Professional Photography: Cheap or Good. You Can’t Have Both.

It never fails to astound me when people inquiring about professional photography (wedding photography in particular), are shocked that the rate is much more than they’d expected. It’s not as though the cost to hire a professional photographer has suddenly skyrocketed. It’s not an inexpensive service, it never has been. Pretty much since the invention of the camera, professional photographers have had to charge a within a certain range in order to operate our business.

This pricing is to cover the costs of our equipment, our experience, our time and our operating costs, as well as the days and weeks of work involved in editing and processing the images we deliver to our clients. As with any specialized profession (particularly one that’s expensive to run and maintain) minimum wage is not an option.

Even after years of being in this business, I’m still astounded that so many people don’t realize what I assume is a commonly known fact. Professional photography isn’t cheap. It never has been. The fact is, most people don’t realize that, strange as it seems to me.  When I’m looking online to hire any kind of service provider or even just shopping online, the first thing I check is the price. Doesn’t everybody? And I – as most professional photographers do – list my starting prices on my website, on a very easy to find page called ‘pricing’.

You can almost always find a list of photography prices on a photographer’s website. If it’s not on a page called ‘pricing’, it will be on a page called ‘rates’, ‘services’, or ‘investment’. In fact, if a photographer doesn’t list their rates on their website, I personally recommend not wasting your time contacting them. Why hire someone who’s cagey about their prices? Instead, keep looking at other photographers who are more open and upfront about the cost.

As it’s easy and simple to find this information, why are so many photography clients taken completely aback?  Apparently a lot of people don’t bother to look at the pricing information available to them, they don’t comparison shop, they’ve done no research and they’ve already arbitrarily placed an unrealistically low value on this service before they begin making inquiries.

Here’s the thing. A conscientious photographer will always give a detailed response to an inquiry. Whether it’s on the phone or by email, the average inquiry takes at least twenty minutes to reply to. And the issue of price rarely comes up at the beginning. It’s not something we generally start off with, because there are several things we need to know before we can give you an accurate quote.

Maybe twenty minutes doesn’t seem like that much time, but when we’re responding to several inquiries a day, or a week, it adds up. So when we’ve given our time and energy to you (for free) to answer your questions, to get your details and to describe our services, it’s incredibly frustrating and irritating to be told ‘Oh, that’s much more than I expected’ when we do tell you our rates. If you have no idea what something costs, it’s going to save you time and effort in the long run if you simply take five or ten minutes to check the prices PRIOR to contacting professional service providers with your questions.

Here are two simple ways to save yourself some effort, time and sticker-shock:

1- Do some research before-hand. If you’re getting married, before you contact wedding photographers, take the time to educate yourself about what to expect. Ask married friends what they paid. Read wedding blogs, wedding magazines, wedding boards… If you do, you’ll quickly realize that a wedding photography budget of less than $1000 is wildly unrealistic, as is expecting to hire a photographer for two hours or less.

If you’re hiring a portrait, headshot or corporate photographer, take the time to comparison shop online. Check at least four or five local photographer’s websites and take note of the starting prices. They’ll generally all be within the same range and no, it’s not going to be as cheap as Sears Portrait Studio.

2- Always check the ‘rates’ or ‘services’ or ‘investment’ page BEFORE contacting a professional photographer. This will prevent you from wasting your time (and the photographer’s) if their rates are too far out of your price range.

If you find that all of the good photographers are ‘too expensive’, then you need to realize that you’re underestimating what professional photography is worth, and you’ll have to readjust your assessment of its value.

Finally, here is a breakdown of what it costs to hire a professional photographer…

As with most things, photography prices do vary. There are basically three tiers:

Tier one - The ridiculously low prices of hobby or amateur photographers: If someone is charging less than $200 to $300 per hour, or under $1000 for wedding photography, they are NOT a professional photographer. No grey area here, it’s that black and white.

I’ve written before about the many, many reasons why hiring an amateur or hobbyist photographer is almost inevitably a choice you will regret. It should be obvious that hiring a bargain basement photographer, will result in very poor quality equipment, poor quality services and poor quality images. When you hire the cheapest photographer you can find, you’re wasting your money instead of investing it.

Tier two - The average price of professional photographers in most major cities across North America: For portraits, headshots and corporate photography, rates range between $300 and $400 per hour. If your corporate photographer charges per person, average rates are between $100 and $175 per.

For professional wedding photography, the average starting range is between $1500 and $2000. That’s for four hours or less. For an eight hour wedding day, you’re looking at between $3000 and $4000. Remember, you aren’t just paying for the day your photographer shoots your wedding, you’re paying for the up to 60 hours they’ll be working on your images, not to mention all of the time they spent in communicating with you prior to your wedding.

Tier three – The high end prices of status photographers: These are the very well established professional photographers who are almost celebrities within their field or their local area. They can and do charge double and triple the price.

This is because there will always be people who want to pay a squillion dollars to wear designer labels. Those same people happily pay exorbitant prices to hire a status photographer. Starting prices these photographers charge for weddings are usually at least $8000. Portrait and headshot sessions are usually at least $800.

So there you have it. When it comes to professional photography, you can have cheap, or you can have good. You can’t have both.

3 comments on “Professional Photography: Cheap or Good. You Can’t Have Both.

  1. I think all my customers should read this :D
    Thanks for a great post!

  2. [...] the cost of having pictures taken by professional photographers.  But many people forget that when paying for a professional photographer they are not only paying for their professional services, but also the equipment, and their skill [...]

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