You're not the only one to ask this question.
In fact, I used to ask this question too. I was frustrated when searching for a wedding photographer all those years (a whole 5) ago: Why so expensive? All they do is click a button, I thought in annoyance.
This couldn't be further from the truth. But how could I have known at the time? All I needed was someone to come take amazing, crisp, clear images and document my day. How hard could that be?
Why were some photographers $500 and others $5,000?
You can find a photographer for just about any price. You can find a brand new, just-starting-out, amateur photographer to do a one hour session for $0-$50. They will gladly do your portraits or event as they build their portfolio.
I know this because I "built my portfolio" for over a year, charging $0 - $100 for my sessions. The first wedding I ever shot was $200. TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS. That is an average of $5/hour.
In part, I was building my portfolio. But mostly I didn't value my time, my talent, or myself. I wanted everyone to have amazing, quality images but it came at the expense of my wallet, my energy, and my resources. I quickly burned out by giving my service away (for free or cheap) and had a major break down.
I sat down to write out my expenses, keep track of my income and my hours; I began seeing that I was not only charging clients little to nothing...I was literally PAYING to do photography.
I WAS LOSING MONEY.
I began watching free online webinars about business and photography. I realized I was delivering great images, had pride in my level of customer care, and I needed to start valuing myself.
Last year (2016) our family went from two to four and my time became much more precious.
Time spent building or working my business meant time lost with my children and husband. Photography needed to become worth that lost time to keep my business going.
After I did my taxes for 2016 (I had already been doing part time photography for over 3 years by this point), I saw the numbers clearer than ever.
*Gifted away over 20 sessions
Go ahead and let that sink in.
Why was I even doing photography? Because I love capturing moments for people. I love meeting new people. Everyone has a story and everyone's story should be shared; photography is a way of doing that. Photography is a way of freezing time.
Photography, to me, is about capturing souls not smiles.
But if I didn't make it worth it for my family, I needed to stop. There were different ways I could make money and actually MAKE MONEY to help our family pay the bills.
Photographers are expensive up front and all at once for the client, sure. But the work we do, if done well and right, takes time and resources. When you take the time to learn and acknowledge all that goes into photography, maybe you will see the rate in a new light.
I am not being paid for one hour of time. The rate you see for any package on a photographer's website is so much more than the allotted camera time.
To get a bit of an idea, here is some of what goes into owning this business:
- Business cards
- Equipment: lenses, camera bodies, tripod, speedlights, rain sleeve, stools, straps, computer, batteries, chargers, cases/bags, hard drives, portable studio set up, backdrop
- Props: the list of props is endless, especially for seasonal mini sessions
- Software: online gallery site, Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop
- Food for the babysitter
- Driving to the babysitter
- Tax guy
- Shipping + handling (wedding client CD's)
- Client coffee at consultations
- CDs + sleeves
Some other things to think about when hiring a photographer and you think, "Why are you so expensive?"
I, like many other photographers I know, spend an average of 8-10 hours per portrait session. This includes:
- Pre-session planning with emailing, phone, and sometimes in person meetings
- Purchasing any props necessary
- Preparing the day of the session loading all of my equipment up
- Driving to and from the session
- The session itself
- Editing images
- Uploading the gallery
- Creating each client's personalized blog post
- Posting about each session on social media
- Babysitting fee
- Writing personalized notes to clients thanking them
- Addressing any questions the client has
When it comes to weddings, a typical 8 hour wedding coverage package usually takes up anywhere from 40-60 hours in total.
SO. When you are thinking about hiring a photographer, don't just go for the cheapest deal. I mean, you can, but think about why they might be at that rate. Think about giving them a tip.
I didn't start out with a great camera or lens, with amazing editing software, style guides to offer, and everything. I didn't start out spending so much time communicating with my clients to customize each session. I didn't start out with everything I do and work with today.
Everyone has to start somewhere, I had to.
But it has taken me years to know it's okay to value myself, my time, my life, and the work I've done to build a business.
It has taken time to learn how to pose people without secretly pulling out Pinterest, years to know exactly how to place your arms and legs and chin. It has taken my years to learn how to use editing software. I am still learning, always learning.
When you see the rate for a 1 hour portrait session, remember there is often so much more to this package than "just one hour for $350" or whatever the rate is.
There are many invisible-to-everyone hours surrounding your session as well as the cost of running and owning a small business.
Photographers are so expensive because we do more than click a button. The clicking of the button is possibly the thing we do the least.
Photography is more than an hour of service, it is an art, it is a gift.
Photography is a way of investing in memories, freezing now to last a lifetime and beyond.