Over the past few years, I have had many a client call me to get a quote for a wedding or a small outdoor photo-shoot only to have them wince and get slightly mad at me when I tell them the price.
It happens more often than not. Many times they call me back and, with hat in hand, book my services anyway after calling around. When they figure out just how much it costs to hire a photographer that knows what they are doing, they figure out real quick that I am not charging that much. Honestly, I probably should be charging more, but even I think that the prices are way too high.
For those that don't know or haven't had the privilege to book a photo session in the past three or five years, the current going rate for a truly professional photographer may shock you. A traditional wedding shoot, with just one photographer, starts at about five thousand dollars. That's a lot of money for photographs! Honestly, if you want outstanding pictures of the wedding and the reception, you need two shooters since one photographer can't be everywhere. To add that second shooter though, you're looking at another twenty-five hundred dollars. OUCH!
The prices aren't much better for everyday outdoor sessions either. Most of those "packages" start at about five hundred bucks and skyrocket from there. A good studio session usually starts out at the same price, but you get far fewer photographs to keep without having to pay more.
Many of you right now are thinking "For that much, I'll just use my phone or get a friend to take them on their phone." Sure, you can do that. The higher end phones take some great photographs. If you aren't picky about the way they look overall and are good with just snapshots, I say go for it. There isn't anything wrong with it.
The folks on Instagram make it look so easy.
In the age of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook we have gotten accustomed to seeing great photographs from our friends and family, and some not so great ones. In fact, there are many people out there that make their living on social media posting AMAZING photographs all the time with just their phone. Or at least that’s what they want you to think.
Below are two photographs that take a precision knowledge of photoshop and camera settings to create.
In reality, they are posing and compositing by taking multiple images and combining them in Photoshop or other similar software. Most of the really great photos on Instagram are using the tricks and techniques of professional photographers that cost hundreds of dollars if you were to commission them.
The question still remains, Why does it cost so much.
There are three good reasons why photographs cost so much. In reality, it is just a matter of how far you want the picture(s) to go. The more you expect, the more you are going to pay. Let’s break this down.
We all know just how expensive tech can be these days. iPhones can cost as much as fifteen hundred dollars for about the same as a basic DSLR camera with only a minimal lens. In all actuality, prices for a great camera have come down, but they start there. My camera is a professional mirror-less SLR that is about twenty-two hundred, but its true professional counterpart, the Sony a9, is thirty-four hundred. I own the a7III because it’s better at video, my primary profession. But those prices are low compared to the Nikon and Cannon pro cameras of the past, those were above ten thousand at the time. Thank God the prices have come down on this stuff.
My Camera Gear
a77 on the left a7III on the right
So now you’ve got the greatest and best camera gear, right? Not even close.
Each lens has to be purchased. The prices I quoted above are for just the cameras. The lenses are an extra cost. As a portrait photographer, you need a bunch of lenses. These range in price from four hundred to three thousand. Yes, I said three thousand. I personally have five lenses. The total cost for these is somewhere between five thousand and eight thousand bucks.
Now can I take a photo? No, not yet. You need memory cards (64 gig high-speed SD cards), straps, bags, filters, lights, backdrops, shades, and the list goes on and on.
Now that you have spent upwards of fifteen thousand dollars, you can take a photo, but you can’t develop them. To do that, you need a good computer, a calibrated high-density monitor, storage space for all those photos and the right software. That’s about another five grand. Oh, and it’s worse when you shoot film (video for the kids out there). My rig is about four thousand eight hundred bucks, and it can barely handle the 4K footage I now shoot.
Plus there are more costs: office space, studio space, insurance, and advertising.
Now that the photographer has spent upwards of twenty to twenty-five thousand dollars, they are ready to start working.
This is the real kicker for a professional photographer. We spend about an hour or two shooting your photos, and then you leave. That is all you see, and it seems simple. It really isn’t, but as far as you can tell the photos are done. They aren’t. A professional photographer takes their time to make each individual photograph right, beautiful and perfect (at least as far as they can take them). Some spend minimal amounts of time on the photos others much more. If you want blemishes removed, or like the Instagram photos above, something special done, or added, this takes time. I average about ten minutes per photograph that I show the client, but there is always that one photo that takes me hours to complete. Keep in mind that I charge way less than other pro’s in the market and that means you get touched up photos but not super edited photographs. I can do the highly retouched photos with fantasy add on stylistic touches, but that’s not what three hundred bucks buys. Think more like eight hundred for a set of those. Between the time spent shooting and the time spent editing I spend about two days editing on a good hour long photo-shoot. That’s sixteen hours of work, and I make eighteen seventy-five an hour. Count in my equipment costs, and I actually lose money unless I am doing three a week (that lets me break even).
We all know that someone who is considered an expert in their field costs more to hire. An excellent, seasoned professional with years of experience doesn’t work for peanuts. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. These folks know all the camera settings and what they are going to produce. They know how to do the math that comes with being a professional photographer and what terms like “Golden Ratio,” “rule of thirds” and “f-stop vs. t-stop” mean and what consequences they have if not applied correctly. They know their color science and contrast ratios. I could keep going but this is just the easy stuff, and you really aren’t here to learn photography. You are here to understand why photographers cost so much.
Now that you know a little more about what goes into creating great photography, I hope that you now hold it as an art and in high esteem. Yes, we live in an age where everyone has a camera, but that camera is only as good as the person holding it. Yes, you can take great photos with a phone or a cheap camera, and you may actually get a few more often than not. That’s really cool. But to take a photograph professionally is a different game altogether. Here are some great photographers you may want to look at, just to get a sense.
These photographers are pleasing to my eyes. There are better and worse photographers out there charging more and less, but these guys are pretty well known. You can see they have simple and very intricate work throughout their portfolios. Now take those and set them side by side the best iPhone photo you can find. I bet you see a difference.
Find the right photographer for you.
When looking for a photographer to create photos for you, I suggest looking at their work and comparing it to what you WANT to have created. If you are looking for cute pictures of your grandkids or your beloved pet that is better than what you can get, you might want to stay in the three to four hundred dollar price range. If you're going to post them to Facebook and Instagram, make sure that the pro knows ahead of time. Some charge more for the copyright release you need to post them on social media while others, like me, do not.
When you find the photographer that is the right fit for what you want, book it! You won't regret it.
One Last Tip
In the state of Arkansas, all photographers must charge sales tax. If the photographer hasn't included the sales tax in the price you will be held responsible for it and any fines that come with not paying it. I would go so far as to suggest that any photographer that doesn't include sales tax is not a professional and should be avoided.