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Why are Professional Photographers so expensive?

February 23, 2017

Why are professional photographers so expensive?

Simply put, the customer is not just paying for the actual photography; they are paying for time invested in the photo shoot, the education the photographer has invested into becoming a professional photographer and the large cost of professional equipment.

The average one-hour NEWBORN portrait session:

First, let’s look at the actual work involved for a one hour session:

The Session:

  • 30 minutes: Communicate with the potential client, answer questions, and send informational / pricing email. Once the client books the appointment, we forward information on how to prepare for the photo shoot. We also ask the client for feed back on what they want to accomplish at the photo shoot.
  • 30 minutes: Photographer will arrive 30 minutes before the session to prepare the studio, turn lights on, prepare memory card, shoot gray card to get correct white balance, get correct settings on camera for the accurate exposure. Also to turn the heaters on for the newborn babies. We like to get all the props out and ready to use before client arrive.
  • 1 Hour to get newborn ready.   We like the parents to bring baby to studio to feed and put baby to sleep before we pick up the camera for the shoot. We do not start the photo shoot until baby is completely asleep.
  • 1 Hour session: shooting the photos.
  • 30 minutes: If the session was a newborn baby. Most likely there will be a laundry basket full of soiled blankets and sheets from the baby being naked. These need to be washed and dried immediately.
  • 1 Hour post shoot: Back up the files onto the studio computer. Download images into proselect so photographer can sort through images and pick the best ones to upload online for client to view. Select best images, batch images through Photoshop to down size them to upload them online. Create client a page online and upload images for their viewing.
  • 3 Hours average to retouch clients newborn images. Email proofs to clients.
  • 45 minutes to burn jump drive, order prints, package order when received, email client to pick up order. Deliver package.

You can see how a one-hour newborn session easily turns into over 8 hours from start to finish.

The Expertise and Cost of doing Business:

Shooting professional photography is a skill acquired through years of experience and training. Even though a DSLR now cost under $1000, taking professional portraits involves much more than a nice camera.

Most professional photographers take years to go from buying their first camera to making money with photography. In addition to learning how to use the camera, there is a mountain of other equipment and software programs used to edit and produce high quality portraits. Don’t forget cost of marketing, cost of prints, packaging costs, backdrops, equipment, props, utilities, taxes/accountant fees and insurance.

In addition to the financial investment, photographers actually have to have people skills to make subjects comfortable in front of the camera. Posing people to look their best is a skill by itself. You could argue that posing is a more important skill than actually knowing how to use the camera. A poorly exposed photo can be saved, but a badly posed photo cannot.

 

The Chain Store Photo Studio:

Cain stores do have their place. (ie Target, JC Penny, Sears) For a very cheap price you can run in, shoot some quick photos, and be done with it. But you get what you pay for.   Most likely the photographer shooting has had very minimal training.

Consider the time and effort that a professional photographer puts into photographs, compared to a chain store. Store sessions last just a few minutes, while a professional photographer takes the time to get to know the people, makes them comfortable, makes them laugh. If a baby is crying at a chain store, they often don’t have the time or patience to wait because everyone is in a hurry.

The truth is that many chain store studios lose money. What the chain stores bank on is a client coming in for quick, cheap photos… and while there, spending $100 on other items. They are there to get you in the door.

In my 17 years experience, I have seen MANY chain photography businesses come and go. (Kiddie Kandid) I truly believe people want more these days from their portraits.

 

Amateur Photographers:

Back when I first became a professional photographer, we did not have digital cameras. We shot with film. So to become a professional photographer, you actually needed to know how to work your camera to know what film type to buy. AND you only had around 30 shoots on your film. You couldn’t afford to mess up. AND we didn’t redo the entire image over in Photoshop. So you had to get it right the first time. Now days, I see so many photographers, who call themselves professional, who do not know how to use their camera in manual mode.

Theses Amateur Photographers, in my opinion, have ruined professional photography.  How is a consumer to know if the photographer they are hiring is pro or amateur?  Usually by the price they are charging.  If the photographer is really cheap, does not have a studio… most likely, they are not serious about photography.  My guess is they won’t be around in 3 years. If they have invested money and time into an education… If they have invested a lot of money into equipment, they can not afford to be cheap.  They won’t survive. (I easily have over $20,000 in just equipment in my studio, this is not including props, blankets, hair bows, crochet newborn hats, bowls, slings, backdrops, newborn supplies, office supplies, yes, I could go on and on)

I hired a professional photographer a few years ago to do my family’s portraits. We made a deal to trade and I did her families portraits. When she gave me the memory card to download my images, I realized she shot the entire session in jpg auto mode. I was amazed at the poor quality of my family’s images. I didn’t realize doing a custom white balance, shooting in raw and actually getting the exposure right on… made such a huge difference! Especially now days, everyone wants the negatives. If I were purchasing negatives from a professional photographer, I would want all those negatives to look awesome, not muted.

Okay, now I’m on my soapbox! Yesterday I took an online class on how to retouch newborns. The photographer teaching the class was a photographer I really looked up to and loved her work. She has a really good eye. It has been a few years since I’ve taken any Photoshop training. So I purchase the class to see what other photographers were doing to retouch their newborns. I just about fell out of my chair when the photographer started the class off with how she shoots. First, she only shoots in jpg. AHHHH! Why not shoot in raw too so you have those huge files with TONS of information. I take so much pride in my art. Why would I want to capture an image in a jpg that holds only 7MBs of info, when I could capture the image in raw that holds 20MBs of information?

Then this photographer proceeded with the knowledge that she does not custom white balance with each different photo shoot AND she keeps her camera setting the same for each client. WHAT? My newborns need more studio light or can be window light. My toddlers need a fast shutter speed. My maternity clients I use more dramatic lighting, business clients are Rembrandt lighting. All of these clients are different apertures, different shutter speeds and different white balance.

I could go on, but I won’t. I will say.. I did learn that she uses actions to retouch all her images. It works, but she obviously doesn’t know how to use Photoshop. She runs an action to vignette her images.??? Why not use the burn tool and custom vignette the image exactly how you want. You have no control over an action, maybe the opacity, but not the area. If she used the burn tool she would have more control.  Is this what it has come to… photographers shooting in auto mode and batching actions on all their images?

Anyways, it was just disappointing. The equipment has become so easy, these new photographers are not taking the time to actually learn how to be the best photographer possible!  This is why they can charge very cheap prices.  No education. No time spent retouching and inexpensive camera’s that give a decent image from auto mode.

 

The Real Deal:

Professional photographers are just that- professionals. No different than a mechanic, dentist, doctor or electrician. But a professional photographer often becomes a friend, someone who documents a family for generations with professional, personal photographs of cherished memories.

A pair of scissors costs $1.50 at the drugstore. Still, most people will gladly pay a lot more to hire a professional hairdresser to cut their hair. The added attention and quality that a personal photographer gives is worth every penny!!!!

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