Why are Professional Photographers so Expensive?

The following article was published in the 
December 2009 edition of Professional Photographer Magazine. 
Author and image by Shawn Richter of Caught on Film Photography.

Why are Professional Photographers so Expensive?

In this digital age where everyone has cameras, scanners, and home "photo printers," we hear this all the time: How do professional (or personal) photographers charge $X for an 8x10 when they cost just $1.50 at the drugstore? Simply put, the customer is not just paying for the actual photograph; they're paying for time and expertise.

The Average One-Hour Portrait Session
First, let's look at the actual work involved:
*** Travel to the session
*** Setup, preparation, talking to the client, etc.
*** Shoot the photos
*** Travel from the session
*** Load images onto a computer
*** Back up the files on an external drive
*** Several hours of Adobe® Photoshop® time, including cropping, contrast, color, sharpening, skin touch-ups, enhancements and backing up edited photographs. 
*** Several hours preparing the gallery, talking with the client, answering questions, receiving and processing order and payment, order their prints, receive and verify prints, package prints, schedule shipment, and ship or delivering personally.
*** Occasionally meeting clients to review photos and place order. Meeting and travel time average 2 hours.

You can see how a one-hour session easily turns into several days or more from start to finish. So when you see a personal photographer charging a $200 session fee for a one-hour photo shoot, the client is NOT paying them $200 per hour.
(What this article fails to include above, is the time communicating with each potential and new client, planning and preparing the session ahead of time to make sure every detail is personalized to fit the needs and personality of the individual client.)

The Eight-Hour Wedding
A wedding photographer typically meets or communicates with the bride and groom several times before and after the wedding. And it’s not uncommon to end up with up to 1,000-2,000 photos to sort through, much more than a portrait session. Many photographers spend several weeks working on one eight-hour wedding if you look at the time that is truly involved. 
Again, when a wedding photographer charges $4,000 for eight hours of coverage, clients are NOT paying them $500 an hour!

(Don’t forget that the photographer runs the wedding day to some extent. A comfortable, confident wedding photographer can make a wedding day go more smoothly.)

The Expertise And Cost Of Doing Business
Shooting professional photography is a skill acquired through years of experience. Even though a DSLR now costs under $1,000, taking professional portraits involves much more than a nice camera.

Most personal 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 print photographs, run a website, etc. And don’t forget backdrops, props, rent, utilities, insurance, etc!

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
Chain stores do have their place. For a very cheap price you can run in, shoot some quick photos, and be done with it. 

Consider the time and effort that a personal photographer puts into photographs, compared to a chain store. Store sessions last just a few minutes, while a personal 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 the patience) to wait because everyone is in a hurry.

The truth is that many chain store studios lose money. In fact, Wal-Mart closed 500 of their portrait studios in 2007 because of the financial drain. What the chain stores bank on is a client coming in for quick, cheap photos…and while there, spending $200 on other items. They are there to get you in the door.

The Real Deal 
Professional, personal photographers are just that—professionals. No different than a mechanic, dentist, doctor, or electrician. But a personal photographer often becomes a friend, someone who documents a family for generations with professional, personal photographs of cherished memories.
Maybe we need to help clients look at it this way: A pair of scissors costs $1.50 at the drugstore. Still, most people will gladly pay a lot more to hire a professional hair dresser to cut their hair.
The added attention and quality that a personal photographer gives is worth every penny.

We hope that those who have taken the time to read this page will have a better understanding of why professional photographs, created by a Personal Photographer, are so expensive.


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