On a fairly regular basis, a potential client contacts me with an inquiry about if they can “just have a disc of images” instead of prints. After all, you can go to the nearest drugstore and have an 8×10 printed for $2 so why on earth would you pay upwards of $15 for a custom photography print? Why should you pay my prices instead of just having Uncle Bob take some photos or calling that $50 photographer on Craigslist?
What it comes down to is time and business costs. A professional photographer has equipment costs, film expenses, packaging, shipping and printing expenses and all the overhead expenses that come with running any business (website, fees, taxes, marketing, etc).
You’ve contacted me because you’ve seen my work, you really like it and now you want to book a session. Here’s where time comes into play. We’ll spend 30 minutes chatting, getting to know each other (both via e-mail and on the phone). I’ll spend 30 minutes to an hour prepping for your session (buying film, cleaning and testing my equipment, packing all the “just in case” items. It’s even more for weddings!). Then I have travel time/mileage/fuel to your session. 60-90 minutes of my time and talent photographing you and your beautiful family (tripled and quadrupled for weddings). Then I have travel time/mileage/fuel from your session. Next, I sort the film, prep it for shipping and have shipping/processing costs from my lab. Once I receive your images back from the lab, I spend 2-5 hours editing images and uploading to your private online gallery. 30 minutes prepping for your ordering session. 2-3 hours with you during your ordering session. 1 hour sorting and double-checking your order. 30 minutes checking quality once your order arrives and prepping for delivery to you…
Whew! That doesn’t even include any additional phone/e-mail/text time we spend together. Add that all up and you’re looking at an average of 15 hours dedicated to one session.
But why am I charging more than the drugstore for prints? I hear often that the mall/department store photo chain only charges a $9 sitting fee and just $19 for an 8×10 print, for which you can get a 50% off coupon! I worked at one of those exact chains during my college summer so I can tell you from insider-experience and knowledge, they are about quantity, not quality. An a la carte item, not part of a package, and certainly much more than just the single 8×10 you went in for, can easily cost $75. And that coupon? It usually does not apply to anything larger than an 8×10.
Not to mention how stressful the entire situation is. You have your 9am appointment? So do three other people, and their children aren’t any happier to be there than yours are. Think those backdrops and props are sanitized in-between each session? And once you’re done with your 15 minute session, they immediately pull you over to a computer to sell you prints. Too bad that you just want one 8×10, the computer system will not let an associate proceed until they’ve mocked up at least three different photos, at three different sizes and have applied three different effects. Now you’ve got a screaming child hanging on to your pant leg, someone else’s baby screaming in the “studio” and you have to make a purchase because you’ve already invested all this time and mental energy. Instead of a $9 sitting fee and a 50%-off 8×10, you’re leaving exhausted with empty wallets.
Super fun time, right? Those photos you adore on Pinterest? Those aren’t from a mall studio – guaranteed. They make their profit on volume, not one-on-one service.
My prints cost more because they go through quality-checks at least three times. First by me, before I send the file to my professional printing lab. Second, by the lab, who ensures the colors they’re printing match what’s on my screen (the drugstore and mall don’t do that). And then a third time, again by me, when I receive your products. Before packaging them up for you, I check one last time for any discrepancies. Your products are printed on archival paper and/or canvas. And you can choose from multiple types of surfaces too.
I don’t say all this to demean what other photographers are doing. They’ve got a system that turns a profit for them. And while yes, that is my goal as a small-business owner too, my biggest goal is to provide you with an experience that leaves a good taste in your mouth. From your initial inquiry, to the delivery of your final products, I want you to enjoy our time together. But more importantly I want you to leave with an heirloom you can pass on for generations to come.
I hope this knowledge will make you feel more comfortable choosing Poppie Studios now that you understand the hidden costs (both monetary and emotional) associated with “the other guy.”