You're not alone...
As the economy and world swing wildly in the breeze, there are times when we all feel strapped financially and other times when we feel like splurging on some things we wouldn't otherwise purchase. One of the splurges for people is often getting professional photos taken. Even in times of "wealth", there are parts of our subconscious that might play devil's advocate on whether you should invest this "extra" money in photos because they seem so expensive. I get it. I've been there! Let me help explain a little of why good photographers charge what they do.
This probably seems like a no-brainer, but photography gets expensive quickly! A good pro-level camera WITHOUT lenses is usually a minimum of $2000-$3000 and most photographers carry 2 of them so they have at least one backup during each session (especially with weddings). Then add lenses. Yes, you can get a very basic 50mm lens for about $150, but the better and more popular lenses range around $1500-$3000 each, and again, photographers often carry several lenses on any given day.
Next, we need to factor in lighting (flashes and/or strobes plus all the necessary accessories for each setup, a minimum $200 each for 2-4 setups and often cost way more per setup), batteries, bags to haul everything around, tripods, memory cards (some can easily be close to $200 per card if it's proprietary and newer tech), and hard drives for storing all the client's photos. I didn't even mention a computer yet! Keep reading...
Digital photography is hard to manage without a quality computer and monitor. Add at least $2000+ for quality computers and possibly tablets for editing (I use an iMac and my iPad Pro for all my work plus I'll use my iPhone at times). In addition to a good computer setup, I also have a monitor calibration device that helps make sure I'm editing colors for accuracy because no one wants to look like they went through an entire bottle of 90's sunless tanning lotion.
In order to get images from those expensive memory cards (photographers often have over 10 memory cards), photographers need a device to read those cards as it's not the best option to connect the camera directly to a computer as you never know when the battery will die on the camera and possibly corrupt your memory card in the process. Don't forget those hard drives we mentioned before. Sometimes, photographers even subscribe to online backup options to make sure they don't lose their images if their computer crashes.
Just about anyone around has heard of Photoshop. It's synonymous with photography. Without the ability to utilize the educator's discount (teaching college photography has its perks), a yearly subscription of Adobe for the Photography Creative Cloud plan costs $10/month, and that only gives about 2-3 programs out of the entire Adobe collection. I know this is far less expensive than the other things I've mentioned so far, but it still factors in.
Add in our need for other app subscriptions to help us streamline our online presence in the form of a website, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and more. There are apps we use to help minimize how many different places we need to go and those are not always free. A good website with email, a custom domain, hosting, client management apps, financial tracking apps, etc all add up as well.
Most people don't realize the amount of learning and resources photographers utilize. You can't just expect to pick up a camera and magically be a pro at photography (awesome if you can). Many photographers invest in online courses, formal education (college), seminars/webinars, books, etc. I even have a lovely Master of Arts degree in photography, so add on student loans for some photographers like myself.
For decent photography education courses, each one can cost $300-$500 (even on sale) and that doesn't count the higher-level courses and mentoring programs which can run $1000-$2000 each.
Along with the unlikely chance you'd be a pro photographer just by picking up a camera, it's highly likely you'd need a lot of time to practice. For instance, if you were to look through your phone photos, would someone be willing to pay you based on what they saw? Probably not. Pro photographers spend thousands of hours just practicing! It takes time to learn about lighting, depth of field, composition, and more (and that's not counting the time to run a photography business).
It's not just about the time it takes to become a pro photographer. It's also about the time away from family for many photographers like myself and the time spent in front of computers or other screens editing all the images we want to deliver to our clients. A simple portrait session can take a couple of hours to make sure I didn't miss anything (and that's short compared to some photographers who aren't as fast at editing). Weddings take even longer as the sheer number of photos we deliver can be in the hundreds and it's best to edit those photos over multiple days and weeks to not only get through them with an initial edit but also fine-tune them to perfection before delivering.
Other Business Expenses
I've already mentioned a few standard business expenses like those associated with a website, but there are several others to consider. While I personally don't have a studio space, there are many photographers that do. Add in all the expenses for renting that space (lease, utilities, etc). What about insurance and taxes? Oh yeah, we pay those, too! Don't forget about marketing (including time to do the marketing), transportation (vehicles & associated expenses like gas and maintenance), and any assistants that might be hired to help with any aspect of running a photography business (and there are days we need help with the multitude of hats we wear). Notice I've not mentioned anything about an actual salary for the photographer after all those expenses. We like to have a living wage, too.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of what is needed to be a successful photographer, but I really hope you have a better understanding and appreciation for why photographers charge what they/we do. Here's another way to think about it all:
We all know lawyers, hairdressers, accountants, and any professional specializing in a field are required to have a certain amount of education, training, and sometimes certification in order to be successful at their jobs. I know I'm not an expert at any of those fields even if I can do some simple things associated with some of those careers. I also don't try to negotiate the costs we pay for those types of services because I value all that they had to do to be experts and charge what they do. I pay what they ask for because that's what it costs. Photography is NO DIFFERENT!
While I fully understand my services may be too expensive for some people, I also want to be paid what I'm worth after investing over 10 years of my life to my craft and business, taking time away from my family, the amount of money on equipment alone, plus all the other categories and more I've paid for over the years. I hope you understand and share this with others! Thanks for taking the time to read and stay tuned for more fun tips, sessions, and who knows what else!