Why is Professional Portrait Photography So Expensive?

Today, everyone has a camera and access to places that will print their photos.    So,  how can professional photographers charge $60 -$150 for an 8"x10" photograph that can be printed for $1.50 at Harvey Norman or Officeworks?

Simply put,  you are paying for time and expertise,  just like in any other service industry. You are investing in portrait artistry...for a piece of art that may adorn your walls for years to come.    

So What is Involved in An Average One-Hour Portrait Session?

• Initial telephone conversation or email correspondence with client to discuss their requirements,

• Travel to the location,

• If the photoshoot is indoors, set up the lighting, if outdoors, scout the location (often done prior to the actual shoot), otherwise arrive 1/2 prior to the shoot,

• Try to make the clients comfortable and develop a bit of rapport..then shoot the images,

• Put away studio lights and/or pack up gear from a location session,

• Travel from the location,

• Unpack & clean gear,

• Load images onto a computer,

• Back up the files on an external drive,

• 3 – 6 hours of LIghtroom and Adobe® Photoshop® time, including retouching, cropping, contrast, color, sharpening, and backing up edited photographs.  If custom artwork is involved, add even more time.  One photograph can take hours to prepare, depending on the work involved.  While in the past this editing was done in the darkroom,  with digital technology, it is now done on the computer.  

• 3 - 4 hours viewing of digital proofs, answering questions, receiving orders and payment, ordering prints, receiving and verifying prints, dealing with faulty prints and all the other unexpected issues that can arise in any small business.  

So, a one hour photo session is not as it seems.  

The expertise and cost of doing business

Capturing professional photographs is a skill acquired through years of experience.  This is my 13th year in the business and I am thrilled each time I "get that shot" or attempt something new with success, and continue to learn from my mistakes. Even though a DSLR camera now can cost under $1,000, taking professional portraits involves much more than a nice camera. Most professional photographers bought their first camera years before they tried to make money in photography, not to mention their subsequent purchase of lenses, backdrops, filters, props, tripods, calibrators, software, additional education and the list goes on.

In addition to the financial investment, portrait photographers actually have to have people skills to make subjects comfortable in front of the camera. Posing people is a skill in itself.  While Lightroom does wonders for a poorly exposed image, not much can be done for an image that has been poorly posed or faces that are clearly unhappy because of the photographer's lack of people skills. 

Professional photographers are just that – professionals offering a service. No different than a mechanic, dentist, doctor, lawyer or electrician.  I heard of one analogy that made sense to me.  "Maybe we need to help clients look at it this way: A pair of scissors costs $1.50 at the local chemist. Still, most people will gladly pay a lot more to hire a professional hair dresser to cut their hair". 


I love what I do and hope to continue doing it for years to come.  This post is just meant to explain a bit about what goes into the process of professional digital portrait photography today.   Of course, not every occasion requires a professional photographer and many home snapshots are to be treasured forever.  However, if you want to hire someone to capture a special moment, this might help you understand all that goes into it.