Custom portraiture IS an investment. It’s not something that everyone may want or feel they need. If it’s important to you to have professional images then it may mean saving up in advance to afford it. When you hire me as your photographer you are investing in someone who’s skilled and knowledgeable about lighting, composition, and the equipment being used. I invest a lot of my time getting to know my clients, arranging a date/time that fits everyone’s needs, taking the time needed to get beautiful images, professionally editing each image, and making sure my clients know how and where to print their photographs if they purchase digital files (more on this at the bottom of the page). With DSLR cameras at very affordable prices it may be difficult to understand why someone should pay more for a session when 5 of their friends charge only $50 for a CD of 100 images, but i’m really hoping you can SEE the difference! There is so much more that goes into custom portraiture than the camera and photoshop. Some of the *behind the scenes* work includes:
Time, time, and more time. This is the part where people think they are just investing in the time it takes me to shoot a session. So much more goes into it than that... dropping the kids off at a sitter, showing up to the shoot, 1-2 hours of shooting, travel time, and E D I T I N G. Editing takes up a lot of a photographer’s job. I don’t open an image in photoshop and apply tacky pre-set filters, brighten your teeth and eyes until they’re blinding, and turn your skin into plastic. I do sort through each session, eliminate duplicates, weed some out only leaving the best to choose from, and make subtle enhancements to each image before cropping and saving them. Then I take the time to consult with each client so I can help you decide which sizes and products fit your home and budget. After your order is placed, I have to get the files prepared for the lab and package/deliver them when they arrive. These are all things I enjoy doing, of course, but I'm explaining how a photographer’s job isn’t just to press the shutter.
Marketing and Advertising. Designing, printing, and passing out business cards and marketing materials takes up so much time! I also spend time building relationships with other professionals, paying for ads to run, etc. Not to mention the time and money that goes into maintaining a website.
Equipment. A decent camera and nice lens is important, but so is the knowledge it takes to use it correctly! It takes time to save up for a $2500 lens, but it’s even more important to have the skill to go with it! I've only just begun collecting lenses AND learning to use them. (Emphasis on JUST.) I only have 2 lenses and one of them is a top Canon "L series" prime lenses. There's no turning back from the L series now. It's an investment for me, the photographer, to purchase these lenses. It's worth every penny knowing I am giving my clients the best. I learn something new E V E R Y single day. I pick up my camera every day, without fail, to continue learning. Some equipment I have is listed below:
3 cameras (backups are a must in professional photography)
2 lenses that help me get the perfect shot for my clients needs (more to come as soon as possible)
2 studio backdrops and stand
2 studio lights, softboxes, umbrellas
2 external flashes (ha ha, I just noticed all the 2s)
Camera batteries, memory cards, flash batteries, expo disc, light diffuser, camera bag, cds, dvds, and external hard drives.
Software, memberships, and insurance. A lot of money goes into upgrading software (monitor calibration, templates, etc) and yearly membership fees to organizations with PPA. Insuring 15K worth of gear is important and costs an average of $550 a year to include liability. The proper legal forms to cover incidents that may occur during a photo shoot, or with images cost a small fortune!
Training. Many would think once a photographer is established their ‘training’ comes in the form of taking photos for clients. BIG misconception. We’re ALWAYS learning as photographers. There’s always a new technology, a new software to learn, a skill we haven’t mastered, a genre of photography we’d like to get into, an updated feature to our website to learn how to operate, etc. Workshops average $500-$3000 to attend. Yearly training seminars cost thousands to attend when you factor in hotels and airfare. It’s really a never ending and time consuming part of the business.
Taxes!! This one is HUGE, HUGE, HUGE. Taxes are my biggest headache. I spend a lot of time on other areas of my business so having an accountant is important. When you hire a $50 shoot and burn photographer, do you really think they’re paying taxes? All other businesses have to be running legally and pay taxes, photographers are no exception. If you can’t handle paying taxes, then you shouldn’t be running a business.
So why does a custom session cost between $250-$1500?
It’s simple. Because there’s NO WAY a $50 photographer can afford $550 a year in liability/equipment insurance, pay taxes, pay for an accountant, have a babysitter, and pay for a website without burning out. There would be no money left to contribute to the family. It’s not fair to my family to spend endless hours working with no income in return.
When I started the business I made the decision to NOT offer digital files. Due to high demand digital files are now available. For several reasons, this makes it VERY difficult for a photographer to make money. One is that clients expect to buy their digital files at a very low price. They especially expect low prices after they've fulfilled their minimum order requirement. This leaves the photographer making NO money! The money you spend on prints helps justify some of the time it takes to edit those prints. The second reason is that clients take their images to non-professional print labs for printing. More than half of business comes in through referrals. A photographer will NOT get referrals once the client sees their images don't look good when printed. Unfortunately they blame the photographer because they don't understand the printer they took the images to knows NOTHING about callibrated monitors and printers (this is despite my advice on where to send images for print when files are purchased). My monitor is callibrated with professional print lab's to insure you get the best quality prints that will last for 100 plus years.
I do require a minimum purchase of prints through my business using my professional print labs. This came after talking to past clients and finding out their beautiful images are still on their computer, not their walls! I now offer a custom portrait experience and I’m with you every step of the way. Plus, you still have the option of purchasing your digital files after you fulfill your minimum order requirement.
Believe it or not, my prices are actually lower than other photographers that provide unique C U S T O M photography. I can do this because I have NO debt. I am being very smart in starting this business, but also very slow in building it. I invest 100% of what I make back into the business. My family is NOT profiting from this in any way yet. We are hoping to one day put profit into our children's college funds, but for now it all goes to bettering the business.
Thank you for reading this. I hope you understand while I would love to try to help everyone be able to afford my work, I am still a person trying to make a living. I understand not everyone can afford to pay for custom photography, and I’m ok with that. It is an investment that may take planning and saving.