Why Does Custom Photography Cost More?

February 27th, 2008 by admin

Digital technology is brilliant.  The digital revolution has brought amazing flexibility
and amazing amounts of control for the photographer, the hobbyist, the
professional, the amateur.  With flexibility comes a price though.  Camera
equipment is still considerably more expensive when you factor in its’ lifespan, the
need for additional resources for processing those images, the time it takes to get a
usable image and the effort that goes into all of this.

Even though you pay $1.99 for a print at your local drugstore and paying for film is
pretty much a thing of the past (although you still pay for memory)  you may be
wondering why you may pay upwards of $40, 50, 70, 90 for a custom photography
print. Some photographers hear this statement every once in awhile:

"How in the world can you charge $60 for an 8×10 if it costs me less than $2 to print
at the local drug store?"

The answer is multifaceted and has a lot to do with the time, aforementioned
equipment costs, artistic vision and reputation of the photographer, expertise and
the usual costs of running a legitimate business.


Approaching it from a time standpoint, for instance let’s imagine if you will that you
have hired a photographer who has work that you love and that is travelling an hour
to your on location session.  TIme break down:

session prep time (30 mins - 1 hour, includes equipment and back up equipment
checks + vehicle checks)
one hour travel time TO session
15-30 minutes prep time at client’s home
90 minutes-2 hours with client photographing subject
one hour travel time FROM session
30-45 minutes uploading time from digital cards from camera to computer
30-45 minutes time spent backing up the original images
2-5 hours editing time to present you with a diverse gallery of edited images
1 hour prep time getting ready for ordering
2-3 hours time with client for ordering images
1 hour sorting through and checking order
30 minutes-1 hour prep time for delivery
30 minutes-1 hour getting order shipped
any additional phone time or time needed for add on ordering, shipment issues,
quality issues
As you can see, average client time for a session ranges from just under 13 hours to
19 hours dependent on the photographer’s level of service.  This is time dedicated
only to your session.  When the photographer charges $150-$300 for the photo shoot
you are not just paying for the two hours of session time, you are paying the
photographer for 12-19 hours complete time for your session.


Regarding equipment costs, a good quality professional camera with a selection of
good optical quality lenses and digital storage mediums and computer set up can run
from $10,000-$30,000 costs dependent on the photographer.  Even though you can
purchase a really good quality digital SLR for about $2100 there are still other costs
related to photography.  A good lens for portrait photography can run up $900 to
$2500.  A dependable computer system with software loaded for business and
creative usage can run $2500 to $8000 dependent on the photographer.  

Then come lab costs for specialty products.  A good photographer knows the lab is
integral to their success.  Photography labs dedicated to the professional
photographer  often cost more and offer a range of products that allows the custom
photographer to continually offer new, innovative products for you, the discerning

Discussion other costs of running a photography business could take awhile so we’ll
skip the intricate details.  There is of course much more: including costs of running
the business, taxes, studio rental/mortgage if the photographer has ownership of a
dedicated studio, vehicular costs, costs of advertising/marketing, costs of sample
pieces that the photographer will likely bring to your session, etc.


Often times clients will mention to their photographer that X studio in the
mall/department store only charges $25 for an 8×10 or they may mention other
things related to discount photography chains.  The fact is those discount chains
make their money on volume, not on customized 1:1 service.  According to several
articles at the time, did you know that in February 2007 a rather well known
discount department store that started in Arkansas closed down 500 of their portrait
studios across the nation?  The reason is simple, you cannot make money on 99¢
"professional" prints if you do not sell enough of them.  Interestingly enough - those
same studios that offer the loss leader packages often charge much much more for
their a la carte pricing (as high as $40-50 for an 8×10).  The whole reason the big
department stores began offering portrait studios in the first place was to get you,
the savvy consumer, in through their door so that you could spend more money with
them in other departments.  Your "PORTRAITS" are considered the true "loss

Going to a chain studio, as a consumer, you don’t have the benefit of 1:1 attention
for 2 hours at your home where your child is allowed to explore, play and be
comfortable in their home environment, nor do you get the experience that many
custom photographers are known for or the lovely captures of natural expressions.  
You simply get a bare bones, "SAY CHEESE" experience.  Keep this in mind when
selecting a photographer.


Being in demand, being well known for quality work, having a good reputation often
costs time on the photographer’s part.  Their expertise comes at a cost, their time
learning their craft and learning the intricacies of lighting and the commitment put
forth on their end to create a persona about their business that oozes
professionalism.  A great number of photographers go a very long time from the
time that they purchase their first good camera to making money at the business of
photography.  Many photographers, when first starting out, rush in thinking that the
business will be easily profitable in no time, how expensive could it be to get a
camera and use it to create their dream?  They often neglect to factor in the cost of
business, the cost of equipment, software, back ups, etc..

Being of sound reputation, a better professional photographer knows that they must
always reinvest in their business to create the reputation of being top notch.  To
create good work good equipment, reliable equipment, back up equipment is a
necessity.  The photographer who desires to be known as better/best/unparalelled
reputation-wise knows that the most important thing they can do for their business
is reliability and dependability.  This is how reputations get built.  Good work often
is a wonderful side product of building that good reputation.

I hope this (lengthy) article helps shed some light on WHY a custom photographer is
a better choice for your family’s memories.  The photographs that are produced as a
result of the professionalism and dedication that your photographer has will be
cherished for a lifetime (or more) and great thought and consideration should be
placed into hiring who is right for your family’s most precious investment.

Content is inspired by discussions with other photographers, my own personal
experiences as well as a well an outline based on an article by San Diego
Caught On Film Photography

Article printed on professional child photographer  site
AMC School photographers. Last updated 10/08/2008. Design by professional photographers American Masters Company