Why do photo sessions cost what they do?
An article for the photography client & photographer's guidance
It all starts with an email from my sister requesting a Smash The Cake Photo Session for my nephew's 1st birthday. And it ends with me hosing off the backdrop flooring in the backyard.
Not that I mind, my husband even had fun helping out. But we were exhausted and everyone went home and had about an hour nap, including my husband.
I'm writing this article to talk about what you, the client, should spend on a portrait session, because we photographers often get the question; Why does it cost so much? Or, can you do it for less? There seems to be a disconnect between the photographer and the client about what is involved in producing a portrait shoot. And since I, we, and everyone, were so exhausted after this Cake Smash, I thought it was a great illustration of the cost, skill, and effort that goes into producing any kind of portrait shoot.
enter code at check out
Behind the scenes:
Studio Rental/office space
My living room turned into a studio: Lets start with the cost a photographer spends on a rental studio or the time involved in setting-up and cleaning-up a home studio. And lets add in the cost of an assistant.
Here is my husband, standing in as cake wrangler.
The question: Why does it cost so much?... all it took was an hour to shoot it?
Studio set-up: It took me about half-a-day to make the space baby safe and clean the day before. Then on shoot day, another 2 hours to set-up the backdrop and lights and do some tests shots. After the shoot - Another hour to breakdown, and 1.5 hours to clean cake from everywhere.... and everything.
That would be: 8.5 hours: just for prep and breakdown
If this were a regular client I would have had additional pre-production time of about 1 full day/8 hours.
Pre-Production consists of:
Communication and Planning: Multiple emails, phone calls and communication with the client on scheduling and particulars of the shoot. (eg: What kind/size cake should I get? What clothing/ colors are best for the baby? Should we bring the baby dressed or dress him there? What time is nap time and best time to shoot?....) There is never just one email, or one conversation, this goes on for days.
Paperwork: writing contract and invoice... everyone is a little different. Photographers! Check out the timesaving bookkeeping software I use by Honeybook, at the end of this article.
That's about 8 hours: Pre-production
Post Production: Editing - 4 hours. Orders and print making - 2 hours. Post production, client communication and billing - 2 hours.
That's about 8 more hours: Post Production
Shoot time: 1 hour + 1 hour hang-out time with client before or after shoot.
That's 2 hours: Shot Time
It started like this:
And it ended like this:
The skill it takes to be able to photograph a baby, or really any person before they meltdown, means training, education and years, and years of practice and honing a craft. Once we started shooting, this was done in about 10 minutes. Babies don't sit still and cakes smash very quickly. An unskilled amateur is not going to get this shot with lighting, a set, and everything that goes into a shoot like this... let alone get it in focus and the exposure correct. Yes I'm tooting my own horn, but really I'm tooting all pro photographer horns. Props to you photogs out there who do baby portraits on a regular basis, they are exhausting!
This takes training and money. What did your education cost you? I wont put a dollar point on this, but I think you get my point.
This is the part that I really think is lost in translation with clients. A professional photographer has upwards of 20K in equipment, and that is on the low end. Not only that, we have to replace and update a good chunk of it every 3 to 5 years because of technology updates. Yes EVERY 3 TO 5 YEARS we buy new cameras and computers and more. Although we can make a good investment in lighting and lens, and not replace them, on average, we replace the following items every 3 to 5 years because of extinction and shelf life. This is the digital age, gone are the days of having a film camera and never having to buy a new one. Gone are the days of a computer that last more then 5 years. Gone are the days of software that does not need upgrading.
Think of these expenses every 3 to 5 years:
Camera - $4000.00
And this does not take into account the investment of all the pro lenses that average $1200 and up each, lighting packages at $4000- $10,000. Backdrops, props, rental on business space or studios, website hosting, advertising, insurance, and other costs of doing business.
Lets put a per-shoot cost on this in terms of what it would cost to rent all this. On the low-end a DSLR camera/lens package and lighting package would be $400 to RENT. Yes $400 just to rent lighting and camera package, and on average a photographer will only charge the client $350-$500 for the session... now our eyes are opening.... this is why we must own our own equipment if we do small portraits shoot, renting is too expensive. The rub is, if a photographer does a high-end commercial shoot, they can afford the rent everything, and usually do.
The average price for a portrait session these days is $350-$600. Here's the problem, photographers where charging this same average price in 1999. With inflation, cost of living increases, and the cost of doing business being much higher, this is incredibly low and should be doubled.
Here's the breakdown:
On our time breakdown above, we averaged 24 hours in pre and post production. And 2 hours of shoot time.
Total: 26 hours for 1 photo session!
Running the numbers:
Average prices: $350 • $500 • $600
Price $350 / 26 hours = That means your photographer is making an average of $13.46 an hour
Price: $500 / 26 hours = $19.23 an hour
Price: $600/ 26 hours = $23.07 an hour
Here's the question. Do you think any professional running their own business should only make $13.46 an hour?
California's minimum wage will be $15 an hour soon, so that is not even minimum wage. Not to mention I did not average in the cost of doing business like the camera equipment, rental studio or insurance and things like that, so honestly these wages are even lower.
To the client: The next time you wonder why a photo session cost what it does, think about the value of what your photographer gives you in time and product. Think about what your time is worth in your line of work, then pay the bill with confidence that it is really worth it! Photos are memories that last forever and it's worth every penny.
To the Photographer: RAISE YOUR PRICES. Charge appropriately. Value yourself, your skill, and your product. You are worth it! Otherwise you are bleeding money. Take an inventory of your equipment, and time you spend on pre and post production, then figure out how much you think you should be paid an hour. Depending on your skill level this may be more or less. Depending on the cost of living where you live, this may be more or less. But if you are a professional, and in the business for more then 5 years, you should not be making less then $25 to $50 an hour, period. This means you tally all your hours to produce the shoot, all 26, not just the one hour shoot.
One last note for the Photographer on billing
Get your billing process in order! Want to know how I balance my paperwork of contracts and invoicing, and cut some of this crazy time-involved client dealings? I use HoneyBook - hey more "Honey". And yes, I bought this software, I was not given it for free and now advertising it. I have been using this online platform software for about 2 years, and it has cut the time it takes me to write a contract and invoicing by about 75% less! And it's made specifically for creatives, particularly geared toward event professionals like wedding photographers, event planners and the like. It is equally efficient for my more "commercial photography" world of massive paperwork. And clients can sign your contract and pay all in the same place with a click of a button. The nice people at Honeybook are offering my readers 50% off this fantastic creative's bookkeeping software. Link here to get your discount: Honeybook 50% off: click here
Because after a long day of photography, who doesn't need a good stiff drink.
Lighting Gear: 10% off Interfit Photographic: click here and use code "EMERY 10"
Rental Equipment: Barrow Lenses: 10% off go to this link: click here
Business software: Honeybook 50% off go to: click here
Welcome to my blog. You will find photography tips, tutorials and reviews here at jenniferemery.photo/blog. Always with a positive theme to encourage your photographic journey. Please subscribe to keep up with all the current posts.
All the Best! Jennifer