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Why is Photography So Expensive?

Perhaps you’re in the process of choosing a family photographer for an annual session or newborn package. Are you wondering, “Why is Photography So Expensive? Why is there such a range in prices?” Maybe you’ve noticed that the starting price for sessions with photographer’s listed in our directory is $700. In today’s post, we’ll break down the rationale behind pricing. Similarly, we’ll discuss why you may want to consider booking a more expensive photographer.

Photography’s Low Barrier for Entry

The barrier to entry for a photography business is low. As long as someone has a decent camera, some editing software, a social media page and a business license, they can declare themselves “in business!” I promise I state this with zero sarcasm. This was my story! I didn’t study the visual arts, photography, or business in college. My background is in healthcare. My hobby of taking portraits of my children followed a familiar path, growing into a side hustle. When my schedule couldn’t handle both a side gig and job in healthcare, I transitioned into a full-time business.

When I started charging for photography, I didn’t know anything about business. I didn’t understand the expenses involved in truly running a photography business. (Spoiler alert: you need more than a camera and some editing software). Similarly, I lacked any concept of the time required by the process of planning, photographing, and editing a session well. Then there are the self-employment taxes.

Photography’s High Turn Over Rate

According to Dane Sanders, 85% of photography businesses fail within the first 3 years? 85%! I imagine this figure would shock most consumers. To seasoned photographer’s inside the industry, it makes total sense.

Most full-time photographers reach a crossroads when the work out paces their pay. They are putting in so many hours and making so little at the end of the day. Many try to raise their prices some and book a high volume of sessions to compensate for their low profit margin. This often results in burn out and the closure of the business. Others examine the numbers and take the leap of faith required to charge truly profitable prices with the hope of building a sustainable business. Others calculate the number they would need to charge to stay in business and give up entirely.

As you read through this and the the following explanation of why photography is so expensive, please know that I’m not trying to pass judgment on you if you hire an inexpensive photographer. I write this to help you understand why these beginner photographers may raise their rates in the future. The inexpensive photographer isn’t trying to be greedy. The change in price likely comes from an effort to stay in business and continue serving your family. If you would like to find a consistent family photographer who you can hire year after year, consider splurging on the photographer with a higher price range. They are more likely to stay in business (and have fewer price fluctuations) as your family ages.

Reasons Why Photography Is So Expensive

1. Providing the Service of Photography is Costly

As with most businesses, there are more expenses than meet the eye. Even at the bare minimum, the equipment itself, professional cameras and lenses cost multiple thousands of dollars. Also, cameras don’t last forever. They are like cars. Every click of the shutter is like putting miles on your car. Use will eventually result in it breaking down and needing repair or replacement. Profitable photography businesses have to keep a healthy margin in order to be able to replace equipment as needed.

Here is a general list of the expenses involved in running a photography business, not including cost of goods sold:

  • Camera $$$$
  • Lenses $$$$ (Different lenses may be required for different location types. Most photographers have more than one lens.)
  • Camera Bag $$$
  • Other Equipment such as Tripod, Light Stands, Flashes, Reflectors $$$$
  • Computer $$$$
  • Business License $$$ (Yearly)
  • Business Insurance $$$ (Yearly)
  • Website $$$ (Yearly)
  • Editing Softwares $$$ (Yearly)
  • Online Gallery Service $$$ (Yearly)
  • Client Management Software $$$ (Yearly)
  • Email List Software $$$ (Yearly)
  • Book Keeping Software or Accountant $$$ (Yearly)
  • Studio Rentals $$-$$$ (per use)
  • Location Permits $$$ (per use)
  • SD Cards $$
  • Photo storage $$$
  • Mileage $$$
  • Shipping and Shipping Materials $$$
  • Printed Items like Guides, Brochures, Flyers $$$
  • Advertising $$$
  • Backdrops/Props/Flowers/Client Wardrobe $$$$
  • Education $$$$
  • Taxes $$$$
  • Therapy sessions to help us sort through all of the rejection we face on a daily basis $$$$ (only partially kidding on this one.)

Certainly, there are probably many other expenses that could be added to this list. In general, it is safe to assume that most photography businesses have a profit margin of 50% or less from each session.

2) Portrait Photography Requires A Lot of Time

My husband always has to turn away and suppress a laugh when he hears people tell me that they only want “like one quick photo.” Watching me through this business journey, he know that it’s never just one photo. He also knows that the process is never “quick”.

There is a misconception that the bulk of the work for a portrait is completed during the photography session itself. However, this is far from the case. In fact, most photographers will quickly tell you that the session is the fun part. It’s the hours of work preceding and following the session that make up the bulk of their workflow. From start to finish, a single professional photography session can require anywhere between an estimated 8 hours and 18 hours to complete. The range depends on the photographer’s workflow tools, the session location, and the level of editing provided by the photographer. The amount of time only increases if you consider the marketing efforts required to even acquire a client’s attention and the time spent on dead end leads who don’t end up booking.

Aside from the session itself, professional photographers will spend time on each session by:

  • Communicating with the client in order to book the session
  • Creating session proposals including contracts and invoices
  • Consulting the with the client about their preference for the session
  • Scouting locations
  • Guiding clients on wardrobe OR preparing items from a client closet
  • Prepping equipment for the session
  • Transferring photos after the session
  • Culling the images
  • Editing the images (this takes hours)
  • Delivering the images (either by uploading to an online gallery OR through an ordering process for physical items, which is more time intensive)

3) The Skill of Photography Takes Time to Develop

Creating a beautiful portrait requires more than clicking a button on a “fancy” camera. Indeed, a true artist’s understanding of light, composition, camera settings, posing, eliciting emotion, and editing are developed over countless hours of practice and through education. As in every field, photographers with advanced skills and experience will charge higher rates. Not every client can or will want to hire the most expert photographer in their area. Instead, if you do hire an inexpensive photographer, recognize that their price point may reflect their skill level. Give them grace. It’s unfair to expect the photographer you only paid $200 to painstakingly photoshop a different pair of shoes into every image as part of that session price.

Why is Photography So Expensive On Cradle & Folk

You may have looked through our directory and though “Why is photography so expensive on Cradle & Folk? Full sessions start at $700. Where are the budget photographers?”

At Cradle & Folk, we don’t believe in the trope of the “starving artist”. Artists, including family photographers, should be fairly compensated for the time they take away from their families to serve yours. Let’s consider a little math:

  • Let’s estimate that the average living wage in the US for 2023 was around $61,000.
  • Working full time for a year, results in 2080 work hours per year.
  • If each session takes a photographer an average of 12 hours, the photographer could complete close to 173 sessions per year (that’s still fairly high volume at over 3 sessions per week).
  • If a photographer charges $700 per session and profits $350 per session (50% going to taxes and cost of doing business), they would make $60,667 over the course of the year.

Obviously, there are no perfect numbers in this estimation. Some photographers have higher or lower costs of doing business. The living wage in your state may be higher or lower than average. Your photographer may spend more time on each session to provide a more customized experience. But I do hope this helps you understand why photography is so expensive and why there is such a range in pricing. It would honestly be difficult for a photographer to earn a living wage charging less that $700 a session.

What you do with this information is up to you! Every family has a budget to operate within. My hope would be that this article shifts the way you think about the service of photography. Maybe consider saving up for a dream session. Perhaps book a mini-session with a photographer who is normally out of your price range because you want to support a stable local business. Otherwise, if you book an inexpensive photographer, express you thanks and appreciation to them and encourage them to keep growing.

Luxury albums. Photography session amenity. Why is photography so expensive.

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