Cost of Photography
In Part I, we talked about the overhead costs that a photographer shells out before ever placing their finger on that shutter button. So if it’s so expensive, why bother hiring an independent, custom photographer? Three fabulous reasons.
1) A custom photographer lavishes you with their time and attention. (How often does that happen in your life?)
Mall-type studios operate on a “fast food” model of photography – with little profit on each client, they count on cramming as many people in as possible. Like McDonalds, it is their business interest to get you in and out as quickly as possible. Stores sometimes even use their photography studios as “loss leaders” to get you in the store, meaning they actually lose money on the photos, but they are counting on you buying other things while you wait for your turn under the hot lights.
When I started my business, I didn’t want to be a “hurry up and smile, ” high-volume studio. I don’t believe you can herd memories. I wanted to be more like the Pottery Barn of photography experiences. Luxurious, beautiful, long-lasting, heirloom-quality, with all sorts of perks like free design services. Thus, the actual session is only a tiny fraction of the service and attention that each client receives. The full custom experience requires much more:
Breakdown of Time Spent On Each Client:
Booking and creating contracts | 30 min
In-home design consultation with client | 1-2 hours, plus 30 mins travel to/from
Location scouting (prep, travel, walking around, taking notes – I do this even when I’ve used the location before) | 1 hour
Emails and phone calls to confirm session and answer questions | 30-60 mins
Session prep, gear checks and rechecks | 1 hour
Travel to/from session | 30 mins
Actual session | 2 hours
Image transfer and backup | 1 hour
Culling, editing, and retouching images | 4-10+ hours, depending on the images
Exporting finished images, writing and prepping blog post | 2-3 hours
Creating custom home design options for client | 2-5 hours, depending on their needs
Ordering | 2-4 hours, depending on revisions
Obsessively re-checking images and placing order | 2 hours
Prepping for delivery | 1 hour
Actual delivery | 30 mins
TOTAL: 23 – 34+ hours.
(This total assumes they’re not ordering an album – if so, add another 10-15 hours.)
The session represents only about 6% – 8% of the time I spend on any given client. And what a difference all the extra time and care makes! Rather than pushing people through, much thought is put into each facet of the experience, and no expense of time is spared in ensuring that the products you receive are perfect and truly reflective of you and the ones you love.
Some people wonder why a session can’t be reduced from 2 to 1 hours and the session fee cut in half. As you can see, in the big picture, the time spent shooting is nearly negligible – almost all of the other time commitments remain unchanged. If I charged less, I could cram in more clients to compensate, but at what cost? Individualized session prep and secure backups? Careful retouching and editing? Custom design? Being available to answer questions? Slashing even one of those categories would drastically change the experience and outcome.
When you consider that a photographer’s actual profit is usually only about a third of the check you write to them (the rest going to taxes, cost of goods sold, and cost of doing business), and keep in mind that your experience with them alone represents the majority of a work week, it becomes easier to understand why a full-time professional photographer needs to charge what they do to stay in business.
2) But what does all that time add up to? One unparalleled experience.
When you are unrushed during a 2-hour session, amazing things happen. You start relaxing. You can only give so many posed, stiff smiles, so after a time you naturally loosen up and start to become more of who you are every day. The images become about you and your family being yourselves. Snuggling. Laughing. Inside jokes. Playing. Flirting. Spontaneous loving moments can’t be forced, but over the length of a custom session, they will unfold unaided, and a custom photographer can use their lens to show who you really are. There’s nothing more beautiful than a child lighting up upon spotting a fuzzy caterpillar, a quiet embrace of a couple, a new mom rocking her tiny one to sleep in the comfort of her own home. These beautiful moments happen all the time, but they are fleeting. Bringing in a professional photographer allows you to keep them forever.