The Cost…Explained

I wrote this article to shed some light on why it costs more to have your pictures taken by some photographers than other “photographers” or the chain/department store studios.

In case you don’t want to read the whole post (I know, it’s long!), I’ve pasted the last paragraph at the beginning as well: Most people spend hundreds of dollars on items that will only last a few years. Quality photographs can last a lifetime, and beyond. Custom photography is an investment. You are preserving your memories for years to come. Though quality portrait art and prints can cost a fair bit of money, they will become a priceless piece of personal history that can be handed down and cherished for generations. “A photograph is the pause button of life” – Ty Holland.

First, I’ll touch on the differences between a session at a department store vs. your experience with me as your photographer.

Typical department store experience: when you arrive for your appointment you could have to wait with your children for 20+ minutes before it’s “your turn”. When you get into the “studio” your session is likely limited to 15 minutes or so, unless they’re having a slow day (I worked at a department store studio during my university years and I remember the manager expecting us to get each person in and out in less than 10 minutes – and this included families with 3+ children. It was a nightmare!). During your session, and while you’re reviewing your pictures, there are other people (and possibly “active” or “fussy” children) waiting for their turn, distracting you and your kids and/or watching you. Who wants an audience?! Especially if your kiddies are not exactly cooperating that day, lol, and you’re getting a little flustered, hehe 😉 . The photographer (who, by the way, may be a student with little or no experience with children or photography) convinces you there are a few good shots, so it’s selection time. At many places the first shot you “agree to” becomes the one – and only one – you get in your package. Then you have about 10 minutes – with your impatient kiddies – to decide if you want additional pictures, which will be priced much higher than the $9.99 coupon you arrived with. When you get your printed pictures you notice they are not well focused (kinda blurry); the overall color is bad; that scratch or bruise is visible front and center; you can see the specs of dirt on the clothes (or bottom of shoes!), and that precious smile you love to see, well, isn’t quite there, and those gorgeous eyes are red and watery from the tears. But, it cost you less than $20, so you’re (somehow) satisfied.

Your experience with me: When you first contact me I will provide you with my session info and prices, as well as a document with answers to frequently asked questions. I’m available via email around the clock to answer your questions and discuss options, and you’ll find I can usually respond within a few hours (except overnight 😉 ). Sometimes it’s easier to chat by phone, and I’m happy to do so. Once you decide to book your session with me, I can provide tips for your session and we can further discuss the types of pictures you hope to get from the session. When you arrive for your session, the studio is ALL YOURS! Or, if you’ve booked an outside location shoot, I’m all yours! (… but we may have to share the location with whoever else is around 😉 ). There will be nobody before you or after you (if I do book more than one session a day they are spaced multiple hours apart). I list approximate session length/time on my Session Info page, but it’s not carved in stone. I’d say at least half of my sessions run over a bit, and it’s no problem. You’ve spent time preparing for your session and waited for the day to come; I want to make sure I’ve captured great shots for you to treasure, and sometimes that takes more time than expected because kiddies have minds of their own, hehe. I’m not promising every shot will be picture perfect smiles; but I will capture personality and natural expressions! Once your session is over, I will spend hours editing and processing your images to provide you with proofs for selection. I will remove blemishes, dirt spots, stray hairs, food stains (yes, your kids arrive clean, but sometimes you have to bribe them with food to get them to cooperate, and believe it or not that food often gets on their face and clothes, lol), etc. For the adults in the photos, I provide airbrushing and other “touch ups” at no extra charge as well. And then there’s all the other things – color adjustments, sharpening, custom collages, etc. I have often had to work some magic in Photoshop to make one great shot from multiple images (think of groups with more than one child, “blinkers”, “nervous smilers”, etc. It has sometimes been impossible to get everyone looking “good” in one shot!). I use my editing skills to create artistic images you and your friends/family will “ooh and ahh” over. Within 1-2 weeks your proofs will be ready and you will get them on CD (resized and watermarked) as well as a password protected online proof gallery. You get to decide on your prints over several days, in the comfort of your own home. My packages include at least 3 shots, and I offer discounts for large orders. All of my photographs are printed at a professional lab, and I offer finishing services such as dry mounting and canvas. By choosing me as your photographer, you are not paying for a student’s part time job; you are hiring someone with a passion for capturing those moments in life that have passed before we know it but that we never want to forget.

What’s that you say? Your friend has a friend who knows someone who has a studio in their basement and takes pictures for $20 (and maybe even includes the full quality images for you to print yourself)? I believe you. Because that’s what I did when I started about 10 years ago (only I charged $10…then $20 once I started getting a few people ask me to take their pictures). But I can guarantee you that the quality of the images (both digitally and in print) will not even compare. Don’t get me wrong, we all have to start somewhere; and I’m not saying that this person won’t become a knowledgeable and skilled photographer (heck, when I look at pictures I took 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago, I think “man, they’re crap”! The people I took them for thought they were fantastic, and I even thought they were pretty good at the time. Sometimes I can’t even believe how much I’ve learned, and how differently I see things now). I’m just saying that if your total cost with this person including high-resolution proofs is $20 – or even $100 including the high-resolution images for that matter – they are probably still in the early stages of learning photography. It’s “hit or miss” – you may get a few “good” shots, but more than likely the exposure will be off on most of them (either too bright or too dark), the focus will be off (for example, the hands or feet will be in focus instead of the face), the color will be awful (skin tone may be too blue or too orange), and so on. There’s nothing wrong with choosing them to take your photos…if that’s what you’re looking for. If you look at photos taken by well-established and skilled photographers, and compare to photos taken by beginners (or the department store studio), and you don’t see a difference then perhaps it’s not worth the extra cost for you to have a custom photography session. But if you can see the MANY differences (I think I could write an entire article just on the differences, lol), the extra cost will be worth it to you.

So, why does custom photography cost more?

Aside from compensating the photographer for their knowledge, skills and experience, custom photography costs more because of the amount of equipment required and essentially the amount of time it takes to provide you with your gorgeous photographs.

Here’s a little breakdown of time:
30-60 mins for inquiry, booking, other pre-session discussions
30-60 mins pre-session prep time (set up the studio, equipment checks, scouting out locations, etc)
30+ mins travel time (for location shoots. Plus the time to pack my gear and load & unload it)
30 mins – 3 hours shooting time (depending on the type of session you’ve booked)
30 mins transferring images from camera to computer and backing up originals
3-10 hours of editing time (again, depending on the type of session you’ve booked)
1 hour uploading to online gallery, blog, etc, and transferring images to CD for you
1-2 hours preparing slideshow (if that is included with the session you’ve chosen)
30 minutes showing your proofs and explaining the order process, and answering questions afterwards
1-2 hours preparing custom collages or greeting cards (if applicable)
15-30 minutes spent with you to place your order
30 minutes to sort and check your prints when they arrive
15 minutes to show your prints when you pick them up
Plus the time I spend learning new techniques, practicing new things, etc.
The exact amount of time per session depends on the type of session, but ranges from 10 hours to 25 hours. The different types of sessions are priced accordingly.

The friend of a friend who snaps some shots and gives them to you on CD to print yourself at the local photo lab has not invested the time that it takes to provide you with a personalized photo session and quality photographs. What’s the point of 30 pictures on CD if neither of them is worthy of hanging on your wall? Wouldn’t it be better to have a dozen awesome shots? It seems anyone with a camera calls themself a “photographer” these days (well, maybe not everyone does this, but I think you get my point)…but, it’s unlikely they have invested in professional quality equipment, education, etc to produce your images…which brings me to the next topic…

Besides all the time it takes, there is the cost of running a photography business. These are a few examples of costs:
$12,000+ in cameras, lenses, flashes, and accessories (See my post titled “What’s in MY Bag” for details, HERE)
$9,000 in studio lights, backdrops, props, etc
$3,000 in editing equipment and software
$1000+ for advertising (website, business cards, giveaways, etc)
Plus additional expenses such as education/workshops, sample prints, templates, office supplies, and so on.

As you can see, offering a full service custom photography experience is not cheap!

It really comes down to “you get what you pay for”. If you just want snapshots, perhaps the department store studio or beginner photo enthusiast is sufficient. But, if you want an experienced photographer who “lives” for those tears of joy shed by a mother when she sees her newborn’s slideshow, I could be the photographer for you!

I’m not saying I’m the best photographer, or I know everything; there are many photographers who post pictures that I would consider to be “better” than mine (they also charge a lot more than I do!). But I can tell you that I know my stuff and I shoot my style of photography well. I’m always striving to improve my skills, and I will not try to pretend I know more than I do or claim to have won bogus photography awards to impress you (yes, I know of “photographers” who advertise winning fake contests). I let my work speak for itself; I post many pictures I take so that potential clients can decide if my style of photography is what they’re looking for. And I do share emails/messages I receive from previous clients so that new clients can feel comfortable and confident in their decision to choose me as their photographer (check out the Raves section on my website Blog).

Most people spend hundreds of dollars on items that will only last a few years. Quality photographs can last a lifetime, and beyond. Custom photography is an investment. You are preserving your memories for years to come. Though quality portrait art and prints can cost a fair bit of money, they will become a priceless piece of personal history that can be handed down and cherished for generations.

“A photograph is the pause button of life” – Ty Holland.

I hope this article helps you understand what you are paying for when you choose a photographer.