the sweetness of low prices is forgotten."
Americans are so conditioned to look for the best bargain instead of seeking out quality that we often give up quality for what we think is a good deal. I've seen this behavior time and time again with family and wedding photography.
Too often, professional photographers are deemed "expensive" and therefore passed up in favor of a friend who "has a nice camera" or a "cheap" studio in a department store. The problem? Your friend might not yet know how to use their gear. And department stores rely on sales gimmicks that result in customers spending more for mass-produced photos than if they'd gone with a local, professional photographer who provides custom art.
Either way, customers end up displeased with the final product and service they receive, as well as the process that got them there.
Today I hope to shed some light on what you really get when you hire a professional photographer, why our prices seem "high" and why it may be better to invest in quality up front, rather than getting sucked in by the lure of "low" prices.
First, I think it's important to address who is and who is not a professional photographer.
A professional photographer is NOT that person behind the camera at a JC Penney studio. In fact, in most cases, department store "photographers" have no experience in photography! They are hired to literally just push a button. They don't have to purchase or care for their own equipment, and they certainly aren't required to study photography.
A professional photographer is also NOT your neighbor who just got a fancy camera for Christmas. Sure, that person may grow to become a professional, but it takes time, heart and dedication. In fact, just because someone has high-grade equipment is no guarantee that they are a professional. I've run into people with top-of-the-line equipment who don't actually know how to use it -- they leave it on the auto setting and call it a day. Quite frankly, that's no different than using a disposable Kodak camera. It just costs a hell of a lot more.
A professional photographer IS an artist. They are someone who studies all aspects of the art of photography (from its history to classic photographers to the latest trends), has their own unique style, and who doesn't mass produce the same generic image over and over again.
With that, here's what you get (and what you're paying for!) when you hire a professional photographer:
Clients see professional photographers for a few hours during a photo session. What they don’t see is what goes on behind the scenes. Professional photographers actually spend more time doing non-photography work than actually taking photographs! And while the fees we charge may seem high, a breakdown of hours of work shows that most pro photographers make $15 to $30 an hour.
Take, for example, what goes into a family photography session:
- Client outreach: a photographer can spend anywhere from one to two hours learning about their client’s wants, tastes and needs prior to a session, either via email, telephone calls or an in-person meeting.
- Research: Based on information gathered during client outreach, photographers can spend anywhere from one to multiple hours doing research for the shoot. When it comes to family photos, this can include everything from scouting locations to visiting a location prior to the session to researching tips for a client's specific want or need.
- Travel time: Some photographers prefer to stay local; others will travel around the world for their clients. Either way, it all takes time -- and money.
- Session time: This is the time spent with the family, on location or in a studio, taking photos.
- Post processing: This is what photographers do after sessions, and it includes editing photos for light, color, and consistency. Generally, for every hour spent behind the camera, a photographer will spend 2-4 hours editing. So, an hour-long family photo session translates into 4 - 8 hours of post-processing time.
- Photo delivery, lab orders, and quality control: Some photographers prefer to have one-on-one meetings with clients to present photos and help clients order prints, which can take anywhere from one to two hours. Others prefer to deliver digital images and allow clients to purchase prints on their own. Either way, this amounts to an additional 1 to 3 hours of work.
Add it all up, and a 1-hour photo session is actually 10+ hours of work!
This is another important component to professional photography. Kobe Bryant wasn’t born a basketball superstar – it took a lot of hard work and practice for him to become a professional. The same goes with photographers. We are constantly learning!
While some photographers prefer to attend large conferences or group workshops, others prefer one-on-one training. The point is, education and professional development costs money and takes time, but in the end, it's totally worth it. Education means professionals are able to deliver a better quality product to their clients.
A photography business is a business like any other. We have small expenses that can really add up:
- Adobe Creative Suite: This is what is used in post processing. A program called Lightroom is the primary tool, but Photoshop can come in handy sometimes. Photographers generally pay $120/year for access to these tools.
- Platform for digital images: This is what we use to deliver digital images to clients. Some photographers prefer to hand over a CD with images, while others used web-based subscription tools. On average, this comes to $99/year.
- Computer equipment: To be efficient, photographers need to be able to run complex programs like Lightroom and store and manipulate photos without any lag. That requires powerful hardware. Computer needs can run anywhere from $900 to $2,000 every few years.
- Web hosting: Most photographers these days have websites to showcase their work and connect with clients. A basic hosting fee usually runs $120/year.
- Monthly studio rent: I don't have a studio, but many photographers do. Rent can run anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars per month.
Death and taxes, right? Like any small business owner, photographers can expect to pay 25 - 30% of their income in taxes.
So what do you really get when you hire a professional?
- Experience: A professional photographer doesn't just bring a camera to a session. They bring hundreds of hours of experience, education and know how.
- Customer service: Hiring a professional photographer means receiving personalized customer service from the beginning. We care about our clients' satisfaction and work with them to meet their wants and needs. This often means building relationships with people that go beyond a simple business transaction. Hiring a professional also means you'll walk away with quality, custom art that can't be found anywhere else.
- Community Value & Quality Products: Very few photographers -- especially those who specialize in weddings and families -- are global superstars. We're neighbors, friends, volunteers and small-business owners. That means supporting us helps support your local economy. Furthermore, we have relationships with professional printing labs. The means the products you purchase from us, like leather-bound albums or home decor prints, are of the highest quality, and far superior to anything you might get at your local CVS.