Why Does photography cost SO much?


I am not the cheapest photographer out there.

I have charged as little as $40 for an hour long session with every possible file included. Edited and unedited. But when I first started I had NO IDEA what it would cost to run a business. I didn’t know I had to pay sales tax, I just assumed federal tax, and oh boy, I had no idea how MUCH they would end up taking. I had a beginner camera and never thought I would need a better one, or better lenses. I had no idea I needed insurance, or that I would need contracts and management systems, and education for marketing, editing, posing, and just perfecting my craft in general.

Over time I learned these things and have raised my prices. And each time I lose a little bit of my clientele. Each time I gain a few more. And sometimes I just lose them. But just for perspective - Realistically, even when I charged $150 for a session, I was only seeing about one client every other week. So BEFORE taxes, and business expenses, I only made $3,900. A YEAR. My business should be able to support me. So a MINIMUM I need to take home after everything is $25,000. So to charge $150 a session, and let’s pretend there are no expenses or taxes, I would need 167 sessions a year or 3-4 clients a week. Which is a on the higher side.

But I don’t live in a world with no expenses and taxes. So If my take home needs to be $25k, taxes will be around $8,750. My bare minimum expenses for my business to run a year is $9,000. (And honestly it’s more) so I need to make $42,750 before all of that. Which means at $150, and working every single week of the year and never getting sick or taking time off, and the weather is ALWAYS perfect, I need to do 6 sessions a week. And if I am able to find book that many, (312 a year) each of those sessions takes a minimum of 4-6 hours to edit. I also need time to focus on marketing to find those clients, send contracts, answer emails, design marketing materials, the time to shoot the session, and the time to drive to each session. And it takes time to export and upload. And I would like to still have time to be with my family.

Realistically the maximum number of clients possible find and book are two a week. And realistically I need to have two weeks off for if I or my child is sick, or just so I can have a break for Christmas. And even then it’s most likely I will still not book that many. So to take home $25 grand, which is barely enough to support myself if something were to happen to my husband or just so he can finish school with out having to also work full time, (and that income doesn’t include health benefits because I don’t have an employer offering a discount) I need to charge $400 minimum a session.

The same goes for birth options I offer, there is a maximum number of births I can take each month without risking being able to attend each birth. And birth is one of the hardest specialties. We spend 2-3 weeks never being more than a few feet from our phone, it is always on, and we wake up multiple times a night in fear we’ve missed a call, we barely let ourselves go into a deep sleep. We have to go everywhere with our equipment and it must be fully prepared to start shooting at a moments notice, we miss vacations because we can’t be more than an hour away. I personally couldn’t take my medications for a while because the one I was on knocked me out and I couldn’t stay standing up straight let alone drive. Then we are called in at any hour. Including 2 am. And birth can be 6 hours, it can be 3 days. There is so much uncertainty. We have to have some of the most expensive cameras and lenses to be able to work when it is pitch black. We are in rooms with very little room, there are many hospitals and doctors that don’t like birth photography. I have been lucky to work with UMC in that regard. These are just a few of the difficulties that explain the pricing for birth photography.

And again, this is the MINIMUM to make the MINIMUM to possibly make ends meet. I’m not being greedy and trying to pinch you for all your worth. I am honestly just trying to make the minimum I need. Not even the minimum to live comfortably. I would like to have a retirement account, a college fund for my daughter.

This is not to say I do not LOVE what I do. I LOVE it more than I have ever loved any job. But that does not mean it isn’t difficult. Just because I love it does not mean I don’t deserve to make enough to live off of. I know that $400 a session is not in everyone’s budget or can spend that much all at once. But Photography is an investment that I BELIEVE is worth it. I don’t believe it because I sell it. I believe it because what is the first thing many people say they would grab if their house was on fire? The photo album. Photos are all you have left to be able to truly relive the day after your wedding day is over. It is the only way to truly remember what your child looked like when they were born, or 3 years or 10 years old. When someone is no longer with us, we have the photos.

Hairdressers don’t just cut your hair. They don’t buy $2 scissors at Walmart. I know for a fact my hairdresser had to spend $900 on the scissors she uses. And she is damn good at her job. They have overheads too. Soooo many supplies! They have to pay for that space they are using. You get what you pay for. When my husband goes to great clips his hair is DRASTICALLY different from when she does it. And she has to spend 2-3 months fixing it. And he’s got a fairly easy guy cut and short hair. The same goes for every profession. You get what you pay for.

And for me, “affordable” and “reasonable” mean a price that I can live off of while still being able to make my service something that a family will be able to invest in. I love working out payment plans if it is needed!

When I started I said that I believe everyone should be able to have photos of their family. And I STILL believe that. But I also know I cannot live off of 10k a year. No matter what costs I cut.

And when you say you want someone not charging and arm and a leg, here is a reference for what that means to those you say it to. I am in Texas so I will use that but the images show the national avg as well. We aren’t even charging a big toe (or a pinky which is the same). Compensation for loss of a Leg in Texas is $72,240, and an Arm is $108,360. A big toe/pinky finger is $9,030.

Thanks to Cassie Clayshulte Photography for the Definition of reasonable! https://www.cassieclayshultephotography.com/