Why is professional photography expensive?

Now that there are digital cameras, photo printers, scanners, and do-it-yourself print kiosks, it’s easy to say “well, who needs a professional photographer? I can just go and buy a digital SLR and take those pictures myself!” … Right?

Not exactly.

Photography is a skill and artistic talent combined with proper usage of professional equipment. The client essentially pays for time and expertise, not just the actual photographs.

To that end, I’d like to discuss the breakdown of how the service works and what’s involved in a photo session with a typical professional photographer:

  • Travel to and from the shoot location
  • Setup and preparation before the shoot and upon arrival
  • Phone calls and e-mails prior to the session
  • Time spent transferring files, and backing those files up
  • Processing RAW files in Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop — adjusting exposures, contrast, colour, saturation, sharpness, crops, and more
  • Proofing (showing the client their photos, for selection) — either online, or in-person
  • Processing the client’s print order, packaging them when they are done, and mailing them to the client as a finished product or meeting in-person to deliver the product

The “Expert”

Whether the photographer has formal training or is self-taught, they will have clocked many hours behind the lens in learning their craft. Nobody becomes a professional calibre photographer overnight, and being an “expert” means more than having great equipment.

And, don’t forget, a photographer is also a business person with operating expenses — from purchasing equipment, to running a website, to buying editing software, and more. A lot of magic happens behind the scenes to bring things to life! And, in my opinion, the most important part is the photographer’s ability to make their subject comfortable on camera and to truly capture the beauty and personality of their client. It is truly a skill that is accumulated over time and with experience.

Wal-Mart and More

There is always the argument that Wal-Mart (and other big box photo studios) charge next to nothing and offer “like, a million prints.” That’s great, but what are you getting? It’s the 21st century and no longer 1972, and what are you going to do with 200 wallets with your glamour-shot face superimposed with another face, looking at your original face? (OK, I don’t even know if they do that anymore, but you get what I mean.)

These types of photo studios are designed to be lost leaders, where they may not make a proper profit margin off the photos but will certainly have the customer buying in other departments. Also, your big box photo studio photographer typically knows very little about photography. They know what to keep the settings on, to throw the subject on the “x”, and snap, snap, snap! These people have no idea who you are, what you’re about, and are not insightful towards your personalities and lives.

A Service vs. A Product

Although professional photographers offer print products, albums, and more, the foundation of photography is that it is a service. And like any other service-based industry (auto mechanics, carpenters, RMTs, etc.), it is easy to overlook that what they are doing is “real” because services are often intangible.

Services are not only the skills and expertise from that person, but their time as well. While a service is intangible, it is very real.

Print Products

The complimentary partner to this service is the resulting print products from your shoot. Fortunately, professional photographers go to specific vendors that can deliver archive-quality prints that are legacy pieces for you to cherish for years to come. Whether they are as a gift or as a wall piece, there is no reason to settle for less.

Lifestyle Photography and You

As the industry progresses and evolves, it is becoming more and more prevalent to hire a photographer for portraits and milestones in life.  To me, the greatest advantage about all of this is having a personalized session that documents cherished memories. As a photographer, I want to get to know you. I like talking to you and making you feel like a star in front of my lens.

Hopefully this little page has given you an idea of why professional photographers seem to be expensive. The word “professional” is defined as “one who has specialized training in their chosen vocation.” A pair of pliers is $10, but I’m pretty sure you’ll still be seeing your dentist the next time you have a tooth ache:)