Photographers Are Expensive. Here's Why.
Most people need to hire a photographer at some point in their lives. Whether you're paying for your kid's school portraits or hiring someone to shoot your wedding, you might have asked yourself something along these lines:
Geez, Louise! Why does this cost so much? We could just take pictures with someone's phone.
The simple response?
Yeah. You could! It would be a lot cheaper than hiring a professional.
But if you can't see the difference between a professional photographer's art and some pics taken on a phone, you probably shouldn't be bothering with hiring a professional anyway.
For example: here is a picture of me in a wedding dress taken by my maid of honor on her iPhone.
Here's a picture of me in a wedding dress during a self-portrait session taken on an EOS-R. And no, the expensive camera isn't the main reason these photos look different.
Okay, I see why hiring a photographer could be important. But I still don't get why it costs THAT much.
I get it; before I became a full-time photographer, I thought the same thing. So let me walk you through where exactly your money goes when you pay a professional for a session.
This is based on my process as a photographer. Every photographer does things differently, so ask your prospective photographer about their process before you hire them.
1. Finding a photographer.
Picture this: you're going on vacation with your family and you'd love to get some portraits taken on the beach. What an awesome way to commemorate your trip!
You start your search online. You use Yelp, Google Reviews, social media and Thumbtack to sort through the professionals.
You find a photographer that you like, so you reach out to ask a couple questions. They send you to check out their website so you can see their full portfolio before you sign a contract.
Even before you've reached out to a photographer, they've already spent money on you.
How does that work?
For every site you use, photographers have paid in some capacity to be seen. On Yelp, you can pay to get a premium page and to boost yourself in the search results. On Thumbtack, whenever you reach out to a professional, Thumbtack automatically charges that photographer anywhere from $7 to $25+ just for the opportunity to potentially get hired by you. If you look at their website, they've spent $200+ on hosting, domain names, and advertising. On social media, they've spent time cultivating their presence and possibly money to target advertisements to potential customers.
This doesn't even count the price of the hours spent on designing websites, writing posts, updating profiles, and all the general upkeep you need to do to maintain your web presence.
Photographers need to spend time and money to give you the chance to find them, and not all photographers have digital marketing skills, so they turn to other freelancers to do it on their behalf which, guess again, costs more money.
During the course of your initial introduction, when you're about to sign a contract, most photographers will request a deposit.
Why do they need a deposit? They haven't done any work yet!
Once you start that conversation, they're spending time taking over the details with you. It takes time to coordinate a location, and that deposit makes sure you're both committed to the time you've reserved. If there's no deposit, and someone else requests that time, and you ultimately cancel, we've lost out on another client and have nothing to show for it. It hold you accountable to that timeslot, and it gives the photographer confidence that you'll show.
2. Session time!
Now it's time for your session! Hooray!
But I still don't understand why the session is so expensive.
Let's talk about what you're paying for.
Surprise: you're not just paying for our time.
You're paying for the years of practice, training, and education of the photographer. Practice makes perfect, right? So wouldn't you rather work with a photographer who has more practice and experience under their belt?
Getting that experience requires hours and hours of unpaid practice, criminally underpaid sessions, hours of research, and even an education. I went to college and got a B.A. in English and Communications, which helps me manage the business side of things and helped me cultivate my style and artistic appreciation. And that tuition wasn't cheap.
This isn't to say you can't have an amazing photographer who didn't attend college! A piece of paper certainly does not inherently make you a better photographer. But they've paid with hours of training on their own time, and our time isn't free.
Now let's talk equipment.
In my opinion, experience is much more valuable than the gear you use. I could take a nicer picture on a lower-end camera than someone without training could take on my current camera.
That still doesn't change the fact that my camera cost $2,000. That doesn't include all the lenses and other equipment I need to get through a session.
So if a session is 20 minutes, it seems like our hourly late is insanely high. But if you compare it against all the unpaid hours of work we needed to do to get that session, we're starting to look criminally underpaid. I personally don't count my hours that I work behind the scenes, because it would just make me depressed.
Here is the most misunderstood part of the session process. Many people don't really get why turnaround times are so long.
All you have to do is upload the pics, slap on a few filters, and send the prints my way, right?
That's a big fat nope.
I'm not going to get into the work that goes into wedding photography (that's another post altogether), but here's how an editing session for a family shoot goes.
So say I take 800 pictures at a family session. There's no way you're seeing all 800 pictures. I took them in the RAW format, so unless you have special software, you can't even open this file to look at the pictures. I have to carefully comb through and give you only the best of the best of those photographs. This process is called "culling." I eliminate the photos that aren't worth keeping. Then, I go through the ones I've kept and edit them even further.
And no, I won't "photoshop" your photos to make you look thinner. First of all, I don't use Photoshop, I use Lightroom, and second of all, I'm only making changes to the coloring, lighting, cropping, and minor stylistic edits. The only altering I'll make is fixing the occasional flyaway, but I don't change who you are.
It completely depends on the complexity of the session, but a general rule of thumb is editing will take twice to quadruple the amount of time that the session took.
I know it takes a while, but editing doesn't cost any actual money, does it?
Actually, it does. It costs a lot of money.
We use the Adobe suite for all our creative projects, and our subscription to their programs costs $54 a month.
On top of that, it costs money for us to store your photos. We store the RAW image file and the edited prints, and we spend a lot of money on our storage system that we constantly have to upgrade. Each session (again, not weddings) can use 16-32 GB, and that eats up even a terabyte storage unit pretty fast.
On top of that, you can't expect just any computer to run this level of programs. With all the video, graphic, and photo editing I do, I expect a lot from my computer. Thankfully I married a tech wizard and he builds my PCs for me. But parts and upgrades add up.
Once we finish the exported JPEGs, we're finally ready to send them to you. And guess what. The program we use to send you the photos?
That costs money, too.
Yes. Having someone you know take photos on your phone will always be cheaper. And if that's the level of photos you need, then great! Go ahead and do that!
But if you want to capture special moments that you can cherish for a lifetime, trust someone who has experience and the technical skills to execute their creative vision.
And when you pick a photographer, make sure you pick someone you click with. If you find the right photographer, sessions can be a lot of fun!
Do you have any more questions on how photography sessions work? Put them in the comments below!
If you'd like to check out more of my work, you can head on over to my website and see some really beautiful photos that I'm really proud of. And if you ever need a photographer in the Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, or New York area, I'd love to chat! You can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about my sessions.