Thursday, July 14, 2011

You should be a photographer

Well, I am a photographer. A hobbyist. But from time to time over the past year few years, I have had family and friends mention that I should try out professional photography. As in one who charges fees for her services and work product.

Believe me, I've thought about it. Unfortunately, I don't think my skills are where they need to be. But that's not the point of this post. The point of this post is discuss why custom photography costs what it costs.

So here's the deal. I have a job. A full time, very well paid job. And why I am well paid? No, it's not necessarily the profession. It is my skill set and experience.

Most professional custom photographers today charge a session fee. A session fee pays for the photographer's time and talent. If you, as a client, want to purchase actual prints or a CD with digital files, there are additional fees.

Okay, so why am I doing this blog post? I have seen other photographers blog their versions but after editing 15 beach photos of my own children for a blog post a few weeks ago, I was suddenly hit with exactly how much time is involved. And recently, Rich and I have had discussions regarding why custom photography costs what it does after hearing what friends and family paid for recent sessions, prints and digital files.

So here's my analysis. To start, let's suppose that you already have an established (albeit new) photography business.

30 minutes: A prospective client emails you to inquire about a family session on a specific date. You exchange several phone calls and emails regarding the date, time and location. You also have your prospective client sign a contract and pay the required deposit. You are going to want to deposit that payment into the bank because while I'm sure Bob and Sally are upstanding citizens, do you really want to discover that their check is no good after the fact?

1 hour: Bob and Sally, your new clients, desire family photos with a beach setting. The beach is approximately a 45 minute drive for you, which is why you offer it as a potential location to prospective and returning clients. As a professional, you will want to check all of your equipment before you leave the house and you may want to give yourself some extra time in case there is traffic.

1 hour: The session with Bob, Sally and kiddos goes well. You spend an hour photographing them along the beach.

1 hour: Bob and Sally want to chat for a few minutes after their session has ended regarding next steps (when can they see a preview!?!) and of course, there is some traffic on the drive home.

2 hours, 30 minutes: You now need to transfer all of those photos from your camera to your computer and you are going to want to back up those original files as soon as humanly possible. I read an article last week on one of the online Boston news websites that could be career damaging.

A professional photographer on Cape Cod photographed a wedding. The images were still on the memory card sitting in his camera when his house was broken into and the camera was stolen. The bride is begging the thief to return the photographer's memory card.

So after you back up your original files, you still need to look through all of the photos and decide which ones will continue along in the process. You then need to edit those photos and back them up. Are you going to put them out there on the internet without a watermark? I didn't think so. You will need to save another version with your watermark.

1 hour: You have already posted two "sneak peek" photos for Bob and Sally on your blog. You now need to finalize the sale. I'm assuming that you have a private place online where you host client photos. You upload and then email Sally to let her know that her online viewing gallery is ready.

As part of your pricing, you offer a CD of 25 digital files with full printing rights, which means that the client can print as they desire. Sally has decided to go this route instead of ordering prints from you. You email back and forth a few times regarding which photos she would like to include in her purchase as you have provided more than 25 images in her gallery.

Upon receipt and bank deposit of final payment, you burn your client's images onto a CD and mail it to your client.

1 hour: In hopes of generating more business, you update both your facebook page and your blog with your favorite images from Bob and Sally's session.

So how much did you charge Bob & Sally?

Session Fee: $50

CD of 25 images: $50

That's a total of $100 for 8 hours of work.

Or $12.50 an hour.

Don't forgot that you need to pay federal and state (depending upon where you live) income tax. $30 is a good estimate.

And then there are all of the overhead costs. Gas to drive back and forth from the bank, the post office and the photo shoot. Wear and tear on your car. Postage. Since we are discussing costs, let's talk about start up costs and time. Do you have a business license? Are you operating as a sole proprietor, an LLC or some other type of legal entity? Did you hire an attorney to draft your legal documents, including contracts used with clients? Do you have a CPA to assist with the preparation and filing of your tax returns? Does your state have a sales tax? Are you registered? Do you know what you need to file and how often?

What type of website do you have? Where do you host photos online? What camera are you using? What lenses? Do you want to/need to upgrade in the future? What about a computer? Do you have insurance? What about a professional looking logo and watermark? Business cards? Did you have pretty packaging for your client CDs?

Okay, just typing this all out is making my head spin. Now you can see why I promptly scrapped the idea of doing this on the side. And now hopefully someone can see why a photographer may charge $150 for a session fee along with hundreds of dollars for CD of digital files. (Cost of living for your area does play a role in pricing.) Photography is an art and with photographers you are paying for their vision. Their art. Their experience and expertise.

So although I have no immediate plans of "going pro" I still do enjoy photographing friends and family. My kids have an odd relationship with my camera and it is nice to have new subjects. That photo of Allie in her Fourth of July outfit with her awesome red boots was a "trick" photo. She adamantly stated, "No pictures!" when I pulled out my camera. I followed her around for a bit and then saw an opportunity I didn't want to pass up. I asked her to sit on the steps and wait for me while I took some pictures of the construction of Auntie Sue's stairs.

Keep clicking!


Berg said...

As a photographer in SC, I loved this post :) I don't charge nearly enough to cover all the time I spend making sure every picture looks great. Makes me feel better about my plan to increase my rates in 2012. P.S. I'm having my engagement photographs done on our annual trip to the Cape by Katie Pietrowski. Ever heard of her?

Pyjammy Pam said...

amen sister! even just doing the few little sessions i have done for people makes me adamant i don't want to do it professionally. it's the same reason i'd never work in a bakery. what if making it my job made me hate it? (cake, in the bakery example. ha ha ha!)

I'm Marissa said...

I wish we could find a decent photographer out here (hawaii) that charges that little. Even the terrible photographers charge over 200 for a one hour session on the beach, and we're surrounded by it!

The Alexanders said...

I was just going to say what Marissa said...the average sitting fee is around $200 and to get the digital rights on a disc will run upto $250 per image!!!

Marcia (123 blog) said...

In South Africa, the standard session fee is about R1400 - R2000 ($200 - $285) but it is also standard to get a disc with about 50 - 80 edited images for as much printing as you like (at your own cost, of course).

I'm a time management coach and my clients (typically those in service-based businesses like these) are always amazed when we go through similar kinds of exercises to see how much time is actually involved in "one hour" of client time. Even for me and I've streamlined it to about 1.5 hours for every billable hour :)

Lauren P. said...

As a photographer, and mom to 3 little ones ages 5 and under, I absolutely LOVED this post!!!! You rock for recognizing what's really involved when "time and talent" are concerned!!! My business ( has taken 3+ years to build and my photography skills were completely self taught, making this journey even longer for me. I love when I see people appreciating this form of art! :)

Christi said...

This is such a great post. Photography isn't easy. There are so many other things involved besides snapping the shutter.

When I was looking for wedding photographers I was appalled at how many people called themselves professional just because they had a dSLR with a kit lens. They had the equipment and the website but definitely not the skill with posing, framing and lighting that I expected. But they sure did charge top dollar for their substandard work.

Kim said...

I agree and understand why rates are high. Here it's more like $300 for a sitting (2 hours) and then $250 for a CD so quite a bit higher and I think it crosses the line a bit, but definitely it's a lot more work than it seems like or than you get a the mall.

The one thing that really makes me mad though is the number of crummy photographers who charge out as professional. After having 2 not great experiences, I'd definitely doing more research now.

Stacey L. said...

Ok, I have to say "thank you" for this post. I'm not a photographer, but I have 4 kids and sometimes I think the photographer I use is a bit over priced. The way you break it down however made me understand why they charge what they do. I never really thought about it before.

Teej said...

Is that really what they charge for professional photography in the Boston Area? Woah! Then I just got majorly scammed by our photographer here in Podunksville, SC, where things are supposed to be cheaper. Hmm. Well, at least our gas is cheap.