The short answer:
Why do professional photographers cost so much?
Photographers hear it often. Sometimes they even hear an audible exasperation during an over the phone quote. Something like, “That’s outrageous!” A little ashamed to admit this, but I’ve said it too—back when I was an inexperienced amateur with a shiny new camera, telling my friends, “I’ll do it for 20 bucks!” But, I was really only worth 20 bucks, and that was the quality of work my friends received. While it may seem like an insult to have someone question your hourly rate (because they indeed are judging your worth)… don’t get upset. Don’t take it personally. They might not understand what goes into professional photographer’s work. Here’s a breakdown for those who’d like to know…
Here are some typical numbers I see (many are outside of this range, example: really high-end photo studios in Los Angeles…):
Wedding photographers: 6 hours of shooting, $1000 to $3000
Portrait session: One hour, $75 to $300
Food or product photography: One hour, $150 to $400
Fashion photography: One hour, $200 to $500
Sports or other event photographer event rate (2-3 hours): $300-$500
Wildlife photographer/underwater photographer or other specialized: $400-$800 day rate plus per diem.
But many variables… location, turnaround, danger, where the images are used and how often, etc.
Equipment cost, maintenance, replacement:
Personal equipment (not rented or borrowed) ranges from $10,000 to $20,000. More if they use studio lights, backdrops, etc.
Professional camera body: $2,000+
Professional camera lens: $1,000+
(Specialized equipment, let’s say perhaps an underwater housing and ports: $3,000+)
Accessories like sync-cables, backpack, flash cards, strobes, stands, soft boxes, etc… more $$
Editing software: $$
Cleaning supplies and repair: $$
Camera insurance: $$
And keeping up with technological advances feels like a seemingly endless amount of $$
“Shooting” hours vs Actual hours spent on a 1 hour assignment:
1 hour – phone, discussing assignment, quoting, collaborating, planning shoot, light factors, location, specific requests, etc.
1 hour – Preparing and cleaning gear, charging batteries, sorting and packing essential items, reformatting cards, etc.
(If applicable, 1 hour renting equipment)
(If applicable, 1 hour hiring/training assistant)
30 minutes – of travel time
1 hour – Shooting.
30 minutes – more travel…
1 hour – Downloading cards, archiving on hard-drives, (sometimes metadata, keywording, etc), and Editing.
And more time for compiling on DVDs, uploading files to a server, and delivering the data to you.
(A really detailed editing job, the kind where we remove blemishes, stray hairs, nose gunk, yellow teeth, baggy eyes, etc… Not to mention, color correction, tone mapping, saturating in all the right places, cropping, resizing, dodging, burning, and so much more… add time. Most photographers I know are very particular about their images.
So let’s say about five hours for your one hour shoot. A “one hour” shoot at $100 is essentially $20 an hour.
Training and experience:
Some photographers are certainly worth more than others. Equipment. Efficiency. Proficiency. Personality. Experience and expertise ranges greatly. Some are great at weddings. Others are great at fashion. Sports. Food. Portraits. Some are good at many. But all of these skills take practice. So much practice. Classes cost money. Tutorials cost money. But most importantly, our time costs money.
Gas is expensive.
For those who are self-employed, tax is an extra 6 percent.
For those who print, (and if you’ve ever replaced your printer cartridge) you know well that ink is expensive.
The epic battle between professionals and your friends who own shiny equipment:
This is important. We’re competing with everyone else, because almost everyone else has either a consumer DSLR, an iPhone, a point and shoot, and everyone seems to love taking photos. But there are only a few who make a living from this art. And we’d like to continue our profession. We see great photos from amateurs all the time—but that’s because there’s a million amateurs taking a million photos every second, they’ll get a good shot once in a while by pure odds. Professionals are about consistency and craft. Unfortunately we see this regularly… a family friend shoots a wedding for $200, and the images look terrible. No one says anything, because it was the family friend. Meanwhile, the professional keeps getting undercut.
Let friends practice their photography for you. But if you can, try to hire more professionals, and fewer friends.