"Even though you pay $1.99 for a print at your local drugstore and paying for film is pretty much a thing of the past (although you still pay for memory) you may be wondering why you may pay upwards of $40, 50, 70, 90 for a custom photography print. Some photographers hear this statement every once in awhile: "How in the world does a photographer charge $60 for an 8×10 when they cost just under $2 at the drug store?"
The answer is multifaceted and has a lot to do with the time, equipment costs, artistic vision and reputation of the photographer, expertise and the usual costs of running a legitimate business.
TIME of the CUSTOM PHOTOGRAPHER:
Approaching it from a time standpoint, for instance let’s imagine if you will that you have hired a photographer who has work that you love and that is traveling an hour to your on location session. Time breakdown:
- session prep time (30 mins - 1 hour, includes equipment and back-up equipment checks + vehicle checks)
- one hour travel time TO session
- 15-30 minutes prep time at client’s home
- 90 minutes-2 hours with client photographing subject
- one hour travel time FROM session
- 30-45 minutes uploading time from digital cards from camera to computer
- 30-45 minutes time spent backing up the original images
- 2-5 hours editing time to present you with a diverse gallery of edited images
- 1 hour prep time getting ready for ordering
- 1 hour sorting through and checking order
- 30 minutes-1 hour prepping order for shipping and getting order shipped
- any additional phone time or time needed for add on ordering, shipment issues, quality issues
As you can see, average client time for a session ranges from just under 13 hours to 19 hours dependent on the photographer’s level of service. This is time dedicated only to your session. When the photographer charges $150-$300 for the photo shoot you are not just paying for the two hours of session time, you are paying the photographer for 12-19 hours complete time for your session.
COSTS of the CUSTOM PHOTOGRAPHER:
Regarding equipment costs, a good quality professional camera with a selection of good optical quality lenses and digital storage mediums and computer set up can run from $10,000-$30,000 costs dependent on the photographer. Even though you can purchase a really good quality digital SLR for about $2100, there are still other costs related to photography. A good lens for portrait photography can run up $900 to $2500. A dependable computer system with software loaded for business and creative usage can run $2500 to $8000, dependent on the photographer.
Then come lab costs for specialty products. A good photographer knows the lab is integral to their success. Photography labs dedicated to the professional photographer often cost more and offer a range of products that allows the custom photographer to continually offer new, innovative products for you, the discerning client.
Discussing other costs of running a photography business could take awhile so we’ll skip the intricate details. There is of course much more: including costs of running the business, taxes, studio rental/mortgage if the photographer has ownership of a dedicated studio, vehicular costs, costs of advertising/marketing, costs of sample pieces that the photographer will likely bring to your session, etc.
APPLES to ORANGES:
Often times clients will mention to their photographer that X studio in the mall/department store only charges $25 for an 8×10 or they may mention other things related to discount photography chains. The fact is those discount chains make their money on volume, not on customized 1:1 service. Did you know that in February 2007 a rather well known discount department store that started in Arkansas closed down 500 of their portrait studios across the nation? The reason is simple, you cannot make money on 99¢ "professional" prints if you do not sell enough of them. Interestingly enough those same studios that offer the loss leader packages often charge much much more for their a la carte pricing (as high as $40-50 for an 8×10). The reason the big department stores began offering portrait studios in the first place is to get you in their door so that you could spend more money with them in their other departments, the true "loss leader".
Going to a chain studio, as a consumer, you don’t have the benefit of 1:1 attention for 2 hours at your home where your child is allowed to explore, play and be comfortable in their home environment, nor do you get the experience that many custom photographers are known for or the lovely captures of natural expressions. You simply get a bare bones, "SAY CHEESE" experience. Keep this in mind when selecting a photographer.
I hope this (lengthy) article helps shed some light on WHY a custom photographer is a better choice for your family’s memories. The photographs that are produced as a result of the professionalism and dedication that your photographer has will be cherished for a lifetime (or more) and great thought and consideration should be placed into hiring who is right for your family’s most precious "investment." Chain mall studios may be cheaper in these hard economic times, but in the long run... you ultimately get what you pay for.