The #1 Thing Every Photographer Wants Their Clients To Understand
Dear current/future client,
Hi there! Thank you for showing interest in my work! I'm so glad that you contacted me to tell me that you like what I do, and want to know how much I charge for it.
Now, before I tell you a price, and you get sticker shock and start to panic a little bit, I want to give you a better understanding as to why myself, as well as every other successful photographer in this industry charges what they charge.
Now, we all start out somewhere. We get a camera passed down from a family member, we take photos on our phones, and we have an interest that is sparked by wanting to learn more and become better and better. So, we go to school to get a degree and gain all the knowledge of the technical end of things, the business, post production, developing a style... all of it. Many of us devote 2+ years of our lives to learning our craft. So, at around $1500 per quarter (and that's just for community college), times 6 quarters (providing you graduate on time), that brings our tuition to a minimum of $9000, for the minimum of 2 years. Plus books, supplies, gas money to commute, and all the other little things that come with college.
You can't really be a college student without a decent computer, though. Most photographers need something better than the average laptop that runs Microsoft Word and an internet browser; we need something fast, with lots of storage, and something that can run multiple high powered programs at once. I own a MacBook Pro, which I shelled out around $2000 for. (Which was worth it though, I'm still using it 4 years later!) Plus most of us buy Lightroom and Photoshop, which ran about $150 a piece before Adobe introduced the monthly payment system for their programs. Additionally, after taking lots of photos, we need extra hard drive space, so lots of us have 1 or more external hard drives. Let's chalk those up to about $200 a piece. So in computer equipment, we're sitting at about $2500.
Now obviously, you couldn't be doing any of this without a good camera setup. We all start out on our little plastic-y, entry level DSLR's, until we outgrow our equipment and need something that can hold up to what we put it through. Most of us need something that will perform well in multiple conditions; something that focuses fast and fires off rapidly for weddings, or sports photography, or something that can shoot incredibly well in low light, for astrophotographers or concert shooters. Or, there's the fashion photographer who needs incredible resolution so they can perfect every pore on their model's face. Either way, we all need something that is better than the average, and we have to pay for it! Your middle to high ground camera body (yes, that is WITHOUT the lenses) is probably gonna run between $1500 - $2500. And most photographers have 2 or 3 really solid lenses, to cover all grounds of shooting, and if you buy high quality glass, you're gonna be spending an average of $500 - $1000 on each of them. So, let's just say that the average photographer's camera gear setup costs them a minimum of $3000. Plus a tripod at around $150, filters, extra batteries, shutter releases, intravalometers, etc. We'll call your accessories an extra $150. So, In camera setup, we're looking at about $3300. (And yes, that is the low end.)
So now, financially, we've come to a grand total of $15,800. Now THAT'S sticker shock. If we're talking about a professional photographer though, this doesn't just equate to money. We've spent hundreds and HUNDREDS of hours, reading, researching, working on our editing styles, doing test shoots with friends or local models (often completely for free, to build our portfolios), and taking absolutely any work we can get. Some of us come out on the other side, still kicking, and still working at our end goal of being full time professionals. Some of us even get our own business license, build a website, hire an accountant, and master all the yucky, awful business things we wish didn't exist to have to perform our craft as a career. Let me tell you, 90% of this business is not fun. Spending this much money, knowing it will take a long time to get any kind of return on that, is scary. Choosing a career in a creative field can be terrifying, because you'll never really be sure that your next shoot is gonna be there to pay all the bills.
However, those of us that chose this lifestyle, do it because we are so ridiculously obsessed with creating images that not only make us happy, but make our clients happy as well. I would not trade this profession I chose for anything. (Except, like, maybe a room full of golden retrievers; I would take that.) We hustle every single day and we eat, sleep, and breathe photography. We're constantly thinking about what's next and what we're gonna do to get even better.
So let's rewind back to that initial conversation: "hey, I love your work and would like to book a _______ photoshoot with you! I was just wondering, how much do you charge for that?"
I cannot possibly take the time to explain to every single person that asks me this, all of the previous things listed. Nor would it be worth it. But when I respond with a price, and tell you what comes with that price, I want you understand that what you're paying for is LITERALLY 1.5% of the amount of money we put in to get to the point that we've reached. I would need to do about 63 more photoshoots, just to break even. I don't even wanna calculate the numbers I would need to hit to make a profit. If that doesn't absolutely scream dedication from your photographer, I don't know what else does.
Additionally, as photographers, we want you know that we don't charge what we charge just to make some extra spending cash. These are our jobs, and we need them to pay the rent and put food on the table, just as much as you need your job to do the same exact thing. We promise, we are not here to rob you of all of your income so we can go take a sweet vacation! We are average contributing members of society, just like you, paying for all of the same things. We just reach that same ending point on a different path than you do.
So next time you're thinking about hiring me, or any other photographer who's work you like, just take a minute to think about everything that goes into what we do. Book us because you are in love with our artwork, and you want a piece of your own artwork, not because we'll do it for next to nothing. The sad truth is that most of us who are still building our brand ARE doing it for next to nothing, and it doesn't even bother us that much because we are so passionate about photography! At the end of the day, we just want to create epic imagery, and the unfortunate truth of that is that if we're looking to do that full time, we have to be able to continue to pay the bills, so we can continue to make even more epic imagery.
The life of a creative is so, ridiculously hard sometimes, but man, is it worth it. Support your favorite photographer, I promise you won't regret it!