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Why pro photographers charge their rates so high

Why do pro photographers charge their rates so high?

This question is asked all the time, and I’d like to try to shed some light on the answer
As with any other job, we get paid for our time—but not just the time behind the camera. Truth be told, that’s only a third or so of what we put into a photo-shoot. You have to consider that a shoot of three to four looks can take anywhere from 2 to 8 hours, depending on stylists, makeup artists, travel time to different locations, and so on. That’s not considering the time we put in before and after the photo-shoot—which we will address in a minute.

Let’s say, for example, you are paying $500 for a shoot where you get four looks, a stylist, and a MUA. $500 and 5 hours of shooting (just to keep our math simple), works out to be $100 per hour. Not a bad gig, right? Right—kinda. It would be great if our work began and ended with the shoot.

Before the shoot, a photographer may spend 40 minutes planning out locations, or he may spend a couple of hours. If you’ve met with the photographer beforehand to discuss the shoot, factor that in as well. Let’s keep it simple again and say that you and the photographer meet for an hour (in person or on the phone) to discuss outfits and the general plan for what you two will set out to create. You are going to shoot in the studio, so there are no locations to plan out.
Now we’re at 6 hours of work for a 5-hour shoot.

After the shoot another 4 hours were spent in post production/editing to get the image ready for professional print or a magazine.
After the photo-shoot, we have to go through the images and not only select the best out of hundreds of shots, but also edit them.  Editing doesn’t always consist of quick spot-removing blemishes, often times it is more about changes in color and exposure of the shot. Those things are vital. Proper basic retouching done right takes time and there aren’t many good shortcuts. We won’t even address the advanced methods,

 I usually spend at least another 4-5 hours selecting and performing all the basic edits. So again, to keep the math  simple, let’s say 5 more hours of work.

Now we are at 11 hours of work for the shoot. 5 hours for the shoot, 5 hours of editing and the 1 hour meeting. This brings the rate down to about $45.50 per hour. That is still a nice paycheck but definitely a hefty cut.

Basically, the photographer has made $500 and given up 11 hours of his day. But wait, he had to hire an MUA stylist and creative Director for 5 hours. Make that $300. If we work that out really quickly, we see that $300 for 11 hours of work drops our rate down to just under $27 per hour. We can plug that into a standard 40-hour workweek over the course of a full year, and it brings us to an annual salary of $56,160.

At first glance, it seems like a pretty decent amount. Honestly it is… before self-employment tax, health insurance, liability insurance, and equipment insurance. In 2011, the self-employment tax was 13.3%. That instantly takes $56,160 down to $48,782. Nearly a $10,000 hit just for being our own boss! And thats assuming every shoot is a $500 or more shoot...which probably is not the case.

The costs of doing business and the upgraded equipment are all a factor in what the professional photographer will charge. However, what you are really paying for are the years of experience and practice it takes to make the images that you receive possible. Not to mention the sheer talent and  creativity that many photographers bring to the table. Creativity has value. We are the best at what we do, and we charge what we deserve to make.

Sometimes there are no large expenses on a shoot. Sometimes you don’t use anything but a camera and the  naturalsun. No MUA. No stylists. No creative Director Shoots like that will definitely affect where the photographer funds go , but it’s unlikely that it will affect the bottom line or editing time.

Now let’s address the amount of retouched photos you get back from the shoot. A 3-to-4-look shoot generally gets about Thirty good photos, fifteen great ones. That really is not many, I know. This is where the client really needs to give up and trust the photographer. People make mistakes. Maybe in one shot the client was not quite right in his pose, or maybe the photographer didn’t get the angle he was looking for. Either way, you are building a portfolio or lifetime memory and should include only the best options.

“Why not give me a CD and let me choose the photos I want to use?”
This question is mostly for model portfolio as with other shoot you usually are given an entire CD. YOU (the model) are the one in the photos, and everyone is overly critical of himself/herself. Often, other people will have an open and unbiased opinion of what looks good and what does not, not to mention the fact that established photographers already know what the agencies are looking for because they have probably worked with them before. The photographer’s choices give you an advantage because now you have the best shots—already geared towards the agencies you are hoping to reach.

The images you take for your personal reasons or  portfolio are an investment in your future or a lifetime of memories captured.  If you are serious about capturing these memories, then it is time to start looking at it like a business. The bottom line is that regardless of what we charge, if you don’t have enough faith in yourself to invest in your dream or memories, why would anyone else?

Ward Legacy Productions Blog # 3  New year. New Direction.

6 Comments to Why pro photographers charge their rates so high:

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whitney wilford on Tuesday, January 31, 2012 4:05 PM
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