Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why Does Photography Cost So Much?

One of the things that causes me stress as a photographer is charging my clients for photography. I realize that sounds funny being that it is the only way I can pay my bills but for some reason it causes me stress. I have a feeling many self employed artists feel the same way whether you're an interior designer or home contractor. If you don't actually show up with a product or sell a tangible item people have a hard time understanding what they're paying for.

This stress is doubled when someone interested in hiring me calls or e-mails and starts the conversation with the phrase, "We don't really have a budget for photography." I actually would love to ask why they are contacting a photographer then. As a side note, let me just say the only thing you will keep from an event is the photography, it should be good. If you're getting married all you get to keep is the bride/groom, the rings and the photography. Those things should be really good.

I become even more perplexed when I see adds on Groupon type sites for photography specials. I just saw one yesterday for an on location shoot for $46.00. What? I don't even understand that, it said it was a $275.00 value(good price). How does one go from $275.00 to $46.00? If I charged $46.00 for a shoot I would have to sell my camera to pay my bills. It cost me $40.00 to get my camera cleaned. You can't even rent a camera for $46.00. I can't imagine why a photographer would devalue their work that way. Unless they are going to hold your images hostage after they've got you in the door and then charge you hundreds of dollars for prints or digital image files. One should think long and hard before entering into a deal that looks too good to be true.

So let me break it down for you. Here is what you are paying for when you hire me for an average one to two hour shoot, on location with your family or friends.
On every shoot you are paying me a wage to be there with you at the beach or in the park, or even at your house taking pictures. I am at work during that time just like the guy who goes to his office, he is getting paid to be there working. I am there working. 

At the end of the shoot I go home and load all the images I took of you into my $7,000.00 Mac computer because it is far superior in photo editing and art. I then pull each image, usually around 200 of them, into my Photoshop program that cost me $899.00 5 years ago and has an update of about $130 to $150.00 every year or so to keep it current.
During that time I am again, working. I'm looking at every image that brings out your personality, and shows who you are. I edit each one with the skill and knowledge I gained from going to college for four years. 

I've spent hours and hours in the dark room, computer lab, studio, and in the field learning how to see you in a different way than your uncle Bob who just bought a camera to shoot your wedding. I've spent hours moving lights, chasing light, and learning how to control light, whether from the sun, moon, flashlight, or studio light. 

I have purposefully framed each image I captured of you, planned how I was going to edit it as I took it. This is what makes the difference between a snapshot your friend took of you and an image a photographer has taken of you.

After I spend an average of four hours going through your images I burn them onto a DvD that I bought and put it into a plastic case that I bought, or print images for you on paper that I bought (all things I will be paying taxes on.)using my $1,500.00 Epson Printer that holds nine ink cartridges at $55.00 a piece to replace. It holds nine because it is specialized in black and white printing, unlike your sisters HP you hope to print on when you get your DvD from me.

As a consumer portrait photographer I will show up to your shoot with an average of $10,000.00 plus of equipment, including, cameras, lenses, lights and other stuff like bounce boards and Memory cards. I have to pay to maintain all those pieces of equipment, including that computer and printer. I also keep my training current, paying an average of $100.00 a training class. Photoshop World this year cost me $500.00 to attend. Every time I meet you somewhere I drive my own car paying for my own gas. I also give you the freedom of doing what you want with your images without ever charging usage fees. You may have found me on my website that I pay to maintain every month. 

When you are paying your photographer it's mostly an hourly fee and experience, and you are rarely paying for all that overhead. Working for you is actually an expense for me.

The crazy thing is I still feel bad charging for a sitting. I second guess myself every time I quote someone a fee and they don't call back. I want to say ok, I'll do it cheaper! I think that way because I really love my job. The bottom line is I love taking pictures and editing and printing. I love it so so much and it rarely ever feels like work. When I'm out taking pictures I'm never thinking about what it's costing me. I'm just thinking about you. I'm looking at you watching you smile and love on your family. I'm seeing the precious little gift that your child is or seeing that look in your mother's eyes as you walk down the aisle. I'm engulfed in the beauty of the light on your hair, or dancing across your face. I'm there having what I think should be an awesome experience with you. It should be fun and relaxed, and not about money. However, I can't be the one providing that service and paying for it too.

I described for you what I do in six hours of work if I charge you $46.00 for a photo shoot I will be making $7.60 an hour to pay all my bills and overhead. I would have to ask myself why I went to four years of school and spent thousands of dollars on equipment to make less than minimum wage. The product I'm selling last forever, it has the ability to stop time. It can be sent around the world, make people laugh and cry. It can change the minds and hearts of people and I just think that should be worth more than $7.60. 

Thank you for joining me on my soapbox!
I got this picture here 


  1. Kel,

    AWESOME Post! You have just communicated Everything I have been feeling ever since we finished school! I have not been able to put this into words as eloquently as you my friend! BRAVO!! Any way that you could make this post large enough to fit on a billboard, so we can place it on the 405 freeway North & South?!! I will gladly stand side by side with you on that soap box!
    $46.00 Shoot???!!! Is that photographer independently wealthy? Am I missing something? I think I see stock photography in my future, it's either that, or going back to waiting tables, at least waiting tables earns you more than $7.60 an hour!
    Keep the Faith my Friend!
    Kimmie ox

  2. Thanks girl! I started getting nervous for posting this but I just felt it so important that I couldn't hold it in any longer. I figured all the photographers would appreciate it.

    oxoxoxo, Kel