Why Professional Photography is So Expensive – A Comprehensive Guide




destin-harbor-emerald-grande-wedding

So, you are thinking about hiring a photographer.  You start checking out multiple photographer’s pages, looking at their work, and checking their pricing. 

You think, “Wow, why are these services so EXPENSIVE?”  (Especially some photographers in Destin FL!)

You might be thinking, “They only charge $150 at the [insert mall photo studio]!”  Well, true, but they aggressively attempt to upsell you on that $150 package – most times succeeding because you get so little with it.  Also, most of the people working there aren’t actual photographers.  They are hired for their marketing and up-selling skills.

Ok, let us now discuss some reasons why a professional photographer is simply going to cost you more:

  • Computer used to edit photos
  • Photography equipment
  • Editing software
  • LLC, business license, insurance, taxes and fees
  • Time – SEO, finances, sales, social media, traveling
  • Website construction and maintenance
  • Staying relevant in technology

The Computer


A photographer’s computer needs to be relatively powerful.  We are going to be running things like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.  We will be navigating through thousands of images in raw format.  These images are between 7-12 MB and our hard drive needs to have fast RPM (Rates Per Minute) in order to render the images quickly and decide which ones to keep.  Finding a hard drive with fast RPM and also high storage capacity is going to be expensive.

We also need an abundance of memory and CPU in order to run multiple applications at once.   Photoshop in particular is extremely memory intensive.

A decent laptop can run around $800-$3000 or even more if maximum performance is desired (see – Wedding photography). 

Photography Equipment

Photography equipment comprises the ‘meat and potatoes’ of a photographer’s expenses.  Every genre of photography has specific needs – some more than others – and if we specialize in multiple genres?  Yup, you guessed it, even more equipment expenditures.

I specialize mainly in beach photography in Destin Florida – though I do have experience in weddings, maternity, etc.  Because I decided to branch out, I have had to succumb to additional equipment expenses. 

Let us discuss some equipment expenses, shall we?


Source: theGRID

The camera.  I use a Canon 6D Full Frame DSLR.  At the time, this was a $2000 camera!  I also have a Canon I series 70-200 and 24-70 lens.  These costed me about $1200 each!  Many wedding photographers carry two camera just in case one fails.  Imagine having only one camera at a wedding and it fails right at the beginning.  Talk about a disaster…

Without a full frame camera, good luck taking pictures that can be blown up onto a large canvas!  In order to take high quality images of your beach session, wedding, etc., investing in these products is necessary.

The bulk of the equipment can be attributed to the camera, but we have some other peripherals that deserve mention.

Flash triggers can run you between $80 and $300.  Multiple are needed in case one malfunctions during a session and you don’t want to be in a situation where lighting is bad and your flash goes out.  In the same family as triggers, strobes and speedlights can net you up to $5000 for decent ones.

If we are going to take some studio pictures, then a backdrop and props are necessary.  Most backdrops range from around $50-$500, with some higher end backdrops climbing near $1000.  This adds up when accounting for the fact you will need multiple backdrops depending on the topic of the photo shoot.  Props are really all over the place because they can something as simple as a blanket all the way to something like a tricycle for posing.  Overall, to be prepared for a wide variety of situations, you will be spending some money here!

Lastly, lets not forget about camera batteries and memory cards.  We typically have an extra battery for each camera and multiple memory cards on hand.  Memory cards range in price depending on the storage capacity and the read speed.  The higher the read speed and capacity, the more expensive they will be.  Wedding photographers rely on high end memory cards more than others due to the sheer volume of photos captured during a wedding.  The read speed will allow the photographer to quickly render and view the images.  This is especially important when you come away with 4000+ pictures!

Editing Software


Source: Adobe

There is a wide variety of software available for purchase for us to put the finishing touch on our images.  Many of these are downright expensive.  For example, Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are going to cost $10 a month just to use it.  You are basically leasing the software. 

Many software vendors sell presets and enhancement plugins that can really make your photos shine but can be as much as $100 for just one plugin.  We have to decide which ones are really necessary or we could be breaking the bank big time here. 

On the other hand, an excellent photographer will rely more on the camera for that perfect shot and less on the software.  Software should be primarily for minor touch-ups and the occasional head swap.  As photographers, time is precious and we don’t want to be spending any more time editing than we have to.

Running Your Business

Lets break this section down into a few sub categories:

  • LLC cost and taxes
  • Contract creation/lawyer fees
  • Business insurance
  • Accountant/tax professional

This one doesn’t get much attention.  Most photographers work solo and only for themselves.  That means we are a one person business.  That cant be expensive, right? 

Wrong.

As photographers, we need to protect our business just like any other business owner.  The best way to do this would be to obtain an LLC.  Liability protection may be the primary reason to get one because you never know when a judgement could be made against you.  If successfully sued, you could lose your car, your house, or anything of value to you. 

Filing an LLC isn’t too expensive, depending on where you are located.  Here in Destin, Florida, it costs around $140.  Plus there are now licenses you have to have to be able to use the beach for beach portraits in Destin, Florida.  This alone is $150 a year. Then, you have taxes you have to pay on it annually.  But an LLC help establish legitimacy for your business so the investment is worth it.

Do you want a legally binding contract for your clients to use?  You could do it yourself, but unless you are a lawyer, you could omit important information that protects you or provides awareness to your client.  I think we all know that contracting a lawyer’s services can be pricey.  Also, in order to have e-contracts for clients to sign is also a monthly fee.  I use a website called shootproof.com but there is also docusign that more expensive.

You might also consider business insurance and liability insurance. This could include things like equipment insurance to cover your camera, lens, computer, etc.  Or maybe even property insurance if you own or rent a photography studio.  An LLC will cover basic liability but it never hurts to protect yourself (maybe hurts your wallet, though!).

Are you good with money?  No?  Well, you might want to get yourself an accountant.  When it comes to the in-and-outs of tax law as it relates to business, the accountant is your friend.  Doing your own personal taxes is one thing, but doing it for your business is a bit different!  Avoiding major fines and penalties is our ultimate goal.

Lastly on this topic is credit card fees.  I am able to accept credit cards but not with out fees.  I use Square.com for its safety and ease of use but I do have a 3%+ fee on every charge.

Time

Time encompasses a few categories.  A few mentioned here:

  • Traveling
  • SEO
  • Finances
  • Sales
  • Editing Photos

Traveling

Photographers in Destin FL, especially, will probably travel quite frequently.  It probably takes me about 20 minutes to 2 hours depending on traffic to get to a Destin beach portrait session and about 45 minutes to arrive at a 30A beach session.  Gas will be a primary factor here as well as tolls!  Here in Niceville, I have to cross the Mid Bay Bridge to get to Destin and it costs me around $3 one way.  Doing 3-4 shoots a week?  That is around $18-24 just in tolls!  Not everyone will suffer through this but it is just another expense to factor in for many Destin photographers.

Heck, I know many photographers who do Destination Weddings!  Talk about having to travel now

SEO

This is especially true if you have a fledgling business – Search Engine Optimization and marketing are time consuming and critical to a photographer.  We need clients to photograph to get paid, after all! 

Some things we can do for SEO,

  • post content frequently on our website
  • post on social media
  • run ad campaigns
  • post content on other sites to generate backlinks
  • website on-page optimization

There are plenty of other ways to increase SEO effectiveness but these are some of the major contributors.  Getting on search engines is a great way to market your business and get seen.  The higher the volume of people seeing your site, the greater likelihood that someone clicks on your website and books a photo session.

Finances

I covered this briefly in a previous section, but managing your photography business’ finances is important.  If you hire an accountant, it will save you time but you WILL spend money.  You also need to take into account LLC cost, taxes associated with the LLC, state business license fees, business insurance, equipment insurance, equipment costs, etc.

I won’t spend too much time here (hehe) covering finances but just know that we, as photographers, face substantial time and expense with running a business.

Sales

Sales kind of runs in tandem with marketing but it deserves its own section here.  As photographers, we need to generate price lists and products to sell to our customers.  I take pride in offering prices up front on my website

We also have to prepare the products upon client purchase.  A few examples – preparing and ordering prints on a photo lab website or visiting a frame store to size a frame for client purchase (the frame in particular is a lot of work!)

Some photographers may even try to network with local businesses to promote their products or offer services to local businesses in return for advertising.  If you are lucky, you might get some referrals from other local photographers, too!

Sales can be time consuming and expensive to market.  But once you build up a good local presence then it becomes noticeably easier once you get past that initial investment.

Editing Photos

For most photographers, editing photos is by far the most time consuming thing we do.  We can take hundreds to thousands of pictures (wedding photography takes the cake (pun intended) with sheer volume of photos)).

First, we need to determine which ones are good.  That requires searching through the hundreds of photos you already took.

Second, the editing process begins.  Depending on how many photos you are going to offer the client, this could take a long time or be relatively quick.

Third, sometimes the client wants further modifications after you completed editing.  This includes head swaps, air brushing, etc.  It really all depends on the client sometimes.

The Website

Source: Zenfolio Price Plan

How do you check out photographers’ work, pricing, info, FAQs, etc?  Sure, they have some of it on social media but you will find the majority of that information on their website.

In the beginning, websites are extremely time consuming to set up and can cost around $200+ a year (I use Zenfolio for mine) to maintain.  You need a domain name and you need hosting, among other things.  Many website hosting providers offer more services depending on the plan you buy so this a consideration in choosing the right one.  Oh yeah, if you want a custom website designed, you could be looking at between $5-10k!  Might be better to stick with free website templates if you are a starting photographer.  Do you want ecommerce capabilities?  This would allow clients to pay for their products from your website instead of an external source.  You might be looking at around $17 a month to start ecommerce.

Once you get your site up and running, you will need to populate it with galleries and useful information to help your client decide on a purchase or just get information to help with preparing for a photo shoot.  Fortunately, once this is all done then it becomes much easier to maintain.  Post blogs, upload photos, and properly label them – these are few things I do every month on my website.

Staying Relevant with Technology


Source: Mitch Martinez

The last subject we will discuss is by far the least known struggle of a photographer.  Technology is changing faster than it ever has and it takes diligence and motivation to keep up. 

What new photography equipment is trending?  Can it improve my pictures?

Is there new editing software?  New presets that can save me time?

Are there new SEO tactics I need to know about?  Did Google just change their algorithm (again))?

Does my website provider have improved functionality? 

How are social media trends?  Is one platform gaining more traction than another?

These are just a few of the myriad of topics that are relevant to a professional photographer.  Staying on top of technology requires time and effort.  I think we can all agree that time is money.

Summary

If you made it through all of that (phew), then you may have a better understanding for what we do as photographers and just how costly it is.  The Bureau of Labor Statistic estimates between $30,000 – $50,000 annual salaries of photographers.  This doesn’t take into account all of your costs!

Just know that we spend our own money and time, working on our craft to ensure we can create the BEST possible product for you and your family.  Investing in equipment, marketing, website, education, and more is necessary to help us achieve that result.

If you enjoyed this blog, go here for more content!  If you are interested in my photography, come check out my site!

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