Photographers get questions all of the time. Why does that cost this much? Does that include a disk? Why do you need a session fee? Seeing the same questions over and over again about pricing leads me to believe that the majority of people just don't understand how the photography business works. I guess clients think that all a photographer does is buy a nice camera, snap some pictures, make them black and white, and burn them on a disk so the client can get them printed at Wal-Mart. That couldn't be farther from the truth. I'd like to take a few minutes of your time to explain how our lives work as professional photographers. This situation is not like every other. Some professional photographers only work part-time, some are stay at home mothers that created a successful business, some live in dual income households, and some are the primary source of income for their families.
First off, any professional photographer will have overhead expenses, even if they have their studio out of their home. Gear maintenance and replacement, insurance, props, advertising, webhosting, studio upkeep, software upgrades, memberships and workshops...the list can get pretty extensive.
Here at Willow's Pond Photography, we are a family of six. We have one primary source of income, Luke's full-time day job as an IT Tech. Holly works part-time retail, but with 4 small kids at home, the cost of daycare would be outrageous, not to mention we home school, so having one parent home mostly full-time is a necessity for our household. On top of the full-time job, the part-time job, home schooling, kids activities, and the daily grind of life, we started a photography business. We didn't want to be the parent next door with a nice camera that snaps a few pictures and gives out a disk. Photography has been a side passion for years, and we decided as a family we would take the steps necessary to become a legitimate business, in the hopes that one day the photography business would become the primary full-time job needed to support our household.
We did a lot of research on camera gear, studio setups, and products to offer. We spent countless hours researching where we needed to send documents to make our business legit with the government, how to advertise, how to set up pricing, and which print houses match our processing styles the closest. Luke has taken workshops and become members of different photography forums to help keep up with current photography trends, and to better himself as a photographer. Photography is a profession with a constant learning curve. Every moment we are not working our day jobs or spending it with our kids, we are focused on our photography business and how to make it grow and succeed.
When you wonder why photographers have session fees, remember that the fee doesn't just pay for your photographer to show up and snap some pictures. There are travel costs, processing time, online galleries, advertising, gear maintenance, and insurance that comes out of that. Not to mention the time spent corresponding through phone calls and e-mails, resizing photos, and uploading the galleries. We are assuming the worst with a session fee, that the client gets their pictures taken, and never orders any product. You might think, who would pay to have their pictures taken and then not order anything? It happens more than you realize. That session fee is what helps the photography business stay in business at a bare minimum.
Obviously with the clients that do order product, photographers will have an additional profit from that product, but that profit isn't thrown right into the next shopping spree. That profit needs to also be split into advertising, website maintenance, software upgrades, insurance, getting gear serviced, and many other things. So sure, an 8x10 may be $20 through a professional photographer, but you can print it at Wal-Mart for $1, so that is a $19 profit, but how much do you really think the photographer would actually pocket?
The biggest expense a client can't seem to understand is the cost of digital copy, if the photographer even offers it. Some photographers don't want to give their photos out on a disk. Imagine spending countless hours creating a beautiful picture, only to see it hanging on someone's wall with the colors all wrong and the photo paper of cheap quality because they went to the local supermarket to get it printed. These aren't just family pictures to a photographer, they are a work of art that the photographer respects and appreciates. The photographers that do offer digital copy make them expensive enough that if you do buy them, and no other prints or products, that they will still make enough profit to cover all of those expenses I listed earlier. We do offer digital copy, but each photo is priced a little over the cost of one of our 8x10's, so even if we get no other orders besides the digital copy, we will have enough money to cover our costs of not only running the business, but supporting our one income household as well.
Another expense I have not mentioned yet is employees. A lot of professionals do not work alone. They either have a family member or close friend that helps them out. We always have a second shooter at a wedding (Miss Melanie). This year we have also added an assistant to our wedding collections. Two photographers, with their gear plus their backup gear, plus lighting gear, and anything else they can think to bring, really requires another set of hands to carry and help manage it, so the two photographers can focus on the wedding, and not all of their stuff. Weddings aren't the only situation where a photographer may need help. Marathon and Mini sessions always run more smoothly with a helping hand, someone to help gather the families. Newborn sessions work better when someone else is there to help hold the baby into position, and let's face it, the new mom really doesn't want to bend over backwards to do this just days after having that little bundle. So an extra set hands, who took time out of their day to help, and may have needed to re-arrange their day job schedule, or get babysitting, deserves a paycheck too.
Professional photography isn't just a 9AM-5PM job that you leave behind every evening. Photography has no hours, and no limits. Most weekends are booked up, since most people do have that 9-5 job and only have weekends off to schedule photo shoots. Editing is best done in the late evenings, after the family is asleep and there are no shoots scheduled since it's so dark and late. Don't forget about the time photographers take to meet with other vendors, scope out new shooting locations, and bounce ideas off of other local photographers. Contrary to popular belief, in most communities, the photographers know each other and respect each other, making sure their prices are competitive, and talking about gear or the latest online workshop.
Photography is never ending, and it is a passion that runs the lives of the families who choose this profession. So the next time you question the cost of a professional photography, or think about going to the local chain studio next to the supermarket, remember that cost isn't everything, quality is important, and those photographers belong to a family that is trying to survive, just like you.