Why Does Custom Photography Cost So Much? Part II – The Business

    Thanks for joining me for Part II of my blog post.  I have to admit it is rather therapeutic to take all these thoughts that have been jumbling around in my head and write them down.  Maybe I’m doing this more for myself than others LOL!

    So today I’d like to talk about another aspect of being a professional photographer and how it impacts pricing – the business side.  As a photographer, there are a million levels of professionalism, knowledge and experience.  There are so many avenues to learn, and so much experience to gain.  Myself, being a learning based person, absolutely LOVES this part of being a photographer – there is ALWAYS more to learn.  Things are always changing.  And I love that!

    There are always courses, classes, books, DVDs, mentor training, conventions and many other education opportunities available.  In my opinion, if you aren’t constantly learning, you will become obsolete – in any business.  Many photographers invest the majority of their budget in education alone.

    I consider myself a relatively savvy business person.  I’ve been self employed in one way or another for as long as I can remember (down to selling my clay pots that I made in the backyard door-to-door with my wagon when I was 7 or running a “stamp shop” out of my dad’s fishouse at the end of our block).  I come from a family of self-employment and it has always been in my blood.  I’ve done just about everything you can imagine, from selling Avon to owning my own real estate brokerage.  And photography, when you want to charge a fee for your services, is just as much a business as anything else.

    I was amazed to find out how much education is available, how many organizations there are dedicated to photography, and all the things you can buy to add to your business.  Rather than jumping in feet first, I needed to look at what was necessary, and what was beneficial.  That took a lot of research and time, and the cost of it is a little overwhelming.  At a very minimum, let’s look at the bare minimum costs of doing business as a professional photographer:

    • Equipment (cameras, lenses, accessories, studio equipment, etc.)
    • Insurance
    • Office/studio space, utilities, etc.
    • Education
    • Professional memberships
    • Advertising
    • Office Supplies
    • Computers and accessories
    • Software (there is much more out there than I thought)
    • Etc, etc

    I am a member of the Professional Photographers Association, the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, Baby Photographers, and some others.  I feel it is important to keep up to date on what is going on, to always keep learning, and to run my business professionally and ethically.  Networking with other photographers, who are soooo giving, is also key to becoming a better photographer.

    I also believe in investing in your business.  A pro-quality SLR camera can range from about $2000 to about $10,000 or more.  Most pro photographers have at least 2 cameras… you have to have a backup.  But what many people don’t know is that the lenses you invest in can often be even more important than your camera.  Different situations call for different lenses.  Pro quality lenses can range from $500 to over $10,000 per lens.  No wonder you have to make sure to have insurance!

    Software is a whole ‘nother story.  From Photoshop to all the options out there for photographers, these babies are pretty pricey.  But they are what, again, can take a photo from great to incredible.  Often without the client even realizing all that has been done, and that is the idea.  We use these tools to produce a beautiful end product.

    A good business owner who runs their business like a business also pays taxes, keeps excellent records, and incurs all the tasks and costs that go along with it.

    An on-location, natural light photographer who works from home most likely invests quite a bit less than a photographer who has a studio, pays rent, and has to buy backdrops, props, lighting, and all the equipment to run a studio.  This is again, just the style of the individual photographer, and what the client is looking for.

    Now I will say and I will say it with very strong emphasis, a good camera does not make you a good photographer.  There is nothing more insulting to a photographer than to have someone look at your photos and say, “Wow, you must have a really great camera.”  I could hand my expensive camera to someone off the street and I can guarantee their photos would not look much better than a snapshot with a point and shoot camera.  A touch, maybe.  But not much.  It’s the education and knowledge of how to work the equipment, how to evaluate and work with lighting, how to compose a shot, how to use the features on that camera and use your experience and knowledge, along with your editing skills that make good photos.  At some point I just might do an experiment and prove that to you:)

    I am constantly looking at and admiring other photographer’s work.  I find ideas, inspiration and motivation from doing so.  I love looking at photos and drawing from them.  But every now and then I come across a photographer, calling themself a “professional”, charging as much or more than I do, and their photos aren’t even in focus!  I’ve seen horrible, horrible “professional” photos and it amazes me how many levels of choices there are when looking for a photographer.  In that way, the old addage, “You get what you pay for” certainly does NOT hold true!

    Now, the business model of the large department-store chains and mall studios is simple if you think about it… they bring you in to the store knowing you will most likely shop there as well.  Generally speaking, they deal in volume, not quality.  And that is fine, it is just a very different business plan than those of us who do custom photography.  In fact, not too long ago a huge chain went out of business… I wonder why?  Maybe because you can’t run a business on .99 photos if you aren’t selling enough of them?

    Notice that the title of my post is not “professional photography”, it’s “custom photography”.  The chain stores, for the most part, are professional studios.  But they aren’t individualized to your needs and what you want your session to be.  That is the main difference.

    For example, I get fliers all the time of no session fee, free sheets…. basically I can walk in and walk out with something for free.  But why would they do that?  Obviously they bank on the fact that you will purchase as well.  The initial sheet may be free, but the prices on the packages are relatively high.  A CD is very expensive, if you can get one at all.  I’m VERY lucky if I get one shot that I like, that looks just like everyone else’s and has nothing to do with my child’s personality.  Some people might be able to walk in and walk out for a low price, but I think most people spend, at the end of the day, just as much as if they had gone to their own custom photographer.

    They book you in 20-30 minute increments with 4 families sitting outside the door waiting to get in behind you while your baby needs a minute to relax or have a bottle.  Oh well…. your time is over.  You’ll have to reschedule. (After you spent 3 hours getting ready and getting there…)  I don’t work that way.  Within some limits, of course, I will allow whatever time it takes and do whatever it takes to make you and/or your children comfortable so you can really get the portraits you want, and that you can share for generations.

    We all have to run our businesses like a business, but there is room for relationships, friendships, and fun.  I’m not looking for one-time clients, and I don’t have revolving doors full of minimum-wage employees.  I value each of my clients, take the time to get to know them, and hope to remain an active part in their lives for many years to come.  That is MY business plan.  ♥

    Please stay tuned for Part III – “The Stuff”.


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