I've historically written content on YourPhotoAdvisor through the perspective of either a new photographer (like me), one who is looking for photography career options, or one who struggles with finding sustainable business (the area I excel in). Let's do something a little bit different today. Let's view this through the perspective of someone who wants to hire a professional photographer for a family event and who may have concerns on how this will impact the budget. I spent a bit of time researching the different types of photography sessions and pricing, and even asked a couple pros and customers to share their thoughts.
Are professional photographers expensive? Photography costs vary, depending on the situation. Photographers may charge by the hour for a photo session. They often have a daily rate or event charge for things like weddings and family reunions. You can expect to pay anywhere from $50 per hour to $10,000 for a high-end event package.
So, yes, professional photographers can be expensive. The cost isn’t randomly chosen, however. There are factors that go into determining the rates. If you’re trying to figure out if you can afford to hire a photographer within your budget, I can help you out. If you're a photographer and have a hard time justifying your prices, I can help you out. We’ll talk about pricing, prints, and package deals. Let’s run the costs.
Why Can Professional Photographers Be So Expensive?
Professional photographers often charge an hourly rate that may seem high to clients. You may assume that the entirety of this money goes to the photographer as income. There are many overhead costs that accompany even the smallest photography businesses.
If a photographer is self-employed, they are responsible for all the supplies and equipment: cameras, lights, backdrops, editing software, and supplies for prints, to name a few. It takes a lot of time after each session to edit and organize the photos. They can take hundreds of photos, even thousands at a large event. The hourly rate covers this extra time, as well.
The Cost of Refining and Expanding the Photographer’s Craft
Education does not end with a degree or certification. There are always new techniques to learn. As computer software and equipment advances, photographers must invest in more education. They may take classes, attend seminars, or work with a mentor.
Photographers are artists, meaning they work until they are satisfied with a project. This perfectionism may cost them many hours they could take on other clients. Creativity and quality are the trademarks of talented photographers.
Photographers need to stay active within the artist's community. Connections and education often come with a price. Memberships to guilds or associations often come with annual fees.
What Kind of Photographer Is Within My Budget?
The type of business you source your photographer from, as well as the experience level of the photographer, will also play into the cost passed on to you. Let’s check out some common types of photography businesses and where they fall on the spectrum of cost.
It is common for photographers to work as self-employed individuals. This has the potential to cut down on some costs, as there is no larger company taking a portion of the earnings. Though, the overhead is still present. What this usually means is the expenses can potentially be more fluid in the offering of package deals.
Independent photographers not only purchase their own equipment but must perform proper maintenance and repairs. Costs may add up for necessary new equipment, as well. Supplies for prints and updated editing software costs are ongoing.
Independent photographers can set their own rates and often increase them as they get more experience. Here are a few costs to take a look at:
- A new photographer may charge as little as $50 per hour for labor and charge separately for prints.
- Average pricing for independent / freelance photographers runs between $100 – $250 per hour.
- Expect the prints to average about $25 to $100 per print, complete with editing.
Private Photography Business
A photographer may start a private business with a few other professionals. They may also start a business as the only photographer but hire employees to handle other aspects of the business.
Similarly to independent photographers, a private business can set their own pricing and schedule. If there are a few photographers working together, it is likely easier to get an appointment. You may enjoy the organization of a small business with the flexibility of freelance photography.
As far as small business pricing is concerned, the price range is dependent on specialization, demand, ability to meet demand, and general skill.
Photography franchises are stores that exist in many locations. The names are often well-known, such as Olan Mills. These franchises usually specialize in individual or family portraits. You may take your children to one of these for annual pictures, for example.
These stores also specialize in backgrounds for holiday occasions. This is a popular choice for families that want a picture for a holiday card. You can also order pre-made cards with your photo on them.
Franchises usually have specific packages you can choose from. You may want a combination of sizes for different purposes. Your package may have large pictures for your wall, smaller pictures for your photo album, and a few wallet sizes prints to share with friends.
These types of businesses scale really well and can give competitive pricing. They make the majority of their money on efficient family portraits and directories for groups, and upselling to these groups.
Packages usually start around $70, yet it is easy to spend several hundred dollars to get everything you want. Extra sheets can cost as little as $20 at some department store chains. High-end stores offer special products, such as framed photos.
High-End or Fashion Photography
True high-end photographers may charge several thousand dollars to shoot an event. These artists are usually freelancers and may take contract work for well-known magazines. You can expect celebrity events to use these photographers.
As you can imagine, these are not the photographers most people hire. There are some at the lower end of the price range. Even still, you should expect to spend thousands of dollars. Don't be afraid to check them out, even if you have no plans to hire them. It is quite fun to look at the type of work they produce, as it's often more flashy than a normal family portrait.
High-end and specialty photographers can easily charge more for their expertise. Their business may scale pretty well but your ability to book them most likely won't be as easy. They usually work with models, travel magazines, and sports teams and spend years perfecting their skills to continue doing so.
Students and New Graduates
If you feel comfortable taking a chance on a budding photographer, look for students. You can often hire a student or recent graduate for $25 – $125 an hour. Prints should cost around $50 – $150 (they usually don't have special relationships with printers as freelancers or businesses do).
Students have a lot to offer, as they are learning the newest techniques. They have the motivation to do a great job because they want to fill up their portfolio, as well. Student photographers may also offer services for free if they need subjects for a school project.
Student photographers are often eager to work and bring a lot of energy to the job. New graduates may start working as freelance photographers while trying to figure out a career path. Young photographers may have learned some new tricks that they’re eager to put into action.
It seems like everyone knows someone that dabbles in photography. Perhaps your kid’s friend is trying out photography as a hobby or works for the high school yearbook. A retired neighbor might take a few classes for fun and realize they are good at the art, as well.
In my case, I had a programmer friend that does photography as a hobby. This was before I got into photography for myself. This friend not only gave invaluable advice but also took a nice collection of professional headshots of me that I still use to this day.
Don’t overlook these unknown artists when you are looking for a photographer. A family member that takes a camera everywhere they go might capture the perfect scene for you. It is also nice to support a teen saving for college or a mom trying to make some extra money.
Ask to see past pictures to see the quality of work. Many weekend photographers keep a photo album or have a website. You can probably get a last-minute photography session if you need something suddenly, as well.
The next time you need someone to document your child’s birthday party, or take some creative senior pics, call on your neighbor or friend. Pricing is sure to be extremely affordable, especially if it is someone you know. You can often get a session with digital photos for under $300.
What Kind of Photography Options Are Least Expensive?
Now you know, the cost of the photographer isn’t just dependent upon the hours on the clock. It also deals with the type of event or details of a job and what the expectations of the photographer are.
Photoshoots – In-Studio or Outdoors
Traditional photography sessions take place in a studio. There are different screens that the photographer pulls down to change the background. The scenes are things like meadows and holiday décor. Solid screens are popular for formal pics. These are common in department store photography studios.
A freelance or private photographer can meet you anywhere for a custom background. Outdoor photos with trees or lakes are popular for family pictures. You can also plan a photoshoot at your home or favorite landmark. This option is great!
Photo sessions outdoors are a lot of fun since you can include pets and extended family. Consult with the photographer ahead of time to discuss your preferences and ideas.
The cost of outdoor photoshoots can potentially factor the photographer's travel cost and time but not always. In the cases where my family or I have hired a photographer to come on location, there were no extra costs.
Hiring a photographer for an event can become an expensive endeavor. The good news is that most have a set rate that includes time at the event and your prints. Many photographers charge for either a half-day or full-day for events.
When you get a price for your event, it is helpful to understand the reason for a higher cost. Many photographers make most of their money on the weekends and can only schedule one event per day. The editing from weekend jobs can also take a lot of time during the week.
Photographers at events often fill many roles. They may work their way through the party to get candid shots, as well as staged ones. Wedding day photos, for example, often include a photoshoot for the wedding party before the ceremony.
If you are working with an event planner, you may get special pricing. Event planners work closely with different vendors. The vendors may agree on discounts in exchange for the recommendations. These collaborations can work in your favor.
Some photographers offer pre-organized photo packages to make choices easy for clients. You can then get à la carte pricing if you want extras. Packages usually include a variety of picture sizes and poses. With a package, you know what your cost is, without surprises.
It is easier for photographers to gauge their budget with packages, as well. They can calculate ahead of time how much time they spend on a photoshoot and editing. The photographer must also allow for the cost of making prints.
Packages help the photographer figure out a profit margin. Many consumers prefer a simple photoshoot and photos with set pricing. If you plan a family photo shoot each year, predetermined packages can help you budget for the event.
Photographers may charge an all-in-one price for your photoshoot and prints or charge separately for prints. You can, of course, expect higher hourly pricing; the photographer includes prints. They may only offer this option for small scale projects, like senior pictures or baby photoshoots.
Some photographers take the art to another level by adding creative edits. They may also frame single pictures or make unique collages. These items are great for meaningful pictures or to give as gifts.
Many modern photographers have a lot of props they use for photoshoots. This surprised me more over the years than it probably should. Yes, it's normal for a franchise to have a box of goodies to choose from. But in working with one hobbyist photographer and speaking with two other freelance photographers, they all had a handful of props they like to use in certain shoots.
If you haven't seen this yet, a session for kids might include princess dresses and a forest setting, for example. The photographer might use animals, creative lighting, and costumes.
Themes can add something special to engagement photos, children’s pictures, and mother and child photographs. If you have a favorite movie, for example, talk to your photographer about recreating a scene.
A theme can involve complex props or simple, everyday items. Balloons can accompany a birthday shoot or pregnancy announcement, for example. A photographer can also create a fantasy forest scene, turning your kids into fairies for a day.
When you go to a photography franchise, you are likely working with a simple, trained employee. You may find a few aspiring photographers trying to make ends meet. An independent photographer better represents a true artist.
You tell the difference between basic prints and artistry by looking through photo samples. Independent photographers and private businesses pay closer attention to detail. Instead of commonly staged photos, you may notice candid shots with a lot of expression.
When a photographer has the proper equipment, the pictures have natural coloring and excellent clarity. A true artist aspires to make every detail beautiful.
What Other Factors Contribute to the Cost of a Professional Photographer?
The equipment a photographer uses is expensive. They must often expand their collection before they can take a variety of jobs. This can make the profession difficult during the early years.
Photographers incur costs for insurance, repairs, and new equipment. Those that offer themed shoots must purchase props, pay for costume cleaning, and travel to different sites. The supplies used behind the scenes for prints is also costly.
When you pay a photographer, part of the money goes towards maintaining their business. If the photographer has a small private business, some of the funds go to the property lease and employee salaries.
Breaking Down Equipment Costs
It is not enough to say that the equipment is expensive. Professional photographers may not go home with much more income than the average person. Since you aren't familiar with this type of tech, equipment purchases are not a one-time cost as with other items. Furthermore, they usually need replacement every three years. Here’s a breakdown of the basics:
- Basic camera with no accessories – $1,000 to $6000 – Most photographers have two cameras; in case one is out for repair. The type of camera used depends on the specialty of the artist. Lifestyle photos and sports photos, for example, require much different equipment. In order to catch extremely fast-moving subjects, a camera must have an appropriate shutter speed. Sporting event photographers for example, use cameras on the higher end of the price spectrum.
- Lenses – $250 to $1,000 – Most photographers have several lenses.
- Camera Flash – $300 or more.
- Filters – $30 to $350 for a full kit.
- Memory Cards – $25 to $50 each.
- Protective Camera Bag – $200.
- High-Quality Computer and Accessories – up to $2,000.
- Computer Software – $500 to $2,000 a year. When new software becomes available, professionals must purchase it to stay on top of trends and improve quality.
- Subscriptions – $10 plus a month. Many photographers maintain subscriptions to sites like Photoshop.
- High-Speed Internet – $50 to $300 per month – Photographers may have these services at both their home and the studio, doubling the price.
It’s a Business After All
Businesses have a lot of overhead costs. Even if your photographer works out of their home, they use space and resources to run the business. Think about the extra electricity, office supplies, and taxes. A proper studio adds rent and utilities to the overhead, as well. Backdrops, stands, and props also make a studio more expensive. A proper office environment requires many items:
- Decorative items
- Costs for rent
There are many personal costs that affect photographers, especially freelance photographers. Self-employment can cause many personal expenses to rise. When you work for a company, you may get benefits. A self-employed artist pays for themself, such as health insurance and compensation for travel.
Photographers may drive long distances to meet clients at a special location. This leads to large travel costs with fuel, maintenance, and depreciation. Medical insurance for self-employed individuals is also extremely expensive. It is also necessary to insure the photography equipment.
Before a photographer can set up a studio or make a portfolio, they must purchase their equipment. Photographers are likely paying off large personal or business loans.
A photographer may only take jobs within a certain area of town. This can minimize the money spent on gasoline. Others may agree to jobs far away but add a travel fee to the final bill. High-end photographers may fly all over the world to find that perfect shot.
If your photoshoot is not in a studio, you may want to ask about travel fees. You may notice the fees for a remote location are higher due to the extra costs involved.
Many photographers get new clients by word of mouth. I operated my web consulting side hustle completely by word of mouth. This alone may be all they do. The smart photographers will have a website for prospective clients to look at. To grow a business, to make it scale, you need to advertise. And, eventually, this cost gets passed on to the client in some form.
Many business owners hire companies to manage their websites. This helps increase traffic to the site. This can cost the photographer several hundred dollars to thousands per month, depending on the necessary services. This may include organization, content, and images.
Photographers may also purchase advertisement space in magazines or hand out business cards around town. Conventions work well for both education and advertising. Photographers may attend conventions to meet other professionals, learn about new equipment and techniques, and to advertise their talents. Travel and accommodations are costly.
Photographers may offer low prices early in their careers. It takes time to get repeat clients. They may stick to these prices for clients they have known for many years. They may also advertise special pricing for specific packages to bring in more business. When they drop prices, they must take more customers to make enough money. This can lead to very long days at work.
Promotional pricing for first-time customers can help a business grow. Nevertheless, some clients don’t become return customers and order minimal prints. These tactics can still help a photographer get more known, so it is often worth the trouble. And these deals can be a great way for clients to find a new photographer that could be their go-to for special events.
Some independent employers may also negotiate pricing to get a job. This lowers the profit margin, even if it is for a large event. Discounts, promotions, and negotiations are often necessary to keep a steady stream of clients. Independent photographers may work well over 40 hours per week to make a livable income. So, it is possible to find a deal out there.
Customizing Your Photography Cost to Fit Your Budget
The great thing about photography is that you can adjust the services to fit your budget. If you are working with an event planner, they may negotiate pricing with the photographer for you. If you find a photographer you love, ask them if they can work with your budget.
Many photographers work out special deals to get more clients. You may need to adjust the number of prints you order or frame things yourself. You can also agree to a limited number of poses or backgrounds.
Here are some ideas for saving money when hiring a photographer:
- Hire a student, new graduate or hobbyist
- Limit the hours of service
- Order fewer prints (digital pictures may cost less)
- Frame items yourself
- Negotiate with an independent photographer
- Choose a location close to home for the photoshoot
Choosing Your Professional Photographer
You may feel a lot of pressure to hire the perfect photographer. Family photographs bring less stress than a wedding or other large event, but you still want a great representation of the event. Think about what you want and find sample pictures to show your photographer, so there is an understanding of the style you prefer.
Look at the photographer’s portfolio to make sure you get the style you prefer. You may need to meet with a few different photographers to find the right one. An event planner can help you narrow down the search and compare pricing.
Look over the work of several photographers and find one that can work with your unique situation. Some photographers may be good with animals or children, for example. If you need a quick photo for a holiday card or gift, a studio franchise costs and appointments are easy to get.
If you are planning a big event, you should start looking several months in advance to get the photographer of your choice. Big events, such as weddings, usually take place on the weekend. This means there are limited appointments available throughout the year.
Hiring a Professional Photographer: Checking for Quality and Experience
If you are planning to spend your hard-earned money on professional photos, it is important to check for quality. When you view a photographer’s work for the style that complements your event, remember to keep an eye out for quality, too.
Check online reviews as part of your research. And when you go in for your consultation, in addition to checking out the portfolio, ask for personal references.
If you want to know more about a photographer’s qualifications, ask for business references. I personally don't care if the photographer I'm about to hire has a degree in photography or not. Nonetheless, if you do care and education is important to you, ask about their educational background. You can also order a small number of prints to make sure you like the quality and style. You can usually purchase additional prints later.
Professional photographers are often expensive. They have a lot of costs involved in running their business. The time, equipment, travel, and printing supplies can add to their overhead.
Self-employed individuals also must worry about higher costs for insurance and paying quarterly taxes. Many photographers spend a lot of money setting up their businesses, as well.
You can choose from a variety of prices, however, when you hire a photographer. You can hire new photographers or students if you are on a tight budget. An event planner can often get you better pricing for things like weddings and parties, as well. While you can easily spend thousands of dollars, there is a wide range of photographers to choose from with a variety of prices.
There you have it. Good luck in finding the right photographer for you! If you are the photographer reading this, because after all, this is a website that helps new or struggling photographers to learn and monetize photography skills, then I hope you found a few ideas to enhance your business! The takeaway here is to not only be skilled and prepared, but to offer flexibility where possible and assurance that you are capable of taking the stress load off of the family.