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.

Success Tips For Emerging Creatives

Inspiration, photography tips

I know what you’re thinking: here we go, another one of those vague articles about how to be successful that doesn’t actually explain anything at all, except ending with some inspirational quote like, “the world is yours, so get out there and do something!” They’re kind of inspiring, but also never really say what you’re actually supposed to do. Well, this week is my one year anniversary of being a college graduate, and so far the real world has taught me a lot more about failure than success. So I thought I’d write about what I’ve learned thus far, in hopes that other young creatives might find it helpful.

Stop Comparing Yourself. First of all, in creative careers especially, your definition of success will most likely be wildly different from someone else’s, even in the same field. As a creative, you can’t compare yourself to other people. My graphic designer and illustrator friends are amazing, but they do a totally different job than me, a photographer. You should appreciate the value of the other people in your team, but you do a highly specialized and individualized job, too, and that’s worth a lot. And just because you have less experience doesn’t mean you’re any less of a professional. That’s something I had to learn to accept. When I’m bidding jobs against other photographers who have ten or twenty years more experience than me, I have to be confident in my craft (that, or fake it ’til you make it).

Identify What You’re Trying to Achieve. As a freelancer first starting out, it can be especially difficult and confusing to determine where to even begin. Should you make connections? Advertise yourself? Do a few free jobs to get your name out there? The most important thing you need to do is figure out what you’re trying to achieve. What’s your end goal? Analyze your objectives and determine what quantifiable steps you can take to move toward them.

For me right now, as an emerging photographer, success means networking, making connections, promoting myself and getting new opportunities. Once you have that outlined, you can make an action plan. Sometimes small steps make the biggest difference. For example, to get my name out there, I made some flyers of my images and my Instagram username and posted them in areas around London that I knew models and makeup artists would see them. It took an hour of my time, and around $15 to get color prints, and I’m still getting emails from designers to shoot their lookbooks and new collections.

Say Yes, and Keep Saying Yes. Since I’ve been in London, I made a little deal with myself. I agreed that I would accept all the shoots that I’m offered, even if it’s not my specific niche of fashion portraiture. In the past few months, I have shot concerts, a designer handbag collection, street style for a fashion blogger, red carpet events, and even the London Fashion Week runway. It totally pushed me out of my comfort zone, and every single one of those shoots taught me something new. 

My point is this: while new opportunities can be terrifying, they are are important, if not crucial to expanding your knowledge and skill set. Those shoots made me think outside the box and determine creative solutions that I had never dealt with before. Besides cultivating a deeper understanding of your craft, those kinds of skills will be useful in any potential future job. That’s why I think it’s highly important to say yes, even if that particular job isn’t specifically part of your end goal.

Put In the Work, and Work Hard. This one might seem obvious, but from observing my peers in the industry, I think it’s a pretty underrated and necessary step. You have to put in the work. You will have long shoot days and late nights editing. You’ll have to carry a reflector and sometimes get coffee for people, but it’s not for nothing. It’s propelling you closer to that end goal, even if you can’t see it just yet. For example, I assisted for a photographer in London on a one-day shoot, and it wasn’t a big deal, but I made sure to be as helpful and cheerful as possible on set. A few months later, he came back to London to do a cover shoot with a big magazine, and he asked me to assist again. Because of that, I met the entire creative team of that magazine and was able to make connections with them.

Every opportunity leads to another one, if you let it. You just have to be paying attention. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you aren’t putting effort into actively promoting yourself and trying to get clients and make contacts, they won’t come to you. You have to go to them. You have to be a little pushy sometimes. Make calls to agencies, send a lot of emails, and accept that you’re going to get a lot of rejection replies. They will still sting a little, but it hurts less each time. Send more.

So, while I can’t tell you that adding all the editors of Vogue on LinkedIn will be a guaranteed way for you to make new connections in the fashion industry, I can tell you from personal experience that if you try these tips, you will be pushing yourself and making tangible strides toward the success you want to achieve. And the most rewarding part is that you’ll meet some really talented and likeminded people along the way.

Living Abroad + Creative Problem Solving

Inspiration

As I strolled into the train station at precisely 8:21 am this morning in Newcastle, England, I checked the departures board to find what platform my 8:59 train was leaving from. And then, at the top, I saw it in big, bold letters: Cancelled. A train was derailed in Edinburgh, so my train was not coming for me anymore. Slight panic. Here I was, standing alone in a train station in a foreign city, and my ride back was currently nonexistent. This meant I was officially stuck in Newcastle for the rest of the morning, except that plan wasn’t going to work, because I had a mandatory class to attend in London. I quickly scanned the board. Think. I noticed there was another train going to King’s Cross, but it was leaving in 4 minutes! Could I make that? It would be a risk. I looked for the ticketing desk, but it was still closed since it was early in the morning. That wasn’t going to help. So, I did the only think I could think to do. I ran to platform 3 just as the train was pulling up. A few brisk strides and long breaths later, I found the nearest ticket attendant, who handed me off to another ticket attendant at the other end of the train. I swiftly explained my circumstance, and asked if there was any way I could get my ticket switched to this earlier train. Luckily, she told me that we could sort it all out on board, so I hopped on, literally seconds before the train rolled out of the station. Exhale. I breathed a sigh of relief. Who knew it was going to be such an adventurous morning?!

Originally from central Missouri, I’m currently living in London for the next 12 months, and through my time here so far, I’ve noticed how living abroad has strengthened my creative problem solving skills in a multitude of ways. You have to be able to adapt to change quickly, think on your feet, analyze the situation, and make a decision. For me this morning, that all happened in the span of a few minutes. But in a less extreme way, that kind of cognitive dexterity is constantly being developed every day, from planning ahead, organizing, and deciphering maps in foreign places to calculating train routes and travel plans. London public transport is wonderful, but it’s not always reliable, and never on time. I’m constantly evaluating, rerouting, determining the best options, and creating new solutions to problems that arise. Instead of panicking when I realized my train was cancelled, I took action to resolve the issue in an immediate way, and I don’t know if I would have had the same mindset, had I been home in my comfort zone in America. 

Even though that was just a small example, I’m convinced that living abroad can help develop a lot of skills that will have a real-life, practical impact. Things like being flexible, creative, and willing to rapidly formulate a new plan when thing change. Being able to discover, interpret, investigate, surmise. All of these get tested at a new level. I believe that travel can not only pull you out of your safety net and show you experiences more incredible than you could have imagined, but the skill set and competence you will develop will be invaluable, and make you a better person. A more understanding, innovate, focused, creative person, who can see things in complex, multi-faceted ways. For me, the takeaway from this experience is that we have a lot to learn from the world around us, if we can be willing to expand our minds and try new things. And if all that doesn’t convince you, do it for the gelato.