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Portrait Photography | Why So Expensive?

untitled-183-EditRecently I have found myself needing a kind way to share with potential clients just how much goes into the professional photographs I produce for them. I get the question, “Why is photography so expensive?” and “How can it possibly cost that much?” all the time. If not directly, then in attitude.

I’ve had people just laugh and never call back. I’ve seen and heard it all. And I’m not complaining. I get it. What seems to be nothing more than a “disc of snapshots” is attached to a four or five-digit price tag, it’s hard to not think you’re being taken for a ride.

From a strictly tangible, monetary standpoint, below is a partial list of what it costs me to create professional photographs.

-$40-60k worth of camera & lighting equipment + backups
-$1,450/year equipment maintenance and repair
-$5k worth of computer equipment and software
-$5k/year on phone, internet, websites, domains and archiving services
-$4-8k/year marketing, advertising and branding
-$3-6k/year traveling to and from sessions and weddings, plus travel meals
-$500/year continuing education
-$2k/year office supplies and tools
-$1k/year in postage, packaging and delivery
-Uncle Sam’s generous slice via self-employment tax

The above expenses are what it costs to make photographs, not “take.” Produce. Not, “capture.” These traditionally used, passive verbs subtly imply that photographers don’t actually do a whole lot. They just see something pretty, press a button and put it on Facebook. And, ta-daaa, that’s it! And you’re right, if that’s all it is, then it shouldn’t cost so much. But in addition to the above tangible expenses, there’s a lot that goes into creating professional photographs that don’t actually have numerical values attached, yet it still costs cost me time away from my own family, my husband, my 3 boys, two of which are still very young, friends and family, relaxing, sleeping, taking my children to the park, going to the movies or even getting a load of laundry done, you know just living and so these costs must be limited by attaching to each a monetary value and spreading it out over all the services and products I offer:

-Time prepping and packing gear before each session
-Drive time to and from session
-Time actually shooting
-Time downloading, editing, exporting, posting and backing up photos
-Time promoting and maintaining business social media sites
-Time spent maintaining website and blog and refining search engine optimization
-Time communicating with clients via phone and email
-Time in consultation meetings with clients
-Time spent bookkeeping
-Time cleaning, maintaining and repairing my camera and computer equipment
-Time spent reading educational materials, training, practicing and refining my skills
-Time designing and creating marketing materials
-Time packaging and sending finished products to clients

And then, last but definitely not least, there’s Experience. Experience represents all the years and energy it has taken (and is still taking) to learn how to relate with my clients and their kids in a way that helps me to produce natural, fun, energetic photographs of them. Only one in every twenty or more clients arrives to their session “camera-ready”, or rather, “camera-comfortable.” One, in twenty or more. Almost every single client confides, nervously, right before we start shooting, “I really hate being in front of the camera.” As a professional, I have to help most clients be comfortable, coach them, prep them, make them laugh, distract them, encourage them and know when to put the camera down when they need a break so that they can take the time they need to relax and be themselves. These skills took years of practice and proactive self-educating. And it’s one of the best things I can offer to my clients is trust and peace of mind that even if they don’t feel pretty or cool at that moment, or if every little thing that can possibly go wrong DOES go wrong, that they’ve hired a professional who is going to get the shot. No matter what. And that, along with expenses, salary, the investment of time and profit for a vibrant future is what makes hiring a professional costly and in my opinion, totally worth it. 🙂