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The reason photographers charge so much

Tonight I was offered a photography gig from the friend of a n old co-worker. She wanted me for a two-day photo shoot that includes still images and video, which would amount to total of approximately 6 hours shooting time. Usually I’d jump at the chance to shoot- I really love doing portrait sessions- but it was obvious that my time and efforts weren’t going to be as appreciated or worth it.  

This post isn’t mean to offend, but more to educate about what goes into a photo shoot and why you shouldn’t expect any amount of work for free or for a really low price. I hope this sheds light on why I’m picky with the gigs I do now.

Her boss wanted a photographer to work (shoot photos and video) for $10/hr… and expects that flat price to include hours of editing, prints, (free) licensing, and making a slideshow.

I really do appreciate when friends think of me when they hear that someone needs a photographer! However, trying to low-ball me like this is frustrating and can get downright insulting.

Firstly, most photographers don’t do hourly because it’s impossible to have a flat rate for every project. It just isn’t practical, as no shoot is exactly the same and require different types of equipment, hair/makeup artists, wardrobe, second-shooters, assistants, planning, and so forth- which all need to be paid for. If they have an hourly rate, it does not include editing, licensing, or prints.  You’ll get a photographer for the hourly rate, but no product until you pay up for everything else.

Furthermore, there’s a lot of work done after the photo shoot is over. Editing takes a lot of time, more than you would expect, especially for complex editing.

I can’t, and will never give a client unedited photos. Anyone who knows what they’re doing shoots in RAW format, which is the digital equivalent of an undeveloped negative. They won’t look “done” right out of the camera and you can’t post them online in that form either. Unless you have the skills to process raw files, its kind of like having film negatives but no prints to go with them. RAW format gives the image maker more control so the final product looks as good as possible, but is not user friendly for most people.

One of the most important points is that the photographer retains ownership of the images unless he explicitly sells these rights….which almost never happens. Instead, if you’re using the images for perhaps marketing, you pay to license out the images, usually for a fixed amount of time, which is then renewable at the end of that time period. This is often confused with copyright, which is totally different. Just paying for the service of actually photographing doesn’t guarantee you this right. Licensing is where photographers make the most money from. This fee can range from hundreds of dollars, to thousands if it’s along the lines of “retail photography” (weddings, senior portraits, family portraits).

Most importantly, you’re paying for a skill set you do not possess in addition to the use of their equipment. In today’s world of snapshots/ disposable imagery thanks to digital advancements and smartphones, a lot of people forget that it’s easy to click the shutter, but takes a lot of practice, hours of learning, and behind the scenes work to produce a great image.

You can pay your niece that has a DSLR to shoot your wedding photos, but you get what you pay for- low pricing will almost always equal low quality. Expensive cameras don’t make good images; its the photographer that does, for they light the scene, direct the models and subjects, and arrange the components into a pleasing composition. All that the camera does is record this visually.  For those serious about photography as a profession, it’s a not a hobby, even if they have a lot of passion for it- we need to make  a living, and “experience” and “portfolio trades” don’t pay the rent.

While I’m still a student, I’m near graduating and therefore have a very good grip on how to effectively create images. I also value my time, and will no longer do a photo job for dirt cheap just because it’s offered, but only if I’m genuinely interested and believe I will use the resulting images later for a portfolio or otherwise.

The only people that get free or really cheap photos are very close family and friends. Which for me, includes maybe 8 or 9 people. It degrades everything that we’ve done to study this craft when you expect a lot of work for slave wages.

When a photographer accepts payment lower than what their work is worth, it’s shows a lack of respect for themselves and just creates a cycle of going lower and lower in pricing just to get a job that another photographer is bidding for, even for jobs you probably wont use down the line for your portfolio.

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