Sometimes, the conversation goes like this:
“How much are your sessions?”
“Family, and Couples’ sessions begin at $300, Newborn sessions are $450, and Weddings begin at $2500.”
“Okay…what is included in that price.”
“Your pre-session consultation, the actual session time, and professionally edited images. Prints and photo products are available for purchase – frames, canvases, cards, etc.”
This client responded saying that was quite an investment just for a few pictures, leaving with a rhetorical, “Why are is your pricing so expensive?” and we politely parted ways. On one hand, they weren’t the right client for me, but on the other hand, my heart sank.
She didn’t explicitly say it, but her actions spoke clearly – she didn’t see the value in what I provide as an artist and photographer, and didn’t value the time I would devote to perfecting her images. I chose to see her parting question as rhetorical as I couldn’t politely answer it at the time, but I hope you walk away today with a better understanding of why your favorite photographer, or any freelancer for that matter, may seem so expensive.
Why Are Photographers So Expensive?
Let’s break it down:
Booking a photographer often includes a consultation fee. You don’t see this (or anything else I’m going to discuss) itemized as an additional fee because I want to keep things wrapped up in one, nice number. This consultation allows me to understand your vision for your session or wedding, and let’s both of us ensure we’re a good fit for each other.
Location Scouting + Session Prep
As I love in-home sessions, I don’t do a whole lot of location scouting. When I do, it is usually for my couples’, engagement or elopement sessions. Even if I’m not physically looking for a stellar spot to for my next session, there is still prep work in the form of maintaining my equipment, file management, and more, that needs to be done to prepare for a session.
Shooting Time aka Your Session
Hopefully, this is obvious, but part of your price includes the actual time spent photographing at your session.
Oh boy. Editing. This. can take. hours. Seriously. I’m not being dramatic. There is a common misconception that editing involves slapping on a filter and calling it done, but the reality is more complicated than that. Editing includes culling images, editing skin, color correction, lighting adjustments, exporting images in several file sizes and resolutions, and double-triple-quadruple checking that everything is backed up five times over. On average, I will spend about 8-15 hours per session just on editing. The longer the session, the longer editing takes. The longer editing takes, the higher the price.
Photographers who have been in business for 15 years, have their degree or MFA in photography and has all the gear and then some is going to cost more than the photographer that just snagged their camera off Craig’s List to tinker with on weekends. There isn’t anything wrong with the hobby photographer, but as the adage goes, you get what you pay for. If you’re only willing to pay $100 for your images and expect all the digitals, cards and the kitchen sink thrown in, then more than likely, you’ll also get lower quality images. If you’re willing to invest a little more in your images for a photographer who has honed their skills, spent time getting feedback from their clients and learning from other photographers, you’re going to walk away with a better experience and better product. You get what you pay for.
Sending Files, Emails + Follow-Ups
When people find out I’m a photographer, I often get the “Oh my goodness! That’s so much fun!” and it’s sometimes followed by “I’d love to take pictures all the time! I bet you have so much free time!” Ummm, no actually. The vast majority of my time is not spent taking pictures, but in responding to emails, editing images, sending out files, on the phone, in consultations, managing my website and social media, making sure my accounting is up-to-date and accurate, and putting out any fires that may arise throughout the day. All of these things take time, and that’s time that I spend working!
If you ever meet a photographer or artist who says they’re done learning, then I strongly encourage you not to hire them. Really. I’m not saying that because I hope you’ll hire me instead, but because we are never done learning. It’s not different than any other profession that will send their employees to conferences or have quarterly in-office training. In order to provide you with the best service and experience, I need to take classes, learn from other photographers, and stay up on the latest technological changes.
Still with me? Yea, I know it’s a lot, and that’s why there are some things that I delegate to someone else to do. It’s called balance, knowing my limits, and ensuring I can provide you with the highest quality service in a timely manner. If I didn’t outsource, my costs would actually be higher, which means my session fees would rise as well. So, I outsource as a means to decrease my costs.
I’ve undoubtedly forgotten something in this summary, as there are just so many things that go into running a business; however, I think this provides a little perspective on why photographers are so expensive. I don’t share this to shout from the rooftops, “Pay me!” but to explain the background that not many see unless you live with a freelancer.
The last reason I do photography is for money, but without it, I wouldn’t have a business and wouldn’t be able to grow my business. Next time you’re considering hiring a photographer, or another small business owner, I hope you’ll consider that they’re really not trying to rob you of your very last penny, but rather have invested significant time, effort and money into their business to best serve you.