Why Does it Cost So Much?!

Like me, when you invest in something, many of you want to know that you’re spending your money and your time on something worthwhile and longstanding. Do you remember when you first thought of the idea of booking a boudoir photo session? Was it when your friend had one and told you how wonderfully magnificent it was? Was it when you couldn’t think of anything that could be a better anniversary or wedding gift for your husband? Was it when you lost all that weight and decided to reward yourself with a day of just. feeling. awesome? Or was it when you wanted a special treat for yourself and heard that out of everything you can do for yourself — a new hairstyle, getting a manicure or pedicure, buying a new outfit — you realize that a boudoir photo shoot would be the most worthwhile?

However winding or long your journey was before you decided to contact me with that noted phone call or that email asking for details, there was already a lot of thought put into this whole concept of getting half naked in front of a camera and becoming completely vulnerable to a virtual stranger — regardless of whether or not this stranger is supposedly the best of the best in what she does.

So you send me an email. “How much, Helen?”

This is the most common question I get when I receive a new client request. It is more common than “What do I wear?” and even “Can you make me feel and look beautiful?” Why? Because your time is worth your pocketbook. You’ve earned your keep. You’ve earned every penny you’ve worked for. And, like me, if you’re a mom, the first thought of any penny spent probably goes directly towards your kid/s or/and your family. Like me, doing anything for “just yourself” seems far-fetched, and if we’re all to be honest, feels a little bit selfish. Am I right?

So yes, the less expensive something is, the easier it is to justify spending it on ourselves. First and foremost, we think of our kids and our husbands and our homes, before we think of ourselves. The kids need new school shoes. The daughter needs new braces. The husband needs new work pants. The house needs a new roof. The baby needs new sheets. The floor needs new carpets. Where on that list is the one that says “Mama needs to feel and look good, and have photos to prove it”?

Somehow, this notion of feeling good, looking good, keeping that feeling as a “forever memory” is worth monetarily less than getting new shoes for your kids, or putting new windows on your house. Somehow, we have to work that much harder to let it be okay to spend money on ourselves. Especially “big” money.

And yet, if we needed $2000 within 2 hours to fix the family car, or to put a down payment on a new crib or a bed frame, or even a down payment of $100,000 to put down on a new mortgage for a home, it wouldn’t even occur to us twice that we will get that money, and we’d get it fast. But spending a similar amount of money on an experience of a lifetime where the result is feeling good? That’s harder to justify because we’re probably the only one to reep that reward. Or so it feels.

One of the reasons why I feel I’m not just a successful photographer, but also a successful businesswoman is because I live in your shoes. I AM you. I am the mom who doesn’t want to spend on herself. I am the wife who works hard for her family. I am the worker bee who can drop $50 on some new clothes for my girl, but feel terribly guilty when I spend $10 on lunch for myself. I get it. It’s not easy spending that $10, let alone that $1000 on photos. Of myself. All made up.

So because I get it, I want to explain what goes into that cost. I want to make you the educated consumer. You need to know why I cost what I do. Not just me, but why good photographers cost what they do. You need to know what goes into the money you spend on me. You need to know that I am worth it because I prove that you are worth it.

You need to know why I live and breathe behind this saying: “You are worth every second I spend on you, and so am I.”

I AM NOT WALMART

Why do Walmart/Sears photo booths cost a fraction of what I do? The simple answer is this: they are not a custom photography business. If I owned a giant department store that sold you everything from food to curtains to furniture to clothes, yes, I would think about charging $50 for a photo shoot to you as a little side business, too. But the fact of the matter is: places like Walmart and Sears don’t make their money off your photos. They make their money off everything else that you go there for instead. They can guarantee that you will be spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars every time you come by, and that’s before you book a 5-minute photo shoot with them.

Because I am not Walmart, I am Life After Dark, every second of my business is spent on my photography clients. I don’t sell anything else but photos. So everything I make has to come from photography clients.

I AM NOT MCDONALDS

When you look at investing a special dinner and a lovely night out with your favorite girls, for a special occasion, or for your wedding night, or for your anniversary with your One True Love, do you look to go to the nearest McDonalds, or do you look to go somewhere else more special? These photos aren’t meant to be equivalent to McDonalds. In fact, at my pricing, many of my wise and more seasoned photographer friends have argued and say I’m not The Boathouse yet even though my services clearly indicate so. I am more likely along the lines of Earls or the Cactus Club. But let it be known and hollered over all the rooftops: I am not the McDonalds of photographers. I don’t take fast food clients. I spend hours upon hours on each client. My photos aren’t premade: they are instead customized to your specific body type, your specific personality, your specific gorgeousness. I don’t have a turnaround time of a week, because it takes me longer than just emptying my camera and loading it up onto a CD for you.

I’m not a McDonalds photographer, so why would you expect to pay me as one? Would you go to Earls or the Boathouse and expect to pay $1.50 for a meal there?

TIME SPENT PER CLIENT

Without even going into the cost of equipment (cameras, computers, hardware, props, monthly mortgage and studio bills, workshops, snacks and wine, etc.), for every client, I spend on average of 18-22 hours from start to finish.

1 hours email/phone consultation per client (for every client who inquires but don’t book, it is a free consultation and out of pocket experience for me)

2 hours prepping time per session before client arrival

3 hours per in-person photo shoot (1 hr hair and makeup, 1 hr shoot time, 1 hr orientation/setup/take down)

8 hours post-processing and editing

2 hours per ordering/viewing session

2-3hours per ordering of products, including editing finishes and extra requests

1-2 hour receiving of products, double checking products, packaging products

For every hour a client sees me, what she doesn’t know is that there is approximately 8 extra hours behind the scenes when she isn’t there. This means that on average per client, I make $25 per hour. This does not include unrelated client-specific time. Let’s talk about that, shall we?

Hourly wage after this: $25 per hour

TIME SPENT ON NON-CLIENT-SPECIFIC BUSINESS

Out of that $25 per hour per client, I also do other things that further my education and my photography skill. It is not only a talent. It is also a skill. Like all skills, it requires continuing education and upkeep. This is what happens behind the scenes on a weekly basis, when I’m NOT editing or doing client-related tasks (such as those listed above):

5 hours per week researching marketing including google ads, facebook stats, website stats, magazine ads, website building, etc.

2 hours per week attending training and workshops on marketing, business relations, accounting, and photography poses/ideas/etc.

3 hours per week maintaining websites and pages: designing new ads, thinking of new ideas, coding designs/websites, etc.

2 hours per week connecting with worldwide photographers for tips, updates, photo critiques, etc.

After all this is accounted for, I am now making about $20 per hour.

Updated hourly wage: $20 per hour

MONEY SPENT PER MONTH ON PRODUCTS, SAMPLES, PROPS, CAMERA EQUIPMENT, ELECTRONIC UPDATES, BILLS

$1000 spent per month on product purchasing (about 75% go to clients, the rest are samples from my research for new and better products). $500 go to new camera equipment, such as new studio lights, sheets, headboards, backdrops, curtains, pillows, chairs and sofas, printing supplies, ink, insurance, new lens (each new lens cost at least $300-$500), camera cases, camera bags, camera slings, tripods, monopods, upgraded backdrop stands, fur rugs, fur blankets, photoshop upgrades, plug ins for photoshop, etc.

$250 twice a year is spent on brand new external hard drives. At least one new computer system (approximately $1000 per) is bought every year to keep up with speed, dependability, and memory in order to have the most updated equipment to work FAST FAST FAST and as efficiently as possible for the business.

Let’s not forget to mention wedding and event shows. I do 3-4 fairs and shows every year, where I am an active vendor. For each fair, I spend, out of pocket, $2500 for the table, spending the entire 9-10 hour day there. This includes costs of pamphlets, ads, giant signs and posters, free gifts, new backdrops, updating props and products.

After that is said and done, when I minus the costs of these upgrades on a regular basis, I’m now making approximately $15 an hour.

Updated hourly wage: $15 per hour

THE ARTIST’S LIFE

Like many of you, my time is valuable. I don’t take lightly the time I have left on this earth. Each and every day is planned out, sometimes to the minute. If this business were to be my full time job, I would also need to take into account healthcare costs (because no one else will be paying for my extended medical healthcare if I run my own full time business), as well as sick and vacation time (which I do not get paid for when I take these).

In July, I took two weeks off from photo shoots. We took 50% loss of income that month in the photography business, because I wanted to relax and not have to work every single evening of the week. At my regular paying job, when I take two weeks off, I get vacation time at 100% of my income rate. That’s nice. But the photography business does not have such luxury for me. I rarely take any time off because when I do, it means some of our bills don’t get paid. It means we have to go a week or two without the really good organic foods we are used to. It means we make some sacrifices. Like many of you, I work hard for my money.

I am not a full-time photographer. I have a full-time job that I adore and consider my life’s work. I will never quit my full time job. However, photography is my passion, and I appreciate each and every ounce of it. It keeps me sane. It keeps me appreciative of the little details in life. But because I work full time, and have a part-time business I maintain, my time is considered to me to be that much more valuable. Unlike others who have one job, I have two. Three if you count being a mother as well. Four if you count being a wife also. I keep a very tight schedule of when I work, and when I play. My daughter’s life comes first. Every moment that I am not working, I am with her. I feel immense guilt when I go on a photo shoot, because I know that on the one hand, the income I make helps not just our bills, but funds her college education. At the same time, I am removing myself from her life for those hours of the day, for those photo shoots, and putting my full and complete attention on you, my client.

How many days have been counted where my family does fun things without me, because I have photo shoots to do? How many hours have I missed her bedtime because instead I am with a client, helping them order their photos, or taking photos of them, or consulting with them? How many times have I said to Lily, “In a minute, baby.. I just have to respond to this email..”?

My time is worth just as much as yours. That is what you are paying for.

For every photo shoot you book with me, you make preparations. You book a babysitter, if needed. You tell your husband little white lies about where you’re going to be so it doesn’t ruin the surprise. You go out and scope for lingerie that would make you feel GOOD. You get a new haircut. You exercise to be your MOST fit for the photo shoot. You eat well weeks before the shoot. You confide in your girlfriends and spend hours talking about the shoot coming up. You spend hours scouring the internet and magazines on “favorite poses” and what you want me to deliver to you. You get your nails done.

Never assume that before your shoot, I’m not doing something similar. The scheduling form you fill out when you book a session with me is for a reason. It gives me a glimpse of what you are like, what type of person you are. It gives me a piece of you so I can be prepared to dazzle you, make you feel wonderful, beautiful. I prepare myself to give a bit of myself to you. I become your best friend that day — and genuinely so. I want to know every bit of you that you are willing to share. I want to know your fears, why you’re here, what you want, what you’re afraid of, what makes you feel safe, how you would give me control. I have to be the MOST me that I can be, so that you trust me, let me mould you into art. Two weeks before every photo shoot with a new client, I am prepping myself. I have dreams of poses, I scour the internet for new poses and ideas, I talk to my photography friends and mentors, and sometimes I even have nightmares of “how this can all go wrong.”

The night before each photo shoot, I don’t get much sleep. I wake up and “PHOTOSHOOT” is on my brain. I prepare the studio hours before you arrive. I vaccuum, I clean, I wash, I dry, I test lighting, I make sure pillows are just so, I prep your hair and makeup artist and meet with them, talk with them about what look I want for you, I make sure my camera is updated, cleaned off, cards are emptied, batteries are charged.

And when you and I meet on your big day, it is like the perfect moment. Where magic happens. Where art is created. I work hard those three hours with you to not only make you LOOK good, but make you FEEL good. Because if you look good but don’t feel good, the photos are more likely to turn out all wrong. I give a piece of myself to every client who comes in. A piece of myself is bared, as if saying, “I am an artist. Please approve of me.” My heart breaks when you don’t see yourself the way I see you. My heart delights and revels in sheer energy and light when you do.

So tell me, if you were me, and I were you, how much would you charge me for an experience like this? Would you be worth more than $15 an hour? Wouldn’t you tell me that this experience, in fact, is… priceless?

10 Comments Add Yours

  1. chantal

    GREAT information many people just don’t realize.

    Reply
  2. Huong Forrest

    Wow, Helen! What a way to break this down! If I were anywhere close, I’d love to have a session with you!

    Reply
  3. Danielle Dutta

    LOVE this post!!!!

    Reply
  4. danielle

    Couldn’t have said it better myself!! So many people these days think “Oh, all she does is buy a nice camera, point and shoot, and then play on the computer for a couple hours!!”

    I myself used to be one of those people who thought that!! But Helen has truly opened my eyes to everything involved in the process of before and after the photo is taken, and of course everything else we never consider when one owns their own business!

    Even photographers who jump into the business thinking “Oh, I’ll only charge said amount for my photos, and I’ll even give them the whole disc, edited or not!!” soon change their tunes!

    Remember Helen, for every one hater, there is ten fans! <3

    Reply
  5. Christine

    VERY well written, and such a great read – your breakdown is superb and makes so much sense. Thank you so much for taking the time to put this together.

    Reply
  6. patty

    I may link to this if you do not mind!! Great post

    Reply
  7. Karen Cooley

    Oh Helen, this was absolutely perfect. Wonderful post to educate people on why we cost what we do! I would also love to use this, if it’s ok with you. :)

    Reply
  8. Cherilyn Haines

    As a photographer, this was even eye opening to me. I don’t realize how much time I actually spend on each client. Hmmmm…..something I need to sit down and really think about now. :)

    Reply
  9. Kate

    Great post! Well written.

    Reply
  10. Macey

    Great post! And that image at the end… STUNNING

    Reply

Leave a comment