Photography Cost Breakdown

Pentagon 9-11 Memorial-3473.jpg

There are many assumptions I’m making for this post, drawing mostly from my experience. There are likely some holes and something I did not take into consideration, but the take home message is this: Photography almost always seems overpriced for a 1/125th second frozen in time, but you have to remember all the hours of prep, equipment-time cost, and processing time which is required to come out with that one perfect picture. I’m going to get into what you’re paying for when you hire a photographer. the ratio listed by each heading is (heading title hours:event hours).

Wedding Equipment 2011

Prep Work (1:4)
Photographers typically will do some prep work to find out as much as possible about an event as they reasonably can. They might visit the venue ahead of time to scope out good spots or ask for permission to stand in restricted areas. Online research about the event or photos other people have taken at the same venue is also a good way to get an idea what may happen as well. Sometimes, there are specific techniques that need to be practiced beforehand, so that would increase the amount of work going into that project. Obviously, this can be more of a fixed number, rather a ratio, but I just figured that the longer the event, the more complex it will be and the more technique or prep is required.

Dedo and Holly Wedding-8496.jpg

The Event (1:1)
Be it a concert, wedding, party, the event is the most difficult part of the entire process. Time-management, situational adaptation, as well as speed and accuracy will be tested at every event. This is where you have to know what your equipment is and is not capable of. This is the most visible part for the photographer. Manners, people management, stealthiness, and professionalism are some of the traits used while shooting an event (Manners may not be as present for certain events like red carpet).

Leary Forgues Wedding 2011-4092.jpg

Post Processing (3:1)
I like to do about 2-3 passes of processing to end up with a final set to deliver to the client. I like to start by weeding out the un-usable photos, then I process all of them during the 2nd pass and weed out a few more, then finally take the best of the best and really make sure they look as good as they possibly can.

Mark and Laurel's Wedding 2010

So for a 4 hour event, I would estimate about 17 hours of work for me total (1 for prep, 4 for event, and 12 for post processing). This sometimes varies depending on how consistent the lighting was at the event (one venue vs multiple venues) – I like to create a base preset in Lightroom to help normalize all the photos so the more inconsistent lighting, the more presets I need to make. so if someone is paying me $100 for a 4-hour event, on the surface it looks like $25/hr gig – not bad right? But once you take into account the prep and post processing, the sweet $25/hr rate drops to a little under $7/hr. Additionally, since I don’t force clients to use a third party printing service I’ve contracted with, so I don’t make any supplemental income from clients printing photos. I think there’s a decent amount to be made with these third party contracts, but I just haven’t looked into that yet.

So when considering the cost of a photographer and what you want to budget – just remember that you kind of pay for what you get. some more motivated photographers might be able to offer you more bang for your buck, but there is always a sort of minimum operating “basement” cost to take 8 hours out of someone’s day.

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One Comment

  1. Shrek
    Posted December 16, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I think $7 an hour seems a bit steep too. You’ll do it for $5.50/hr AND tend the bar. No tips.

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