Why do professional photographers charge so much?
As with any other job, getting paid for our time is not just the time behind the camera. In reality, that’s only a portion of what we put into a shoot. Consider a shoot of three to four looks can take anywhere from 2 to 10 hours, here are some things to also consider contributing to the photographers time:
- Hair Stylists, Of course depends on stylists
- Makeup artists
- Travel time to different locations
- and so on…
That’s not considering the time we put in before and after the shoot,
For example, you are paying $500 for a shoot where you get four looks, no stylist, no MUA. Just you and what you bring. Five hundred dollars and 5 hours of shooting (just to keep our math simple), works out to be $100 per hour. Not a bad gig, right? Right—kinda. It would be stellar if our work began and ended with the shoot.
Before the shoot, a photographer may spend 20 minutes planning out locations, or he may spend a couple of hours. If you’ve met with the photographer beforehand to discuss the shoot, factor that in as well. Let’s keep it simple again and say that you and the photographer meet for an hour (in person or on the phone) to discuss outfits and the general plan for what you two will set out to create. You are going to shoot in the studio, so there are no locations to plan out.
Now we’re at six hours of work for a five-hour shoot.
A photo as part of an 8 hour session with a makeup artist, hair stylist and wardrobe stylist. After the session another 4 hours were spent in post production to get the image ready for print.
After the session, we have to go through the images and not only select the best out of hundreds of shots, but also edit them. Editing doesn’t always consist of spot-removing blemishes, often times it is more about alterations in color and exposure of the shot. Those things are vital. Saying things like “basic edits” generally refer to things like proper retouching techniques that preserve image integrity not a system of plugins or actions. Automated systems of image manipulation often leave damage that render the file unusable for high-end commercial work. Proper basic retouching does take longer and there aren’t many good shortcuts. There are advanced methods, there no way to accurately break down the time involved.
That said, spending at least another 4-5 hours selecting and performing basic edits. So again, to keep things simple, let’s say five more hours of work.
Now we are at 11 hours of work for a shoot that took half as long. This brings the rate down to about $45.50 per hour. That is still a nice paycheck but definitely a hefty cut.
Now let’s consider the fee the photographer has to pay for travel. Or other incidentals. There is also rent and utilities for a small office, $1,500 per month is a generously low statement. At that rate, in an average month of 30 days, it would cost $50 per 8-hour day just to open the door of the studio. That takes out another $6.25 per hour, putting us at $39.25.
But wait, hiring an assistant for 5 hours at $10 per hour. Make that $400. If we work that out really quickly, we see that $400 for 11 hours of work drops our rate down to just under $30 per hour. We can plug that into a standard 40-hour workweek over the course of a full year, and it brings us to an annual salary of $62,400.
At first glance, it seems like a lot. Honestly it is… before self-employment tax, health insurance, liability insurance, and equipment insurance. In 2011, the self-employment tax is 13.3%. That instantly takes $62,400 down to $54,100. Nearly a $10,000 hit just for being our own boss!
Taxes and general business expenses are well beyond the intention of this post—so let’s end there with them.
“How much a photographer spends on the equipment he or she uses to shoot the model should not affect how much you charge a model. It is not our fault you spend so much on your equipment.”
A camera alone can cost near $8,000 without the lenses. Without the camera, we would both just be looking at each other for a few hours. The quality of the equipment with which you are being photographed does matter. If the photographer is shooting you with a 6-year-old base model digital SLR like the Digital Rebel and a kit lens, you are going to get a good photo that will work pretty well for an 8 x 10 or a comp card. But the photographer most likely will not be able to submit your images to any publications, stock agencies, ad agencies, etc. The demand for high-resolution, high-quality images is simply too great today to be able to get away with less.
If the photographer is using a mid- to pro-level camera and top-quality glass, the game changes. Suddenly, that image can go anywhere it needs to, and you don’t need to be concerned about quality or usability in various media.
Yes, of course, the costs of doing business and the upgraded equipment are all a factor in what the professional photographer will charge. However, what you are really paying for are the years of practice it takes to make the images that you receive possible. Not to mention the sheer talent that many photographers bring to the table. Creativity has value. We are the best at what we do, and we charge what we deserve to make.
Sometimes there are no large expenses on a shoot. Sometimes you don’t use anything but a camera and the sun. No assistants. No stylists. Shoots like that will definitely affect where the photographer allocates funds in their business, but it’s unlikely that it will affect the bottom line. In fact on a commercial invoice those items are usually billed separately from the photographer’s fee.
Read more on this article by David Bickley he is an internationally published photographer specializing in portraiture and fitness photography. He is based in Kansas City, KS and has been shooting professionally for 8 years. David Buckely