$50 8x10's? Why is custom portrait photography so expensive?

Why is custom photography so expensive?  


For Photographers,

Well for starters, is anything custom cheap? It is something made unique to the personality of the client and cannot be recreated for someone else.  This is a question I see very often and to be honest a really great one. I would be lying if I said I never asked this question before, but now that I am a photographer I understand the answer.  It took quite a bit of education to get there, but now that I am here I wondered why so many people didn't understand why my prices were as so. Then it clicked, why are we as photographers so quick to get frustrated and defensive with a legit question?  Why should we expect our clients to understand something that took us so long to arrive to the answer. All they know is they want their family photographed and if they go to Sears it may only cost them $200 for the session and prints.


What a client sees when booking a custom portrait session?

-The photographer they contacted has emailed/called them back and booked a session          

-The photographer photographed them                                                                                      

-The photos were shared with us via online gallery or in person

-Another photographer can do it for a cheaper price 

This to your client looks like a few hours of work, so of course that 100/200/300 dollar session fee makes sense.  What clients are confused about is that they don't get the images until they have purchased the disc and/or products after their session and why does an 8x10 cost 30/40/50 dollars when I can get it for $2?  There's no denying that before you were a photographer or knew anything about business you wondered why that price was as so, right? Your guilty of that exact same question.  EDUCATE THEM!!!  Give them a reason to work with you.  Below might help get you started. You MUST respect a person's budget and yes maybe they can't afford you even after you educate them on why your prices are higher than the photographer down the street.  Find out what they are looking for and refer them to someone who can fulfill their needs and still remain in the budget.


Each photographer has a different price point, why?  

They all offer a different type of service and experience.  The benefit to asking what their price covers is you might realize you are willing to pay the extra price for the extra service.  Another thing to keep in mind is the longer the photographer has been in business the higher chance their prices will reflect that.  


The reality of it all.

For Clients & Photographers (a list of what our overhead is)

-props cost money                                                                                              


-gallery host                                                                                                                                      

-insurance for equipment                                                                                                  

-insurance for their business                                                                                                            

-promo material (business cards, catalogs, studio samples, direct mailers, displays for advertising, etc)                                                                                                                              

-depreciation of gear                                                                                                                    

-new camera gear                                                                                                                            


-editing software                                                                                                                              



-some may have a studio                                                                                                                  

-backdrops/floordrops/reflectors/lighting equipment                                                                      

-client gift                                                                                                                                          

-product packaging                                                                                                                        

-coffee/meals purchased for you during consultations                                                                    

-furniture for studio space                                                                                                                

-sd cards                                                                                                                                          

-hard drives                                                                                                                                      


-venue fees (depending on where the location is)                                                                          


-The ability to provide you with professional grade products (psst, Walgreens is not on this list)

-oh and we have to pay ourselves (we have families to provide for as well) 

-most important, TIME!!!

Time is free that is evident, but your time should be valued by you and by your clients.  So how much time does a photographer typically spend on one session?  Well the answer to this question varies on what type of service your photographer provides.  I can tell you I spend up to 20 hours per client depending on what they are looking for.  So divide that by my session fee of $100, that does not cut it.  Wow, that was an eye opener, I knew I spent a lot of time for my clients, but wowzers, your welcome :).


List of where my time goes per session:

 -pre-consultation/booking: 1 hour                                                                                                  

-drive to and from session: up to 2 hours                                                                                         

-session time: 1-2 hours                                                                                                                      

-culling photos: 1 hour                                                                                                                        

-editing photos: 4-5 hours                                                                                                                

-loading your images into gallery: 1-2 hours                                                                                      

-post-consultation: 1-2 hours                                                                                                              

-if purchasing a custom designed album: up to 4 hours to design                                                  

-loading and ordering your products: 30 min                                                                                  

-packing up your images/thank you card/client gift/hand delivery: up to 2 hours 

So do you still think your time is not valuable?

Your session fee covers a very small portion of what your photographer actually needs to break even.  I know that when I started out as a photographer I was just as confused, I thought wow I already have a camera and all I have to do is take some photos, edit, and hand over a disc.  I was getting almost 100% profit. 

I booked a wedding 2 years ago before I put my son into football and so I was not sure how his schedule was going to be.  I ended up having to leave his game early to shoot the wedding and I missed his very first touchdown, ever.  This is why it is so important to value your time, because you will never get that moment back.  

This list above is the reason why photographers charge more for their products than you can get them for, the session fee essentially is a "deposit" toward the entire experience.  Having your photos done is a must, any photographer will agree with that, but having a custom photography experience is a luxury and so it is not required.


Custom portrait photography vs. Big box stores

Each session is unique.  I know for my business I make it a point to really understand my clients and their kids before ever shoving a camera in their face.  Your photographer is not on a time crunch to get you in and out of the door, the time is yours and will be until the photographers gets what you have requested and what they need to fill a gallery for you.  A custom portrait photographer walks you through the entire process from booking to best products to purchase that fit your budget and your family. Your photographer will make you feel like no one else exists, your session is the most important at that time.  We want to know your family on a personal level, isn't that what photography is about, freezing time?  We want you to remember who your family was then and the only way to accomplish this is to photograph the reality, your life as it is (lifestyle),  a location that reflects you and props that no one else will ever use (your heirlooms).  I remember awhile back when my family had their first and last portrait session done at portrait innovations, we walked in all dressed up and ready to go, or were we?  We had to wait behind a list of families that were before us, my son at the time was about 2 and what 2 year old wants to sit and wait.  I mentioned that I would like to have just the plain white backdrop and their response was "well if it's available when your turn comes then you can have it", REALLY?!  It was finally our turn and of course we did not get the white background, my son kept trying to run out of the scene and so of course I had to follow to bring him back, the photographer just kind of stood there with an annoyed look on her face, and guess what????  I didn't get to choose anything I wanted, not even the photographer.  This is what sets custom photography a part from the big box stores. 

The real question is, how would you feel if we asked for you to do your job for free or at a discounted rate?  Here's to photographers being able to relate to clients and clients being able to relate to professional photographers.