Musings On Photography Pricing


[Photos pictured taken by the lovely and quite reasonable Cassie Herlocker.  If you're in Southeast Kansas, hire her!]

After years of getting by on my own, I've had a few occasions lately where I've had to hire a professional photographer.  It's been eye opening.

Everyone I take pictures for has been telling me for years, "You don't charge enough."  And after doing a review of what other people are charging in this area, I'm afraid they're right.

I'm of two minds about that, though.

On the one hand, one of the reasons Sweet Husband doesn't do art fairs anymore is because he couldn't compete price-wise with people who were only making jewelry as a "hobby".  When you're only trying to make back the cost of materials--nothing for overhead, nothing for your time--you can easily undersell your competitors.  You also can easily put the people who are really trying to make it their job out of business.

I've done the math.  For a photographer paying for advertising and contracts and equipment and studio space...not to mention all the regular costs of being self-employed (e.g. health insurance, continuing education)...not to mention all the time involved from very first meeting to final delivery of adds up scary fast.

And, while there are exceptions, for the most part the people that are charging more are taking absolutely gorgeous photos.  Like, the kind that actually make me catch my breath a little.

On the other hand, with rare exceptions here and there, my clients are all my friends.  I want them to have nice pictures of their babies and their weddings and what-have-you, and I don't want them to feel like they have to mortgage their houses to do it.

Also, I like taking photographs.  It'll never be my full time career, but it makes me happy.  If I ever got to the point where I was feeling burnt out about it, I'd start charging more or just quit.  But I'm not there yet.

And, the reality is, I don't have a lot of the costs that a full-time photographer has.  I can do my own legal work, and my Nice Father-In-Law/Accountant helps me figure out the taxes at the end of the year.  My "advertisement" consists of once or twice a year Facebook shout-outs when I notice that the sunflowers are in bloom or start thinking about the holidays.  

I do have to upgrade equipment now and then, and, of course, there's my time--but I feel like I'm covering those things.  I'm happy with the hourly "rate" I've set for myself.  I get a new lens about once a year, and have thus far been able to cover new cameras and computers as needed.

Like the empty-nesters selling wire-wrap jewelry just to "keep busy", I'm perfectly content.  Except that I feel guilty that all of us "hobby" people are stealing food from the mouths of the full-time pros.

I was mulling this over with a friend at lunch a few weeks ago, though, and she said something that made me feel better.  She added up what she spends on several photo sessions throughout the year.  It was a respectable sum, but would really probably only pay for one session, if that, with someone more expensive.  Her conclusion:  "We just wouldn't ever get pictures taken.  Or we'd only do it maybe once a year or so."  In other words, it wasn't a choice between me or someone more expensive.  It was a choice between me and no formal photos at all.

I may be self-justifying, but, like I said, it made me feel better--good, even.

What say you all?  When was the last time you had family photos taken?  Whatever price you paid (and that can fluctuate wildly based on geography, I understand) did you feel you got good value?  Or do you avoid getting family photos taken because of cost?

[Also, when considering where to get photos printed, this.  Walgreens is just ducky for random snapshots, but if you want nice prints use Mpix.]