Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why Does Custom Photography Cost More?

The digital revolution has brought flexibility and control for the photographer, the hobbyist, the professional, and 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, and the time it takes to get a usable image.

Even though you pay $1.99 for a print at your local drugstore (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.


Here's a scenario: So you have hired a photographer who has work that you love, and that is traveling to you for on location session.

45 min-online gallery hosting
30 mins – 1 hour session prep time (equipment checks, packing, and vehicle checks)
travel time TO & FROM the location
15-30 min prep time at client’s home
60-90 min with client photographing subject
45 min uploading time from camera to computer
30 min backing up the original images
3-6 hours editing time to present you with a diverse gallery of images
1 hour uploading images to online gallery
1 hour processing order & financial paperwork
phone time or time needed for customer service, ordering, and editing requests.

As you can see, average client time for a session ranges from just under 11 hours to 17 hours dependent on the photographer’s level of service. This is time dedicated only to your session. When the photographer charges $100-$300 for the photo shoot you are not just paying for the hour of session time, you are paying the photographer for 11-17 hours complete time for your session.


Regarding equipment costs, a good quality professional camera with a selection of good optical quality lenses, digital storage mediums and computer set up can run from $10,000-$20,000 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.

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 client.

Don't forget to include the costs of running the business, taxes, studio and equipment insurance, vehicular costs, costs of advertising/marketing, costs of sample pieces or gifts given to clients.


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.

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 leader”. 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, the constant education to stay current and knowledgeable is not free. 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 article helps shed some light on WHY a custom photographer is a better choice for your family’s memories. I chose this profession out a desire to help others to cherish the present and hold on to those 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.

Article content is inspired by and has direct excerpts from Laurel Housden Photography, as well an article by San Diego Photographers Caught On Film Photography.

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