Why Do Professional Photographers Cost So Much?

Why are Professional Photographers so expensive?

In this digital age where everyone has digital cameras, scanners and home “photo printers”, when people upload their photos to a local drug store website and pick them up a few hours later, we hear this all the time – How in the world do Professional Photographers charge $55 for an 8×10 when they cost just $1.50 at the drug store?

Here’s why.

Simply put, you’re not just paying for the actual photograph, you’re paying for time and expertise in creating the image itself. First, let’s look at the actual time involved. If you don’t read this entire page, at least read this first part.

For a two hour portrait session:

- one hour of travel to and from the session
- two hours of shooting
- 30 minutes of setup, preparation, talking to the client etc.
- 30 minutes to load the photos onto a computer (2 – 4 Gb of data)
- 30 minutes to back up the files on multiple external drives plus DVD’s
- 3 – 4 hours of Photoshop time including cropping, contrast, color, sharpening, saving a copy for print and a copy for the internet and backing up the edited photographs
- 2 – 3 hours to talk to the client, answer questions, receive their order and payment, order their prints, receive and verify prints, package prints, schedule shipment and drop package off at Fed Ex.
- For local customers, we meet them at our studio to review the photos and place their order. Meeting and travel time averages 2 hours.

You can see how one two hour session easily turns into more than ten hours of work from start to finish. So when you see a Photographer charging a $300 session fee for a two hour photo shoot, you are not paying them $100 / hour.

Now lets look at the expertise in creating the image itself. Did you know that the average 3-4 day “workshop” in the photography world will cost the photographer an average of $1,700 for the workshop plus air fare, plus food, plus hotel, plus, plus, plus, easily adding up to $3,000.00. And this does not take into account the cost of the time spent away from the studio and most importantly the time spent away from my family. This year alone I have done 3 absolutely top level, small, personalized, intense workshops. Make no mistake, getting “good” is not an accident, it takes a huge investment of time and money on the part of the photographer and it involves a lot of practicing and a WHOLE lot of dedication to be The Best. That why SO many photographer either do not partake in top level workshops or will only do “local” workshops that in my experience are only valuable to the brand new photographer. A photographers price is going to be your first clue as to their experience, education and talent level.

For an eight hour wedding:

- I won’t bore you with the details, but an eight hour wedding typically amounts to at least one full 40 hour work weeks worth of time. Again, if they are charging you $4,000 for an eight hour wedding, you are not paying them $500 / hour. The typical wedding will have 40 hours of work going into it after the wedding in post processing and editing time, upload time, back up time, album design time, revision on the album design time, etc., etc. In addition, all of the little “things” you want in the package, the album, the proofing, the prints, the parent albums, are not only expensive for the photographer to buy, but also require a lot of time by the studio to handle and produce.

Now for the expertise.

Shooting professional photography is a skill, acquired through years of experience. Even though our camera bodys average $4,000-$5,000 for just the body, and most of our lens are in the $2,000 category, taking professional portraits involves much more than a nice camera.

Most Professional Photographers take years to go from buying their first decent camera to making money with their photography. In addition to learning how to use the camera itself, there is a mountain of other equipment involved, as well as numerous software programs used to edit and print photographs, run a website etc.

And let’s not forget that you actually have to have people skills, be able to communicate, make people comfortable in front of the camera – and posing people to make them look their best, yet completely natural in a photograph is a skill all by itself.

Think of it this way – the next time you pay $100 to get your hair done, a pair of scissors only costs $1.50. But you gladly pay a lot more to hire a Professional to actually do the job.

What about the cheap studios at the mall?

Please don’t compare us to the chain store studios. Apples & Oranges!!! But if you must, consider all of the time and work that we put into our photographs, compared to what they do. Good luck getting a two hour photo shoot at a chain store. Not to mention they won’t come to the beach! And of course, look at our work compared to theirs. You get what you pay for.

The truth is, most of the mall and chain store studios lose money. In fact, in 2007 Wal-Mart closed 500 of their portrait studios because of the financial drain they were putting on the company. What the chain stores bet on is that you’ll come in for some quick and cheap photos, and while you’re there, you’ll also spend $200 on other things. They don’t have to make money, they are just there to get you in the door.

Conclusion

We hope that those who have taken the time to read this page will have a better understanding of why professional photographs cost so much more than the ones that you get from your local drug store.

Kam - June 3, 2008 - 4:10 pm

Debra, this is really good stuff, I hope you don’t mind I linked this post on my blog. Thanks :)

Stefan - November 24, 2008 - 6:39 pm

. . . and why do some photographers charge SO LITTLE ?
I just saw this pricing list on a fellow photographers website:

The following prices are for groups up to 4 people.
There will be an extra $15 charge for each additional person.

PACKAGE A: $135

1-2 hour of coverage on location
CD with 10 graphically enhanced high resolution JPG
images of your choice and low resolution proofs

PACKAGE B: $175

1-2 hour of coverage on location
CD with 20 graphically enhanced high resolution JPG
images of your choice and low resolution proofs

… truly nuts.

debraw - November 24, 2008 - 6:44 pm

All I can say is that If anyone books a photographer that charges like this, they WILL get exactly what they paid for.

It’s sad. The photographer is also most likely NOT a “real” professional or they would price their services in a more responsible manner.

You are SO right! This is TRULY nuts!

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Linda Hall - September 7, 2010 - 8:50 am

Excellent article! This is something that every prospective client needs to read. Our work is SO much more than picking up a camera and pointing and shooting! That is maybe, what, 10% of the work involved? If you aren’t educating your clients on why they should value you, then you are doing yourself and your business a disservice.

Haley Harris - November 3, 2010 - 1:27 pm

WOW! Thankyou so much! This made it much more clear to me… I’m a photographer that only takes pictures and edits them for facebook… (no prints) And THAT even takes forever… and possibly a day.. lol

I’ll direct people to this site if they ask, “Why so expensive”… These are very valid reasons…

Tiffany Morisue - August 12, 2011 - 8:13 am

Debra, thank you for the awesome article! I deal with prospective clients regularly who think professional photographers are too expensive and who want to haggle with me over pricing. Your article here does an excellent job of laying out the facts and educating the prospective photography client.

Scott Petersen - September 8, 2011 - 10:31 am

While I agree with EVERYTHING stated in this blog, the problem I keep running into are the “Professional” photographers that are discounting their services and packages to not much more than the big box store portrait studios, but still give the full service, on location job. Especially for family and senior portraits and the like. Knowing completely the adage “you get what you pay for”, I know a “professional” photographer (aspiring) that is charging $175 for a wedding. That’s right, $175. Fortunately, there are clients out there that wouldn’t touch a photographer charging that much for their wedding with a 10 foot pole, but some will, and that’s still a problem for all of us. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, they are great!!!

Chris Bollingmo - November 13, 2011 - 9:24 am

Excellent article!!! I’ll be sharing your blog with everyone possible. Thank you for your time in laying down the facts for all to see….

Araceli - August 6, 2012 - 10:46 pm

I charge around the prices the first comment said. I do agree I believe them to be very low. I have a lot of experience and believe that I should charge more but truth is the majority of people in my area won’t pay more. They will say oh i can just go to sears and get a lot and they don’t care what they get. Honestly, even at my prices people here think they are expensive. Being a mom, I need money and if lower prices means lots of appointments rather than none at more expensive prices then that’s what I’m going to do. It just depends on if you think your time is worth the money you are making and also how much in need at the time with money. I agree though that Photography is an art and people should expect to pay more. Just because I can try to make my lawn look nice and tell a neighbor hey i’ll help you with your lawn for 20$ my job would be a lot worse than a professional gardener/lawn specialist which will charge more too. You are paying for time, effort, and quality. If you want a cookie cutter image then go to a sears or if you really think you shouldn’t pay for photos get your little brother to take a picture but then again you get what you pay for.

Jillian - February 17, 2014 - 4:49 pm

Araceli,

There’s a funny story relating to this mindset. A girl is being mentored by a small business consultant and he starts saying she’s overwhelmed with how many clients she has to take for the amount she charges. The consultant says, well why don’t you double your prices? The photographer says…then I’ll lose half my clients!

Get it? Even if you charge twice as much, even half with be enough. Eventually, you’ll be able to make the hike in pricing again…and again. So on. Underpricing is undervaluing in my honest opinion…I’ve never been happier since I doubled my prices :)

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