Why Is Photography So Expensive?

January 18, 2024

Whether you’re booking a photographer for a wedding, newborn shoot, family photos, or another purpose, you may wonder: Why is photography so expensive?

At first glance, photographers’ pricing may seem unreasonably high. You might think photography is easy, or it’s just a one-hour shoot, so the price doesn’t seem worth it. 

The reality of photography is far more complicated and challenging than simply taking pretty pictures. It’s also an expensive business to start and maintain, and its seasonality makes earning a solid income difficult. Photographers must factor business expenses, hours worked, and profit margins into their pricing.

Photography Business Expenses

Like any business owner, photographers must factor the cost of doing business into their pricing. And running a photography business is far from cheap.

At a minimum, a good camera costs $500-$1000. Most photographers have at least one additional backup camera too. Photographers also pay for memory cards, carrying cases, lenses, filters, film, external flashes, and maintenance and repairs for their equipment.

It doesn’t end there. Additional expenses may include:

  • Insurance for gear
  • Website and hosting fees
  • Marketing and advertising
  • Software
  • Computer equipment
  • Travel 
  • Props
  • Backdrops and stands
  • Strobes
  • Light stands
  • Tripods
  • Personal health insurance
  • Taxes
  • Studio space
  • Business fees
  • Office supplies and equipment
  • Postage and shipping
  • Accounting and legal services

A photographer’s prices must allow them to cover all these expenses. But if their pricing is only enough to cover costs, then the photographer is essentially working for free. No one wants to do that, and no one should be expected to do that. 

photographer with camera in studio

Hours Worked

In addition to covering expenses, photographers must be compensated for hours worked. You might think, “I had a one-hour photoshoot, so they only worked for one hour. I still don’t understand why it’s so expensive.”

In general, every hour of shooting equals nine hours of hidden work. Hidden work can include client communication, scouting locations, marketing, setting up and breaking down equipment, culling images, editing and retouching, sending proofs and adjusting as needed, administrative tasks, equipment upkeep, and beyond. 

So, you aren’t paying for just the one hour of photography. You’re also paying for the additional hours that go into pre-and post-production. Each of these hours represents an hour not spent sharing time with family and friends, relaxing, or engaging in other hobbies and activities.

It’s then up to the photographer to determine the value of those hours. What value would you place on your time? This is a decision small business owners, like photographers, must make every day.  

Profit Margins

The final consideration is the profit margin. Photographers run at a 19%-25% profit margin. That means a photographer who charges $1,000 for a one-hour photoshoot makes only $250 profit.

When you include the nine hours of hidden work, that $250 equals about $25 per hour before taxes (including additional self-employment tax) and health insurance, which business owners must pay out of pocket.

Ultimately, the photographer earns closer to minimum wage. In addition, the photography business is inconsistent and often seasonal, so that income is not guaranteed each week. 

Photographers must set profitable prices. While those prices may appear expensive at first glance, it’s not the photographer that’s expensive—it’s the photography business.

Final Thoughts

“Expensive” photography prices aren’t rooted in greed or a desire to take advantage of clients. Photographers make logical calculations based on business expenses, hours invested, and profit margins. 

Like everyone else, photographers need and want to make a living. They set prices that allow them to put a roof over their heads, feed their families, and keep the lights on. In an expensive business that is often seasonal and inconsistent, cheap prices can’t provide a livable income. 

When you hire a photographer, you’re also paying for talent and the time spent honing their craft. Photographers provide a creative, beautiful way to preserve meaningful moments for a lifetime. They deserve to make a living and set prices that allow them to do so.

While those prices may initially appear expensive, understand that your talented photographer is only charging what they need to survive and thrive.  

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