Why Photography Is Expensive

Photography is something that will never go out of style. Whether you are taking a picture of a blooming flower in your garden, the dinner you just cooked, your pet, or members of your family, photography will always have a place in your life, whether from an amateur or professional aspect. So why is professional photography expensive?

You’ll find yourself on a portrait photographer’s website or contact them for pricing, and you’ll feel a bit of sticker shock. $100 for a session with no digital images or prints?! $3,000 for a wedding package?! But as a photographer myself, who did months of research before opening my own business, I can give you clear answers as to why, and hopefully you’ll click away from this post a little more aware and understanding as to why these things “cost too much.” And I’m going to attempt to do this in a way that doesn’t confuse anyone, or make this a long, drawn-out affair where I ramble and everything gets jumbled. Bear with me!

The first thing we need to talk about are income and expenses. When you are running any kind of business, you need to calculate your expenses. Those have to be paid for. For photographers, there are fixed expenses (website for example, something monthly and around the same price), and variable (gas, coffee or lunch at a consultation, something that varies). Then when you have that calculated, you know how much you have to make per year just to cover that. That doesn’t even calculate how much you actually want to make per year. You actually add that on. So say a photographer’s expenses are 5,000 per year (let’s say this includes taxes to Uncle Sam and state governments). Well, now they know they gotta make that much to keep the business going. Now let’s say they want to make 20,000 per year on top of that. Now they have a goal. 25,000.

©Molly Eire Photography

So how then do they set the price on a simple one-hour session? Well, they decide how many hours they want to work in a year. Maybe they want to do…..let’s say 5 one-hour sessions per week. So five hours a week. That’s 240 hours of session work per year. Doing some division, that means they would want to charge around 100 per one-hour session to reach that goal, just for the session-work. This doesn’t even count the non-session work such as travel and editing. But some seasons aren’t the best time for photography. Summers can be slow because school is out and everyone takes vacations. Five one-hour sessions a week isn’t always doable. So the price must be adjusted. Now, that’s just for the session. That doesn’t include digital images and prints. Why are those separate for some photographers? Because they have their own set of expenses. When you order prints from your photographer, your photographer has to send them to a lab, which has a cost. Then there’s the shipping, the packaging, and the delivery. And those same prints are printed on better quality paper than most of your drop-off photo labs. It’s a simple case of cost of goods. If you buy one print and it costs the photographer 10 bucks (print plus shipping and packaging), they will charge you more than that. Why? Because they still have to put food on the table and because they want their business to continue functioning.

Senior portrait photography by Puyallup photographer Molly Eire Photography

So why is wedding photography expensive? Because you don’t factor in the time they will spend on your wedding. Now I know what you’re going to say, “but my wedding was only 10 hours!” No, shooting your wedding was only 10 hours. Editing your wedding photos took 40. Uploading hundreds, maybe even thousands of photos took 2, maybe more. Consulting with you about your wedding when you hired them took 1-2. Emails and phone calls to hash out last minute details took 1-3, maybe more. Arranging and creating a wedding album for you and sending it to the lab took 1-2, maybe more. Packing it in this beautiful wooden box and making it look stunning for delivery took 1. Hand-delivering it to you took 1, maybe more.

©Molly Eire Photography

Yes, your wedding’s session work was 10 hours of time. But the non-session work. The nights they spent up late sacrificing sleep the same night of your wedding, just so you could wake up to a sneak peek in the morning on their Facebook page or website. The massive amount of frustrated groans when it’s stressing them out. Arguing with themselves that the cake photo looks perfect on that page in the wedding album, only to find the bouquet toss rocks it better. From the minute you hire them, to the minute you have your prints, album, video delivered to you, they are working for you. All of that time they spend, not just at your wedding, but before when they chat with you over coffee, and after, as they spend 40 hours on their butt glued to their computer with zombie eyes and stained PJs editing (not all in one go, I hope!). For you, it’s 10 hours of stress, getting ready, saying “I Do” to the love of your life, and eating, dancing, and drinking the night away before you leave for your honeymoon. For them, it’s 10 hours of excitement and nerves, being wary of those with cell phones blocking the perfect shot of you as you walk down the aisle, avoiding having a drink spilled on their camera, praying that a lens doesn’t break, hoping they packed that spare camera battery or memory card, trying to be present, but not just elbow people out of the way, all to go home and get started on delivering something absolutely timeless to you. Your photos. Your moments frozen in time. Something you will always cherish. A true service. Their work doesn’t stop after a 10 hour wedding. It has just begun.

Now, that’s the wordy answer for that. Here are some numbers that will tell you why that wedding photography is $3,000.

Initial consultation – 1 hour.

Wedding photography – 10 hours.

Photos taken per hour of wedding – 100 (10 hour wedding – 1,000 photos)

Uploading 1,000 photos to computer and importing into editing program – 1 hour, maybe more

Going through every single photo and weeding out the duds – 1-3 hours, maybe more. (let’s say 500 weren’t usable)

500 perfect photos to edit – 5 minutes to edit each photo (2,500 minutes – 41.6 hours).

Appointment with you to go over your desires and any orders – 1 hour.

Creating a wedding album, sending photos to lab to be printed – 1-2 hours.

Packaging and delivering your order – 1 hour.

Total time spent on your wedding – 57 hours.

30% of $3,000 taken out towards business taxes – New total $2,100

25% of $2,100 placed into business account to cover expenses (equipment rental, second photographer payment, any travel, food, etc.) – New total is $1,575.

10% of $1,575 placed into business account to invest in the business – New total is $1417

Take home pay for 57 total hours of work for your wedding – $1,417 or $24 per hour.

©Molly Eire Photography

Certain things vary, like taxes, expenses, investing, etc. When you as a client do the math, you probably say “$3,000 for a 10 hour wedding is $300 per hour!” When you take into account these other aspects, you can see that it goes down considerably.

“Well this photographer down the road only charges $500 dollars and will give me the originals!”

Well….tsk….that photographer is likely doing one of these:

  1. Not running a legitimate business and pocketing everything, minus the cost of the disc or USB that they’ll give to you.
  2. Running a legitimate business, but is not planning for their business’ future in any way, shape, or form.
  3. Building their portfolio.
  4. Probably will hand you a pile of crap on a disc. Unedited jpeg images that will include all the uglies, and yes, there is always an ugly in your photos. Someone has blinked, someone got in the way, there’s a lens flare, one person is blurry, etc. Serious professional photographers want to give you the best. Period. Remember, with anything, you get what you pay for.

And #4 is probably harsh, but that’s the reality. I do not doubt at all that there are fine photographers out there who do wonderful work for a fantastic price. However, most I have seen, unfortunately, do substandard work and don’t run a business to avoid the legal stuff like taxes, even though they provide a service, and some even sell you products which technically should be taxed. By all means, if you like someone’s work, regardless of any of this, then use them. One thing a photographer, whether professional or amateur, needs is improvement. We all do. No matter how good you get, you can always get better. And you can only get better by continuing to take photos and edit.

The bottom line is that professional photography is itself a luxury. But it is a luxury that is well worth the price when it comes down to having those perfect memories, whether the birth of a child, your wedding, your senior photos, or just a lovely fall family photo, and by hiring a professional photographer, you hire their service, their time, their equipment, their knowledge, their creativity, and their effort. Please cut them some slack on their pricing. 😉

P.S. Keep an eye out for the all-inclusive photographers. They typically include digital files with a print release. Their prices run higher, but you will have the edited digital files and be able to print them wherever you like. Some folks want their digital files. Other folks love the traditional in-person ordering appointment after the session. It is really up to you. 🙂

©Molly Eire Photography

©Molly Eire Photography

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