The cost of professional photography…It’s a lot more than just pressing of buttons!

Hidden prices! Well, we already have that one out of the way. Or should I say, we have pulled the curtains back out of their way (check here if you have not already read that blog). Today, it is time to get a little more personal: Our prices and what they mean to you!

First of all, I am not in denial. I know professional photography has undergone quite a few changes in the last 20 years. Materialistically speaking, it is a complete removal from what it was even when I was in high school. Today, most are commercially digital. Only the hardcore traditionalist still swears by film and chemicals and, if they stand a chance in competing with today’s digital market, their choice of location will have to be very exclusive.

Film, chemicals, and large processing equipment have generally made way for memory cards, laptops, and hard drives. Couple this with the rise in smartphone cameras and affordable consumer DSLRs and you have at least two generations who simply do not think professional photography, from shoot to prints, should cost more than a modest dinner for two at Olive Garden.

And I am not the only one who sees this pinch. I have discussed this topic with marketing specialists who have seen this trend in just about everything media related. In fact, in some circles, I hear it has gotten to the point of some of today’s youth simply believing media services should be nearly free if not 100% so! Simply put: They don’t want to pay for anything, but they still want it anyway. Well, this is where most in the younger generations are generally misguided, but I will limit my blog to the photography aspect.

I am a professional photographer and I can speak to this issue. You want to know why we charge the prices we charge? Well, here goes…

Abanathy Photography, LLC Studio
The studio is but one cost to a professional photographer

First of all, lets examine what a professional photographer needs. These are items, which, despite society’s shift to digital formats, have remained consistently expensive. Sure, film and chemicals are all but gone, but that was by far not all you were paying for when you posed for those senior portraits back in the 1980s and 90s.

Let’s take a look:

  • An average professional digital camera body for everyday portraiture can run anywhere from $1,500 to $8,000 depending on your brand of choice, level of comfort, and committable funds. Let’s make it an average, affordable $2,000 and multiply by two, as that is the minimum number of bodies a photographer should have. Ideally, one would probably like to have four bodies, but let’s keep this conservative, shall we? And the sticky point here is: Camera bodies depreciate and become obsolete QUICKLY. So replacement is common. We are already up to $4,000 and we haven’t even gotten to the accessories yet!
  • Now to lenses (that’s right, professional camera bodies seldom come with a lens and, when they do, they are not professional grade and/or are not the ones you need). On average, professional portraiture lenses required for different styles of shots can run anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 each. Now, for any photographer, the basic necessities are minimum two to three different lenses with the ideal number being four or five. Let’s say they all run an average $1,500 so now we are up to at least $4,500 in lenses. Luckily, unlike camera bodies, lense do retain value.
  • Flashes are next. Once again, professional cameras require a separate flash. They do not have a cute little pop up flash that springs to life when the meter reads a dark scene. These can run anywhere from $500-$600 each. Ideally one would want two, which brings us to $1,200 for flashes.
  • Computer setup. Well, the computer you will need (you can’t do this on your iPad) will probably be between $1,000 and $2,500. Let’s assume it is new, so lets go with $2,500. And lets not forget about external hard drives to store the monstrous files your camera creates. Each hard drive will fill up fast and they can run between $100 and $300 depending on how many terabytes you are willing to risk at a time.
  • Photo editing software! This is essential if you want quality photos in post production. And the price tag on the software you need (not the elemental versions you buy at Office Depot, but the software you order when you are serious about this profession) can run between $100 and $700. And with Adobe soon moving to the a monthly subscription service, this dynamic is going to shake up a lot of established expense estimates.
  • Studio costs. Not all photographers have a studio, but Abanathy Photography, LLC does, so lets not ignore it. These costs vary, and I will not sugar coat it: Our studio maintenance and equipment prices moved into four digits a long time ago.
  • General housekeeping and accessories: Good Camera bags, batteries, backup batteries, photo discs, general camera maintenance, gas, food, rent, insurance (both liability and equipment), annual business fees, taxes, and licenses, photo service and printing fees, shipping, advertising, etc.

We are already around the $15,000-$20,000 mark in equipment alone, Now to the abstract for a moment:

  • The formal training and talent of photography. Not everyone has the eye or the training to use that eye, just like not everyone is capable of rebuilding a car engine, performing surgery, or piloting the space shuttle. I have the formal training in, and talent for, photography, just as my wife and business co-owner has formal training in, and talent for, graphic design, and we bring both to the table in one great package! We know how to pose, balance, and light a shot. Then, we know how to edit and touch up that shot to make the image reflect the natural you!
  • Last, but not least, lets not forget time. To every human, time is precious. It gives us opportunities to enjoy life, rest, work, play, be with family, etc. So, when that photographer is at your wedding or party for several hours to a full day, keep in mind, you are paying for their time. And, after the fact, they dedicate even more time, as they must then go home, upload the pictures and proceed to meticulously edit them for quality. So, keep in mind, the eight hours they spent on their feet at your wedding was just the beginning.

And you might be one who understands the costs of being any kind of professional. And I appreciate that. However, there is one little sticking point that seems to make even the most thoughtful of people turn back to the professional photographer and say “Why are you so expensive?” And, no, despite my feelings toward the rise of so-called quality cameras in everyone’s smartphone, I am speaking of another problem, which has cropped up alongside inexpensive DSLR camera: The $50 “shoot-and-burner.”

One can find the ads just about anywhere. Someone promising to shoot your wedding from beginning to end, give you a print package, give a free bridal session, and burn a disc of all edited images for somewhere in the neighborhood of $50-$75 total.

Now, when it comes to people relying on their smartphones to economically capture their big day, it does sadden me, but, ultimately, they will get what they are asking for. However, for someone with an actual DSLR offering this at such a low price is a different story. They promise the moon for a buck and people often place these folks in the same consideration pile as they do professional photographers who charge much, much more for a wedding. The problem is, even if the client knows the price of quality, he or she is still going to wonder why it is John is charging $1,500 for a wedding package while Jane is offering the same deal and a disc for $75.

Well, I could detail, once again, why one should be weary to trust their big day to a shoot-and-burn photographer, but I will let another fellow photo blogger weigh in on this. I recently found this blog on the very topic of photographer price justification and it is well put. Lovely and Light, LLC Owner Hayley Juliet Watson and I are both pretty much in sync on the costs of running the business, and I love the way she puts it when it comes to these shoot-and-burn photographers advertising their “professional services” on Craigslist. In her blog, “The Truth…” she puts it out there pretty clear why professional photographers cannot match those costs.

“As for that $50 per session with a disc that everyone and their uncle is offering,” she says. “When you do the math, I’d have to shoot 600 – SIX HUNDRED – sessions just to break even with my expenses to date. And guess what? If I’m running a legal business, which I am, I have to pay Uncle Sam about 1/3 of that. So, actually, I’d need to shoot about NINE HUNDRED sessions at $50 each to break even.”

Everyone has to make a living, and photographers are no different. If they take their profession seriously, it will be pretty much be all they do from sun up to sun down. Constantly bettering themselves and their equipment to make you and your family look amazing, while also keeping food on the table, costs money that $50-a-pop is just not going to cover. So, if you have a photographer who charges so little that they would have to take on an impractical number of clients to maintain the average cost of a professional setup, ask yourself this: How much do you think they have actually invested (or will invest) into their photography to begin with? And how much do you want them responsible for capturing your precious moments?

But there is hope in sight for us photographers who are constantly battling the shoot-and-burn market. Recently, I read an article by Jamie M Swanson on website, The Modern Tog, titled “Will Your Photography Business Survive In 2014? 13 Predictions For The New Year”. In it, this issue is addressed showing that, while professional photographers are constantly being undermined by shoot-and-burners, the latter are beginning to be undermined themselves in the form of, you guessed it, free cameras on smartphones!

The article says it perfectly, so take this as my thoughts as well: “New or aspiring pro photographers who are super-cheap shoot-n-burners are going to be fighting for fewer clients,” it says, adding many will simply opt for their free cell phones “and not be willing to pay any price for what they offer (regardless of how low). Clients who value professional photography and the experience and products they get from it will not consider them because their quality and prices are simply too low to indicate quality. So, the lowest tier of professional photographers who attract clients based on price alone is going to be the hardest hit and many will not make it unless they start to get serious about their business.”

Hopefully, this has giving a little window into my world and realize that professional photography is a lot more than pushing a button, clicking on “auto edit”, and placing them on a disc. It is just food for thought the next time you are weighing the professional costs against the Craigslist $50 wedding specials.

Speaking of discs, check back next week, as I plan to detail a little more about why we charge extra for our stand-alone portrait discs. All this talk about shoot-and-burners made me want to delve into the subject this round, however, as this blog is already fairly lengthy, I believe that topic, in all of its controversial glory, is one for a solo project. Until then…

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