Why does professional photography cost so much?

"4 x 6 for $6 dollars? How many does it come with?" I get that question a lot.

              Why does custom photography cost so much? It has a lot to do with time, the cost of the equipment in comparison to its usable timeframe, and the cost to maintain a valid business. In addition, the quality of the photograph and the artistic vision plays a vital role. Artistic vision of photography is not a gift. It is something obtained through practice, time, money, and countless hours spent on studying your competitors. If a photographer didn't go to school for it, he or she probably followed a photographer around and spent money on gas, equipment, and many many gratis hours proofing images and helping out a more experienced photographer to gain their own experience.

     Sure, you can go to X or Y store and get a glossy photograph for 19 cents, and sometimes $5 dollars for 50 4 x 6's.

   Please allow me to be straight with you. I think my prices are very reasonable. It's right above chain-market photography services, but it is WAY below those higher priced photographers charging $200+  for their sitting fees alone. More established businesses are probably angry at me for keeping my prices so low and still providing similar quality photographs as theirs. My 4x6's aren't $15. My 8 x 10's are not $50, but am I slowly working towards that price range.

A lot of people are asking if I am doing well with my business. Am I making a lot? I am making a decent amount of money. Actually, I am breaking even with what I spent to maintain my business and provide my clients with quality photographs. I've been wanting to buy a new Apple Touch or iPhone all year to keep my appointments and photo sessions properly organized, but I still use my little book in my purse to carry around with me. It works, but I am trying to explain how I haven't bought anything for myself all year. I also need boots for the winter to go to church, because it's so cold here in North Carolina (I moved from Florida). However, I did not get any of those, yet-- that's how my business is breaking even with what I make. I even decided to buy an easel to display my client's portraits ($140) before getting boots.

Anyways, back to about why custom photography is so expensive. My current sitting fee is $75 for two hours at the location of your choice. $37.5 dollars per hour! That's more than what a dental hygienist makes! Unfortunately, that's not how much I really make.

The $$$$ of time.

Let's break it down. Imagine you hired a professional photographer to take your family portraits. He or she charges $75 dollars for a photo session upto 2 hours. The location you chose is approximately 30 minutes away from their home.  Here is a breakdown of time we ACTUALLY spend for one client:

  • 30 min - 1 hour. Session preparation: Confirming session, answering questions, and communicating with client via e-mail or phone. Equipment check up, formatting cards, cleaning lenses, and charging batteries. Occassionaly, ironing appropriate session clothing.
  • 45 min. Leaving early so you're not late to the session and travel & traffic time
  • 15-30 minutes prep time at client’s home
  • 90 minutes-2 hours with client photographing subject (often more than 2 hours)
  • 30 min travel time FROM session
  • 30-45 min transferring photos from camera to computer and taking equipment out of your car so it does not get broken into
  • 30-45 minutes time spent backing up the original images in case of emergency
  • 2-5 hours editing time to present your clients with a diverse gallery of edited images
  • 1 hour uploading proofs to an online gallery
  • 1 hour proofing images with client
  • 1 hour sorting through hundreds of photos and separating clients selections 
  • 3-4 hours going through print purchases and removing client's blemishes or other distractions in the photographs
  • 30 minutes-1 hour ordering your prints through the professional print companies
  • 30 minutes-1 hour checking if your prints are good and getting order shipped
  • any additional phone time or time needed for add on ordering, shipment issues, quality issues
So, technically, you're not paying for 2hrs. You're paying for 13.5hrs-20.25hrs of work. Wow! I make less than minimum wage.

Another factor that influences the cost, the business:

On average, a photographer spends $5,000 - $30,000 dollars on equipment alone. $5,000 is the minimum to get the least amount of needed equipment, but it is not the best equipment. Aside from that, business tax fees, licenses, paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars promoting the business so that YOU can find us. That includes the website we use, the business cards we hand out, and even the galleries we fill your wedding photos with. Don't forget about the car I use to get to you -- or wherever your wedding is. I think I paid over 1K for less than the past 6 months for registration, tax fee, and soon insurance.

A good photographer also provides quality products. We also spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on products so that you can assure that it will be a good one. The list is endless: Computer,  programs and applications, plug-ins, studio rental, miscellaneous fees, and more ( I don't want to reveal my secrets!). That's another couple of thousands. Let's not go too deep into it, you probably have an idea.

Nik Naks and the other stuff:

As a consumer, you are surely looking for a good deal. $3.99 for 2-5'x7's or 8 wallets..or maybe an 8 x 10 for $9.99. It is basic-- mall and department store photography services don't make money off of their coupon prints, but they make money out of the volume of customers.  Also, keep in mind that you will not have the 1:1 customer service. We communicate with you, meet with you for a consultation prior to your session, and even go to your house! Your child can run around freely in their home without any restriction, and you'll get more than a plain backdrop and less pressure from the short 10 minute sitting time. Take this into consideration when choosing your photographer. It's more than the product. Sure, you'll get great prints, but you'll also remember your experience when you look at those prints or the photograph on your laptop screen.

So why are prints so expensive? Because of everything listed above. When you order a print with us, we go through your photograph again and work on it for an average of 30min. per file-- perfecting it and adding our signature quality. Is $6.00 ridiculous? Yes, I think so. You're basically paying for the labor I am spending on it and not the fact that it's a piece of art. Expect a gradual price increase.

Another discussion: My $169 disc price for up to 100 files with print rights. I should make it $169 for 10 files, but I like being nice to my customers and military members. Since I live in a military town, I would like to suite my prices for them.  Even if it's just 10 files, it's still $169 (thus the "UP TO"). Why?

If you're going to order a cake, don't just get the slice. Bring the whole cake. I already spent 4-5 hours editing them. So basically, it's like I'm giving you a work of art for $1.50 for a beautiful photograph.

The disc comes with dozens of different kinds of photographs.  If you order prints, you'll get that crisp file on the disc as well. The rest are for laughs, if you change your mind about one style and prefer another style, and photos you think your parents will love. Basically, I'm giving you 50-70 for free.

I think I spoke my photographic heart out. I hope this doesn't offend anybody, but it is a necessary topic that many photographers wish to convey. I love my customers. They grant me many experiences and I love learning about their lives and how lovers meet.  That's why I don't mind breaking even...for now...


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