Why are professional photographers so expensive?
This is a question most have asked, wondered or thought about. Some of us find a little challenging to understand and accept the fees of professional services. A lot of us fault to understand that are simply not just paying for the actual photograph; they are paying for time and experience. Let’s begin with a quote/story I heard from another photographer: Loren Scott Who is an amazing wedding photographer. So, here it is:
"One day, the famous artist Pablo Picasso was sitting at a table outside a Paris cafe. A woman recognized him and asked if he would draw something for her on a napkin. He complied, doodling as only he could. After he quickly finished he requested the French equivalent of $5,000. Shocked, the woman protested, “But, it only took you two minutes!” To which Picasso smiled and replied, “No Madam, it took me my whole life.”
The point here is, this woman simply expected to pay no more than the cost of the napkin, the ink and the mere two minutes of someone's time. Instead, she should have expected to pay the true value of the end product. In this case an actual piece of art. We can sort of apply this same principle to photograph printed and created by a professional photographer. The end product is also a work of art that in my opinion has a value far higher than the paper it was printed on or the CD it was burned into.
My case I may be identified as not the cheapest "professional" in my area. Notice the quotation on professional? Yeah, I put the word professional in quotes because too many people these days buys a DSRL, order some business cards, open a website and go around calling themselves "professionals". To someone such as myself who has worked hard for years, who has invested much time and money into enhancing my knowledge and skills. I may have a biased opinion.
I'm going to use Shawn Richter of caught on film photography article that he wrote about this topic as a template to help the reader understand what's behind the costs of running a photography business. I will modify the content to better describe myself and my work. This Template ( broken down description of standard photography work) is his but the hours and the list are my own.
Here it go!
The Average One-Hour Portrait Session (in my business)
First, let's look at the actual work involved:
* Travel to the session
* Planning, Setup, preparation, talking to the client, etc.
* Time spent during session
* Travel from the session
* Load images onto a computer
* Back up the files on an external drive
* Several hours (4-8 hours) of Adobe® Photoshop® time, including cropping, contrast, color, sharpening, skin touch-ups, enhancements and backing up edited photographs.
* Several hours (2-6) preparing the gallery, talking with the client, answering questions, receiving and processing order and payment, order their prints, receive and verify prints, package prints, schedule shipment, and ship or delivering personally.
* Meeting clients to reviewing photos and place order. Meeting and travel time average 2-3 hours. (Viewing & ordering session)
You can see how a one-hour session easily turns into several days or more from start to finish. So when you see a personal photographer charging a $100 session fee for a one-hour photo shoot, the client is NOT paying them $100 per hour. Let’s do the math show we?!! Minimum average hours spent talking to clients, traveling, driving, session time, sorting photos, separating into Full size files to web size, backing up copies, processing and online sharing is around 13-25 hrs. This is not just all that is mentioned above. This also counts time spent preparing for viewing sessions(not the time spent during viewing itself), time spent creating slide shows and Cd's. From preparing to delivering the digital and so forth to client. Let’s use the bare minimum hours based off of my $100 sitting fee and see what we get:
13 hours spent at work
$100 divided by 13 hours = $7.69
(This means for every 1 hour photo session I get paid $7.69 per hour. This is NOT all profit, would be nice to be paid a little above minimal wage and keep 100% of it. I still have to pay taxes and other costs to keep the business running. Such as website... I will go through this later on)
The Three-Four hours Newborn Session
Newborn sessions will have somewhat the same basics as normal 1 hour photo session. However, the time spent preparing and during the shoot is completely different.
* 3-4 hours Session
* Planning, Setup studio & props, preparation, talking to the client, etc. Average of 4-8 hr.
* Time & electricity costs spent heating the room up (making the room nice and toasty for baby. Warm baby means a happy baby and successful session)
* Load images onto a computer
* Back up the files on an external drive
* Several hours (6-12 hours) of Adobe® Photoshop® time, including cropping, contrast, color, sharpening, skin touch-ups, enhancements and backing up edited photographs.
(Babies require a lot of time spent processing each image. Babies will have one or two and sometimes all of these: Jaundice, red skin, baby acne, baby rash, skin pealing, scratches and many more. Some are mild others are severe. This takes much time and skill to be able to make baby looks natural)
* Several hours (4-8) preparing the gallery, talking with the client, answering questions, receiving and processing order and payment, order their prints, receive and verify prints, package prints, schedule shipment, and ship or delivering personally.
* Occasionally meeting clients to reviewing photos and place order. Meeting and travel time average 2-3 hours. (Viewing session)
My average hours spent talking to clients, traveling, driving, session time, sorting photos, separating into Full size files to web size, backing up copies, processing and online sharing is about total of about 30hrs. This is not just all that is mentioned above. This also counts time spent preparing for viewing sessions (not the time spent during viewing itself), time spent creating slide shows, and product templates, downloading and setting up clients gallery and so forth. This is over 30 hours spent with each client.
The Expertise and Cost of Doing Business
Shooting professional photography is a skill acquired through years of experience, countless hours and money invested. Even though a DSLR can now costs under $1,000, taking professional portraits involves much more than a decent camera. Most personal photographers take years to go from buying their first camera to making money with photography. In addition to learning how to use the camera, there is a mountain of other equipment and software programs used to edit and print photographs, run a website, etc. And don’t forget backdrops, props, utilities, Liability insurance and costs to upkeep our skills and performance etc. Don't forget the taxes we pay.
In addition to the financial investment, photographers actually have to have people skills to make subjects comfortable in front of the camera. Posing people to look their best is a skill by itself. You could argue that posing is a more important skill than actually knowing how to use the camera. A poorly exposed photo can be saved, but a badly posed photo cannot.
The Chain Store Photo Studio
Chain stores do have their place. For a very cheap price you can run in, shoot some quick photos, and be done with it. But YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. This doesn’t only apply just for image quality but also for services and customizations. Your session should be personalized and special to fit your needs and wants. This requires time with each client before, during and after to ensure you get exactly what you hope for. Unfortunately chain stores are not designed this way.
Consider the time and effort that a personal photographer puts into photographs, compared to a chain store. Store sessions last just a few minutes, while a personal photographer takes the time to get to know the people, makes them comfortable, makes them laugh. If a baby is crying at a chain store, they often don’t have the time (or the patience) to wait because everyone is in a hurry.
The truth is that many chain store studios lose money. In fact, Wal-Mart closed 500 of their portrait studios in 2007 because of the financial drain. What the chain stores bank on is a client coming in for quick, cheap photos…and while there, spending $200+ on other items. They are there to get you in the door.
The Real Deal
Professional, personal photographers are just that—professionals. No different than a mechanic, dentist, doctor, or electrician. But a personal photographer often becomes a friend, someone who documents a family for generations with professional, personal photographs of cherished memories.
Maybe we need to help clients look at it this way: A pair of scissors costs $1.50 at the drugstore. Still, most people will gladly pay a lot more to hire a professional hair dresser to cut their hair.
The added attention and quality that a personal photographer gives is worth every penny.
We hope that those who have taken the time to read this page will have a better understanding of why professional photographs, created by a Personal Photographer, are so expensive. I love photography, I enjoy every minute of it. I do it for the love, for the memories I'm creating and for the joy each photo will bring for many years to come!