Why does it cost so much for a professional photoshoot?

photography tips

Hey there! My name’s Gaby and I’m a professional photographer based out of New York City. I get this question a lot, so I thought I’d make a blog post about it. Oftentimes I’ll send a potential client my rates, and they’ll go, “Oh…” and then there will be this awkward silence until they say, “Well, it’s just an hour shoot, so can you do it for $150 instead?”

Face. Palm. There’s soooo much more that goes into a photoshoot than just the hour of the shoot. There’s the time the photographer has involved, and then the expenses to run the business. Let’s break it down:

Photographer’s Time for a 1-Hour Shoot

  • Prepping all the camera gear, charging batteries, sending lenses in to be repaired – 1 hour
  • Travel time to and from the shoot – 1 hour
  • The shoot itself – 1 hour
  • Culling and sorting through all of the images post-shoot – 30 minutes
  • Editing and retouching the selects – 1 hour
  • Uploading and sending to the client for final approval – 30 minutes
  • Archiving and long-term storage of the images – 1 hour

That’s already 6 hours of the photographer’s time invested for a 1-hour shoot! And we haven’t even talked about the fixed costs for running the photography business or the creative fee.

Annual Photography Expenses

  • 2 Canon 5D Camera Bodies – $6,000
  • Lenses – $10,000
  • Annual website and domain name – $200 yearly
  • Memory cards and batteries – $400
  • Seamless backdrop – $200
  • Lighting equipment – $650
  • Laptop – $2,500
  • Adobe subscription – $400 yearly
  • External Hard Drives – $500 yearly
  • Google Drive Cloud Storage – $100 yearly
  • Business cards – $50
  • Photography memberships – $100 yearly
  • Subway Card – $1560 yearly
  • Graphic Designer – $400
  • Advertising on The Knot – $2,000
  • Business Thank You Cards – $100
  • Logo stickers – $70

That totals to almost $30,000 in flat costs to run the business, and doesn’t include ANY of my time. Not to mention the cost of my college and master’s degrees, or any of my day to day living expenses, like rent or food. I love being a photographer because I get to use my creativity and artistry to capture moments for folks, but I can’t do my job if I can’t afford to live.

The Creative Fee

What’s a creative fee, you ask? It’s the special services or talents that I bring to the project. So, for example, if you hire me to shoot a wedding, you’re choosing me because I have ten years of experience in wedding photography, and I bring a certain style and skill to the project that other people do not have.

According to the American Society of Media Photographers, here are a few things photographers consider when calculating their creative fee:

  • Tight deadline
  • Specific style
  • Creative solutions needed (looking for conceptual input)
  • Expectations of high end service (catering lunch rather than McDonald’s)
  • Logistical difficulties (a factory that cannot stop production or a mountain to climb)
  • Experience
  • Extreme limits on subject availability (like 2 minutes with the CEO for a portrait)
  • Technical expertise
  • Geographic location
  • Reputation

And then, since I’m a freelancer, I have to take out a percentage of the income I make for taxes. Guess how much that is in New York City? It’s between 6-7% for my tax bracket. Sometimes it sounds like I’m making buckets of money in just one day, but when you factor in my expenses and setting money aside for taxes, it’s not as lucrative as you might think.

Calculating My Rates

So, with all that in mind, here’s how I calculate my rates. I add my expenses plus the amount of money I need to live and divide it by the number of workable days I have in a year (or how many sessions I want to shoot). And funnily enough, guess what happens when I calculate how much I’m being paid for the time I have invested and my annual expenses? I’m not exactly rolling in the dough.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE what I do with my whole heart, but I work hard to be a freelance photographer. I hustle every day to get enough shoots to make enough money so I can keep doing this as my career, and I understand how it can seem like I’m making a lot of money in a little amount of time, but it really does even out.

Here’s my point: I have a lot of time and money invested in my gear and my craft, so that’s where I come up with my rates. I believe that with photography, you get what you pay for, and with me, you’re paying for a quality experience with the highest quality images. So the next time you are talking to someone in a creative field and you think, “Wow, they’re getting paid hundreds of dollars for one hour,” think again.

There’s a lot more that goes into it than an hour of work, and there’s a lot of time, experience, and equipment costs invested. I hope this educated you and gave you some things to think about in regards to creatives and photography rates.