The Cost of Being a Photographer

There are more photographers today than ever before. In today’s market, with quality cameras owned by so many people, why not have Aunt Susie shoot your family portriats? As a customer looking at web sites of local photographers, you often find their prices much higher than that of a  friend “getting started”. If photography is a matter of squirting ink on paper, what are you paying for?

The following account I give applies to me, and doesn’t apply to every photographer but you will find it is generally the same. The purpose is to give an idea of the costs and time it takes to provide a quality service to you.

Location Scouting – Before any shoot I do my best to arrive at a location days ahead of time to understand the landscape and to judge how best to deal with the sun. For some tricky shoots I have scouted the same location twice to make sure I fully understood the ramification and the timing.

Getting to the location early – Normally I like to get to the location around 45 minutes early. This allows for me to deal with whatever randomness is happening that day.

The Shoot – Equipment is costly. I spent about $1,400 on my camera and lenses, which still isn’t a the professional level, but rather at what is termed “pro-sumer”. I spent $350 for a speedlight, $270 on a studio strobe, bought a $150 tripod twice (lost one), $200 on wireless transmitter/receiver plus another few hundred dollars on misc stuff. With $2,500 in equipment I am still at the low end.

The shoot itself usually takes around 2 hours. Sometimes less, some times more. Just depends on the situation.

Preliminary Processing – I go through all the pictures I took and delete the bad, ignore the mediocre, and spend time doing a fairly quick processing job using Lightroom (MSRP $300). I get the pictures about 75% there; good enough for people to get a good idea of which pictures they like. This can be from around 80 pictures to around 200. If I take even a few minutes a picture you can see how this turns into at least a couple hours worth of work.

Final Processing – The clients have chosen the pictures they are interested in and I put the images through the final paces. This involves Photoshop (MRSP $800) and Topaz Adjust ( $50) and at least 15 minutes per image. In general I spend between 2-4 hours making this happen.

Showing and Ordering – For the preliminary pictures I post on Flickr, and for the final pictures I upload to a photo lab….the process of checking and double checking the order plus making selections takes about an hour.

OK…I get the pictures delivered and collect the money, that is it, right?

Actually, no. While this shows the cost and time doing the work for the customer, as a business owner there is much more.

Web Site – I pay for server space to host my web site. A web site that took many hours to put together and take time each month to maintain. In order to remain relevant both to the search engines and to the customers, the site needs to be updated continually with new content. This take time and energy.

Training – Since photography is an artistic endeavor it is important to keep fresh and on top of latest developments. I subscribe to magazines and this year attended a workshop in Chicago (very reasonable $99 plus travel expenses). Last year my wife and I took an excellent series of classes on entrepreneurship called SCORE, which cost several hundred dollars.

New equipment purchases – Something that needs to be in the budget. To get into the next level of lenses and camera bodies is gonna cost some big $$$. I figure that to buy the camera I need/want will take ALL my profit for at least 2 full years of work.

 So What Is My Point?

Photography is more than snapping a few images and uploading them to Walmart. While there are those who are hungry (and I was once) ,willing and able to charge $50 for a photo shoot and all the images, I guarantee that such a person will not remain in business with prices that low. But if somehow she does, she is working at sub minimum-wage level. The hours I spent researching prices, and looking deep within myself, make me confident that the prices I charge are reasonable for this area and are sustainable for me.

While I addressed mainly the cost in this article there is another aspect as well. Portraits are not like cans of Bush’s Beans. If you buy Bush’s Beans in Walmart or IGA or Schnooks…they are the same beans. You might as well go with the cheapest price. But portraits are not like beans. Portraits are art. The photographer is the artist. Two different photographers taking pictures of the same subject will come up with pictures that look different. Sometimes it is a difference in skill and quality, other times the difference is merely style. But no matter what, that photograph reflects on the nature of the photographer. And as an artists one needs find the proper prices to charge for that.


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