Why are Professional Photographers so expensive?

In this digital age where everyone has digital cameras, scanners and home “photo printers”, when people upload their photos to a local drug store website and pick them up a few hours later, we hear this all the time – How in the world do Professional Photographers charge $55 for an 8×10 when they cost just $1.50 at the drug store?

Here’s why.

Simply put, you’re not just paying for the actual photograph, you’re paying for time and expertise in creating the image itself. First, let’s look at the actual time involved. If you don’t read this entire page, at least read this first part.

For a two hour portrait session:

– one hour of travel to and from the session
– two hours of shooting
– 30 minutes of setup, preparation, talking to the client etc.
– 30 minutes to load the photos onto a computer (2 – 4 Gb of data)
– 30 minutes to back up the files on multiple external drives plus DVD’s
– 3 – 4 hours of Photoshop time including cropping, contrast, color, sharpening, saving a copy for print and a copy for the internet and backing up the edited photographs
– 2 – 3 hours to talk to the client, answer questions, receive their order and payment, order their prints, receive and verify prints, package prints, schedule shipment and drop package off at Fed Ex.
– For local customers, we meet them at our studio to review the photos and place their order. Meeting and travel time averages 2 hours.

You can see how one two hour session easily turns into more than ten hours of work from start to finish. So when you see a Photographer charging a $300 session fee for a two hour photo shoot, you are not paying them $100 / hour.

For an eight hour wedding:

– I won’t bore you with the details, but an eight hour wedding typically amounts to at least one full 40 hour work weeks worth of time. Again, if they are charging you $4,000 for an eight hour wedding, you are not paying them $500 / hour. In addition, all of the little “things” you want in the package, the album, the proofing, the prints, the parent albums, are not only expensive for the photographer to buy, but also require a lot of time by the studio to handle and produce.

Now for the expertise.

Shooting professional photography is a skill, acquired through years of experience. Even though our camera’s average $4,000-$5,000 for just the body, and most of our lens are in the $2,000 category, taking professional portraits involves much more than a nice camera.

Most Professional Photographers take years to go from buying their first decent camera to making money with their photography. In addition to learning how to use the camera itself, there is a mountain of other equipment involved, as well as numerous software programs used to edit and print photographs, run a website etc.

And let’s not forget that you actually have to have people skills, be able to communicate, make people comfortable in front of the camera – and posing people to make them look their best in a photograph is a skill all by itself.

Think of it this way – the next time you pay $100 to get your hair done, a pair of scissors only costs $1.50. But you gladly pay a lot more to hire a Professional to actually do the job.

What about the cheap studios at the mall?

Please don’t compare us to the chain store studios. But if you must, consider all of the time and work that we put into our photographs, compared to what they do. Good luck getting a two hour photo shoot at a chain store. Not to mention they won’t come to the beach! And of course, look at our work compared to theirs. You get what you pay for.

The truth is, most of the mall and chain store studios lose money. In fact, in 2007 Wal-Mart closed 500 of their portrait studios because of the financial drain they were putting on the company. What the chain stores bet on is that you’ll come in for some quick and cheap photos, and while you’re there, you’ll also spend $200 on other things. They don’t have to make money, they are just there to get you in the door.


We hope that those who have taken the time to read this page will have a better understanding of why professional photographs cost so much more than the ones that you get from your local drug store.


23 Responses to “Why Do Professional Photographers Cost So Much?”

  1. Kam Says:

    Debra, this is really good stuff, I hope you don’t mind I linked this post on my blog. Thanks šŸ™‚

  2. Stefan Says:

    . . . and why do some photographers charge SO LITTLE ?
    I just saw this pricing list on a fellow photographers website:

    The following prices are for groups up to 4 people.
    There will be an extra $15 charge for each additional person.

    PACKAGE A: $135

    1-2 hour of coverage on location
    CD with 10 graphically enhanced high resolution JPG
    images of your choice and low resolution proofs

    PACKAGE B: $175

    1-2 hour of coverage on location
    CD with 20 graphically enhanced high resolution JPG
    images of your choice and low resolution proofs

    … truly nuts.

  3. debraw Says:

    All I can say is that If anyone books a photographer that charges like this, they WILL get exactly what they paid for.

    It’s sad. The photographer is also most likely NOT a “real” professional or they would price their services in a more responsible manner.

    You are SO right! This is TRULY nuts!

  4. Mark Says:

    very well said..I will be linking this to my blog also, if that’s ok.

    we need to spread the word!!!

  5. You’ve written a very excellent article.
    If it’s fine with you, I would like to request permission to use your article as it fits to my problem. I will be happy to negotiate to pay you or hire you for this.

    With Regards from
    Republic Polytechnic

  6. Jasmine Says:

    I work for a chain store. I am leaving to start my own studio. Im keeping my prices reasonable, because im getting started.

  7. john Says:

    How much profit does a professional photographer make?

    1. debraw Says:

      A professional photographer has to be a serious business person first or they will not make any profit. Working the business side of the industry is everything and like any industry, you have to know your costs and figure your costs and what you need to live the lifestyle you desire into your pricing. If you’ve done your expenses properly and are hitting your numbers as far as events/sessions you’re being hired for, you can make a living as a professional photographer. That said, once your figure insurance, taxes, licenses, overhead, product, vehicle and your time into the equation, the cost to do business as a legitimate photographer is very high.

      Most people do not actually know their numbers however. They set their pricing based on what other photographers are charging and not what THEY need to survive and this will always result in failure.

      There are also two distinct business models: Low volume, high price and high volume low price . . . how much you stand to make also depend on what your business model is.

      Hope this helps!

  8. di Says:

    I am almost done doing my website, the only thing i have left to put on there are my final prices. I have for 3 years been charging 285.00 for shoots (not weddings) and i’m going up 100., thank you for this link, i will be putting it on my blog page……now i won’t feel so bad charging 3,400.00 for a wedding.
    I do have one question, should i offer more packages or just add a la cart items seperately…..because really, a wedding is 9+ hours no matter what.
    This is where i am stuck :/

    Thank you!

    1. debraw Says:

      Packages are always a great idea for many reasons. Study the psychology of sales and in particular check out Charles Lewis and his teachings. He’s fantastic and you will learn so much about the business side of photography, which is, in my opinion, more important than the imaging itself. Photographers have a 75-80% failure rate in 5 years of business. It’s enormous and it’s harder than ever to make the business work since digital photography and the devaluation of the industry that it has brought with it. It’s not about working harder, it’s about working smarter, setting policies for the long term good of your business and sticking to them when the clients push back a little. You can email me anytime . . .

  9. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  10. kelsi Vescarelli Says:

    I agree with this. I would never go to a chain store and I appreciate the Skills needed to have the results I love

  11. Richard Wood/Creative Images By Ric Says:

    Could not said it better myself

  12. Eric Meacham Says:

    I appreciate ur time in explaining some of the reasons people should hire a professional as opposed to ~~~~ Thankyou and Good on Ya šŸ˜‰

  13. I just came across this awesomw article and I would like to link this on my blog as well

    1. debraw Says:

      Feel free Windell. The more people that pass this around, the better!

  14. […] great article I found was written by debraw, to sum it up “Think of it this way ā€“ the next time you pay $100 to get your hair done, a […]

  15. DBimagery Says:

    The most fantastic read. I have shared this with some other photographers who have had the same questioning from people on why we charge what we do.

  16. Mina Says:

    Hi Debra,
    This is a great article. Education is key to help our clients understand the value of what we do. I love the analogy with the beauty salon (giggle). Well done!
    With your permission, may I link your article or make future reference to it on my blog or twitter @minafe1

    1. debraw Says:

      Hi! Absolutely reprint it! The more people that understand that we are professionals, the better šŸ™‚

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