Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Cost of Professional Pixels

When I wrote “Beyond ‘Meeting Code’” a few weeks back I mentioned hearing people lament the prices charged by professional photographers.  I think that, likely, the vast majority of people who think the rates are too high have simply: never been provided with the reasoning behind the pricing or, more likely, have never given it any thorough thought.

Over the course of just this past year I have, among other things: attended a few multiple-day workshops; completed an on-line photography course; spent many hours looking at on-line Photoshop tutorials; bought books on Photoshop, Lightroom, and lighting techniques; added studio equipment; paid annual membership dues; begun work on my new home studio; and more.  In short, I have put a considerable amount of money and time toward bettering my skills and set-up so that I may continually improve the product I am providing my clients.

In any business the push to exceed clients’ expectations has to come from the person/people running the business.  However, in order for business owners to continually improve their skill set, equipment, software and products available, so that they can exceed those expectations, they require more than good intentions, they require revenue AND profit.  

I was once chatting about my business with an acquaintance, who is actually a lovely person; she congratulated me for having such an easy job, that it was “easy money”…she expressed her feelings of apparent awe that I was making the full session price for just one hour of work.  She meant no harm, but she was terribly mistaken as, at that time, with business start up costs (which I am still trying to recover), I was actually paying to work!

It seems some people think, ‘well, she has a camera, she loves photography, and it’s only an hour or two of her time; what’s the big deal?’  However, those people neglect to think of, or value, photography as a business with inherent business costs (license, software, hardware, education, marketing, etc.), equipment costs, and the professional’s time spent working on the job. 

I have worked out my time on a couple of typical jobs to give you an idea of the time spent on any given project and you may be surprised to learn that, as an estimate, the client only sees about 15% of the working time that I will put into their final product (outside of the time spent shooting the session, I must: ready my gear, sometimes buy/rent props or equipment, prepare the studio, review and cull images, prepare the on-line gallery, and work on the final edits).  Therefore, if I spend 3 hours on a newborn shoot, the entire project will likely take in the range of 20 hours.  Also note that I haven’t included the time spent on everything else that goes into having a business; for instance, I recently implemented a new back up/storage system and, due to a glitch between the software and hardware, I invested nearly 40 hours trying to ensure my backups and storage were safe.  Now these times may be different for other photographers; for instance a more seasoned retoucher may spend much less time on edits, but I can only speak from my own experience.

Now, I will say that I don’t necessarily think that only a professional photog’s pictures are ‘worthy’ heirlooms; I am first and foremost a lover of images, regardless of who took them or how they were recorded (I recently became addicted to iPhoneography!).  What I am trying to communicate is that, if you choose to hire a professional photographer - who has invested in providing you with an experience and images of a professional quality, and you wish to have a more personal experience than you would in a huge studio - I’d like for you to consider that the pricing, for the session and prints, must cover the expenses and then, hopefully, there is also a profit.  You can love what you do, but you also have to eat!

I began this little series of posts based on the idea of going beyond meeting the requirement, and I passionately believe in doing that in business and in life.  I also believe in simple economics and so if you aren’t making a profit after the start-up years, then you aren’t in business, rather you just have a really expensive hobby.

I hope that this post has effectively communicated two things: that I love what I do (otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it!), and that it costs money to do what I do.  I will continue to strive to exceed both my clients and my own expectations.

Life is great!


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