What am I paying for when I buy photography services?
This question is one I have wanted to be transparent about from the beginning of starting my photography business. I get the feeling that some people believe that photography is too expensive, but the reality is that the median annual pay for a photographer is $31,710.
This post is to help anyone who is considering getting their photos taken professionally, to understand the cost and feel good about their investment, whether that is $0 or $3000.
Now, there are levels of photographers. I have created this scale from bottom to top. Of course this scale is not always accurate, but from my own observations on pricing in comparison to photographers, I think these are the patterns. Like any profession, with more experience and investment, the better the photographer is:
- Your friend, neighbor or sibling that bought a nice camera and likes to take pictures. They charge anywhere from $0-$100 per session
- Photographer that has invested in education, has a photography portfolio and has invested in professional or semi-professional equipment. $100-$500 per session
- Photographer who has run a successful photography business through quality service, marketing, continued education and investments in gear and time. $500-$1000 per session
- Photographer who has had a booming business for years and now employs others to help run the business. Educates others on how to be a successful photographer. $1000-$5000 per session
Another pattern I have seen in almost every industry is that talent does not equate success. There are mediocre photographers that have booming businesses because they know how to run a business. I do not write this post to convince everyone not to give a newbie a chance; help new photographers create a portfolio and prove their talent. I also hope that talented photographers will learn to run a business so they can continue earning money doing something that they love and are good at and that people who can, will see the value in investing in seasoned artists.
When I first bought professional photography services, I was a little surprised at the cost. I felt frustrated that I couldn’t afford to get all the photos that I wanted, but now I get why. I believe that if people understood what they were paying for, they would feel more confident in your decisions and understand and respect a photographer’s job.
Here is a breakdown of costs for a photographer:
- Photography Education: $100 monthly, probably more for those that attend photography conferences each year as well.
- Photography Equipment:
- Most semi-professional to professional camera bodies run from about ($500-$1800). That is just the camera body, not the lenses.
- For a portrait photographer, they need professional lenses: 85mm ($500-1800), 70-200mm ($400-2000), 50mm ($100-350), 35mm ($200-1099), 24-70mm ($250-1500)
- Off camera Flash: ($70-200)
- Studio lighting: ($150-$10,000)
- Tripod: ($150-$3000)
- Camera Bag: ($50-200)
- Powerful computer: ($1,300-$2000)
- Reflectors: ($25-50)
- Memory cards: (50+ each)
- External hard drives: ($120+ each)
- Editing software: ($100 per year)
- Photo hosting site/service: ($120 per year)
- Photography Insurance: ($425-$500)
- Brick and mortar studio: this will vary based on the choices of the photographer and location.
- Accountant and legal services: ($1,300) per year
- Business licensing: ($100-$500)
- Marketing: ($0-$1500) varies
So these are the basic things that need to be in place for a photography business to run from day to day. Beginning photographers are told to plan on investing $10,000 up front to start their business. This may not seem like much, but there are also other things that are invested, like time and energy.
Now, lets include the non-tangibles you are paying for:
- photographers time at the session, editing photos, delivering, presenting and/or ordering photos.
- photographers ability to work well with you, create photos you love and deliver in a reasonable time frame.
- photographers time communicating with clients and scheduling sessions.
Are you starting to realize what you are paying for when you buy a photography session? So, the next time you consider which photographer to go with, consider where they are on the scale of professionalism, experience and evidence of success. If the cost seems high, remember this list you have just read and consider if the cost is worth the value you will get, tangible or intangible.
A beautiful photograph is not something anyone needs to survive; it is a nicety, but it is art that enriches and records the beautiful moments that are so real for each person. I hope that when you are ready to purchase photography services, you will consider all that is included and understand that you are investing in an artist and their art.