What is custom photography?
The photographic art you choose to place on your wall is ultimately the result of the vision of the photographer. This vision, coupled with what you wear to your session, the environment, the lighting, even the mood the subjects are in at the time of photographing creates the work that you will want to proudly display on your walls forevermore.
What custom photography ultimately is all about is choice and experience (as in THE experience). Custom photography is about finding someone who will photograph your family, give you devoted 1:1 attention without worry of the next in line or the feeling of a crowded portrait studio. A custom photographer will typically show you a fairly extensive gallery culled to only show the good images that meet the photographer’s creative sensibilities. Often the images are fully-edited images, color corrected with blemishes and undereye circles removed. Custom photographers are also known as boutique studios, offering a range of products and unparalleled service. Think Lexus vs. Hyundai, think Nordstrom vs. WalMart.
Custom photography should have you, the client and your experience in mind.
Why does custom photography cost more?
The digital revolution has brought amazing flexibility and ability to control various factors during the image taking and making process. Photographers, the hobbyist, the professional, the amateur all benefit from this ability to manipulate pixels. However, with flexibility comes a price. Digital 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 creating a work of photographic art.
We all know that you can go to the local Walgreen’s and pay a $1.99 for a print – as a client you may wonder why you may pay upwards of $50, $70, $90 for a custom photography print. Photographers hear this statement every once in awhile:
How in the world can you charge $40 for an 8×10 if it costs me less than $2 to print at x store?
The truth of the matter is the answer to this question is multifaceted. Much of the cost of a photographic print produced by a professional photographer has to do with the time, equipment costs, artistic vision, and reputation of the photographer…not to mention expertise and the usual costs of running a legitimate business.
The cost of TIME
Approaching it from a time standpoint, let’s imagine that you have hired a photographer whose work you love. This photographer is traveling an hour to/from your session location to photograph your children. Here is an example of the time breakdown:
- session prep time (30 mins – 1 hour, includes pre-session correspondence and equipment checks)
- one hour travel time to/from session
- prep time at client’s home or session location
- 60-90 minutes with client photographing subject
- 15 minutes uploading time from digital cards from camera to computer
- 15 minutes spent backing up the original images
- 1-3 hours editing time to present you with a diverse gallery of edited images
- 15 minute online gallery preparation
- 30 minutes preparing order and sending to lab
- 30-45 minutes checking, packaging and shipping order(s)
This is time dedicated only to ONE session. When the photographer charges $125-$200 for the photo shoot (aka SESSION FEE) you are not just paying for the actual session time, you are paying the photographer for xxx hours complete time for your session.
The COSTS of Maintaining a Custom Photography Business:
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 $2000 there are still other costs related to photography. A good lens for portrait photography can run from $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 client.
Discussion of other costs of running a photography business could take awhile, so I’ll skip many of the intricate details. There is 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.
APPLES to ORANGES to BANANAS:
Often times clients will mention to their photographer that X studio in the mall/department store only charges $19.99 for an 8×10 sheet 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. In February 2007 leased photography retail space by 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 services 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 loss leader.
As a consumer going to a chain studio, you don’t have the benefit of 1:1 attention for 1-2 hours at your home or desired location where your children are allowed to explore, play and be comfortable in a fun or familiar environment. You also do not 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.
REPUTATION/EXPERTISE of the 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 images that are produced as a result of the professionalism and dedicationof your photographer will be cherished for a lifetime (or more), and great thought and consideration should be placed into hiring the right photographer for your family’s most precious investment.