Sticker Shock?

August 27, 2008

So, one of the interesting things about being a photographer is interacting with people.  And I love how in one day, I can meet such a wide range of people, and get such a wide range of responses to the same statements!  I can quote someone the fee for a wedding in one breath, and if they’ve searched around for wedding photographers any – they barely bat an eye.  But then you come across a young bride, early in her shopping experience, or even a family shopping for some quality family portraits – and quoting a  $100-$250 photoshoot can send them into a whirlwind from simple sticker shock.

So… I thought since we are approaching one of my busiest times of year – wonderful fall wedding season – that I would quote a wonderful article by a group of photographers, Shawn, Pamela & Gavin Richter, about WHY professional photographers cost so much.  It’s been quoted and referenced by numerous photographers, and in the world of photographers is widely known & seen in photographers forums & in circles of professional photographers.  It’s nothing new – we can recognize the face of sticker shock when we see it – and it’s not unusual for the very next bride to hear the same price & breathe a sigh of relief that it isn’t *quite* as high as she’d feared.  What a contrast!

So for your reading pleasure… 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.

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 an external drive- 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 also print a set of all of their photos, and 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 $200 session fee for a two hour photo shoot, you are not paying them $100 / hour.For an eight hour wedding:

– I won’t bore you with the details, but an eight hour wedding typically amounts to at least two to three 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.Now for the expertise.Shooting professional photography is a skill, acquired through years of experience. Even though a quality camera now costs under $2,000 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 in a photograph is a skill all by itself.

Think of it this way – the next time you pay $X to get your hair done, a pair of scissors only costs $1.50. But you gladly pay a lot more to hire a Professional.What about the cheap studios at the mall? Please don’t compare us to the chain store studios. 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.

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.

And soon… I’ll be blogging a little about what the *real* differences are in professionally printed images vs. your local lab like at Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, etc… with hard core proof!


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