Why professional photography service is expensive?

Almost everyone thinks hiring a professional photographer is expensive. The impression simply comes from looking at hours and works of the photo session only, without considering lots of hidden hours of work.

Let's take a wedding photography as an example. A client asks for a price quote for a 4-hour wedding photography service and a professional wedding photographer quotes it $1,200 which is at the bottom price for true professional work in wedding photography. To this client, this photographer charges and makes $300/hour and he/she may think it's quite expensive. To this photographer, $1,200 covers

- 60 minutes of local meet-up
- Minimum 2 hours of phone, email or text communication
- 30 minutes of contract creation from an existing template
- 1 hour of round trip driving for location scouting
- 1 hour of location scouting
- Minimum 2 hours of planning and preparation
- 1 hour of gear setup and packing on the day
- 4 hours of photo session on the day
- 1 hour of round trip driving on the day
- 20 hours of photo editing, renaming, wrapping, file uploading and sending.

That's total 33.5 hours of work for a 4-hour wedding photography service at $1,200 which is only $35.82/hour in fact. And that's before income tax and all other necessary expenses, such as insurance, license, $10K or much more equipment in use,  for running a professional photography service. If you happen to hire a photographer who charges low for a wedding photography service in big cities like New York, Los Angles and San Francisco, most likely, either the photographer is not a true professional but someone who happens to have a camera, you'll get low quality in service and result, or both.

Why this professional photographer charges $3X/hour while there's another professional photographer charges $X/hour?

Unlike buying a product which may have a MSRP and you may buy it from a vendor which offers the best deal for exactly the same thing. In photography service, it's all about equipment, experiences, skills, knowledge, reliability, service coverage and the quality of end result. Generally speaking, the lower the price you pay, the worse the service and result you'll get.

Nowadays, tons of people can afford an entry level DSLR with kit lens and people who own a camera are frequently called photographers. Most of them work as an engineer, a cashier, or a math teacher on weekdays. And many of them love photography and love to click their camera shutter for you on weekends by charging some money for extra income. In order to get themselves hired, they target on low budget clients, offer cheap service and call themselves a professional photographer. Also, many of them will love to throw you all raw photos without post processing any because the quality of their photos has low quality and value. To make themselves look good, lots of them claim they will edit all photos now. While true professional photographers need to spend tens of hours in highly editing lots of photos, they get the same amount of photos done editing within 30 minutes by making exposure (higher/lower) adjustment only.

How I can tell this photographer is a true professional or not?

Tons of people with a camera call themselves a professional photographer in order to get themselves hired. The definition of a professional photographer is someone who runs a registered, legit photography business, earn his/her major income and makes a living from it.

A true professional photographer should have a business tax ID#, a portfolio site, social networks, multiple sites posting his/her business besides of social network, tons of online photo galleries from his/her work.

If you are looking for a true professional photographer, you should ask for
1. Web site(s).
2. An URL or a screenshot which shows his online photo galleries hosting for clients.
3. An entire photo gallery shows his/her work, similar to your needs, delivered to client.

Upon receiving everything above, you then decide do you like his/her style and work or not, for taking further consideration.

The differences between hiring a professional photographer and someone who owns a camera


Professional photographers cherish their reputation because photography is the main source of their income. Whether there's a contract for a full-day wedding or no contract for a 30-minute portrait session, professional photographers will do what they promise to do. For on-location tasks, more than 95% of them will show up early and be ready to shoot on time.

People who have a camera do not care much about their reputation because they do not need this income from clicking camera shutter for you to make a living. When they got better things to do, they may cancel your appointment 30 minutes before photo session. When they had too much fun with friends on last night, they may choose not to show up and/or not even reply your message today.

Gears in use

1 of the reasons why photography is not cheap is because all professional photography gears are very expensive. A quality lens filter that you may not even notice costs $100 or more. An professional on-camera speedlight (flash) that you may not tell the difference costs $300 - $600.

Professional photographers use all professional gears in order to do what others can't do. They often carry $5,000 - $15,000 value of gears for an on-location photo shoot, while people with a camera who love to click camera shutter for you often use an entry level camera, with or even without a cheap $35 speedlight for your photo session.

And the most important thing is, there's a big difference in result you'll get.

The work

After having photos taken from a photo session, professional photographers will spend a lot of time in viewing all photos, selecting photos, highly post processing the selected photos, before delivering the final result. The total hours of work after photo session is often 4 - 5 times of the photo session time. For a 8-hour wedding, the photo post process time to a professional photographer will be 32 - 40 hours. Assuming a professional photographer can work 8 hours a day for post processing the photos from the wedding, it will take 4 - 5 days to complete, and that only happens when the professional photographer has no other works to handle. That is why clients don't get the final result in like 3 days or even within a week, from a 8-hour wedding photography service.

On the other hand, people who have a camera, love to make some money from you by clicking camera shutter, will love to give you all photos directly come out from camera. The reason why they charge a lot cheaper than professionals charge is simply because they don't need to spend time working on editing the photos after photo session. Now, many of them claim they include photo editing service. In fact, what they do in editing photo is making exposure adjustment only, while professional photographers can easily name 10 things to work on in editing photos.

Things are cheap for a reason. The big difference clients will get is in service and result.

What can I do if I need professional photography service and result but are tight in budget?

If you do not mind about quality much, feel free to hire any photographer who claims themselves a professional photographer. This comes from some clients..."I just need some photos to be taken...". When this sentence speaks in your mind, feel free to hire anyone who has a camera at the price you think fit.

Quality service and result in photography comes from equipment, experiences, skills, knowledge, reliability and many hours of professional work. When you need professional photography service and result but you don't have a good budget for it, you can

1. Ask if there's any promotion for your needs. Almost all photographers run yearly or seasonal promotion. It's considered as marketing expense when photographers run a promotion.

2. Prepaid for future multiple works. When there're guaranteed multiple works from a client, photographers are normally willing to provide some discount.

3. Quantity discount. For example, when you need a professional business headshot, it normally costs from $100 - $200 in average. However, if you can get 10 people or more to have a business headshot together, you could get some volume discount from that.

4. Negotiate for quality with quantity. When you need quality result with tight budget, you can ask if it's doable when you need quality result with less amount in quantity to fit in your budget. When photographers can spend less time in either post processing photos or taking photos, it's reasonable to charge less than original amount.