Why do professional photographers cost so much?
That's a valid question and probably one I would ask if I wasn't a photographer. It may seems like you're getting exploited when it cost $500.00 or more for a one or two hour photo session, especially if the session doesn't come with any prints. How can photographers get away with charging $200 to $500 (or more) per hour and why do they do it?
When you hire a professional photographer you get a lot, and mean a lot!, more than just the time it takes to shoot the photo during the session. First, you get the photographer's time, education and experience. The time and experience is often an investment the photographer has made over years. Photography is a serious discipline that can take years to master. It's much more that just pressing the shutter button on the camera. It's paying attention to you, the subject; it's paying attention to small details, it's paying attention to the background, the lighting, whether colors are complimenting or contrasting, considering how you should be framed, determining what elements are distractions, and so forth and so on. Any one of these considerations I just mentioned is a discipline in itself.
Next he or she has made a significant investment in equipment, which I'll refer to as gear. The gear consist of two or more cameras - every professional photographer carries a backup camera, whether you see the second camera or not. It's generally unacceptable to cancel a photo shoot because a camera failed. After all, there may be no way to recreate all that's gone into the shoot or event, at least not economically. People may have come from out of town, or the clothing may be rented, or if it's a wedding then... you get the idea. Rarely will you find a professional photographer who uses the lens that came with the camera to do professional work. While the kit lens can do a great job, you'll want pictures that are exceptional - so you'll want the photographer to use exceptional lenses. The photographer could easily be using lenses that cost upwards of $10,000 to make your photos. Aside from camera bodies, the lighting gear can be also a large investment for the photographer. There could easily be several thousand dollars in lighting equipment used in your photo session, particularly if you're using a studio. Even portable lighting equipment can require a sizable investment. And then, there are the small things, like platforms for shorter people, artificial backgrounds, batteries for gear, props and so on. There is also learning and knowing how to use the gear, in additional to the considerations I mentioned earlier.
The photographer spends time with you to make your photos, an hour or more depending on the engagement. That is not where the photographer spends the bulk of his or her time on you. We perform a critical services we call post pro-processing. Post-processing can take hours. First we'll cull your pictures. In culling we may have to view each picture several times as we narrow the number of photos down to the keepers, the photos we'll share with you. Depending on the number of pictures it may take days. I once heard about a photographer who wound up with nearly 10,000 (ten thousand) pictures to cull after shooting a wedding. Most wedding photographers will shoot several thousand pictures for that single event. Other cost we [photographers] may have to cover are an assistant or a second shooter. Depending on the event or session there may be too many things going on for one person to manage effectively. You may also want the additional coverage a second shooter [photographer] can provide.
After the photos are culled, every keeper may have to be retouched. This step may differ from photographer to photographer. Some photographers will send untouched photos to you so that you can finish the culling and pick which photos you want retouched. Others will retouch every photo presented to you. Some will make minor adjustments and make the major adjustment after you've made your selections. Adjustments include fixing the contrast, brightness, and color tweaks. These are often the minor adjustments. Removing stray hair from the main subject, fixing skin blemishes, smoothing wrinkles, and removing distracting elements are among the major adjustments. Anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours is usually spent on each photo. Multiply this by 25, 100 or a 1000 photos and your began to see why a 1 hour shoot can cost you $250.00 to $500.00 (or more). In some cases the photographer may effectively be making less than minimum wage.
Still he or she isn't finished. You'll want your selections delivered to you in print in addtion to a digital format. Perhaps you'll want a photo-book or some subset of your photos printed and framed. We as professional photographers are delighted to facilitate or perform this service. Generally speaking, if we out source the printing ,and most of us do, we'll tack on a value-added fee to cover our time. This is why you don't usually see the cost of prints in the photo session fee. Unless you're purchasing a bundle that spells out what you're getting, the photographer can't know the cost of your prints.
When you hire a professional photographer you now know some of what is behind the price quoted.