Why Does Professional Photography Cost So Much?

I get it.  Professional photography can seem expensive.  My standard session fee is $350 to $500, and the prints I offer range from $15 for a small one to several hundred dollars for a big canvas.  Regularly I hear from potential clients who express their appreciation for my work and their desire to hire me to photograph their family or pets.  When I respond I explain how I work and the various session options and the cost to hire me.  Much of the time potential clients become actual clients, and often repeat clients.  But several times a year the conversation ends when we get to pricing.  Sometimes people just don’t reply.  Occasionally, though, someone will let me know what they’re thinking.  “That much?  Really?  I only want an 8×10 to put on the wall.”  Or “Why is it so much?  My friend has a digital camera and can do it for free.”  Reactions like that used to baffle me, even make me angry.  But when I look at things from a non-photographers point of view I understand completely how professional photography pricing could boggle the mind.  If your mind is boggled, I offer the following information for your consideration.

When You Buy Professional Photography You Are Buying My Expertise

professional photographyThat may sound like I’m stating the obvious, but I think sometimes it may not be so obvious.  I didn’t just pick up a camera and hang my shingle last week.  I have been taking pictures for decades.  I have attended countless workshops and training programs led by some of the best photographers in the world including Joe McNally, Tom Bol, and Allison Langley.  I graduated from the New York Institute of Photography.  I have dedicated innumerable hours to master Photoshop and other software.  I have taken hundreds of thousands photographs to hone my skills.  Though many people can grab a nice photograph with their camera on Program mode, training and experience provides the me with the ability to produce strong images all the time.  Predictably.  Sunny day or cloudy day; inside or outdoors; calm subject or frenetic model; I am ready to deliver the terrific images you were hoping for.  So while your next door neighbor might have a DSLR camera and be willing to shoot for free, he or she likely won’t bring that level expertise required to create great photographs like I can.  We all know someone who tinkers with car engines, but when your Check Engine light goes on I suspect you go to a garage with experienced mechanics.  When you’re capturing memories of your family or pets you deserve that same level of experience and expertise.

When You Buy Professional Photography You Are Renting My Equipment

There’s a decades-old debate in photography circles that pits the gear versus the photographer.  Older, crustier photographers can be heard stating that they can take a better picture with an iPhone than a newbie could with a $40,000 Hasselblad.  Maybe.  But I guarantee that old crusty photog can take a better picture with that Hasselblad than he could with the iPhone.  A Ferrari will outperform a Smartcar every day of the week.  And a Ferrari with Mario Andretti behind the wheel will outperform a Ferrari driven by me every day of the week.  Good tools make a difference.  And professional photographers invest in good tools because their livelihoods depend on it.  My basic camera-lens setup costs just under $4,000.  On a typical shoot my camera bag holds nearly $8,000 in gear.  And that doesn’t include the $2,000- $3,000 in lighting equipment I bring along some days.  The software programs I use cost several hundred dollars, and the computer and storage drives even more.  The photographs I make are crisp and exposed properly and lit well and printed perfectly thanks to the excellent tools I employ.  When you buy professional photography you reap the benefits of those excellent tools.

When You Buy Professional Photography You Are Buying My Time

professional photographyThe costs associated with photography used to be a little more transparent than they are now.  In the days when we used film it was understood that the rolls had to be processed and prints made before even seeing what the photographs look like.  Now we can look at the back of a digital camera seconds after taking a picture and see the composition, exposure, etc.  It might be easy to deduce that once an image is captured it comes out of the camera in perfect, print-ready form.  Not so.  On an average two-hour shoot I will capture at least 75-100 images.  When I sit down in front of my computer it will take me 10 minutes or so to upload the files from my card, and then another 30 minutes or so to quickly run through the full collection to cull out the shots that I don’t like because the expression is off, exposure isn’t great or some other reason.  I’ll spend another 15 to 20 minutes selecting the best of those photos that will comprise the final collection, usually 25 or 30.  Then I’ll dedicate a couple of minutes on each individual shot tweaking exposure, contrast, color temperature, and other critical aspects that can make a strong image even stronger.   When a client orders a print I devote even more time to the file making sure every single detail is covered – I remove blemishes from faces, spots from clothing, pet hair from the ground or furniture, and so on.  The post-session work “developing” the photos can add up to a lot of time.  But that time and attention to detail that you’re investing in means the difference between a nice picture and a great photograph.

 When You Buy Professional Photography You Are Buying My Professionalism

When you hire me you benefit from my years of experience in business.  You can expect to receive the same level of professionalism and courtesy you would from your accountant or banker.  I’m going to show up on time, dressed appropriately, ready to work hard for you.  You will have my undivided attention – I won’t be checking Facebook or on my phone making weekend plans.  I’m going to charge you what I said I would.  And if there’s a problem anywhere along the way I am going to work with you to remedy that.

Yes, professional photography can appear to be expensive.  But when you peel back the curtain and look at what goes into it you see that the investment you make ensures that you receive great images created by a professional business person using the best equipment.  And in the years to come as you look at the photographs that captured once-on-a-lifetime moments you’ll be glad you made that investment.

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