Why do my photography sessions cost what they do, and what are you paying for?

Let’s put it in perspective. Let’s say you have a job working for someone else like the majority of the population. Chances are the company/person pays for the materials and supplies you use for you to do your job, right down to the pen and paper.

Or, let’s say you have a job where there is no finished product for the customer, you don’t actually use your hands to make something. What are YOU being paid for? It’s simple and only two words, your time. Yes, you are trading your time for a pay cheque.

Yeah I guess if you have a job where certain skills and education are required, you are also being paid for those skills that you wouldn’t have had you not invested into the education to learn them. But overall, your employer doesn’t hand you a pay cheque and says thank you for your skills. No, it’s in turn for the 8, 10, 12 or more hours you gave to them whether there was a finished physical product or not.

You aren’t concerned with the cost of materials that your employer has to be concerned with, it’s not your responsibility. Neither is the cost of the finished product or job which the customer pays for, whatever your efforts are providing, it’s theirs and they have to price their product or service around the materials and supplies their company needs as well as your time to piece it all together. Then they need to have something left to pay themselves. Makes sense right?

Well, a Photographer is not only the employer but also the employee so all of those things an employer has to be concerned with, the photographer does, as well as actually doing the job too. The income your employer receives needs to pay for the business as well as you, their employee.

So does a photographer’s income but they have no help, or very little and if they do take on help with certain things, they now have a paid employee and guess where that employee’s pay cheque comes from? The money the business earns. It’s not a surprise that in order for a business to exist and function, it needs to earn income and that income needs to spread among many areas.

A photographer also provides a finished product, every time whether it’s in digital form or physical.

Photography clients are only interested in the finished product they receive, this is what they hire a photographer for. You don’t hire a photographer to point a camera at you, say thank you and not get anything in return, that’s just silly.

We all know many jobs are unattainable without education for it and someone who has that education and the right skills as well as experience for the job will almost always be chosen first, and paid more than the person who does not.

The idea is the same, yet photography is treated much more in the opposite direction, in the sense that the person who has the education, the right skills and the experience for the job is generally chosen last and expected to be paid the least when there is someone who simply offers the general service of photography who charges less. And often once some of those positions complete their education, that is all they need. There is no upgrading or further education needed, but photography is a constantly evolving field and there is always something new to learn to do better as well as new software and equipment.

Yeah, you could pay someone to replace your roof shingles at half the cost of someone else, but you’ll end up paying the higher cost anyway when you have to keep having the job done because they keep falling off every time the wind blows; and if you live in Lethbridge you know this is a constant battle! My father’s a roofer and he does repair jobs after a previous job because those clients went with the more appealing price. Heck, people even pay movers hundreds of dollars to move their belongings within the city just for the convenience of not having to do it themselves!

Education and skills go a long way in many fields and there are many things people will absolutely never consider paying an amateur for because they value the job, they want it done right and they want the quality, finished product or job. The concept is exactly the same, yet why do so many people laugh at the idea that a photographer and their work should be valued and paid properly for? On paper, the same things go into it as any other business. Education, skills, up front costs to simply exist, continue to run and grow, time and more. That is, referring to professional’s, not the ones who just buy the cheapest tool and call themselves a photographer, or a roofer, or a plumber etc.

Let’s talk about time as that’s what I feel is missing much of the time when clients are looking to hire a photographer. I will use some specific examples of my own to give you a realistic insight.

I’ve recently changed some of my sessions to be shorter length of time due to the fact that most young kids do not keep attention span for very long, especially when having their pictures taken. So I’m going to use the example of my last family session with kids under 10. Most age groups I work with in family sessions are 1-6. I was at 1 hour sessions, have moved down to half hour.

The last session with young ones was an hour, they ended up with around 60 images and the session fee was $125. I was with them an hour, and spent roughly 8 hours on the images. If ONLY considering the time, I made $13.89/hour. How many of you earn at least minimum wage of $15/hour? Everyone earns at least that. Not me. But, here’s what most clients see: $125 for one hour of work. Wouldn’t we all LOVE to earn $125 an hour? Gosh, that’s $1,125 for that single session! That’s if I were making $125 an hour and didn’t have costs involved in my business, but I’m not and I do. Non-professionals, those with just a free facebook page, no education, use a free editing program or don’t edit at all and hand you a CD, they do not have running costs and do not invest in their business.

What isn’t seen (the very basic): I travel for my sessions. Most are within town but I travel 15-25 km or more one way for every session. In a week, that’s over half a tank of gas depending on how many sessions I have and where I’m going. For me right now, half a tank runs me about $45.

I use photoshop and lightroom to edit the photos and rather than buying the newest version every year at $400+, I pay a monthly subscription of $15.

I may not be buying new equipment every month, but these are basic repeat costs I have among other things. I’m not going to go too much into every little thing about my business and what it costs me to have it, I’m just letting you know the bare minimum it costs me to work with you. Like your employer, my costs have to come out of my business earnings, and as you can see already, it’s not much.

Another example, an extended family situation which included 4 different families. At $125/session, that should have been a $500 session if I were to charge per family but I only did one or two images of each, the rest was group and individuals of kids. I charged one and a half of my session fee, so $187.50. Had I charged $500, that group would have found someone cheaper because even at the $187.50, they still thought it was a bit high but it was a short notice session so they just went with it. They did love their photos after, and I have worked with some of those families other times since. Point is, I would have lost that sale had I gone in at $500. With the higher number of people to work with (nearly 30), there was a lot of tedious work involved with editing, so it took longer. That one was about 12 hours, and again only counting time, that earned me $15.63/hour.

One of the things I’ve been hearing is just “too expensive” more recently, are my new themed cake smash sessions. I just want to share why these sessions cost what they do and to show you what you are paying for.

This is actually on the cheaper side as I am able to find some of the supplies I need through certain websites and at great discounts but it won’t always be this low.

I am charging $300 for these, lets take my floral theme for example. I have a few backdrops I am looking at, I want to purchase more than one so that not every session is the same. These are sized just big enough for kids, they would not work for family sessions unless I upgrade the size which also upgrades the price. Because they’ll be getting messy and wet from food and water, the material is a vinyl and easy to wipe, which is cheaper. Cloth and larger backdrops start in the hundreds.

One backdrop I am looking at is $40 plus shipping which can range from $10-$50 depending on where I order from. This makes just the backdrop between $50-90. A themed cake made by a local baker runs around $40-$50 depending on the size. Hey, I have to pay her for her time and supplies too! The outfit can range from $20-$60 plus shipping.

Then we look at props which can run into the hundreds depending on the quality, what they are and how many. Lets just say $60 for a basic number. I would like to use real flowers in these sessions for the most part, and anyone who has purchased flowers know they are not cheap. Flowers for a session can be upwards of $50-$100 depending on which ones and how many. I would like to invest in a child size claw foot tub for the bubble bath portion, this would be much prettier than the metal tub I have been using. These run about $250 and up, plus shipping.

Let’s crunch some numbers. At the higher end, I am losing money badly before I’ve even taken the photos. At the lower end, I am at $220 already on the base supplies needed for the session. This leaves $80 to pay for my time which if we use the same 9 hour example, I am now earning $8.89/hour.

So, when I’m told “Wow, that’s ridiculous just for pictures”, it’s a kick in the teeth and quite hurtful after all I do to give you a great experience and beautiful photos. It says my skills are not worth much, and my time is worth nothing.

Let’s be honest, you’re not paying “just for pictures” and if you want what I am offering, you want amazing photos, you want my experience and skill, you want these adorable and elaborate themes, then they will cost. I’m sorry but I cannot work for free. Please don’t forget what goes into your “just pictures”.

This doesn’t even cover half of the costs involved that I have to pay for with my income, as you pay all your bills with your income.

Yes, you can find someone cheaper. You can always find someone cheaper no matter what it is you are looking for. BUT, remember you get what you pay for, always. I have done sessions for people who have already paid someone else for them but hated the results. I know a few brides who have not a single wedding photo on their walls because they cry when they look at their photos. That is not something they can just hire someone else to re-do.

Like you would pay a roofer to do it right the first time, your photographer should not be any different! Yeah you have a functioning, safe roof for 10+ years, but how often do you look at it, talk about it, and is it going to be a memory for you and your family for the rest of your lives and beyond? When you sell your house, that roof is long gone.

Your memories in photographs are forever and are absolutely priceless.


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