About Custom Photography

I appreciate your taking the time to read the article below. It was published in the December 2009 edition of Professional Photographer Magazine and upon even my own review, I found it to be a much needed ‘education’ of sorts. Funny thing is when I started, I had NO IDEA how much time I was actually putting into each shoot not to mention the additional cost and overhead expense involved with maintaining a business, licensing, insurance, equipment, products, a studio and an employee! Even though my pricing is considered mid-range by professional industry standards if your only experience with a professional photographer is either a home business based photographer with a website and a nice camera (not that there is absolutely anything wrong with this – heck that’s how I started out!) or a department store at your local shopping mall or for example, Target/ Walmart  – my pricing will undoubtably shock you.

So here it goes…

In this digital age where everyone has cameras, scanners, and home photo printers, we hear this all the time: How do professional (or personal) photographers charge $X for an 8×10 when they cost just $1.50 at the drugstore? Simply put, the customer is not just paying for the actual photograph; theyre paying for time and expertise. They are paying for a piece of art that can proudly grace the walls in their home and will last longer than their lifetime.

The Average One-hour Portrait Session Breakdown

First, lets look at the actual work involved:

• 15 to 20 mins, Initial telephone conversation {or e-mail correspondance} with client to answer questions about my photography even prior to booking

• 1-hr; Personal pre-session consultation at studio or over the phone

• 30 mins to 1-hr; Travel to the location

• 30mins, Setup lighting (if indoors), preparation, scout your outdoor location (if outdoors), test shots 30 min. prior to shoot

• 1 to 2-hrs; Typical portrait shoot — (3-hrs or more of newborn photography)

• 30 mins, Put away studio lights and/or pack up gear from a location session

• 30 mins to 1-hr; Travel from the location

• 15 mins; Unpack & clean gear

• 15 mins; Load images onto a computer

• 20 mins; Back up the files on an external drive

• 2.5 -hrs of Adobe® Lightroom® time to edit and prep gallery for live viewing or online gallery, time set aside for client ordering appointment either in person at the studio or over phone to answer questions, receive order and payment

• 3 to 6-hrs of Adobe® Photoshop® time, including retouching, cropping, contrast, color, sharpening, and backing up edited photographs.  If custom artwork is involved, add even more time. If custom products are involved such as albums, brag books, storyboards, add even more time…

• 1.5-hrs; Placing order, receive and verify prints, package prints, schedule shipment, and ship, as needed. If images are to be picked up and not shipped, 30 mins to meet clients at the studio/home to review photos.

You can see how a one-hour session easily turns into a ten-hour day or more from start to finish. So when you see a personal photographer charging a $200 session fee for a one-hour photo shoot, the client is NOT paying them $200 per hour.

The Eight-hour Wedding

A wedding photographer typically meets with the bride and groom several times before and after the wedding.  I personally make every attempt to attend the rehearsal so that I will know exactly how the ceremony will proceed and scout the best locations to shoot from in advance. Its not uncommon to end up with 1,000 – 2,000 photos, much more than a portrait session. I normally  spend 20-40 hours editing a small wedding and 40-60 hours working on one eight-hour wedding. If you look at the time that is truly involved, when a wedding photographer charges $4,000 for eight hours of coverage, clients are NOT paying them $500 an hour!

(Dont forget that the photographer runs the wedding day to some extent. A comfortable, confident wedding photographer can make a wedding day go more smoothly.)

The Bottom Line

In truth, after overhead and expenses are deducted and time spent behind the scenes is accounted for, my pay averages $25/hr or less.

Why are Department Portrait Studio Prices so Cheep (i.e.. Target, JcPenny, Kiddie Kandids)?

Chain stores do have their place. For a very cheap price you can run in, shoot some quick photos, and be done with it. But you get what you pay for.

Consider the time and effort that a personal photographer puts into photographs, compared to a chain store. Store sessions last just a few minutes, while a personal photographer takes the time to get to know the people, makes them comfortable, makes them laugh. If a baby is crying at a chain store, they often dont have the time (or the patience) to wait because everyone is in a hurry. And have you ever seen a help wanted ad for one of those chains?  They typically say ‘no photo experience needed – will train’.  It is cookie cutter photography.

The truth is that many chain store studios lose money. In fact, Wal-Mart closed 500 of their portrait studios in 2007 because of the financial drain. What the chain stores bank on is a client coming in for quick, cheap photos and while there, spending $200 on other items. The ‘cheap’ initial cost is called a loss leader and is designed to get you in the door.

The Real Deal

Professional, personal photographers are just that – professionals. No different than a mechanic, dentist, doctor, or electrician. But a personal photographer often becomes a friend, someone who documents a family for generations with professional, personal photographs of cherished memories.

Maybe we need to help clients look at it this way: A pair of scissors costs $1.50 at the drugstore. Still, most people will gladly pay a lot more to hire a professional hair dresser to cut their hair.

The added attention and quality that a personal photographer gives is worth every penny.


Consider this: In just software/equipment alone (editing programs, computers, cameras, lenses, flashes, studio lights, etc.) I’ve personally invested upwards of $15,000. Thats totally separate to overhead costs, gas/ travel expenses, education, studio overhead, insurance… truly the list could go on and on. Furthermore,  I never stop learning, and spend at least 2 to 3 hours every week studying new techniques and working to improve my craft.

I hope that those who have taken the time to read this page will have a better understanding of why professional photographs, created by a Personal Photographer, are so expensive.

Thank you for considering Maple Hill Photography. We truly value ever moment  & dollar you spend with us!

– Norina Leyde.