You Get What You Pay For

How bidding sites like and devalue photographic work.

In my last blog, I vented my frustration on how other photographers are bidding on service requests from customers. Specifically, a customer wanting reprints from a wedding shot by a professional. They have the files, but they don’t want to go to the original photographer as he has an “expensive and limited package that does not suit our desires.” And the project has nearly 60 bids.

What pisses me off is not the customer, but the photographers, designers, et el, bidding on it without thinking of the consequences: lining their own pockets while stepping on another photographers work and devaluing our profession. is a site where creatives can sign up and bid on submitted projects. In short, a client has some work needing to be done so they post it on the site specifying the type of work. Those creatives with accounts meeting certain criteria are notified that a project is available to bid.

The notification includes work needed, specialties required, and the client’s budget.  It also lists all who are bidding, but does not show their bids. There is also information on how many projects the client posted and how much they’ve paid, including a percentage of the projects that have been paid. Then the bidding begins.

It sounds good on its face, but their are some inherent problems.

There are other websites photographers can join as well.

Service Magic is a company with roots in the home and commercial repair industry. It’s recently expanded into fields like photography, wedding planning and catering. The site is simple to use.

To become a contractor, you create an account which lists your services and specialites, what city, and distance you will travel for work.  You are also able to upload a series of photographs showing your work, a brief resume, and certificates and associations. Potential clients can peruse the contractors in a specialty and select the one they desire to do the work.

A client simply selects what they need done, what city, and then the service sends an e-mail to the contractors that fit the client’s needs. Then the contractors contact the customer and place a bid. It works well for services in the home improvement industry, but not for the creative fields, such as photography. And as an added bonus, Service Magic charges you for the leads that are provided to you, whether or not you call them.

What I’ve discovered with sites like these is that they’re pitting professionals against amateurs or those wanting to break into the field. Also, many of the clients are wanting the work done on the “super cheap.” In one instance, I was notified by Service Magic of a potential client wanting photos of their auto salvage business for calendars.

While discussing her needs for this “little” project, I wrote down what she needed. It was something that would take two to three days. She needed an overall of the salvage yard, photos of all the different types of equipment used, photos of all the employees, specific photos inside the yard, the buildings, etc. A lot. She needed a lot so it was going to be a two day project at least.

Sounded easy so I began discussing with the client my cost for the project and the first thing she said was that the other photographer who called her wanted to charge “over $500” and she said she was very mad at him for offering an outrageous price and wasting her time.

As I was explaining why he was going to charge that amount, she cut me off straight away. She said the price was way too high and expected it to only cost, hold your breath, Fifty (50) dollars.

Yeah, right. I’ll drive 60 miles round trip to get to your place. Then spend 16 hours shooting, editing, and toning the photographs. Burn them onto a CD and mail them, for $50 dollars? Not to mention the $18 I had to pay Service Magic for the lead.

Sure I’ll do it, my money tree is ripe and it’s a huge harvest this week.

It’s not that sites like or Service Magic are bad, I just think their bad for photography. They cheapen the process of photography itself as those that need the work done, may not understand what the job is of a real professional photographer. The clients have the mentality that “if I can shoot a camera and upload it to Facebook, it shouldn’t be expensive.”  So the customers think it should be cheap and are not willing to pay for quality. That’s problem one: they misunderstand the processes, from start to finish.

Problem number 2 arises as many of the clients don’t understand that a professional photographer will capture the necessary images quickly and creatively. They may not understand that good photography will help their business. High quality photography is an investment. It gives their potential customers a better view of their business. The clients may not think beyond the dollar sign.

Problem number 3 is you are bidding against photographers that may have just started and will charge a lot less to get their names out there. It undercuts those that have been in business many years and to say the least, devalues the field of photography by driving down prices and making the work unprofitable. Basically, their lowballing to get the job.

Problem number 4 is that customers don’t understand the simple cost of doing business. Photographers need to drive (insurance, gas, maintenance), buy gear, computers and equipment, pay for business licenses, insurance for their business and equipment, office or studio rents, and make a living profit. Photographers are in their profession to make money and have a good life, not great, but good.

In my experience, if you are good at what you do, work will find you. With a little help of course. Editors or clients that understand photography and need images, have a Rolodex filled with names of photographers and their specialties. They seek you out. They don’t use services like or Service Magic. They understand the basic premise: You get what you pay for.

And if you are very good, they’ll beat down your door to offer you the assignments. Why waste your time and money on sites like these?

Begin showing your work, talking with other established professionals, and introduce yourself to the managers that hire freelancers or buy stock photography. In the long run, it will be worth the effort.


  1. Well said! I used to get “leads” from a company (which I hadn’t even registered with) like the two you mention…many blatantly said they were just looking for the cheapest bid, regardless of quality, experience, etc.

    Unfortunately, these days everyone with a digital camera and a mac thinks they’re a pro shooter…


  2. I think has less of an impact than It is even more frustrating to see wannabes offer full wedding photography for less than $500 so they can begin a career.

    The lowballing by amateurs and beginners really undercuts the industry as a whole.


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