Updated: Apr 2
Let me start off with the purpose of this post. It is not to shame or guilt photography clients for not wanting to pay big money. It is not to shame or guilt photographers for charging big money. It is to educate clients about why photographers charge what they do.
Choosing a photographer can be a daunting task in this oversaturated market, and what is one of the first things that a client considers when choosing a photographer? PRICE! Over the past month I have looked at the websites of over 100 photographers in the GTA and I have seen everything from starting packages of $100 up to $1500. So what impacts the price of photography and why do photographers charge what they do? The first thing to consider is whether they are a general photographer or a specialist. General photographers offer services in a wide variety of photographic genres: family, maternity, newborn, headshots, events, et cetera. In contrast, specialist photographers focus on one or two genres; usually maternity and newborn, or headshots and branding. Specialist photographers are often masters of their craft. In narrowing down their focus they have been able to devote all of their time and effort into perfecting their one genre, and therefore are often more costly than general photographers.
It isn't all profit
Photography is a costly art form and as is the case with any business, there are a lot of expenses. From start up costs, to monthly fees, photographers may only be pocketing 50-75% of their package cost.
Let's take a look at some of the expenses that photographers have to take into consideration when building their packages and pricing.
The first step of becoming a photographer is buying equipment. At the beginning this may be one camera body, one lens, and a speedlite. These three items can range anywhere from $500-$10 000. As photographers add to their supply, they can continue to spend $200-$3000 for a single lens, $500-$5000 for professional lighting equipment, and $200-$1000 for a few backdrops. Now obviously photographers aren't buying brand new equipment for every photoshoot, but as with everything else, anytime you use something it slightly degrades in quality, moving slowly towards its ultimate demise. As well, every time a photographer uses their equipment they are risking the chance that an accident may happen and something gets broken.
If a photographer wants to be successful they have to create a brand and market themselves. This may include creating a logo, a website, and getting headshots and branding images. These costs are recurring as hosting a website, and marketing yourself through advertisements is a monthly expense.
New photographers and experienced photographers alike invest in education to develop their skills. Whether it be obtaining a degree in photography, attending in-person workshops, or subscribing to online educational programs, the cost of improving your skills often starts at over $1000.
Additional Services: Other than providing photography services, many photographers include hair & makeup services, props, a client closet, and print products in their packages. All of these services are deducted from their bottom line.
In addition to the previously mentioned website and marketing expenses, photographers have a slew of other monthly expenses including: business insurance, taxes, editing software, image storage, transaction fees (if photographers use services such as PayPal or Squarespace to take payments, 3% of each payment goes to these companies), booking site fees, image delivery site fees, travel, and studio rental.
You charge HOW MUCH?!?
I know that at first sight when viewing a photographer's packages, it is easy for someone to think "Wow, they charge $500 for a one hour session? Most jobs make $15-$50 an hour!"
In reality, the shooting time is a mere fraction of the total time that goes into a session. Photographer's invest a lot of time before, during, and after the session to ensure that they are providing clients with a great experience. Here are some things to consider:
Before the Session:
How did you find this photographer? Google, Facebook, Instagram, Kijiji, TikTok, Word of Mouth? How did you see their work? On Instagram, on their website? Photographers spend a lot of time creating and maintaining an online presence via a website and social media in order to attract clients. After a photographer has captured your interest with their work, you contact them to ask questions and to book your shoot. For myself, the time spent communicating with potential clients can add up to 5-10 hours per week. When booking I often provide my client with a preparation guide that will give them details on the location, as well as suggestions on what to wear and a list of frequently asked questions. I also send a contract, and a questionnaire to ensure that we are both on the same page and as prepared as we can be. All of these procedures and services take time.
When you booked your session, did your photographer offer you a location suggestion? Unless you are a photographer who solely works out of their own studio, location scouting is an integral part of being a photographer and can be a timely endeavour. Location scouting includes finding locations that will achieve the client's desired look, researching if any permits are required, and finding out what time of day will be best based on lighting and foot traffic at that specific destination. For example, I recently spent 5 hours researching and contacting cherry orchards throughout Southern Ontario in an attempt to find a great location for Cherry Blossom sessions this year.
Day of the Session:
On the day of the session the photographer will ensure that all of their gear is in order and that they are prepared for the session. Depending on the type of session this may include, cleaning lenses, changing batteries in lighting gear, cleaning props, wardrobe, and studio space, and going over any notes that they may have written down regarding the session. Travel time is also an element of the profession that can add up quickly, especially if you're like me and predominately use public transit to get around. Lastly of course is the shooting time; the time spent actually capturing photographs which can range from 15 minutes for a mini session to a full day for events and weddings.
After the Session:
After the session photographers are left with the arduous task of culling their images (deleting any repetitive, blurry, or blinking images) and then of course editing them! Editing time varies widely between sessions and between photographers. I personally have spent anywhere from 1 hour to 12 hours editing one 1-2 hour session.
In addition, some photographers do IPS (in-person sales). This means that a week or two after your session you have a viewing and ordering appointment with your photographer to go over your images and place an order for a package.
Taking all of the above into consideration, as well as deducting expenses, photographers usually end up making between $10-$50 per hour.
Who's charging $100 and who's charging $1500?
When I photographed my very first sessions back in 2013 I charged my friends and family $25 for the session and all of the photos. With each photoshoot I developed my skills and produced a higher quality product, thereby increasing my prices to reflect that growth. Photographers who are just beginning their business are more likely to start their prices in the $50-$100 range as they develop their skills, find their niche, and learn their cost of doing business. This doesn't automatically mean that the images that they produce are of low quality, as even someone with little experience can have a natural talent for lighting, composition, and posing.
On the other end of the spectrum you have photographers whose packages start at $1500 or more. These photographers aren't just selling photography, they are selling a full experience. This experience may include an in-person consultation to discuss the client's needs, a styling appointment with a professional stylist to discuss wardrobe and colour palettes, a hair and makeup artist, access to a client closet (wardrobe), a 3-4 hour fully customized session, food and beverages, a viewing and ordering appointment, and a mix of print and digital products.
Both price ranges are reasonable based upon the photographer's experience, the services that they provide, and the quality of the final product.
To haggle or not to haggle:
What do you do if you want to book a photographer but they’re a slightly above your budget? I'm sure that most photographers can attest that they are not happy when they're hit with the following phrases: “What’s your best offer?”
“What’s the lowest that you can go”
There's absolutely nothing wrong with having a strict budget but the above statements can leave photographers feeling undervalued. Instead Try: “To be honest, you’re a little outside of my budget, but I would love to work with you. This is the top of my budget: $$$. Are there any services that you could provide at this cost or do you offer any mini sessions?” Photographers aren't all about money. No one thinks, "my life goal is to make as much money as possible, let me go into the arts!" Many photographers are willing to work within your budget if it is close to their asking prices and if you approach them in a respectful manner. Of course, keep in mind that a lower price tag means less products and services. Lots of photographers also offer mini sessions where they reduce the session time and amount of images and offer 30-50% off of their full session prices. Mini sessions are a great way to try out a photographer that you have never worked with before or to accommodate a smaller budget.
Okay Maxx, that was a very long post, what's your point?
Everyone has different budgets and places a different value on photography services. No matter the budget, there's a photographer out there that will fit it. That being said, please be respectful of all of the time, money, and effort that goes into this career. Just because a photographer is out of your budget, does not mean that their pricing is not reasonable. "Reasonable" and "affordable" are relative terms that mean something different to every person. Be kind!