In the professional photography industry, the question of why some photographers charge substantial fees is one that often perplexes both budding photographers and potential clients. Let me shed light on some factors that contribute to the pricing strategies and understanding value within the photo biz.
Photography is a skilled profession that demands expertise and people often spend years acquiring knowledge and refining their craft through practice and many failures. Yes, some people "have the eye" right when they begin, but there are a multitude of skills to learn beyond composing a photo. The technical side of exposure, focusing techniques, lighting, color, composition, and posing are just a few to mention. Then you've got business skills required like client communication, marketing, administration, accounting, and several more.
Investment in High-Quality Equipment
Regardless if some say "equipment doesn't really matter," most seasoned professionals recognize that quality equipment makes a significant difference in function, durability, and better final results. Especially for specialized types of photography such as sports, wildlife, night/astro-photography, high-end advertising, fashion, underwater, and others.
A camera and lens are just the initial cost. You've got memory cards, filters, batteries, case/bag, lighting equipment, stands, props, tripods, and much much more. On top of that you'll need a powerful enough computer to process your files and then hopefully stacks of external hard drives because you're taking so many photos.
Beginners are often caught off guard when they realize quality lenses are often as expensive or more than their camera alone. Plus you're going to want at least 2-3 different lenses if you want to do various types or styles of photography.
Editing is a crucial phase in the photographic process beyond taking the photo and an entirely different skillset to learn and refine. Similar to a meticulous editor refining a manuscript, post-production photo processing adds value and a polish to the final product. High-end commercial retouching and color grading is an advanced skill and can take years to learn and become proficient. I personally started using Adobe Photoshop in 2002 and Adobe Lightroom Classic in 2008 and am still continually learning new techniques, tools and methods.
There are times when photographers will hire this type of work out which adds an additional cost of doing business if they choose that route. If you think, "hey, that's cheating! No true pro would do that". Think again, I've met MANY professionals from rookies to world renowned masters that hire out their post-processing.
TIME AND PATIENCE
Crafting the perfect shot often requires considerable time and patience. Whether waiting for the ideal lighting or meticulously planning and setting up a shoot, patience is a valuable skill that can be learned but many don't have in the beginning of their journey.
CREATIVE ART DIRECTION
Professional photographers are not mere observers of a scene but often directors of visual storytelling. Guiding subjects to strike the right pose involves skill and creativity. This can be likened to a film director directing actors to convey a specific emotion or narrative – an essential skill in the photographer's toolkit. And that's just one example. More to come in detail in a separate blog.
Beyond creative talent and technical skills, photographers are entrepreneurs managing businesses. This involves overhead costs, marketing efforts, and the ongoing pursuit of staying relevant in a competitive market. Viewing photography as a business underscores the need for financial sustainability and justifies creating a sustainable pricing structure.
UNIQUE CREATIVE VISION
True artistic talent is a valued and somewhat rare commodity. Clients are not just paying for a service; they are investing in a photographer's unique vision and creative perspective. Much like investing in a one-of-a-kind piece of artwork some clients seek to capture a distinctive imagery through the eyes of a skilled photographer.
Exceeding Client Expectations
Meeting and exceeding client expectations is a hallmark of professionalism and a "must" to survive in this ever increasing competitive market. Understanding and delivering on the client's vision adds huge value to the overall service, product and experience. This can be compared to any service industry where exceeding customer expectations is a key factor in establishing long-term relationships.
cost of doing business
While the "cost of doing business" (CODB) for a photographer can vary based on factors such as location, level of experience, and specific services offered. Here are some of the potential expenses and costs associated with running a photography business:
1. Studio Space* - (not all photographers own or lease a studio, but if they do it's a major expense)
- Rent or mortgage payments for studio space
- Utilities (electricity, water, heating, etc.)
- Studio insurance
2. Equipment Costs (mentioned earlier that this is the "short list" of equipment)
- Lighting equipment (strobes, softboxes, reflectors)
- Tripods and stands
- Backdrops and background support systems
- Camera bags and cases
- Memory cards, hard drives, and other storage solutions
3. Editing Software and Hardware
- Adobe Creative Cloud subscription or other photo editing software
- High-performance computer for photo editing
- Calibration tools for monitors
4. Marketing and Advertising
- Website development and maintenance
- Online portfolio hosting
- Marketing materials (business cards, brochures)
- Online advertising (Google Ads, social media promotions)
- Liability insurance
- Equipment insurance
6. Professional Memberships and Associations
- Memberships in photography organizations and clubs
- Licensing fees if required in your area
7. Continued Education and Training
- Workshops and courses to stay updated on industry trends
- Photography conferences and events
- Fuel or public transportation costs for client meetings, on-location shoots, continuing education.
- Vehicle maintenance
9. Client Management
- Customer relationship management (CRM) software
- Contracts and legal fees for drafting or reviewing client agreements
10. Office Expenses
- Office supplies (paper, ink, pens)
- Phone and internet bills
- Furniture and fixtures for the studio
11. Employee Costs or Contractor Pay
- If you have assistants or other staff, include their salaries or wages
- Payroll taxes and benefits
- Income taxes
- Sales taxes (if applicable in your state- YES, in Arkansas photographers ARE required to have a sales tax permit and collect/submit sales tax monthly or quarterly depending on how much revenue you generate)
13. Props and Set Design
- Costs associated with purchasing or renting props and set materials
14. Packaging and Delivery
- Packaging materials for delivering prints or digital files to clients
- Shipping costs
15. Accounting and Bookkeeping
- Accounting software or professional tax services
- Bookkeeping fees
16. Emergency Fund
- Having a reserve for unexpected expenses or periods of low income. Start saving now for that next piece of gear or vehicle repair. You never know when the next unexpected expense pops up. Even it's $10-15 a week. Keep a separate fund and start saving today.
17. Retirement and Savings:
- Contributing to retirement accounts or savings for future business growth. This one is HUGE, and I wish that I would have learned this much earlier on. Same as #16 above start saving NOW. Any investor will tell you, time is your friend in saving for retirement.
It's important for photographers to carefully track and manage their expenses to ensure the sustainability and profitability of their photography business. Keep in mind that these costs can vary, and not all may be applicable to every photographer.
The pricing structure in professional photography is a result of a combination of many factors – expertise, equipment costs, business overheads, and the intangible value of a photographer's unique artistic vision were a few mentioned. As with any skilled profession, the fees charged are a reflection of the dedication, commitment, and investment required to consistently deliver high-quality results. Understanding these elements provides clarity on why some photographers charge what may initially seem like a premium, positioning their services as a worthwhile investment in capturing timeless moments, creating art and/or promoting a business or product.
If you're a client looking to hire a photographer, please keep these factors in mind when your first thought may have been "this photographer is charging too much!"
Shoot me a message if this makes sense and you're looking for a seasoned commercial photographer.
And if you're an aspiring or budding professional, considering these factors when determining your value and what you are going to charge. Want to learn more more? Check out my educational services.
Am I missing anything? Let me know, I'd like to add more to the list if so.
Thank you for your time!
Alex Kent, commercial photographer | educator | public speaker | guide