Why Custom Photography?

Custom photography: an investment in the present for the future

Custom photography is more of a luxury product than your entry level cookie cutter photography chain store experience.  Custom photography truly is not for everyone, it requires a level of commitment, investment in time  and money, forethought and planning on the part of the subject/client and requires a larger time commitment for the photographer as well.

Clients who enjoy taking a more active role in the creation of their families’ memories have the desire to have portrait art that is truly personalized.  These more discerning clients have been known to budget and allot time for a custom photography session.  Many clients opt for it to be a once a year special experience, some opt to have custom photography sessions done to record their child’s stages in life.  Having said this, it is clear that custom photography is not in everyone’s budget,  it is something that most families save for to splurge on from time to time to memorialize their children as they really are  (not posed and primped in the cookie cutter studio setting).

There is a great deal of time involved in creating high end custom photography sessions for a client.  The luxury of great service, better choices and a superb end product.  The result of all this are heirloom quality images.  The time invested at the session is only a small portion of time involved in this process.

Digital Files May Not Be the Right Answer

Somehow people have been brainwashed into believing that digital files are the best option when, in fact, they are not.  Digital images are MEANT to be is a temporary method of storage: all too many things can go wrong with digital media leaving you in a lurch with a ton of images that were never printed; images that will never be displayed in your beautiful home; images that will never be archived and made permanent.  Lets face it, for many people, after you get back your disc from said photographer, the disc goes in the drawer to never see the light of day…maybe JUST MAYBE to be unearthed (if you’re lucky) in a year or two with an “I meant to print some of these…” utterance. (Read the rest of this subject HERE, including “Why some photographers do not sell digital images or sell them only at a premium price“)

Why Does Custom Photography Cost More?

The digital revolution has brought amazing flexibility and ability to control various factors during the image taking and making process.  Photographers, the hobbyist, the professional, the amateur all benefit from this ability to manipulate pixels.  However, with flexibility comes a price.  Digital camera equipment is still considerably more expensive when you factor in its’ lifespan, the need for additional resources for processing those images, the time it takes to get a usable image and the effort that goes into creating a work of photographic art.  We all know that you can go to the local Walgreen’s and pay a $1.99 for a print – as a client you may wonder why you may pay upwards of $50, $70, $90 for a custom photography print.   Photographers hear this statement every once in awhile:

“How in the world can you charge $60 for an 8×10 if it costs me less than $2 to print at X store?”

The truth of the matter is the answer to this question is multifaceted.  Much of the cost of a photographic print produced by a professional photographer has a lot to do with the time,  equipment costs, artistic vision and reputation of the photographer not to mention expertise and the usual costs of running a legitimate business.

THE COST OF TIME:

Approaching it from a time standpoint, let’s imagine that you have hired a photographer who has work that you love.  This photographer is traveling an hour to your destination to photograph your session.  Here is an example of a time break down:

  • session prep time (30 mins – 1 hour, includes equipment and back up equipment checks + vehicle checks)
  • one hour travel time TO session
  • 15-30 minutes prep time at client’s home
  • 90 minutes-2 hours with client photographing subject
  • one hour travel time FROM session
  • 30-45 minutes uploading time from digital cards from camera to computer
  • 30-45 minutes time spent backing up the original images
  • 2-5 hours editing time to present you with a diverse gallery of edited images
  • 1 hour prep time getting ready for ordering
  • 2-3 hours time with client for ordering images
  • 1 hour sorting through and checking order
  • 30 minutes-1 hour prep time for delivery
  • 30 minutes-1 hour getting order shipped
  • any additional phone time or time needed for add on ordering, shipment issues, quality issues

In this example, the time spent per client can range from just under 13 hours to 19 hours – dependent on the photographer’s level of service.  This is time dedicated only to ONE session.  When the photographer charges $150-$300 for the photo shoot (aka SESSION FEE) you are not just paying for the two hours of session time, you are paying the photographer for 12-19 hours complete time for your session.

The COSTS of Maintaining a Custom Photography Business:

Regarding equipment costs, a good quality professional camera with a selection of good optical quality lenses and digital storage mediums and computer set up can run from $10,000-$30,000 costs dependent on the photographer.  Even though you can purchase a really good quality digital SLR for about $2100 there are still other costs related to photography.  A good lens for portrait photography can run from $900 to $2500.  A dependable computer system with software loaded for business and creative usage can run $2500 to $8000 dependent on the photographer.

Then come lab costs for specialty products.  A good photographer knows the lab is integral to their success.  Photography labs dedicated to the professional photographer  often cost more and offer a range of products that allows the custom photographer to continually offer new, innovative products for you, the discerning client.

Discussion other costs of running a photography business could take awhile so we’ll skip many of the intricate details.  There is of course much more: including costs of running the business, taxes, studio costs, vehicular costs, costs of advertising/marketing, costs of sample pieces that the photographer will likely bring to your ordering session, etc.

REPUTATION/EXPERTISE of the PHOTOGRAPHER:Being in demand, being well known for quality work, having a good reputation often costs time on the photographer’s part.  Their expertise comes at a cost, their time learning their craft and learning the intricacies of lighting and the commitment put forth on their end to create a persona about their business that oozes professionalism.  A great number of photographers go a very long time from the time that they purchase their first good camera to making money at the business of photography.  Many photographers, when first starting out, rush in thinking that the business will be easily profitable in no time, how expensive could it be to get a camera and use it to create their dream?  They often neglect to factor in the cost of business, the cost of equipment, software, back ups, etc..

Being of sound reputation, a better professional photographer knows that they must always reinvest in their business to create the reputation of being top notch.  To create good work, good equipment – reliable equipment, back up equipment – is a necessity.  The photographer who desires to be known as better/best reputation-wise knows that the most important thing they can do for their business is reliability and dependability.  This is how reputations get built.  Good work often is a wonderful side product of building that good reputation.

I hope this (lengthy) article helps shed some light on WHY a custom photographer is a better choice for your family’s memories.  The photographs that are produced as a result of the professionalism and dedication that your photographer has will be cherished for a lifetime (or more) and great thought and consideration should be placed into hiring who is right for your family’s most precious investment.

This content was written by Marianne Drenthe of Marmalade Photography and can be found at the Professional Child Photography site. Content is inspired by her discussions with other photographers, her own personal experiences, and an outline based on an article by San Diego Photographers Caught On Film Photography.

Feel free to share this info with proper credit given to Marianne Drenthe and Professional Child Photographer, by including the statement above, including active links, when you share.