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Why does custom photography cost more?


This is a question I often hear asked. With the advent of digital photography and the cost of cameras becoming more affordable the perception of value of professional photography has plummeted. Unfortunately the waters have been muddied with a flood of mediocre services offered by untrained individuals calling themselves professionals. Customers are forgetting that quality does in fact cost more. Ask yourself this, will my portraiture stand the test of time?

Consider the cost of a day at the spa: manicures, pedicures, haircuts, massages. Each of these treatments are provided by people who need to be compensated for their time, talent and expertise. Consider how long a treatment lasts…6 weeks maybe, not very long right? So why then would you put less value of a portrait of you or your loved one that will last for years?

A portrait artist is investing their time and time is a valuable commodity. Time spent learning their craft, time spent finding the client, time spent consulting with a client, time spent photographing, time spent editing/retouching the image collection, time spent delivering.

In addition to time, a photographer also has to factor in the cost of products. Just because you can get a 4×6 print through your local or online store for a few dollars is by no means a comparison to custom portraiture. Don’t forget the cost of setting up shop; cameras, computers, props etc. Another factor is the reputation of the photographer; a good name goes a long way to proving quality and customer testimonials are an excellent referral source.

Here is an excellent example of breaking it down written by Marianne Drenthe of Professional Child Photographer…

“How in the world can you charge $60 for an 8×10 if it costs me less than $2 to print at x store?”

The truth of the matter is the answer to this question is multifaceted. Much of the cost of a photographic print produced by a professional photographer has a lot to do with the time, equipment costs, artistic vision and reputation of the photographer not to mention expertise and the usual costs of running a legitimate business. The cost of TIME Approaching it from a time standpoint, let’s imagine that you have hired a photographer who has work that you love. This photographer is traveling an hour to your destination to photograph your session. Here is an example of a time break down:

booking time: 30 minutes to one hour (client contact time + paperwork)
pre-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
2-3 hours time with client for ordering images
1 hour sorting through and checking order
30 minutes-1 hour prep time for delivery
30 minutes-1 hour getting order shipped
any additional phone time or time needed for add on ordering, shipment issues, quality issues
In this example, the time spent per client can range from just under 13 hours to 19 hours – dependent on the photographer’s level of service. This is time dedicated only to ONE session. When the photographer charges $150-$300 for the photo shoot (aka SESSION FEE) 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.