Reiterating the costs of photography in a world looking for “cheap”

Wedding Photography by Abanathy Photography, LLC

Ever have a recurring issue or problem which manages to stick around so long that it tends to take on a different dynamic within your daily routine? It starts off as something you try to correct, but ends up being something you simply have to live with instead.

No, I’m not talking about chronic health issues, although that might be a good comparison. From a photographer’s viewpoint, I am talking about people’s continued expectation of low-priced photography…and the sticker shock that tends to accompany professional photography. I still see it online and hear it in person. Essentially, many are looking for “a cheap photographer to…” or they “know someone who only charges $20 for a session”. It is sad enough people want to hire a “cheap” photographer to capture their moments, however, it is even more sad is that they tend to find them as well!

When we first went official with our business (federal ID numbers, Chamber memberships, ribbon cuttings, LLCs, etc.) the ever-present “cheap” photographer stealing business was irritating. I even had fantasies. Like finding out what this hobbyist photographer’s day job is (because $300 weddings and $50 family sessions isn’t it), halfway learn to do it myself, then go to their boss/clients and offer to do the same work for a fraction of the price, you know, “as a hobby on the side”. Ahh, there it is: Sweet revenge.

But then I remembered I don’t have time for that! As a professional photographer, there is a reason I charge more than $300 for a wedding! There are several, actually. And these reasons add up to something the hobbyists can’t, and likely won’t, deliver. From that point, like with mosquitos in the summer time, I simply learned to live with the hobbyists rather than try to defeat them. However, me learning to live with them does not automatically tell potential clients why my prices are a lot more than those of that “someone they know” and, more importantly, why they should choose me over them.

About a year and a half ago I wrote a blog discussing why professional photographers charge what they do (The cost of professional photography…It’s a lot more than just pressing of buttons!). It was a great way to show how it really isn’t a greed or ego thing, but simply a commitment and a living like any other. Since then I have continued, on occasion, to hear folks citing money and the hobbyist down the street as reasons to migrate away from our booth, website or Facebook page. With several such occurrences in the past few months, I figured it might be time to reiterate and update those reasons.

Like the original title suggests, there is a lot more to photography than a “nice” camera and pushing buttons. It’s best to simply start from the beginning:

  • 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 professional 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 are like automobiles in that they depreciate and become obsolete QUICKLY. So replacement is common. We are already up to $4,000 and we literally can’t even take a picture 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, well-kept lenses do retain their value.
  • Flashes are next. Once again, professional cameras require a separate flash. They do not have a cute little pop up flash which springs to life when the “auto” mode detects 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 is a must. The computer you will need (you can’t do this on your iPad or iPhone and there is not an “app” for what you will be tasked with doing) 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 each 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 watered down versions you buy at Office Depot, but the software you need when you are serious about this profession) can be expensive. Often one-time purchases (until it needs upgrading) of $300-$700 could be in order or you might have a service like Adobe where you pay a MONTHLY subscription fee.
  • 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.
  • Outside contracts: If they have to hire anyone outside of ourselves for a session or wedding (including videographers for weddings or hair and makeup artists for your boudoir session), these all come out of the sitting fees.
  • General housekeeping, accessories, and the tax man: 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. This will be well into the four-digit range annually.

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

  • 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! And, as professionals who do this for a living, that is all we do. It is not a weekend hobby that might or might not get done in a timely fashion if our day jobs don’t get in the way.
  • 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.
  • Last, but not least is the guarantees and commitments of a professional photographer. When a professional photographer signs a contract with their client and charges their relatively large fee, that is a commitment. That is saying: “Yes, next year, on this date, barring my own death or incapacitating ill health, I will be at your wedding to photograph your big day.” Now, if they charge $1,500 for a wedding and don’t show up, that is a chunk to come back out of their business account the next year. And that’s not even the worst part. Next comes the irreparable damage bad publicity and word of mouth will likely do to their professional life. Now, as photographer fees dwindle to $300 or less for hobbyists, you have to ask: What does that do to their value of commitment as well? If a hobbyist charges $150 for a wedding and doesn’t show (for whatever reason) or takes a year to give you your portraits, then what have they really lost? $150 isn’t much (if they decide to refund you) and their reputation at their unrelated day job is not tarnished one bit.

In the end, 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 sure you and your family look amazing, while also keeping food on the table, costs money.

I might sound like a broken record bringing this back up in another blog, however, I hope it might reach a few more readers and help them realize professional photography is a lot more than pushing a button, clicking “auto edit”, and placing files on a disc. It is just food for thought the next time you are weighing the professional costs against the “cheap” hobbyist down the street.