It’s a question I am continually asked: if you can buy a print of one of your own shots for 15p on the high street, why does a professional portrait session cost so much? Well, let me see if I can offer something of an explanation.
If you want to have your hair cut for a special occasion, or need the wiring in your house replaced, how confident would you feel in taking on the task and doing it yourself? Your wouldn’t? Well, professional portrait photography is not so different. There is more to taking a good portrait than pointing a camera at someone and clicking the shutter. So why should the skill of a professional photographer be valued less than that of a hair stylist or qualified electrician?
Part of the problem is that in this digital age everyone has a digital camera and either a computer or a home ‘photo printer’. And because of that, everyone thinks that it’s easy to be a photographer. After all, isn’t that what the adverts tell us? Well, yes they do. But actually it’s not that simple.
Maybe it would be useful to look at what goes into the production of a professional portrait. Wrapped up in the cost are three main ingredients: time, equipment and expertise.
Let’s look at the number of hours involved for a typical two hour location portrait session:
• one to two hours of travel to and from the session
• two hours of shooting
• 30 minutes of preparation with my client, getting to know them, finding out what they want & don’t want from their session.
• 3 – 4 hours of additional of post production time back at base getting the photographs ready for your viewing experience. This includes downloading the images, editing & cropping them and any additional manipulation and adjustments to the image.
• 2 – 3 hours to view the photographs with a client, answer questions, finalising their order, placing their order with either one of my specialist suppliers, package the order ready for collection, and finally arranging collection by the client.
So, what begins as a two hour session usually becomes more than eight hours of work for the photographer.
The cost of equipment is a major ongoing expense for most professional photographers as they are constantly updating their cameras and lenses as the technology improves. And a quality camera body – one that will give you those portraits big enough to hang on your wall – now costs upwards of £2,500.
But the camera with its lenses and accessories is not enough. The photographer also depends on a sophisticated computer system and a mountain of software use to edit and view photographs.
Shooting professional photography is a skill. And just like being a hair stylist, or an electrician, it is a skill acquired through years of experience. It’s so much more than just a good camera and a nice lens: it demands the ability to deal with the skills of making people comfortable in front of the camera. And I should add, the knack of posing people and capturing the results as they unpose themselves whilst making them look their best in the finished photograph. All professional photographers spend years practising these skills. Many of us invest in regular training seminars to stay up to date in this rapidly changing environment, not only in our camera and people skills, but also to master that mountain of other equipment and software that I’ve already mentioned.
So is Professional Photography good value for money?
Think of it this way – the next time you book your £50 haircut, would you consider the free “do it yourself” version. Why not? Styling your hair can’t be that difficult, can it?
And so it is with that special portrait: the new baby; the grandparents’ wedding anniversary; graduation from university. These are all events that need to be recorded: children grow up so fast, and it is a time you can never revisit. Families are important and spending money and time on professional photography is an investment – a way of preserving your memories and your family history so that they can be shared again and again.
Can you really put a price on that?
About the author: Sue Kennedy is local independent photographer based at Parndon Mill, Harlow, Essex. She specialises in professional location portraits of children, families & individuals. She is a qualified member of the British Institute of Professional Photographers and the Master Photographers Association.