Saturday, June 20, 2009

Photography as a business

I told you already how two different people have approached me about photographing their weddings in 2010. I didn't in any way solicit these inquiries, so it is really exciting for me! I know that the driving force behind them asking me is that I won't charge anything near what a professional in this area would charge, but I also know that they wouldn't ask if they didn't think that I took great photographs.

I haven't agreed to either of these weddings yet, but I am doing a lot of research and thinking a lot about the possibility. I would absolutely LOVE to say yes to both of them, but I am in no way under the delusion that photographing a wedding is easy. There are no do-overs with a wedding! You have to be focused, creative, and have your exposures right on every single shot. It's a lot of pressure and a lot of work! This is their wedding day and these are the photographs they will look back at for many, many years to come. I wouldn't want anyone to be disappointed with their wedding photos, so I need to be sure that I am confident that I can provide them with great photos and not miss any of the important moments, despite what I charge them!

And after all that build-up, I'm finally going to get to the point of this post! I was talking to a friend a few days ago about wedding photography because she's getting married next week and we got to talking about what I might charge if I decide to accept these two jobs. She then mentioned how she thinks it's ridiculous how expensive photographers are, and then you have to buy the prints which are also really expensive compared to what you might pay if you bought the same size print at your local drugstore.

A few years ago, when I got married, I honestly felt the same way. However, the more I get into my lessons, and research different aspects of the photography business, the more I find that I'm thinking like a photographer. There are very good reasons why photographers charge extra for discs of all their images, and for why their prints are more expensive. The public just doesn't think about what these reasons are, so I'm going to write about them today in hopes that it will create a better understanding.

First, like I said before, photographing a wedding is a lot of work and a lot of pressure. You have to know your camera well, you have to work quickly and pay close attention to everything going on around you so that you don't miss any important moments, you have to be creative, know how to frame a shot, choose the correct exposure and focus sharply without having the time to think about it. Photographers can be expensive because you are paying for the education they have paid for, their experience, and the expensive equipment they have to keep updated.

You also have to remember that you are not just paying them for the 8-12 hours that they are photographing you on that day. You are also paying for:
  • the time they spend preparing for your wedding by:
  1. scouting your ceremony and reception venues for good spots to take your photos
  2. learning what you want from your wedding photos
  3. and learning which family members will be important at the wedding
  • their travel to and from your event
  • the time it takes to upload your 500-1000 images
  • the time it takes to back up all those images
  • the weeks of time it takes to edit all those images
  • the time it take to process, package and ship your orders
A lot of people also want discs of their images so they can print the photos they want for cheaper. I know I certainly wanted discs of all my wedding images so that I could make my own album. There are a few issues to address here. First, let's talk about the price of prints. Yes, you could go to a drugstore and print the photos you want for cheaper, but you are also getting a lower quality print that is processed by a computer and their is little to no custom attention paid to the prints by a human. Most professional photographers work with a custom lab that they have a relationship with. Their prints are printed on higher quality paper, with more attention to details like how true the color is, and often times their prints have a special UV coating that will protect your prints for many years. The custom lab also gets to know the photographer personally, and they take the time and effort to make sure every print meets the photographer's standards.

You also have to think about copyrighting and the photographer's reputation. It is your wedding and they are photos of you, but the photographer owns the images, even if they grant you permission to print the photos. The images are their creative expression, just as if a painter had painted you. You did not paint that painting, the painter did, so you can not claim that it is your painting. In terms of their reputation, think about it this way:
  • Ms. A photographs your wedding.
  • She then gives you all the images on discs and the rights to print them at a drugstore.
  • You print those images and they look fine to you. (But they are not the same quality or to the same standards they would be if Ms. A had them printed for you through her custom lab.)
  • You then show your wedding prints to your family and friends. (But they may know more about photography than you do or they may be a better judge of quality.)
  • Your friends and family are now judging Ms. A's talent, professionalism and work from your sub-par drugstore prints.
  • Ms. A may then lose business or not get the amount of respect she deserves for all of her hard work and talent.
Make sense? By just giving you the images, they also lose money on prints you would have purchased from them, which is why most photographers will charge you for the discs of the images.

As you can see, there is a lot more to it than most people think about. If you put yourself in the shoes of the photographer and think about these images as their business instead of something you're entitled to, the costs involved become a lot more reasonable.


Sonya said...

You are so right!! Editing alone is worth a bunch of money! It takes so much time and attention to detail but it is still one of my favorite parts of photography.

Lindsay said...

I hear you woman. I agree with everything you said. It's a lot of hard work and time. Well worth the money in the long run though, you have beautiful photos to remember your day.

Angie said...

I'm really glad you posted this. It makes alot of sense. I never realized alot of those things or thought about it that way.
Thank you for sharing this info.

Tricia Nugen said...

Love it! You hit the nail on the head here! I always look at my work as art. Not everyone can capture the right elements. And, not everyone can edit! Good luck on the weddings. I myself haven't done any because like you said you get one shot and it has to be precise. It's not like a photo shoot where you can retake the photo. Can you imagine, I'm sorry can you please go back down the aisle and try again? I missed that shot!
I agree with you 100%.

Paging Doctor Mommy said...

FABULOUS post and explanation my dear. And I so admire that you have not just jumped at the chance to make some money next summer, but that you care and feel strongly enough to make sure you are the best person for the job. You are something special!

Anonymous said...

I am that 'friend' who was discussing it with you last week and i will admit that after you told me all of the things and reasons why it was an 'ah ha' moment. I think I was naive to think they just took the picture and pressed print - in talking to you and realizing how much time it takes I can understand the 'outrageous' price now. Of course, if you don't edit, i don't think it's fair to price gouge but in seeing what you do and hearing all the things you stated in this post, I understand why its so expensive now! I hope others read this :)

Laufa said...

What my wedding photographer did was take all the pictures (usually three shots at one particular moment). She then gave us a photo album - all 5x3 the way that she would present them, then the originals on a CD. She even asked to use a couple of the photos for her Sales Album. I think we only paid $400 (I'm pretty sure we got this for a steal). We have some really great photos. Good luck on deciding what to do.