Photography Expense

Why is photography so expensive?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, I’d like to go through the process of making photographic art. While a painter and a sculptor spend a lot of time making their art, it is believed that a photographer does not. A couple of minutes with a camera and an attractive or interesting subject and *Poof!*, art magically appears. But sometimes looks can be quite deceiving.

To begin with we must have the concept, the inspiration for the images. The concept is often given to the photographer by the client and we have to work within the boundaries of that concept. For fine art, I might spend days thinking of what kind of an image I want to make, what sort of story I wish to tell with my camera.

Once the I have my concept, I have to set up the shoot. I contact the model(s) and schedule a time for us to meet. I find the location or decide on it. Often I have to schedule with the person in charge of a particular location and tell them what I’d like to use the space for, when and for how long. I sometimes have to contract makeup, props or wardrobe. This can be difficult and frustrating since schedules are always evolving and becoming more complicated. Often, a model or a location might become unavailable at the last minute and then I have to scramble for a replacement or simply reschedule the shoot.

Then the day of the shoot arrives. I often allot what I think is enough time to get the shots that I want (or that the model contracted me for). I am frequently wrong. I have spent hours shooting when I hadn’t prepared for it because of ever changing schedules or even just poor communication between all of the collaborators on a project. I set up my equipment: change batteries, assemble lights, adjust the background, check the area and decide on angles and backgrounds and what not. Then, I wait. I spend a lot of time not taking pictures. I wait on the model to arrive, or the makeup artist to get done. More time.

Then its time to shoot. We shuffle models around, move props, lights, change costumes, etc. The camera moves around a LOT when held by a decent photographer as well, depending on the shoot. Different angles, different shadows, move move move. Anyone who shoots with me has seen me constantly bouncing about, trying to get the perfect shot that I know is there. Changes of wardrobe, makeup, or location takes more time. Then we are done! Yay! I have pictures!!! Wait, I mean, no. I still don’t know what shots actually turned out how I wanted.

So I go back to the computer and download the pictures. I open them up and look through them all, often with the client so we can get a feel for the shots that suit our purposes. I rate them according to quality and eliminate the obviously bad shots. Obviously bad can be out of focus, poor composition, bad lighting, any number of factors. Once that’s done, I pack up and head back to my office.

Once I get back to the office I do my best to find something else to do for a little while. Clean up, eat some food, schedule other shoots or oftentimes just take a nap. Taking pictures is exhausting as most any photographer will tell you. The act of creation can really take a lot out of a person. So I take a step back from the project for a little while and then when I’m ready I head back to the computer.

I open up that program again and sift through the rest of the shots that were deemed “not obviously bad”. Sometimes things will catch my eye that I hadn’t seen before. I make sure to either save or eliminate them, and once I’ve gone through the entire set a second time, I get down to work.

I go into my photo editing program and then start the task of post-production, as we call it. I perform color corrections. I re-crop images so that the composition works better. I fix blemishes, change highlights. I sometimes perform corrective surgery on the model to help tighten up a bulge here or a bruise there. I clean up backgrounds and eliminate unwanted things I couldn’t move while we were shooting. All in all, on my computer, I may spend anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour editing a shot, sometimes more. It might take me 3 hours to get an image to where I’m satisfied with it.

Then, I send the preliminary shots to my client and wait for a response. They let me know what works and what doesn’t from the images I’ve sent them, requesting different production issues or effects on the photographs. I go through and re-edit each of these shots and then submit them for final approval. Frequently and this point I am done. I take my bill of sale with me, along with a digital copy of the images. I collect for the remainder on the invoice and they collect the images they wanted.

I would like to point out that in the article above, I did not mention the equipment costs that we incur in this industry. Constantly evolving technology makes equipment obsolete after a year or two at most. We purchase cameras, lenses, lighting, editing software, advertising, etc. The costs that go into running a business are the same for photography as any others. But our equipment costs are very high and as such we have to charge more for our services as well.

So as you can see, the digital photographer’s job takes a lot of time and money. With so much investment in each shoot, of course it is understandable that a professional would have to charge what they do. We do our best to keep costs down for our clients, to remain competitive, but there comes a point where the bottom line won’t go any lower and we have no choice but to charge what we do. It is an unfortunate problem in this industry but one with education and consumer understanding can be dealt with. Be careful in choosing a photographer simply based on his price: it is likely if they are the cheapest then they don’t understand all the work that goes into their own jobs. And without proper knowledge, you can bet the quality of their work is going to suffer.

As they said in Latin, “Caveat Emptor”. In other words, “let the buyer beware”.