In Part I discussed how virtually anyone can start a photography business with little resources or knowledge. Part II will focus on the professionals who constantly complain about their business, and the perceived value of photographic services.
I constantly come across blog posts detailing the costs of a photography business. The two main ones I see are; detailing the cost of a single wedding shoot, and detailing the cost incurred by living as a photographer for a year.
The Cost of Wedding Photography
Let’s start with detailing the cost of a wedding shoot. These articles will lay out in detail the costs of doing wedding photography yourself (i.e. getting a friend to do it for you who is a not a professional). The biggest problem with these lovely posts is they over-inflate costs to back up their arguments. They will add up ridiculous costs to add up to an amount very close to what you would pay a professional. The main problem with these arguments is they essentially add up costs as if you were purchasing all the equipment necessary to start your own wedding photography business.
These blogs typically include costs for courses and training. Perhaps these bloggers have never searched YouTube tutorials. If you just search “wedding photography” there are nearly 1.6 million videos. So there are a few free resources there to cut costs. Aside from basic equipment costs there is inflating of software costs. With some suggesting they buy Photoshop for the outdated +$1,000 price. Well if your cheap wedding photographer doesn’t have Photoshop he/she can buy a 1 month membership for $9.99. These examples go on and on pointing out with minutia all the costs involved in training and equipping someone off the street to take your wedding pictures. Well no one will actually do that. No one will give $2000 worth of equipment to some Joe off the street and pay them $200 to snaps some pics. All these points try to persuade someone away from going cheap on their wedding photography and investing in hiring an established professional.
The reason that overall argument is flawed is you can find someone out there with decent equipment who will take your photos for a few hundred dollars. Usually these photographers are starting out and trying to build a portfolio. It is obscene to suggest you need to pay $2,000 to fully equip and train your budget photographer. If you are going the route of budget photography your chosen photographer incurs the cost of renting some lenses and a flash. By the by, you can rent 3 top of the line lenses for $100. Throw those on any DSLR body and you can get away with it. When you decide to go with a budget photographer they absorb those costs because they are trying to build their portfolio. In the end you are likely not going to convince someone to pay you more based on what it takes to do it professionally.
If you are really trying to convince people to use your professional services, don’t use cost to convince them. Show them the difference. Show them how fantastic your work is. Point out what an amateur cannot do that your technical and creative experience can do.
The Cost of Being A Photographer
Let’s move on to the greater offender. There have been a couple of influential bloggers detailing all the costs involved in their businesses and how much they are left with at the end of the day.
A brief sarcastic (but mostly accurate) synopsis of their breakdown
- 2 Pro Camera bodies: $12,000
- You have to have the latest gear to produce the best possible images for the client. You also need a backup body.
- Proper lenses (wide, medium, telephoto 2.8) $6,000
- You need the ability to shoot in low light and at every angle.
- Memory cards, backups, flashes, reflectors, camera bag, tripods, prints, blank DVDs, stamps $14,000
- Car payments, insurance, gas, subscription to Vogue, electricity, food, more stamps, $19,000
So I think you get the idea. There is no denying a photography business takes significant time and financial resources to flourish in. As a business owner you are responsible for incurring great costs to keep your business running, to have the proper equipment, and be well trained. These articles however greatly exaggerate the costs of maintaining said business. A lot of those costs are the ideal situation where you would spend on everything you should/could. The reality is a lot of photographers don’t have full pro backup gear. They don’t invest in yearly training seminars. Their huge marketing costs are maintaining a website they do themselves. But as any small business owner knows you have to invest a HUGE amount of your time into running your business. You have to do things yourself that you could pay someone to do for you.
The fact is as a business owner you are there to provide a service. You have costs but your customers don’t care about those costs, and frankly shouldn’t. You shouldn’t have to guilt people into paying you what you are worth based on your expenses. Have good work. Period. Convince people why they should hire you by being better than the next guy.
Photographers Are Defensive
I don’t know of any other industry where business owners are so defensive of their pricing and their business costs. I have never read a plumbers blog about needing to buy new tools to give you the best pipe job in town because that is what you demand as a consumer. I have never seen an article outlining the basic living costs of an accountant such as food and driving to their place of business. The simple reason is your client does not care what you spend and how much you make per year. They don’t care that you generally only operate on summer weekends. They are paying you for a service/product. They likely have misconceptions about what your work week is like.
Bottom line, if you want to be successful financially you need to prove to people with your work why you are worth it. It is such a competitive environment with anyone being able to step in and compete with you for a fraction of the cost you charge. Do better work, and never be satisfied with where you are.