ashamed that money had to be such a large consideration.
She’s a very good and beautiful girl. If I didn’t have kids to feed and bill to pay, I would have taken her pictures for free. But, such is the world. It is a constant writhing in the pain of what we want, need, and can afford. What we have to do versus what we want to do, what we can versus what we cannot. It was sad to leave that house knowing that I would not be hired. I would have made pictures that that girl would have treasured for the entirety of her life. Sadly, she will get second-best and I will get nothing. To make myself feel better, I took the picture above. I want to print it and give it to this man. The love his face shows for that child of is old age far outweighs any price that I could ever charge anyone for anything.
Sadly, in this world, not everything can be a gift. When we pay, it is probably true that we get only what we pay for. If you want the best, it will generally cost the most. When you get less than the best, it goes with the price of knowing that what you have is an inferior thing. There are so many ways to be hurt in this life, and I think I’ve just uncovered another.