Once you’ve decided to hire a professional portrait photographer, you’ll naturally want to research photography pricing.
If you have never worked with a professional photographer before, you may be surprised and confused by the costs involved. After all, it is just about showing up and pressing a few shutter buttons. Right? Wrong! That is far from the truth indeed!
In this article, I’m going to debunk the myth that professional photography is just about ‘pointing and shooting’. I’ll run through seven hidden costs that photographers need to consider when setting their photography pricing. That’ll also give you an insight into why professional photographer prices are higher than you might expect.
How much does a photographer cost?
It’s impossible to answer the question of “how much a photographer cost” in the UK. When it comes to the cost of professional photos, there are no rules or standards. You’ll simply need to research the professional photography pricing. Then select one within your budget that meets your needs in terms of the style of images and the experience on offer.
Why does professional photography cost so much?
While it may not always be so, it’s usually the case that professional photographer prices reflect the skills and experience of the individual photographer, and the costs involved in them running their business. That said, photography pricing varies widely due to factors beyond skills, experience and costs. For example, the location of your photographer matters too.
It should go without saying, but if you’re looking for a London photographer to hire or one of the best London photographers, then you should expect to pay top rates. Top London photographers are in demand and typically have higher costs due to being based in the City than photographers based elsewhere around the country.
Why do photographers’ prices vary so much?
Even having considered the factors I have mentioned so far, you’ll find that there is a lot of variation in the prices offered by photographers. You may wonder why there is such a wide range of prices, and how you should decide who to choose to work with.
Consider it this way. The prices for a handbag can vary significantly. How much you are willing to pay for it is likely to be based on its aesthetic appeal, its quality, the extent to which you trust and perceive value in owning an item from the brand, and the quality of the shopping experience.
Hiring a professional photographer is not dissimilar. You are purchasing the creative work of an artist. This skilled artist brings to every session their significant creative input, experience and skill. Their expertise will also be reflected in their photography prices. The experience on offer will also have a cost associated. So, expect to pay more for photographers who provide a high level of support before, during and after the photo shoot.
A photographer whose work appears more ‘high-end’ will likely have gone through more extensive training and accumulated more experience. They may also use more expensive equipment (cameras, lighting etc.) to produce high-quality results.
Ultimately, you need to appreciate that to get high-quality portraits, you should expect to pay well for a professional photographer. Photography is a highly skilled profession. A great level of expertise and expensive equipment are also needed to do the job properly, as I will go on to explain further below.
Seven hidden costs that professional photographers need to charge for
You might wonder why photography pricing is high but not appreciate that there are substantial ‘invisible’ hours of work done by the photographer behind the scenes.
For photographers, their work starts when you make your initial enquiry. There are also many costs involved in running a photography business that need to be incorporated into a photographer’s pricing:
1. Shoot preparation, editing and delivery
Preparations vary among professional photographers; I, for example, invest time heavily with my clients in planning and consultations. I will gather a good understanding of what each client is looking for and help to ensure they are well-prepared for the shoot.
On the day before the shoot, your photographer will also pack and prepare the equipment. If they travel to a location for your photo shoot, they are likely to incur an extra hour before and after the shoot travelling to shoot locations, particularly if they are a London professional photographer. If the photography shoot takes place in a photography studio, they will spend time preparing the studio before and cleaning up the studio afterwards.
After the shoot, while you unwind from the photoshoot experience, your professional photographer will spend time going through photos. They will shortlist the best photos (this process varies – some photographers may skip this process by giving you ALL the photos they take).
After image selection, the photographer will spend time on photo editing and retouching. The more subtle and natural the retouching appears, the more time it is likely to have taken to achieve that natural look. Last but not least, once photos are selected by clients, there will be time involved in arranging for delivery and in ordering photo products.
2. Running photography as a business
The costs of running a photography business need also to be considered.
Amateur photographers may offer lower prices as they build up their confidence and portfolio. They may have lower business costs. They may also be less concerned about profit margins than more established photographers with higher overheads.
Many photographers get into the profession initially because they love photography. However, once they are in business, they come to realise that they need to act as a business owner and charge fees that reflect the true cost of running the photography business.
Not all small businesses survive over time. Did you know that only 50% of businesses make it to the 5-year mark, and 1 in 10 businesses survive over the long term? It’s therefore important for photographers to price sustainability and have photography pricing that reflects their experience and skill level over the long term.
In any service industry, it is important that all the behind-the-scenes hours related to particular jobs, as well as hours in running a business, are taken into account. They cover general business activities of answering enquiries, marketing, admin, client care, dealing with suppliers, and maintaining equipment and a workspace.
Photographers who have a studio, particularly those with a high street presence or city location as I do as a London portrait photographer, are likely to have higher overheads on rent and council tax.
3. High cost of equipment
Almost everyone has a camera phone. While they allow you to take snapshots in your everyday lives, they are far from ideal in delivering professional quality photos. The range of photography equipment is vast, as are the prices.
Photographers just starting in the profession may use gear that is lower cost. More experienced photographers are likely to invest in top-of-the-range equipment to deliver the standards they are proud of. They are also likely to build up a range of equipment that caters for different purposes and needs.
The equipment high-end photographers walk around with can be of significant worth. This high-cost equipment also tend to require regular maintenance. The cost of servicing, repairs and parts replacement needs to also be considered in the photographer’s pricing structure.
4. Photographers make a substantial investment in education
While one does not need to have a degree to practise as a photographer, good photographers are likely to invest heavily in the best education and training. The collective costs of education can be comparable, if not more than, fees paid for a tertiary degree.
5. Add-ons provided by professional photographers
Some high-end photographers may offer additional services such as make-up and hair and styling. Or, they may hire assistants to help on the jobs to achieve the best results and provide the best experience to the client. This will also add to the photographer’s costs.
6. Physical products delivered
If physical products are included in the final delivery, your professional photographer is likely to order them from bespoke suppliers with high-quality standards.
The prints, albums and wall art offered by a professional photographer are likely to be far superior to what you can order from high-street or online companies. The higher quality, by default, will attract higher costs.
7. Professional photographers often have limited capacity
Professional photographers need to allow plenty of time for the planning, preparation, editing and delivery of images. They also must allow for time to work in the business, on things such as marketing and sales. Therefore, photographers have a limit on their availability to photograph clients and this will also impact their prices.
Are there ways to save on the cost of a professional photographer?
With all of the above considered, you hopefully have a greater appreciation of the costs involved in professional photography. So, how can you make your photography experience less expensive?
Can you hire a photographer for just an hour?
Well, to save money, you may wonder whether you can just hire a photographer for an hour. But, by asking that, you are forgetting that photography is a profession with many invisible hours.
Photographers operate very differently from tradespeople who charge by the hour. For example, a tradesperson may turn up with the same toolbox with minimal preparations. They take orders and check the issues when they are physically spending time with you. Commute aside, their physical presence will be quite reflective of the time they spend with you in total.
It’s quite likely that your photographer will spend more time working on your overall experience and the images than the time they physically spend with you.
Because of this, you cannot usually just buy “one hour” of their time. For a photographer to run a sustainable business in longevity, they must account for the actual work performed, whether you see them doing that work with your own eyes or not.
Can you only buy the digital images?
Can you request only digital image files from your photographer then? Surely, the creative work is already done so you should not need to pay extra to receive the digital images, right?
Wrong! If the photographer only charges a small fee upfront (like session fees or deposits) and no further payments are taken after the shoot, there’s a good chance that these fees are not sufficient to cover their costs. In which case, the photographer will certainly not be able to make a profit, which is essential to make the business viable.
Can you just buy a couple of photos?
Even if you want only a handful of photos from your photoshoot, your photographer is likely to need to spend a similar amount of effort and commit the same amount of time to complete the work. Therefore, a professional photographer is unlikely to offer you significantly lower costs just because you need only one or two photos.
Should you book a photographer based on price?
Professional photographer pricing is naturally subjective. What one person considers to be expensive, another person considers quite affordable or even cheap. While you may have a set budget in mind for photography and there will naturally be a limit to how much you can afford to spend, try not to book a photographer based on photography pricing alone.
Instead, start searching for a professional photographer who appeals to your aesthetic style. After all, you want to be happy with the resulting images. A photographer whose prices seem too good to be true may not necessarily deliver the images that you are after.
Invest in professional photography
There may be different reasons that prompt you to hire a professional photographer. You may want to celebrate a special event or stage in life, or you may be looking for a confidence boost or high-quality personal branding images for marketing materials. Whatever the reason, it’s important to find a photographer you can truly align with and trust to make it a worthwhile investment for you.
Even though professional photographers may cost more than you initially assume, having portraits professionally captured nevertheless will give you and your future generations much joy. Try to see it as an investment rather than a cost!
Frequently asked questions about professional photographer pricing and more
Look up my frequently asked questions section here on my website if you’d like to know more about my photography pricing and processes. Of course, if there is something you are unclear about, please get in touch and I will happily explain what’s involved.
I hope that this has been a useful article and would love to hear from you if you are interested in working with me.