Friday, December 16, 2011

Reasonable Pro Photography

I have a great respect for photographers. It's tough, often under appreciated work. Being an amateur photographer, I used to take lots of pictures with a DSLR myself and snapping pictures for events (way back in 2007). People do not see the amount of time spent on the post-processing of images and think it's all about running around with a big camera taking pictures (how fun!). In fact, you'll be spending just as much time or more post-processing as you will taking pictures. It's one of the reasons why I havent used my DSLR in awhile. Alltogether, it takes alot of man-hours to take pictures. In addition to that, professional gear does cost quite a bit. The cameras are the least expensive part of the operation - a set of fast f/2.8 lenses could easily set you back $10,000. Any decent photographer will also invest alot of money in lighting (diffusers, lightboxes, wireless flashs etc. Photography is all about light!). Include the cost of transport and equipment, and you could start to see why professional photography costs alot.

After the jump: Examples; Breaking down the price; Example of an overpriced service.

Let's take a simple wedding event for example. For $2550, MMPhotos Sydney would cover an entire day-long wedding event [8 hrs] with two photographers. They will take 100pics/hr, post-process the images, and provide two 8x12" (8R) prints for free. They also provide a DVD with all the hi-res images. The post-processing could easily take 6 hours to complete

That is, believe it or not, a reasonable price. It involves roughly 25 hours of work (post-processing is a real bitch, believe me.).
  • ~8 hrs covering the event (x2 photographers)
  • ~10 hrs post-processing.
This works out to roughly $100 per hour of work done. Now subtract the cost of equipment, and you're probably looking at around a decent $60/hr salary for the photographers. Jobs are not very frequent and it's not like there are weddings every single day of the week, so while it may seem high, it's reasonable as it is effectively part time work.

What About Portrait Photography?

The same rules for postprocessing applies. In fact, trying to get a hi-resolution image looking great can be quite time consuming in Photoshop and you know your customers will scrutinize their portraits! So what is the market offering?

For $300, Harrison Photography  offers 1.5 hours of time with a photographer in a studio (more pictures means more to cherry pick from later), a CD with at least 35 pictures, eight 5R (5x7") prints, and 2 8R (8x10") prints. The 8R prints will need significant retouching as even minor flaws (defects) become painfully obvious.

Well, everyone knows that it's really cheap to print photos, and in this day and age, it is also important to be able to upload images to the internet. For $300 Sydney Photo Studio offers professional hair styling and makeup, allows for outfit changes, and retouches three hi-resolution images that are then provided to the customer on CD. It's bloody cheap to print photos and you can make as many copies as you want.

For $300, Inspired Photography will come down to your location with their mobile studio, spend an hour with you, and provide you a CD with 15 retouched images.

These are all very reasonable prices. The photographers would be earning around ~$100 per hour of work. They dont get work every single hour of the day so it's reasonable, decent work.

Business Ethics 101: Why Monopoly Is Bad

There was only one photography studio taking pictures on graduation day. How such a monopoly was allowed to happen escapes me.

$30 for a sitting fee is reasonable. It's roughly 15 minutes of work to capture the raw images.

But guess how much they charge for a CD of non-postprocessed/non-retouched images. $300. Yes. $300 for a CD of all the images taken in 15 minutes. Yes, they need to cover transport, equipment, wages, etc... But still you're talking about $200+ per hour of work. Something is very wrong here.

And unlike other photography jobs, the graduation photos are taken in succession. There is literally a queue of people taking photos.


  1. Your opening line states that you have respect for photographers... and yet your whole piece does little more than show your ignorance as to the real process of being a professional photographer. Firstly, there's is a big difference between picking up a camera and calling yourself a photographer, and actually have the skill set and dedication to create a quality end product for your client. The former likely describes all of the companies you referenced in your piece. The later category subscribe to a national professional body and have ethical guidelines. I think you'll find that graduation photographer was not a member of the AIPP hence the unprofessional quality of service. In addition, you've managed to take what is essentially a profession based on creativity and raw human emotion, and whittle it down to monetary figures and statistics... again disrespecting the art of photography. Particularly as your budgets ignore more than half the costs associated with professional photography. And as for your business ethics: if you didn't like the photography offered your could have always employed a professional photographer privately to come to campus and photograph you exclusively. Do yourself a favour and stick to medicine... just because you're book smart doesn't make you an authority on professional photography.

  2. Do note this whole piece was written to answer the question: "Why is professional photography expensive?". Hence the title "Reasonable Professional Photography"... If I had titled it "Top of The Line Photography" it would be a different story.

    I've mentioned the cost of cameras, lighting, transport, wages, and skilled man hours. If there is anything you would like to add, do feel free to comment. You claim I "ignore more than half the costs associated with professional photography". Do justify that claim... and explain why the prices (as advertised) found on the first two pages of a search are not representative of the market price (hidden charges?).

    I am certain a good, reputable, skilled photographer commands a premium price and may even sell his work as fine art.

    Photography is an doubt about it. That said, you would have to agree a majority of photography work out there is pretty bog standard. Common things are common. Weddings, events, sports, stock photography (incl macro work), etc. The market (read: supply and demand) sets an average price for these services. Sure some would pay top dollar for the best of the best, but most people will not. Many people dont understand why a simple wedding costs $2.5k to cover. I have attempted to explain.

    and btw, I am satisfied with the professionalism of the graduation service. I'm just a bit disgruntled at the price - which could not have been so high if market rates were followed*.

    *I am basing my idea of this on a simple google search. If you have a better idea, feel free to comment - any thoughts and opinions are appreciated.

  3. Fxxxing Southern Studios Photography.