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4 Ways to Compete With Mall and Discount Photography Studio Prices


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4 Ways to Compete With Mall and Discount Store Photography Studio Prices

Written by guest blogger, Viki Reed, of Viki Reed Photography, a former employee at A Mall Photography Studio

Someone saw your website, or was referred by one of your old clients. They want to know: your rates and what packages you offer. How do you convince a new client (especially in these brutal economic times) that your highly personalized services are a better value than the department store coupon they got off the internet? Do you get asked “why is your photography priced so high?” What do you say when your potential customer says “Why do you charge so much for your photography? I can just go to the mall and get photos cheaper.”

I worked at a mall studio for a short time. Let’s not name the store, but suffice to say it rhymes with “A.See Lennies.” Now I can say certainly, that there’s no doubt: ANY client will do better by an independent, custom photographer than a mall studio.

Understanding what people truly get at the department store studio is the key to explaining the advantages of giving YOU their business.


The mall schedules people on 5-20 minute increments depending on the season, day of the week and even which part of the country you’re in.

How much time do YOU spend with your clients? When dealing with toddlers, elementary school kids and blubbery, hungry babies 5-20 minutes isn’t really time that allows anything special to happen. The expression ‘quality time’ can’t even be applied when you’re sitting in a tiny hot airless room, your children crawling the walls after waiting too long because the customer before you is in the camera room on your scheduled moment and then you have to be done in 30 frames or less? If something causes you to be late on a busy shooting day, the mall will not take you because they are overbooked.

Mall and discount store photographers cannot give customers the time needed for “true” custom portrait photography.


The mall studios pay only $8-10 an hour to their shooters. These are typically very inexperienced people in a transitional period of their lives. Who will be in the camera room when you arrive at the mall? Will it be Kevin, the 19 year old whose sole training is through the mall? Or Brenda-who had to go back to work after being stay at home mom for 6 years-maybe photography’s a hobby for her. These aren’t people who are committed to being great photographers in control of the final product. These folks don’t own any of their photos so you can’t see what they can do before choosing a day or photographer at the mall.

Conversely, your photography can be viewed by clients via your website,, studio, sample book and on social networking pages. Portrait work is what you want to do, you spend time learning about your equipment and light and how to command the environment you’re in.

Passion describes what you do. Mall and discount store photographers cannot compete with that.


Not to say that all mall shooters are devoid of true creative and artistic skills; but sales are priority. More time is spent training the ‘photographers’ to sell prints & packages or how to use the cash register and process coupons than they are trained to understand photography.

At the mall, once you step out of the camera room, they have to ‘sell’ you. Often the person ‘enhancing’ and selling your photo session is not the original photographer. I can tell you that perfectly awesome shots I got in the room were horribly cropped or fully deleted or ignored by a clueless $8 an hour shooter who was trained for years by the corporation’s ‘photography academy.’

When I worked at A.See Lennies, I was relieved to have SOME creative say in the sales/‘enhancements’ process, even though it was restricted to adding vignettes, limited cropping, and ‘multi-image’ presets. Even then, creativity was shut-down. I was told to reel it in, because the client wouldn’t order tons of expensive prints with ‘too many’ choices. Then I was told that the computer system in the store would crash if I kept making ‘enhancements’ for every photo. (My husband is an IT professional and I knew that pat-answer was rubbish).

Finally I was taking too long by being so ‘creative’. Move the line along. Sales, remember? Consider how and why you work. Can you even describe the creative touches you give each client? A mall store can’t even erase a pimple or scratch. These are big deals when you’re talking baby or teen photos.

For me it starts with trying to conceptualize portrait ideas with the client. People choosing me & my Canon get 2-3 hours to create something wonderful. Detailing what I do in post production is so lengthy that I only say that I am as excited about that part of the deal as I am about working with people to begin with. I still live to yank magic out of my camera and learn more about what I do.

Remember a mall or discount store studio will not be as creative in the shooting, editing, or retouching process as you can.  They cannot complete!


The potential and very excited client gets quiet when you mention your price. Even if I customize a price for a client, it’s still going to seem pricier than what the mall charges. Seem being the operative word. A true examination of pricing at a mall studio reveals that you get very little for a lot of cash. The coupons tend not to apply to large expenditures. The mall packages always include options you can’t alter or meaningfully substitute out-of, and you won’t be getting very many photos because the maximum number of frames a department store can shoot is an average of 30.

Even if every photo survives the camera room and each one gets an enhancement that’s only 60 photos. To get them on disc is typically an additional fee (in the area of $100 in American dollars). If you create and order a collage, those can’t be burned to disc, even though the ‘multi-images/collages’ cost an average of $40 to print through the mall store’s printing system. Your photos are deleted from the mall store’s system after 30 days. You pay extra to see your images on an online album via the mall store (also disappears after 30 days).

The mall stores, like A.See Mennies, they depend on the coupon to get you in the door and push you hard to buy lots of prints or a CD of your photos. That’s the priority. Pricing and product are strictly obeyed and narrowly defined at the mall and the two can never be disengaged at places like A.See Tennies.

Do you brow beat your clients after they sit down for you and your camera? What does your pricing include and foster for the future? If people select the mall for their family portraits because it’s cheap, tell your clients just how relative the term ‘cheap’ actually is. You get what you pay for and you won’t get something special if you’re holding a coupon designed to draw you into a store where the photographer makes $8 an hour.

So remember, from an experienced, former mall studio employee, even when it comes to price, you provide a value that they cannot complete with.


No Comments

  1. Toby on November 30, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Amen and Amen!

  2. Christina ~ LilyBelle Photography on November 30, 2010 at 11:06 am

    GREAT!! I worked at a couple mall portrait studios when I first started, so this put things into perspective for me. Thank you!Also, funniest thing about this article is reading it in my google reader and getting an ad for 50% off a session at Target Portrait Studio at the bottom. XD

  3. heather johnson photography on November 30, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Great post! Thanks so much for taking the time to write this out, this truly is helpful–particularly to those of us just starting out. Keep these types of posts coming:)

  4. Stephanie on November 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Great post! I’m remembering the days I took my boys to the mall photographers and how horrible it was trying to order pictures with my kids running around. I’m just starting my biz and I love these posts! Can I request a post on getting clients out of 5×7 and 8×10 cult mentality that the mall photographer have programmed into everyone?

  5. Rae Clevett on November 30, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Well said. Good points to remember when dealing with customer questions. I’ve seen some horrendous mall photos and just cringe.

  6. Clipping Path Service on December 1, 2010 at 6:21 am

    It was really nice post! thanks a lot for sharing this gr8 post 🙂

  7. Karyn Hopkins on December 1, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    I would LOVE to have the Canon mug! I would use it on my work desk probably as a business card holder and I may even use it as a mug from time-to-time to trick people 🙂 Thanks so much!!

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