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Why Choose a Professional?

Why Does Custom Photography Cost More?

Thank you to Professional Child Photographer for this article:

We all know that you can go to the local Walgreen’s and pay a $1.99 for a print – as a client you may wonder why you may pay upwards of $50, $70, $90 for a custom photography print. Photographers hear this statement every once in awhile:“How in the world can you charge $60 for an 8×10 if it costs me less than $2 to print at x store?”
The truth of the matter is the answer to this question is multifaceted. Much of the cost of a photographic print produced by a professional photographer has a lot to do with the time, equipment costs, artistic vision and reputation of the photographer not to mention expertise and the usual costs of running a legitimate business.

The cost of TIME
Approaching it from a time standpoint, let’s imagine that you have hired a photographer who has work that you love. You want UrbanLIFE portraits of your family.  This photographer is traveling a half hour to the destination to photograph your session. Here is an example of a time break down:

* session prep time (30 mins, includes loading props & equipment and equipment checks + vehicle checks)

* 30 minutes travel time TO session

* 15 minutes prep time at location
* 1 hour with client photographing family as group, siblings and individuals
* 30 minutes travel time FROM session
* 30 mins unloading props & equipment

* 30 minutes uploading time from digital cards from camera to computer
* 30 minutes time spent backing up the original images
* 2-3 hours editing time to present you with a diverse gallery of edited images
* 1 hour cropping images and placing order
* any additional time needed for add on ordering, shipment issues, quality issues.

In this example, the time spent per client can range from just under 7 hours to 10 hours – dependent on the photographer’s  service. This is time dedicated only to ONE session. When the photographer charges $150-$225 for the photo shoot (aka SESSION FEE) you are not just paying for the one – two hours of session time, you are paying the photographer for 7-10 hours complete time for your session.

The COSTS of Maintaining a Custom Photography Business:
Regarding equipment costs, a good quality professional camera with a selection of prime optical quality lenses and digital storage mediums and computer set up can run from $10,000-$30,000 costs dependent on the photographer. Even though you can purchase a really good quality digital SLR for about $2100 there are still other costs related to photography. A good lens for portrait photography can run from $900 to $2500.

A dependable computer system with software loaded for business and creative usage can run $2500 to $8000 dependent on the photographer.Then come lab costs for specialty products. A good photographer knows the lab is integral to their success. Photography labs dedicated to the professional photographer often cost more and offer a range of products that allows the custom photographer to continually offer new, innovative products for you, the discerning client.

Discussions about other costs of running a photography business could take awhile so we’ll skip many of the intricate details. There is of course much more: including costs of running the business, taxes, studio rental/mortgage if the photographer has ownership of a dedicated studio, costs of advertising/marketing, costs of sample pieces that the photographer will have on display to show you options.


Often times clients will mention to their photographer that X studio in the mall/department store only charges $19.99 for an 8×10 “sheet” or they may mention other things related to discount photography chains. The fact is those discount chains make their money on volume, not on customized 1:1 service. In February 2007 leased photography retail space by a rather well known discount department store that started in Arkansas closed down 500 of their portrait studios across the nation?

The reason is simple, you cannot make money on 99¢ “professional” prints if you do not sell enough of them. Interestingly enough – those same studios that offer the loss leader packages often charge much much more for their a la carte pricing (as high as $40-50 for an 8×10). The whole reason the big department stores began offering portrait services in the first place was to get you, the savvy consumer, in through their door so that you could spend more money with them in other departments. Your “PORTRAITS” are considered the “loss leader”.

Going to a chain studio, as a consumer, you don’t have the benefit of 1:1 attention for 1-2 hours nor do you get the experience that many custom photographers are known for or the lovely captures of natural expressions. You simply get a bare bones, “SAY CHEESE” experience. Remember – they make money on volume.

Keep this in mind when selecting where to capture your family’s portraits. Make an investment and remember you get what you pay for!