I don’t think there is a professional photographer out there that hasn’t heard a potential client utter the words, “you charge how much?” or “what exactly do I get for that” or even “But all you do is push a button!” Yes, it’s true, any photographer worth their weight will seem expensive at first glance. Even I am guilty of thinking this before I started taking photography more seriously.
However, just like the graceful swan gliding along the water, beneath there is a whole lot more going on that, as the client, you often don’t see or know about.
There are many reasons why you might want to hire a professional photographer. Whether it’s to capture those special moments on your wedding day, create unique branded images for your portfolio or business or even just as a special gift for a loved one. Each one will have a bearing on the type of photographer you hire and the kind of price bracket they work within.
With the revolution of the smart phone, photography has become accessible to everyone. Now all you do is point, shoot and add a filter. So you could ask your friend that has that fancy DSLR or mirrorless camera to take those photos that you need but unless your friend just happens to be a professional photographer then I can pretty much guarantee that their photos won’t be up to the same standard as the ones that the expensive photographer would capture and there are a few reasons for that.
How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Professional Photographer?
A professional photographer’s rates will depend in many variables from experience to the type of photography to whether you want edited, printed photos or just the raw digital images. While “normal” prices will vary from area to area below are some pricing ranges you can expect for different types of photography.
Average Price: UK – £1,650
USA – $2,000
While most wedding photographers will have a selection of packages to choose from depending on your budget, you can expect to pay at least £1,000 for a standard full day with disc of edited images. For this you usually get a single photographer working for a set amount of time. More expensive packages often include a second photographer allowing you to capture even more of your day.
Average Price: UK – £100-200/hour
While weddings are an event, they are typically charged at a day rate or as part of a package. Event photographers on the other hand often charge by the hour or in some cases per edited photograph. Prices vary depending on the length of the event.
Most professional photographers will have a package or a price scale that they use ensuring that both the event organiser and photographer get the most out of the agreement.
Average Price: UK – £100-£200
USA – $150-250
Whether it’s that professional headshot or a family portrait studio photography can be the answer you are looking for. As with the other types of photography, most studios will offer packages to suit your budget. However, if you’re looking for a standard shoot including digital rights to the photos then don’t be surprised to be looking at the higher end of that average price. Especially if the photographer is well renowned.
Average Price: UK – £150
USA – $150-200
Usually a little cheaper than studio photographers because they don’t have the costs of running a studio, portrait photographers come to you. If you choose to opt for a more specialised portrait photographer such as family or pregnancy, then could expect to pay a little more for their expertise and experience.
Average Price – variable
Commercial photography is one of the more difficult types of photography to price. Professional photographers that specialise in this field often base their rates on 2 main factors. The first being size and type of company wanting the photos with the second being the type of rights the company is getting for the image.
This is because while the photo may be taken during single shoot, the lifetime and return on investment on that photograph (or the amount of money the company earns by using the image) is far greater than any of the other types of photography discussed above. Some photographers may charge thousands for exclusive rights to the photo. Others “lease” the rights and charge a monthly retainer fee for the company to use the image. While the actual shoot pricing may not vary, it is in the pricing of the rights to the images where the majority of the cost lies.
Professional Photographers are Experts
That expensive professional photographer that you’re not sure whether it’s worth hiring?
Well they’re experts in photography. Don’t believe me? Just go ask them a question about how their camera works or why they are using that lens or standing over there to take the photo.
The fact is, they’ve spent year’s honing their craft because photography is an art and it takes time to perfect and mould your own unique style.
It takes time to learn and master the concepts and equipment to a point where you don’t have to think about how to get the shot you just do it.
It takes time become an expert in the field.
That time, those years of learning and experimenting with the medium is what you’re paying for.
Think of it like this, would you rather have the leading expert who has over 20 years of experience and education in heart surgery performing your much-needed open heart surgery. Or would you rather have Dave from down the pub who has watched every episode of Grey’s Anatomy twice do it? Yeah, I thought so.
Those doctors and surgeons are paid the amount they are because the time that they have taken to become the experts that they are.
They know exactly how to get that result you’re after without complications and within a reasonable time frame. We put our trust (and sometimes lives) in the hands of these people with the expectation that they will make us well again.
When you hire a professional photographer, you are trusting that they will be able to capture your vision on film (or whatever the digital phrase would be). So why should we expect to pay next to nothing for the privilege?
Professional Photographers Do More Than “Push a Button”
Back in my days as a scientist I was attending a conference in Dublin. During the conference dinner I got chatting to one of the guys on the table. It turned out he was the photographer for the event and had covered lots of different events include TEDX events.
Having never had the chance to really chat with a professional photographer before, I asked him all my questions. One of the big things that stood out though was the amount of work that goes on before and after the event.
Like so many people I thought that all a photographer does is turn up take lots of photos, goes home and does a little editing and then you get your photos.
He very kindly explained the processes that he goes through for some of his shoots. Spoiler alert – there’s a ton of other work that needs doing.
From scouting out a location and finding the best angles, to organising travel and sometimes accommodation to and from the event. Sure, sometimes he got that for free but often he could spend an entire day on a shoot with travel, set-up hair and make-up etc. for just a couple of hours of actually taking the photos.
Depending on the type of shoot depends on exactly how much pre-shoot work there is to be done but this prep can start more than a month before any photos are even taken.
Sometimes the photographer is involved in helping find a shooting location and then figuring out when the best times on shoot day will be best for acquiring the kind of shots that are needed.
Other times they just need to check out the venue to find the best angles to shoot from. Have you ever wondered how a wedding photographer seems to be able to get those magical candid shots during the actual service? Yeah that’s called preparation.
Occasionally this preparation will even involve a mock shoot just make sure the effect will be what they are after.
Setting the mood
Have you ever noticed that when you look at the complete catalogue of photos from a particular shoot that they all have the same vibe?
Yeah, that’s pre-planned. In collaboration with the client, photographers will often map out the vibe, or mood, of the shoot and plan all the shots around that mood. The resulting photos exude this easy flow between each image and can help convey a message or a feeling without the need for words.
Some shoots depend upon a collection of different professionals such a hair and make-up, stylists and the clients themselves to achieve the desired result. This could mean that leading up to the shoot there are a series of meetings to ensure that everything runs smoothly on the day.
As the client all you may see is the photographer standing and taking lots of photos and then moving to another position and repeating. Maybe they give you (or whoever/whatever is in the photograph) directions every now and again too.
What you don’t see is how as soon as you are introduced, they are working to make you feel at ease and comfortable with them pointing the camera at you.
What you don’t see the constant little adjustments they make between each shot as they strive for the perfect image.
What you don’t see is how that rapport they have built with you is helping to bring to reality the ideas in your head.
Of course, everyone has some idea about the post-production editing that goes on. I mean who hasn’t heard about celebrity photos being airbrushed and retouched to get rid of their “imperfections”?
Following the shoot, it can take an entire day to transfer the photos off the camera and back them up. They then need to sort through what can sometimes be thousands of images and select the best ones. Needless to say, that process can take a while too.
Those photos then need to be processed and edited according to discussions that were had prior to the shoot. Depending on the shoot and number of images required will depend on how long this part of the process will take. However, it is very common to take at least several more days of work.
Now maybe this is the photographer’s fault for not being particularly clear on exactly what their process is or maybe it’s the clients for not asking. Either way when you hire your expensive photographer you are getting so much more than an hour or two of someone pushing a button.
Photography Equipment is Expensive
One of the major differences between an amateur photographer and a professional one is the equipment they use. There’s no way that Karen from down the road has one of those huge telephoto lenses to take photos of her son playing football for the local team. Chances are she just uses her phone.
Whereas, that professional sports photographer who captures the action during the Superbowl or the Olympic Games would certainly need that extra range and quality. And that costs money.
Camera and accessories
Professional photographers use the best equipment and they usually have more of it too. That’s an expense that soon adds up.
A professional level DSLR camera body will set you back upwards of £1,500 ($2,000) and that’s before we even talk about lenses!
Most photographers will have a selection of lenses covering a variety of different focal lengths, some of which can be as expensive or more so than the camera body itself. These different lens options give the expensive photographer the ability to capture your perfect shot more easily.
The number of cameras and lenses a photographer has will depend on what type of photography that they specialise in. For example, a sports photographer will generally have a larger collection of very expensive telephoto lenses that have the ability to freeze motion without any blur.
Whereas lifestyle and portrait photographers will likely prefer lenses with a smaller focal range and may even favour prime lenses over zoom.
There are also those photographers that need to be prepared for any kind of shooting conditions such as the wedding photographer. These kinds of photographers need a selection of lenses that will work for them in any environment.
When was the last time you went to church? While churches may have great big stained-glass windows, they are dimly lit in terms of photography standards and whipping out your big on-camera flash is probably going to distract from the whole wedding service ambience.
So, a wedding photographer’s only option is to use lenses that can handle the dimly church, have that zoom flexibility you need in that situation while also being a great option for the better lit reception.
The last thing a wedding photographer wants to be doing is carrying round a bunch of lenses all day and missing key shots while having to keep changing. So, they opt for the more expensive lens that will do the job.
With just the camera body and lenses that the professional photographer has available to them they have often already invested more than some people do in their car!
Then you have all the added extras. I’m talking, on-camera and off-camera flash systems, tripods, camera bags spare batteries and memory cards. These lower costs soon add up.
Editing Equipment and Software
Let’s not forget the arsenal of equipment and software that goes into developing your photos once they have been captured.
To ensure that the colours of the original image don’t become distorted (and even if that is the desired effect) photographers invest in top quality computer screens with high-end displays. That way they can ensure that what they see on their screen is exactly how the image will look when printed out.
Most professional photographers have a multitude of external hard drives which they use for backing up photos as well as some cloud-based services. After all the last thing you want to hear is that your photographer has lost all your precious wedding photos because their computer died, and they hadn’t backed them up.
Then there’s the photo editing software itself. A lot of professional photographers choose to use Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom which costs from £9.98 per month just so you can process and edit photos. It surprising how quickly these “smaller” costs sooner add up.
Shooting with Film Cameras
While most professional photographers now work solely in the digital format there are some that still dabble in film and this brings its own extra costs. There are the specific film cameras, the cost of the film itself, not to mention the need for a developing (or red) room along with the chemicals and other special equipment for developing those kinds of photographs.
These photographers are much rarer and arguably have greater skills. So, it’s not surprising that if you want to work with an analogue photographer you are likely going to find yourself paying a premium price.
All of the above form part of a professional photographer’s toolkit that help them produce the final result that you are after.
Ok, so it’s not like the photographer has to go out and buy this stuff for each and every shoot. You’re right, it’s an investment on their part.
However, so too is the expensive hairdryer, shampoo and scissors and clippers that your hairdresser or barber uses to cut your hair. They could quite easily just use a pair of kitchen scissors and shampoo form the local market.
Nonetheless, as professionals they know that by investing in the best products and equipment it will be easier, quicker and probably more enjoyable for them to produce the results their clients are after.
Your Expensive Photographer is Running a Small Business
Maybe it’s because we are dealing with an individual rather than complex mesh of individuals but at the end of the day that expensive professional photographer you are thinking about hiring is running a small business.
So not only has the money that you pay them got to go towards paying for their expensive equipment, travel and accommodation expenses and everyday expenses such as food, rent and utility bills but that money will also be taxed.
Plus, they will most likely have an accountant to help them out with that, so they need to be paid. Then there are the other small business costs such as the cost of running a portfolio and/or client website. Don’t forget marketing costs so that potential client actually know that they exist.
While some photographers will work out of their own home others use a studio and so have to cover the costs of renting that particular space. That can often be a huge expense for a professional photographer especially if they choose to open their studio on the high street where business rents are often the highest.
It’s actually not uncommon for a professional photographer to spend half their income on studio expenses and keeping their gear up to date.
Have you ever used one of those photography experience gift cards? You feel like a celebrity for a few hours. You have your hair and make-up done Then you get to do multiple costume changes and have a photographer take your photos. In some they even gift you a glass of fizz when you walk in!
Once the shoot is over and you get back changed into your non-celebrity clothes before getting to have a look at the photos. Just like you imagined you really do look like a celebrity. This photographer is a genius!
Then they the drop the celebrity prices on you. Do they not know that I’m just little old me with a regular job? I can’t afford this. Yet they look so good! Eventually you leave with the cheapest thing you can get. You don’t notice the disappointed look on the photographer’s face, they hide it well.
It never crosses your mind that they have to meet rent for the studio and you just made it that bit harder.
Just like all the extra hidden costs that owning a car affords, small businesses like the one your expensive professional photographer is running has them too.
What is a Photograph Worth to You?
You may be thinking that the value of a photograph has degraded now that we can capture any moment with just a tap on our phones. Yet they are in fact some of our most cherished possessions. A Survey published by the ABI found that photographs were the 2nd most popular option when people were asked what they would save first in a house fire.
Whether they were taken to mark a rite of passage, celebrate an occasion or to capture a moment so perfect you want to remember it forever, photographs often hold a sense of nostalgia and sentiment that is priceless to the owner.
By hiring a professional photographer, you are ensuring that these moments are frozen at the very highest quality. After all no newlywed couple want to get their wedding photos back with the bride’s dress looking all blue and wibbly do they?
There’s a reason why people pay hundreds for bed linen with a thread count of 200. You’re paying for the quality.
Now let’s consider the lifetime of that photograph. Just like other art forms such as paintings and sculptures, photographs can live on for years after they are taken. And just like paintings and sculptures their value can increase over time.
Sure, this might not be the case for all types of photography, your wedding photographs are hardly going to increase in value for anyone but yourself. However, some portraits and landscape photos definitely have the potential to increase in worth. Especially if the photographer is well known.
Plus, there are those professional photographers who specialise in commercial photographs. Where their photos will be used in adverts and other marketing campaigns possibly for years afterwards. Generating the company an unknown amount of revenue.
While a photographer understands the rights to the photo once sold, it is taking into consideration this potential future revenue that it will generate that helps inform the photographers price.
What Happens if You Don’t Hire a Professional Photographer?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you need to stop taking photos of your friends, family and places you travel too. I’m definitely not saying that you need to hire your very own professional photographer to take all your holiday snaps either – well unless that’s your thing.
What I am saying is that there is a huge difference between that selfie you took down the pub last week and professional photo and there’s a time for both.
It all comes down to why you are taking the photo in the first place. What’s the occasion and why is it important to remember it.
When you do decide to hire that expensive professional photographer what you’re actually getting is an artist. You’re hiring someone who knows exactly how to light the shot, can help direct you and any other people in how to pose and is great at choreographing a great looking image.
I remember when I graduated from my PhD and my family and I went for the traditional graduation photos. My parents decided that they wanted a family photo as part of this. The whole experience was great the two ladies directed us to stand in certain positions to create a great photo that now has pride of place in my parents living room.
There’s no way we could have done that ourselves. For starters, my brother is a good head and shoulders taller than my parents and me. It took the ladies at the graduation photos several attempts to find the right spot for him. While I could have probably eventually muddled through my expertise is not in portrait photography and so I let the experts do their thing.
When you hire a professional photographer not only are you getting an artist you are getting a photograph that can easily be re-printed onto a large canvas. Using a professional camera as opposed to the one on your phone means that you can enlarge the image without it going all pixelated.
“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.” – Red Adair
When you hire a professional wedding photographer you end up with images that are as beautiful as the memories you have of the day but without the stress of having to capture them. Remember when it was a thing to hand out disposable cameras onto each table at the wedding reception and let the guest take photos? Most of the time those photos came back blurry or dark or with half a face cut off. Is that really how you want to remember your wedding day?
When you hire a professional commercial photographer, you end up with top quality photos that will often increase your sales without even changing anything else. Especially with the rise of online shopping, consumers are having to buy a product off just an image or a description. If that image doesn’t show the product in its best light, then they probably aren’t going to buy it.
When you hire a professional real estate photographer you end up with photos that make potential buyers want to actually come and check out the house. It’s been proven time and time again that those who try to sell their home using smartphone photos for the online listing get less traffic and even end up selling for a lower price.
Good photography, the kind that helps you savour those special moments in your life or helps your business grow is expensive. However, it’s expensive for the photographer too. They have to spend thousands on top quality gear, travel expenses and often sacrifice their weekends to capture your special moments. They spend countless long hours outside of the shoot too.
Sure, at first glance that price seems expensive but when you factor in exactly what you are getting and the incredible photos you will be left with at the end of the process its actually pretty good value for money. Just think about how expensive the flowers are for a wedding and they might only last a week or two after the wedding. Whereas those photos will last a lifetime.
By the way if you want to learn more about becoming a professional photographer you should check this article out.