If You’re Considering Offering a Photographer Bucket List, Read This.

photographer-bucket-lists-cody-harris-photobug Photo by Cody & Allison Photography

We have a very special guest on the blog today! Cody Harris, of Cody & Allison Photography, is here to give us the scoop on photographer bucket lists and why he isn’t a big fan of the concept. Take it away, Cody!

photographer-bucket-lists-cody-harris-photobug Photo by Cody & Allison Photography

It’s no secret that the traveling photographer lifestyle is one that is frequently sought after by many others in the industry. The idea of flying to a beautiful destination to shoot a stunning wedding with a stylish couple is definitely something to be excited about. Trust me, I get it. After all, a big part of what helps us photographers get hired isn’t just how we shoot, but what we shoot. However, there is a new trend that is quickly sweeping through the photography community and the industry as a whole. Bucket lists. For those who don’t know what a bucket list is (or at least in this context), a bucket list is a list of places, types of weddings, types of couples, etc. that one will shoot for free or extremely discounted for the sake of having that work in their portfolio. While it doesn’t sound like an urgent matter now, it’s steadily becoming a larger problem for photographers and clients alike.

photographer-bucket-lists-cody-harris-photobug Photo by Cody & Allison Photography

To put it bluntly, bucket lists collectively devalue our industry.

I think it’s easy for a lot of people who have truly worked their way into shooting more elaborate and sought after weddings to get upset when they see a photographer offering their services for little to nothing for the sake of a “pretty’’ portfolio. Quite honestly, it’s not only unfair to those photographers who have had to work to get where they are, but most importantly, it’s a negative testament towards wedding photographers as a whole. What if bucket lists became an industry standard? What I mean by that is, as of now, it’s still an arising trend and something that not a lot of brides and other wedding vendors recognize as a common practice. However, should it become something that some brides nearly expect to be offered when having a beautiful destination wedding, it could spell trouble for those in this for the long haul. In short, it shouldn’t be all of us against each other, it should be us against the outside world. If the outside world doesn’t value us due to these practices, then I am afraid longevity won’t be on the books for a lot of us.

Our professions and industry are fragile and should be the golden egg we all protect. Imagine if everyone charged a sustainable rate for every type of wedding. The idea behind that would be that we would have an even playing field and that the bookings would go to those who had worked their way into those types of bookings. Better yet, the average sustainable rate may end up being what any given couple expects to pay, leaving more growth for our industry.

photographer-bucket-lists-cody-harris-photobug Photo by Cody & Allison Photography

You’re selling yourself short.

Imagine a bride skimming through your website. They love your work and vibe really well with your personality you show through your website. Then, they see that you are offering heavily discounted weddings. One of two things will happen. They either book you for your heavily discounted rate or they keep passing through because they are looking to invest in their photos rather than take on a deal that seems too good to be true. Either way, you’ve made little to no income and the chances are that you are totally worth your normal asking price. Standing your ground and believing that you are worth more than a few pretty photos isn’t always the easiest option. But if you want to build a sustainable business, that starts with knowing your worth and following through with practices that are going to ignite financial gain, not prohibit it.

Oh, and your couples have feelings too.

Again, imagine if you are paying several thousand dollars for your wedding photographer. But then you find out that that because of a couple’s appearance, wedding style, or location, your photographer decided to shoot their wedding for a discounted price or perhaps even for free. Or even worse, you book that photographer and two weeks later they publish their bucket list of places, people, and events that they would shoot for free, but your wedding doesn’t fit that criteria. The cold hard truth is that not every couple can afford an elaborate wedding, nor does everyone want to get married on a mountain. And lastly, some of those same people may scrape pennies to hire you because you are the one thing that they did value the most. If there’s one thing we owe our clients, it’s fairness.

photographer-bucket-lists-cody-harris-photobug Photo by Cody & Allison Photography

“I don’t have a bucket list, but I still heavily discount for ‘ideal weddings.’”

While this isn’t an expedited threat to our industry, it still has a slow impact that steadily changes how photographers are viewed and valued. Even if you are offering to shoot more elaborate weddings in exotic locations for heavily discounted rates at a private level, chances are you’re still violating the principles I expressed above. There’s also a heavy chance you’re greatly undercutting someone who worked hard to receive those types of inquiries. Can’t book weddings in exotic locations without heavily discounting your services? That’s another conversation entirely, but the short answer is to work for it!

There are exceptions.

Now, I’ll play devil’s advocate here. Sort of. There have been times when a couple has loved our work and truly couldn’t imagine working with anyone else. However, their budget is a bit lower than our base rate. They approach with nothing but humility and their fingers crossed and seem like incredible people all in all. In those instances, if the timing is right, we find a way to work with them. Sure, it doesn’t happen more than once or twice a year. But helping a couple out for the right reasons has proved to be an extremely fulfilling move not only from a moral standpoint but for the simple fact that those couples will literally sing your praises. They are more than thankful they were able to work with you and end up being some of your most cost effective advertising.

photographer-bucket-lists-cody-harris-photobug Photo by Cody & Allison Photography

We’re all in this together!

Let’s keep our industry strong, be awesome to our couples, and continue to grow as not only artists but business people!

Thanks so much for the insight, Cody.

What is your opinion on photographer bucket lists and charging what you’re worth? Let us know in the comments below!

(17) comments

  1. Really great advice, Cody. Nice article.

  2. Great ready, Cody! Happy to call you a friend in the industry. I agree with a lot of the points expressed in this article. Booking some heavily discounted travel weddings did help me get my foot in the door for the travel market to where I’m now able to charge full price + travel. I don’t see a huge problem with that as long as it’s not a common occurrence or you’re working towards a solid goal of traveling + shooting at full price.

    BUT, I am curious on more of your thoughts on the following:

    “Can’t book weddings in exotic locations without heavily discounting your services? That’s another conversation entirely, but the short answer is to work for it!” — what’s your advice here other than initially discounting to charge more later or flying out to set up your own shoots on your own dollar (when you could easily trade someone travel to get out there and shoot them and not spend any of your own money)? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

    Great read my dude! 🙂

  3. Laura

    While I completely agree that photographers should charge what they’re worth, I also know that everyone starts somewhere. This type of thing isn’t just happening in the wedding industry, it happens EVERYDAY in the normal portrait world as well. And I’ve learned that every photographer has a client, and there is a photographer for every client. While I understand what Cody is saying, and I don’t fully disagree with it, it sounds like you’re afraid of others taking away your gigs. I don’t try to compete with photographers charging $25 for a 3 hour family session with 200 unedited images on a CD, so I think, in the end, your work, your experience, and your service will speak for itself. If someone wants to offer a limited number of discounted sessions to get their foot in the door with something, let them do it. And you worry about you.

  4. This could not have come at a better time for us. I have learned time and time again that when we give too much away we are immediately undervalued. This was just that extra push I needed to really change these processes in my business. Well done, guys!

  5. Guest

    More workshop done by top wedding photographers !! nearly for free! for $600-$1000 they will tell you everything. They are producing hundreds of wedding photographers for such a small money! It was hard time to learn everything from scrap , it takes a lots of time and money , resarch , get experience, build portfolio , than after few years of this every photographer will value himself as will know how much money, time and health was put into where he is now. Today you need just go for some “wedding workshop” pay such a small amount of money and you have everything, presets, emails, all knowledge behind industry even portfolio with nice couples directed by top photographers:) This is how cheap they are. youtube streaming all free or for very little selling they knowledge and than they complain : INDUSTRY IS WORST and worst … We need start thinking forward not focus only for couple thousands $ or just do workshop to spread my name. We need first look into ourselves what wrong we are doing .

    • Petra R.

      My thoughts exactly when I saw everyone offering their knowledge for little extra money.

  6. Amen!
    Too many good destination enquiries that come through seem to be lost by someone offering them a deal ‘too good to be true’.

  7. Well written and so very true!! Hope this trend stops soon, we are already seeing this devalue theindustry here in Iceland.

  8. I’ve always personally despised the word bucket list, since it itemizes experiences into a checklist. My main takeaway from this article has nothing to with travel, however- and more the idea that as creatives we all need to work hard to make a great client experience & product that we can stand behind, and charge appropriately & sustainably. Full stop. The new golden egg I see across the industry is the escalating emergence of “For Photographers” education, products, etc. aimed at budding photographers anyways.

  9. Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

  10. I have been thinking a lot about this trend. I live in a destination place for weddings & know about photographers who come & photograph here for way less than i do to get this location in their portfolios. If i did the same thing in a location that seemed ‘exotic’ to me, i’d be doing the same thing to the local photographers there. Is this worth putting our peers out of work by highly undercutting their prices? It’s not just devaluating the industry, it’s undervaluing our peers. Thank you cody & allison for sharing the breadth of your thoughts about this trend & to Junebug for publishing it.

  11. Too right!

    We all have bucket lists – best to keep them to yourself and book the couples that come your way because they want you, not because you offer a semi-attractive discount.

  12. So much truth. Totally agree.

  13. This is so true and a great article. I still personally would rather not travel around the world at all to shoot a wedding, as it just doesn’t make sense to me. I love travelling, but I love my family more and seeing them as opposed to vanishing for days and days at a time. I also don’t think it is worth it financially. Maybe just the one Caribbean wedding a year I may take, as long as it falls in the children’s holiday time hey 😉

  14. Nice article, thanks for sharing.

  15. I completely agree! I offered a bucket list for like .5 seconds and then realized how annoyed I’d be if someone did the same for an area I get paid to shoot in haha.

  16. Hannah Hardaway

    Here here. This is such an important topic to be talking about.I live in a hot destination market (Jackson Hole) as well, and over the last few years there have been more and more couples who are opting to bring photographers from home with them because they are willing to shoot for way less or even for free if the couple will cover their travel costs. As an established professional in my 11th year of business I can’t compete with that. What they don’t realize is that living here is extremely expensive and that in order for us to actually be able to get by we have to charge higher rates… and even at those higher rates a lot of successful photographers here will ever even be able to afford a home (median home prices in our valley are over a million dollars…) it has definitely been hurting our local market and if locals can no longer make a living or afford to live here so much if what makes this place amazing will be lost.

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