December 24, 2009

What am I really buying when I book a photographer?

Recently I had a conversation about pricing of photography. I was asked the cost of a 4x6 print and what my my price for them would be for the guests at the wedding.

I don't sell 4x6 prints for work I do in my studio. I do sell them for events. When you see the local big box store selling them for less than a quarter, you might wonder why my cost of the paper is so much more. When you go to the drug store with the memory from your camera, they are usually what we classify as snapshots from a family gathering or vacation.  We almost never print what comes out of the cellphones because frankly, they are just disposable photos much of the time and are for entertainment more than anything.

Back to pricing -  that print isn't what you are really paying for when you hire me for your event or session. You are engaging me to create a result but you are paying for what had lead up to that piece of paper. No, you are not paying for the photography class I took in High School or the film. You are paying for the services and equipment that lead up to the resulting art capturing a moment of time and place.

 It takes so much more to make a good image than just a shutter click. Go look at the photos on your cell phone. I take those quick photos of the meal I was served or the flower in a funny spot or the dog butt or the guy at the mini mart. But for your events or sessions, I am not using my Palm Centro or a Blackberry.

First a photographer needs to have the right equipment. A camera, some lights, some lenses - for me Professional grade that offer low light ability. For a wedding those items in my bag cost more than my first house did.

I've spent years getting to know just when to click the shutter and with what settings to isolate the person from the background. It's second nature. I carry two or three cameras, 3 to 8 lenses and lights sometimes 4-5 flashes and things (we call them modifiers) to make light go where I want it to be and look soft and flattering.  Then there is software too.  I delivered some prints today. I used six different software programs to deliver those prints: Photoshop, Camera RAW, Lightroom, Filters and plug ins. Some specialized portrait software and backup software. I have a computer or three, and monitors to go with. And a bunch of backup drives. A website that was custom designed and hosted. Oh - and I have insurance. It covers me if you fell over my light-stands or camera bags( another expense) or if I lost all those compact flash cards because I didn't follow the procedure to attach them permanently to me. I pay for taxes too - on all that I buy to furnish the office. I have phones and rent to pay too. A car that needs gas and telephones that hopefully ring. I need to know the latest fashion and photography styles to take that portrait. I might need a class to follow the trends too.

I strive for quality. My lab doesn't charge me a quarter. They have people who look at the print to see that what I did will excel. It doesn't just pop out the side of a printer and go into an envelope. They apply a finish to each and every print that keeps it archival so it will last you twenty generations. I might have it mounted or laminated or textured depending on the image. I spent a great deal of time deciding which papers and textures and labs would suit my style of photography and make the images stand out and be cherished.

So much more goes into the finished print that it's not paper. Not to mention the sprinkle of love and piece of my heart that go into creating each photograph. 

I keep reviewing all my components that make up the prices i offer. The time I spend continually raising the bar, perfecting the look and creating an image to be proud of. I hope that I have answered your question about the real cost and price. I teach photographers and entrepreneurs to be business professionals including making sure that count their time and knowledge and equipment and overhead into their product. All of the knowledge, peripheral expenses and my experience is a part of the price which comes to more than nineteen cents. I am sure you will agree.

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