I got an inquiry the other day from a couple who thought that seeing how I wasn't a chain studio with all those high costs I would be cheaper than Wal Mart. I was stupefied. I just didn't know what to say. I politely declined the shoot. But obviously it got me to thinking.
So, why are custom photographers and studios SO expensive if Wal Mart can sell you a million prints plus the kitchen sink for $9.99? They wouldn't be in business if they weren't making any money, so obviously they are, right? Nope. That $9.99 is a "loss leader." I honestly cannot print that many prints at my cost for that little. It costs me more than $10 to print those sheets of prints at a sub par lab-let alone a good one. Think about it. That $9.99 didn't pay the wages for the girl who took your photos and helped you to make the order. It cost Wal Mart more in wages than you just paid. They took a loss on that package.
Now how many of us can order JUST that $9.99 one pose from all of those pictures of our babies? Not many! GOTCHA! That's where you start paying the bill!!
Here's what it COSTS for a custom photographer to make those photos:
Your session with a custom studio photographer is probably at least an hour long. Would you go to work for an hour free of charge? And what is your time worth per hour? Do you have the technical knowledge to make the photograph the photographer made? Probably not, seeing how you are having someone else do it for you, right? So, he or she is an expert at something. What would you consider fair pay for someone educated and knowledgeable per hour? The average, entry level pay for someone in the US with an associates degree is about $18 per hour. For a bachelor's degree is about $25. That isn't considering the hidden amount that the employer pays in taxes, etc. for each employee. Most photographers are working at the bachelor's level, but we'll split the difference and say $21.50.
When you booked the session did you spend any time talking with or emailing the photographer? Maybe 15 minutes? When you call the doctor's office the receptionist gets paid to talk to you, make your appointment and then do the necessary paperwork after. The photographer has to do the same thing. The 15 minutes she talked to you is just a quick drop. He or she then has to enter your information into her books, prepare the welcome packet for your session, print the photography agreement and put everything together. let's make it quick and say another 15 minutes.
15 minute phone call/e-mail work
15 minute of prep time
Now comes the actual session. If it is on-location the photographer who comes to you and does a custom session however you desire, he or she has to drive there. Before the drive he or she has to prepare all the necessary gear and load it in the vehicle. The props, backdrops, cameras, memory cards, and the list goes on. If it is a studio you are going to the photographer has to prepare the appropriate lighting and props. What is good for an infant is probably not good for a senior. There is probably an hour involved in this end of things for an on-location photographer or 1/2 hour for a studio. Let's split the difference again and say 45 minutes.
30 from before
45 minutes of prep time
= 75 minutes or 1.25 hours
Then the session. Usually an hour long on paper, but never truly an hour! We always go over the time because your session is special! Even to us. No, that's not just hype, we really do love our jobs and we really do love each session, so... we go over. It's life for us and usually we consider that our own loss. So 1 hour session which yields probably 50 images to work on.
Then comes the work. We're not shooting in jpegs like your little point and shoot does. We are shooting in RAW-the digital equivalent of a negative. Believe it or not, we actually do have to develop those images. That's the major reason we can provide such different and dramatic images than you can get from your camera. Just like going into the dark room in days of film, we spend some time developing your images. That doesn't include editing. That is a totally different thing and a separate charge. For someone who is fast in the darkroom that might be an average of 2 minutes per image. 50 images times two minutes is 100 minutes.
75 minutes from before
60 minute session
100 minute developing time
=235 minutes or 3.91 hours so far...
BUT... we're not done yet! You still have to see those images.We either have to have a viewing session or post those images to a gallery. Hopefully you get a viewing session where you can discuss everything with your photographer and you can make sure you are seeing your images exactly as they will appear in print. That takes another 1 hour appointment. If you are getting your images from an on-line gallery or ordering system your photographer has to put that together, upload it and maintain it. Believe it or not, that's an hour too.
And of course, you have to order what you like from those images. At which point we have to place the order with the lab, make sure it's correct and send it. Then we receive it, double check it for accuracy and double check the quality of the images. We call you to say your order is in and then deliver it to you. There goes another hour at the very least.
235 minutes from before
60 minutes for viewing
60 minutes for order and delivery
=355 minutes or 5.91 hours x $21.50=$127.07
WOW! BUT! WAIT! We aren't done!!! We never talked about the equipment the photographer used or the props or the vehicle that they got to your shoot in or the insurance or the computer they used to develop or the programs they had to own to do that... LOW end of the spectrum your photographer is spending $5000 per year on EQUIPMENT alone to allow them to photograph you. That's not props and extra stuff. It's cameras, flash, memory, computers, programs and hardware. Then there's the electric to power that stuff, the office or studio space, insurance... On average that costs about as much as running a small apartment home. We'll be cheap and say $1000 per month or $12000 per year. So that's $17000 in COSTS your photographer has just to take photographs of people just like you. That works out to $327 per week. We'll assume that the photographer works 5 days a week just like every other working stiff in the good ole US of A. That's $65.39 per day. Based on the hours listed above the photographer can only really give 2 full sessions in a day, so those costs are $32.69 per shoot.
Let's add it all up:
$32.69 in COSTS
$127.07 in Time for the photographer
=$159.76 is what it costs for the photographer to take your photos. BEFORE you purchase a single print. That is what the photo session alone costs. Then there are the costs of printing, packaging, shipping, etc once you do order prints.