We’ve all seen it- that common request seen in referral groups of “Looking for a good photographer who gives me x, y, and z for a reasonable price/who doesn’t break the bank/who doesn’t charge an arm and a leg.”
If you’re one of the more “expensive” photographers (expensive being a relative term), you roll your eyes and move on and maybe laugh a little at how you imagine the photos they get will turn out.
But if you are the person looking for a photographer, you probably really DO want to find a photographer who can create those Pinterest-worthy shots for you for the lowest price possible. I mean, who wouldn’t want that? A deal is a deal!
Professional photography is one of those things that doesn’t have a set price or even a very measurable average price in any geographical market. It’s also a service that greatly varies in style, quality, and what’s included in the price. Most photography businesses are small, with a large number being run by individual sole proprietors, and thus, every business is as unique as the owner.
Everyone values things differently. I can’t unfortunately make everyone able to afford my work, nor can I provide my product for anywhere near as low as some photographers do. But I feel it’s important to caution unknowing consumers about what may constitute a low-priced service.
From the outside, you might compare two photographers who seem to have similar style and quality of work on their websites, but the prices or inclusions are vastly different. You’re only seeing what is on the outside and not what’s behind the scenes of each business. It’s likely that the less expensive photographer is taking some shortcuts, which inevitably puts you as the client at a certain amount of risk.
Let’s break it down:
>> Every business owner taking money from clients must be legally registered as a business, and paying taxes. Because photography businesses aren’t subject to requiring certain certifications like other businesses are, it’s easier to jump from hobbyist to professional. You can’t usually tell just by looking if a photographer is legitimate or not unfortunately. Even a local business search online may not show if they are or not because some databases only show businesses that are registered as corporations (LLCs are included in this) while many legitimate photographers are sole proprietors (and still paying their taxes). Because of the added taxes, fees, permits, etc., a legitimate pro must charge higher prices, while a hobbyist or someone working for “cash under the table” is skirting around these responsibilities.
>> A low price may mean the photographer doesn’t pay business insurance. This won’t necessarily affect a client, but may bar the photographer from working at some locations or wedding venues. Wedding venues often ask for proof of insurance from any vendor operating onsite. And, if uninsured camera gear malfunctions, breaks, or is stolen before the job, they might not have the funds available to replace it in time. Keep in mind that it must be a dedicated business insurance policy, as a claim made to auto, homeowner’s, or renter’s insurance would be denied if it can be proven the equipment is used for monetary gain.
>> Overhead (camera gear, lenses, computer equipment, website domains, software, studio, etc.) all cost A LOT of money and must be absorbed into the photographer’s prices. We’re talking thousands of dollars. A lower price may equate to lower overhead, which at times can mean the photographer is cutting corners where they shouldn’t be. For instance, having backup cameras and multiple hard drives is a little-known necessity. Usually you won’t hear about an issue with this unless the worst case scenario takes place- their camera breaks midway through a job and there is no backup, or their computer hard drive crashes taking all of your photos with it. Backup gear requires additional money, so if a photographer is charging low prices there is a good chance they don’t have it. They might also be using outdated, older, or consumer-grade gear which can equate to a lower quality end product in some instances; older gear also has a higher tendency to stop working. Gear does need to be upgraded periodically to meet current industry standards for quality. In any case, lower overhead can sometimes allow a photographer to work for less, as can a lower need or desire for income. But lack of the best or right supplies for the job can be a risk to the client.
>> Paying a lower price probably means you are one of many. To support their business at lower prices, a photographer needs to serve many more clients. This can sometimes equate to their schedule not being flexible (so if sickness or weather forces you to reschedule, their calendar may be completely booked), or it may mean the photographer is cutting corners to get editing done quicker and not really putting the same finished touch on your photos. It may also mean the photographer is over-worked and over-tired. This eventually causes burnout; it’s easy to lose motivation and joy in doing any job when one is burned out. A burned-out or unmotivated photographer may not be able to produce the same type of creative work that you’re used to seeing from them.
>> While not always the case, the low-priced photographer may not be good at photography. Sometimes, “you get what you pay for” actually holds true. While there isn’t a measurable scale of price vs. quality, there is a higher likelihood that a cheap photographer might not have a good grasp of the technical or artistic concepts in photography, such as sharp focus and good exposure, and they recognize that their work doesn’t quite measure up to other photographers’ work and don’t feel comfortable charging as much.
>> It’s also possible that the photographer charging low prices is simply new and inexperienced at running a business. New photographers aren’t necessarily untalented; in fact, there are many who are extremely talented! Some charge low prices because they aren’t confident in their work yet or don’t have an extensive portfolio to show potential clients. Others simply don’t understand Cost of Doing Business (CODB) yet. Once one really crunches the numbers of expense versus income, it’s often scary. Most photographers realize they need to drastically raise their prices after a few years in business coming out barely ahead or in the red. It usually takes a few disappointing years to realize this, and it’s more prevalent in the 1-3 years new crowd. Many photographers start their business because they love photography, and don’t necessarily understand business. Unfortunately, because of the large influx of people entering the photography industry not understanding how to price for a sustainable business, it has collectively lowered the expectation of the cost of good professional photography. Interestingly enough, people were paying the same or more for professional portraits and weddings ten or more years ago than many people are paying now!
Ultimately, there will always be budgets and there will always be photographers working for every budget. But one needs to understand that there may be some risk associated with choosing a low-priced service, and should consider that when searching. Photographers should love what they do, but as with any business, it needs to generate sustainable income.
I took these images to illustrate how an experienced photographer using professional equipment might produce an image compared to a more haphazard shot made using entry-level equipment on the “auto” mode, even though the images were taken in the same location and at the same time of day.
I am not a low-priced photographer; I take pride in producing quality images, as well as running a professional business for my clients.