What makes photography so expensive?

Boston Terrier posing for his photo shoot at a graffiti wall in Houston Texas. Photo by Fred Levy

I’ve heard this question over and over, mostly from photographers getting together and complaining to each other about people asking for prices and saying they are too expensive.

I’ve heard photographers justifying their photography cost because their gear is expensive and they have bills to pay.

The hard part for photographers is that clients aren’t concerned about the burden of being a photographer. The client is spending their hard earned money and it’s the responsibility of the photographer to show the client everything they can get for their investment.

I’ve been thinking about this and how to better explain the gap. The first thing to understand is that photographers can’t compete on price. There is always someone else out there who will do it for free. They need experience or may just be a student and that’s never going to change. Most of these people have other avenues of money that pays them to shoot for free.

The clients who see these free or low cost photographers as a bargain are shopping for a short term gain, not a long term investment. They have put a price limit based on how they value the photographs and we should be honest; no one need photos. This is a want, a desire. So don’t expect the large group of people who love your work, pay you a living wage for it.

But think about that for a minute. Great photography is an investment. It’s more than just having someone show up with a camera. It’s having someone show up with years of experience and will listen to the clients wants and needs to create beautiful work with their unique vision. That’s way more than pushing a button.

Also, we are not selling a consumable product. $5 for a cup of coffee every day adds up and as long as you get a fancy leaf pattern on top and a smile from the barista, you’ll keep coming back. Photography is something you will have for a lifetime. This is a moment in time, captured and produced to hold onto longer than the walls you might hang it on. Since the client won’t be coming back every week, month or maybe ever (though cultivating a good repeat client is important) you have to charge a living wage based on how many clients you want to have every year.

Prices will range drastically on many different factors but it really should never be based on an hour. For a photographer, you have to know your cost of doing business (CODB) and don’t deviate from that if you can help it.

This doesn’t mean you don’t need to hustle and work your ass off because you do. If you want to be valued as a premium photographer, you’ve got to constantly be working at that level. Your clients demand it and feel they are paying for it. Even people who don’t put price first expect and even demand that they are getting something special. That is what you are selling. Not only a photograph. You’re selling yourself, your experience, and your ability to keep doing your very best.

The next client who contacts you and asks for price, make sure they know what they are getting. You won’t get everyone to hire you and you shouldn’t expect to. The goal should never be working more but working better. If you put yourself out there as the creative that can do the best at what you love, the right people will hire you.

Photography for you and your four legged family

Photography for you and your four legged family