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Why does photography "cost so much"?

So if you've been wondering - why does photography cost so much I'm here to help answer! Have you been too embarrassed to ask? 

Did you know that I spend more than just our hour session working on your photo experience? 

Let's take my 1 hour session - my most popular session. 

I spend at least an hour setting up a pre-session meeting, writing emails and answering your emails, and figuring out what kind of galleries to design to show you based off of what you said you wanted for your house. 

Then there is the pre-session meeting which takes at least an hour

Then there is the session - with arriving early, scouting location and light, and shooting the session is more like an hour and a half for me. 

While I'd like to shoot perfectly straight out of camera, my images do require just minimal color balance, sharpening, and tonal curve adjustments. Here is a recent photo straight out of camera. 


Here is the photo just after a few adjustments when I feel comfortable showing the photo to the family. See how the photo is a little lighter, her hair a little darker, and the photo is sharper? I'd probably take out those spots on the sidewalk now that I look at it! I'd actually prefer to leave tiny details like that to after the family has decided to choose or not to choose this photo to live on their walls. 


So editing your photos includes going through the hundreds of photos I've taken and getting rid of the ones where your eyes are closed, blurry ones (yes I take blurry ones on accident!). After that I make the minor adjustments I've mentioned.  All of that takes about 2 hours.  

After all the files have been edited I upload them to my software that shows you your photos on your wall.  I decide which ones you most likely will like on your wall and put them in the frames/canvas mock-ups to show you during our viewing session.  This takes about 1 hour.


So after I've gotten all your photos edited, uploaded to my software I set up a meeting with you.  We meet at view your photos and you find a place for all the photos you love.  This meeting lasts for 2-3 hours. After they viewing session there is another 1 hour for ordering your products, putting your matted images in your frames (or designing your album), wrapping up your products, and delivery. 

Here is a run down of the hours I've spent on average on an hour session: 

  • Pre-Session planning: 1 hour
  • Pre-Session meeting: 1-2 hours
  • 1 hour Session: 1.5 hours
  • Editing your photos: 2 hours
  • Designing your gallery/album: 1 hour
  • Viewing Session: 2-3 hours

How many hours on average I spend on a ONE HOUR SESSION: 8.5-10.5hours

So besides this camera gear is really expensive.  I really need to update my camera (which only lasts so long, it's going on it's 6th year which is a long time for a professional photographer!) and a new camera will cost at least $3500.  

There is also cost of business.  There are fees for necessary software and subscriptions that I need to pay every month. 

So those are just a few reasons why "photograph costs so much".  

Why does photography cost so much?

Just a warning before you read this: I’m not trying to convince you to buy a portrait session from me.  I just think it’s important for you to know what actually goes into a photo session so that you can be more informed.  I hope that this article can speak about the blood, sweat, and tears that most professional photographers put into their work.

Why does photography costs so much?


Let’s take my 2 hour session, where you get 2 locations, any combo of people within the 2 hours, digital images, printing and posting rights.  This session is priced at $310. (Let me just say also that some photographers think that I’m selling my soul when I include the digital download in my sessions.  So keep in mind that getting the images is VERY valuable, you’re getting an original piece of art!!!!) I want to keep giving the digital images because we live in a digital age – and honestly if I was having a session I’d totally want that! I want to give you what I would want!

Now, it would seem that I pocket $155 per hour based off of this fee.  That I’m actually making $155 as opposed to the minimum wage of $7.25 if I were working at a minimum wage place.  There is a lot of extra time and expenses that the client doesn’t actually see that goes into figuring the cost for each session.  For instance, for the 2 hour session, I don’t  just spend 2 hours on the session, here is the break down of time spent on a 2 hour session (so you can fairly divide this time in half if you’re interested in time spent on the 1 hour session).

1 hour prep before the session (includes emailing client, consultation of what to wear, possibly shopping for fun portrait props like balloons, bubbles, pin wheels, baskets, flowers, etc.)
30 Travel time (this varies obviously with every shoot but on average I spend 30 minutes going to the location, scoping out spots to shoot, and the travel home)
2 hours on location shooting
2-4 hours post editing (for me this is downloading images off of CF card, backing them up on external HD, choosing which ones are keepers, editing them in Lightroom, making your printing/posting rights, resizing your images to upload to my print service, uploading the images to my print service, emailing you that your images are done and that you can see them, contract, printing/posting rights) This only takes into account what I’m doing on your photo session.  This doesn’t take into account answering emails, networking, hustling my business – all that I actually don’t get paid for.  So I might have done this before your session to actually get your business – it’s the behind the scenes.
There is also more time put in when clients order prints or any other add-ons that could be tagged onto this hourly calculation

Total hours spent on a 2 hour session: about 7 hours (So actually I might make $1/hour….oh my goodness)

What also goes into this price calculation is: (So it’s not like I’m really pocketing that hourly fee that you just calculated)

-Business expenses
-Photography experience/education
-Cost of upkeep of equipment or NEW/USED equipment

You might just think that I have 1 or 2 bills to pay as a business owner.  Right now there are a TON of photographers, and I think it’s somewhat because they just think they need a camera and a lens.  There are actually A TON of things that go into actually having a business.  I have thought about each one and truly don’t like to waste money (by now you’re may be getting my point that I don’t actually have money to throw around!) and they serve to make business run smoother and/or to be more professional, after all I am offering a professional service here.

Here are just a sample of bills that needs to be paid in this category I’m calling..

Business Expenses

Service Fee for Invoices (each client gets an invoice so they know their total before I spring it upon them this also serves as a receipt)
Service Fee for accepting Credit Cards (so you can pay your way)
Advertising Fees (which I rarely use because they don’t really work and I have no money!) Networking does work so this is where I like to spend this money or really time
Gas for all those miles I drive to locations and deliveries
–Normal business supplies (paper, ink, printer, staples, etc.)

So those are just some obvious ones.

Photography experience/education

I actually went to school for photography so I know a lot about the art of composition and how to use my camera.  This is more than a person who picks up a camera and offers photo sessions for $25 (nothing personally against someone starting out – I was there once too!).  I look and study posing so that you look your best in your photographs (you do want to look good, right?). The camera doesn’t add 10 pounds, the photographer does.  And I’ve totally been that photographer who didn’t know that…but now I know…that’s why I pay to study posing.   The reason why a lot of people don’t charge a lot for their photography, is because they don’t have experience.  This is what I did, when I first started out I had to prove myself, so I made my prices really low so that I could actually get clients.    Everyone knows that usually you pay for what you get.  If you’re willing to pay that $25 for the person next door to take your photographs then you probably are going to get $25 worth of photography not the “Wow this is great and I’m going to enlarge this to be the 24×36” mantle print!!!” I want your photos to live on well past the time period that they were taken in.  I want you to experience the power of your photos – the appreciation you feel toward your loved ones in your photos.  This is really important to me! If just one person feels appreciation toward their loved ones and not hate/anger/resentment/discontent because of their photos for just ONE MINUTE I feel like I am successful at what I am doing.

Cost of Upkeep of Equipment

So it’s no secret that photography costs a lot.  I think one of the most common comments I get when people see my camera for the first time is “wow that must cost a lot”! Yup, you’re right! Photography would be a ridiculously expensive hobby of mine, so I’m glad it’s not just a hobby! I would have a hard time justifying purchases that cost so much if it were just a hobby! A nice camera body can run you over $2000 and that’s not even accounting for the lens you’ll need! Those can cost somewhere around that to even more! And then there is flashes ($500+) and other gadgets that actually make your photographs better.  Oh and did I mention the external hard drives you need to keep all of these photographs ($100+).  I haven’t even talked about the price of editing software Lightroom ($$) and all the other things that come with it.  Professional photography also requires a really nice computer.  My husband built me mine (hallelujah!) but honestly I’ve been thinking  a laptop would be a great way to showcase my work to potential clients and work on-the-go.  (Adding that to my long wish list….)

Now I haven’t even mentioned the cost of actually living, like food, rent, etc.  I’m not even factoring that in to this equation.

Something also that has been on my heart (now that I have a family) is although I LOVE photography and giving people that appreciation they need for their loved ones – photography is my job and requires me to take time away from the ones I love.  That is so precious I can’t even really put a monetary value on it.

Phew! That stresses me out just thinking about all of that stuff!

So I hope that after you’ve read this you understand a little why professional photography created by a professional costs so much! I’m certainty not trying to rob you! Please leave your comments/questions, your Amens and hallelujahs!