Debunking the “photography is expensive because it’s a luxury” myth

We are taught that clients do not care about why we are expensive – we are just supposed to position ourselves as a luxury service and not spend time educating people on why we charge what we charge.

Yes – photography is a luxury in that it is not an essential purchase for people to live. But that is not the reason why we are expensive. The definition of luxury makes a coffee from Starbucks a luxury, too, when it’s just a $6 item.

The problem with positioning photography as a luxury is that it might seem like photographers pad on numbers to prices to keep up the luxury appearance.

I want to talk about the real reason why photography (by an independent business owner) is expensive.

It costs a lot of money to run your own photography business. Which means that photographers do not get to bring a lot of their session revenue home.

Photographers do not get to spread their expenses across thousands or even just hundreds of clients like big businesses can. I can realistically take on 50-60 sessions per year.

In addition to sessions, editing and ordering products, photographers have to do a lot of work that is not related to client work at all. We have to do marketing, bookkeeping etc – and those are work hours that nobody pays us for. If someone else does take care of those things for the business, they had to be paid, too.

Clients are also paying for all the education that goes in to the artist being able to create their art – the years of research, the magnitude of courses and workshops and coaching and mentoring we invest in.

In short, clients are paying for much more than just the session.

When the majority of photographers price low, the low price is what customers expect to be enough for us to make a living.

A photographer might price low because they are beginners, which is totally fine! Their practice is kind of like being in school. They can – and should – raise their pricing once they are good at what they do and can produce consistent work.

Side note: A cheap photographer might not pay taxes. Their spouse or other job might actually be paying for part of their sessions. They may not be insured (which means that if that photographer gets hurt in a family’s house during a session, the family will be liable!)

The problem is when photographers who are really good at what they do charge too little. That sets a skewed expectation for what really good photographers cost.

Photography might be someone’s side-gig, which is an even bigger argument to charge a sustainable rate if they are making great photographs. If someone is spending their free time photographing families, it should be worth their time away from their own family.

No other industry prices their product according to how new they are, or what they think they are worth.

Imagine if a fridge company went “Ok, so to cover the cost of the materials, the machines, and the people it takes to not only make these things but sell these things, we need to bring in $1,500 per fridge. But we are the newbies in the market, so we should sell them for $200 the first year, and bump up a couple hundred $ yearly until we are at $1,500.”

It is not sustainable. They have to pay for their materials and pay their workers during that beginning period. If they do not get $1,500 for their fridges, they do not have a business.

So – we’re told clients don’t care.  But I think clients DO care.

They care about supporting artists.

They care about the people they hire making a livable salary.

They care about making sure that everyone around them is doing ok.

The only way they will know what a standard sustainable rate is for skilled photographers, is if we stick to our (well-calculated) prices, and educate them on why.

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Documentary newborn and family photographer serving San francisco Bay Area, San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and surrounding areas