Why Are Professional Photographers So Damn Expensive?
Ever wonder why photographers charge so damn much? I know it’s tough to wrap your head around especially if you’re not in the industry. When people inquire for my photography pricing and I tell them I’m $250/hr I usually get responses like,
“You charge how much?! That has to be a mistake.”
“Wow, I wish I made $250/hr for something as easy as this.”
“I was hoping to only spend $50 for something as easy as pressing a button”
“Well I need to quit my job and be a photographer!”
I realize to most people, they only see photography as easy as clicking a button. And now with technology making cameras more accessible, user friendly, and affordable, it’s honestly very easy for anyone to pick up a camera and take a decent photograph. I mean, look at smart phones these days. To be honest, I use my phone 90% for business and my Instagram is 97% images straight from my phone. The market is becoming saturated with “photographers” in today’s age, so why hire me for $250/hr instead of having someone else do it for $50?
Did you know, in the United States, the average photographer only makes $31K? If you’re a full-time high end wedding photographer, their salary can be anywhere from $70K-$150K+. When you count in everything we’re going to discuss below, most photographers are only making between $12-15 an hour!
Let’s explore some reasons as to why photographers are expensive:
Photographers “hourly” rate includes way more time behind the scenes.
My 1 hour session with you isn’t including the time I’ve spent researching locations, ideas, and my time editing once the session is over, my time uploading the gallery, presenting, printing images, etc. Thankfully with years of experience, I’ve been able to cut my workflow in half between shooting the way I want in-camera first, then taking everything into Lightroom where I have presets made to the way I shoot. For some photographers, it may take them 3 hours to do a full session between planning to presenting the final images. For weddings it can take over 10+ to edit a full wedding. Every photographer is different depending on their own workflow & experience, but please keep in mind it’s not just our time shooting you. It’s a lot more behind the scenes.
Photography Gear is Not Cheap
Now, I keep my gear setup pretty simple and since I’m no longer shooting weddings, I don’t have as much gear, but here is what I use & how much it costs:
- Canon 5DMK III – Professional Advanced Camera – This has gone down in price since?the new one, Canon 5D MKV,?has been released. Typically these high range cameras can be anywhere from $2k-$3500 depending on your needs. That’s no lens. No extra batteries. No SD cards. Let’s add those in next.
- Lenses – I use the Sigma 35 1.4 Art Lens (which I LOVEEEEE) & the Canon 85 1.8. I also owned a Canon 50 1.4, but recently sold it. For the 35 1.4 & Canon 1.8, it’s $1268.??Now, none of these are the L-series lenses which have better glass & a better build. For a single one of those, you’re looking at easily over $1300 PER lens. Some of my favorites are the 24-70 f/2, the 135 f/2, and the?70-200 2.8II.
- Flash – I only use one-flash at this time, however, most wedding photographers can have 1-4 flashes with them at a time. The flash I use is the Canon 600 ex II-rt. If you’re looking for a flash on a budget, I do recommend these.
- Other Gear :
- Studio Lighting – I use the Paul C. Buff Einstein. Between the lighstand, cables, transmitter & receiver, soft box, beauty dish, etc. I’ve already put in close to $1K for a single light setup. Some photographers use 2-3 lights in their studio.
- Not only is there gear, but you also need software to edit your photos with! I use Lightroom & because I’m a designer as well, I go ahead & pay $49/mo for Adobe Creative Suites. I believe they do have a photographer package that includes Photoshop & Lightroom for $10 or $19/mo.
Some Photographers have Studio Expenses
Sure most photographers can meet you outside at your favorite park or place to take photos, but some also have studios where they work from, meet with clients, or do additional indoor sessions. If they have their own building where they’re required to pay for maintenance & utilities, they can be paying easily over $1K for a space depending on what city they are in. We created a small co-photography space here in town to cut down rent costs. By sharing the space, we’ve cut down costs to $150/mo per member.
Some may argue & say “Well mall photography studios don’t charge as much as you”. But mall studios are most of the time large corporations who can cut down costs, do quick training, literally have all the settings in camera to snap & print. Most mall studios like JC Penny’s, Sears, etc only lower their rates to get you into the stores so you’ll spend $200 elsewhere 😉 Most mall photography studios are shutting down because they’re too expensive to keep running if they can’t get people in. Plus, would you rather have a bland posed studio portrait or awesome photos at a park that shows more character with your loved ones…
Professional Photographers Pay to Perfect Their Craft
There are SO many awesome resources for people in the industry. Private workshops from top-rated photographers, large national conventions like WPPI, Southeastern Photo Convention, Showit United, and more. Private workshops with top-rated photographers can range anywhere from $800-$1500 for a few days per person, while conferences can be anywhere from $400-$800 a ticket. That’s not even including transportation, hotels, or food. The good thing is these can be written off as a business-expense, but still, they’re not cheap. There are also online courses & classes photographers can take to learn such as CreativeLive?& KelbyOne?where classes can be purchased one by one or on a monthly basis.
Professional Photographers are running a Legal Small Business
If anyone is offering photoshoots for under $100, they probably aren’t running a legal photography business or they are just starting out and don’t realize the costs of business quite yet.
When I first started as a photographer I did it all as a hobby. Never billed anyone until a friend asked me to shoot their beach wedding for $125 (Yep. lol). ?After that, a few friends came to me asking for gigs and I began to raise my pricing quite a bit. I used that money to help get my LLC started & purchase new gear.?When I got the paperwork for my LLC, I then realized I have to pay yearly to renew that, pay taxes, hire an accountant, pay sales tax for physical goods, and, woof, the list of finances grew.
Now to play it safe, I automatically put 30% of whatever I make into my “Taxes/Accountant” account?that?I don’t touch it. I never have to worry about owing the government or not being able to afford an accountant. I pay my taxes quarterly so I don’t have a heart attack at the end of the year when I see how much I owe.
You are paying for Professionalism, Quality & Experience
I can’t begin to tell you guys, even with design, how many times I have people come to me saying, “We hired our friend (or family member) to do our photos, but to be honest, we hate them! Anyway you can do a shoot for us at a discounted price?”
Why would I lower my pricing because you chose to go with someone else? Save your money, do your research, pay for a pro. You might end up spending more money in the long run hiring another person to make up for the first mishap.
Professional Photographers have done everything they can to make sure your images are awesome. They know how to direct you during sessions to make sure everything is natural. They know how to pose you if need be. They know the right angles, the lighting, the right exposure, the right aperture and the right settings to use. They wont give you images that are out-of-focus or blurry without intent. They do their best to make sure you get the best because YOU DESERVE IT!
Professional Photographers will have contracts in place, ask you questions, and make sure the process is going smoothly for you from beginning to end. If you have any questions or concerns about your shoot, they’re willing to talk things out with you. Definitely ask questions before you book to make sure you’re a good match with your photographer. Check out their website, their blog, see what other people are saying on their social media sites. Make sure they are a legitimate business before you put money down on them.
I have seen several people be scammed by “professional” photographers, so I encourage you to definitely do research before you hire anybody.
With experience comes demand, and with demand requires a price increase.?Some photographers who have been published multiple times, have larger clients, or who have been shooting for a certain # of years, may raise their pricing way higher than others in their market. They do this not to be mean, but to make sure?they get clients who are value their work & who they are. There’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone is at different levels in their business depending on their experience.
The next time you question a photographer with their pricing, please keep these things in mind. We’re small business owners with dreams & desires like the rest of you. We love what we do. We love our clients. We want to provide incredible memories for years to come.
What do you think? Still think photography pricing is overrated? Leave a comment below!