Friday, 11 October 2013

Why Do Photographers Charge So Much?

One thing that seems to surprise those that require photographic services is the cost. “Why should we pay several hundred pounds”, they cry, “for someone to waltz into our office, whip out a Lumix, snap some head-shots and then email them to us?”

The simple answer is this; there is a lot, lot more involved in professional photography than initially meets the eye. Below is a quick, non-exhaustive, breakdown of why you pay what you do:


One may wonder why their family portrait plus prints cost a three-figure sum (most likely of less than £500, though). Consider the fact that the lens alone on the camera that photographed you probably cost a four figure sum. That camera body to which the lens was attached cost a further four figure sum. And what about the tripod? The memory cards? The studio lights? The backdrop? The studio itself? The computer and software on which your photos were edited? The fact that most of the above will need replacing or upgrading at some point?

Photographer Pete Jenkins prepared a spreadsheet so that photographers could work out their day rates. His calculations for equipment alone came to a yearly cost of £21,115.48. This comes to a daily cost of between £85 and £145, depending on how much work a photographer can get.


Time is priceless. However, most people are paid by the hour, and photographers need to be paid for their time as well as to cover the costs of their equipment. Whilst a photo shoot can take very little time (say, an hour), much time is spent either side of the shoot. There is the preparation – I know I can easily spend half an hour sorting out my equipment before a shoot; checking that you have everything you need, charging batteries, working out travel times etc.

Then there is the time it takes to travel to and from a shoot, the time it takes to set up and take down equipment before and afterwards. Then there is post production – a process often much longer than the shoot itself. And then there is the delivery of the photographs.

Don't forget, too, that photographers are running a business – loads of time needs to be spent on emails, invoicing, accounting and bookkeeping (unless you outsource this – which costs more money) and more. This will take at least one to two days a week. So their wages need to cover this time too.


Photography is a labour of love. Many hours will have been spent by a photographer learning his trade and improving his or her skills. And as such they do not expect payment for this. Professional training, however, such as a college course, or a university degree, costs lots and lots of money. My degree came to around £25,000. I'll need to start paying that back at some point, and I can't pay for it out of my pocket money!

The other aspect to consider is the photographer's eye. You could give two or three photographers exactly the same commission, but the results would probably be very different. Aside from all the other things, you are paying a photographer for their vision, their critically-trained eye that is honed to see an image before it is taken and to construct an aesthetically pleasing photograph in a way that simply cannot be done by someone who hasn't been trained to do so – if you believe that such a thing can even be learned in the first place.

The Other Bits

Just like everyone else, photographers have (kind of) normal lives to think about. As well as all of the above, their fees need to be able to cover everyday costs such as a mortgage/rent, car bills, phone bills, insurance, food and drink, clothes, holidays etc. And all of these things are big costs over the course of a year.


Of course, those just starting out as photographers don't all have the same jaw-dropping overheads as those who've been in the field for 20 years, so they can afford to charge less. Which brings us nicely on to the matter of experience. The other reasons why those just starting out charge less is that they simply cannot charge the same as those who have been practicing for years and years, have tons of experience and an awe-inspiring portfolio to boot. A photographer is like a brand – a good one who has been around for years will have a good reputation, and so the client will be happy to pay extra to use someone who they know will produce incredible results.

As I said, this list is not exhaustive. But as you can hopefully see photography is a very expensive profession, and photographers need to be paid enough to cover their costs if they are to continue practicing. Very few photographers get rich from what they do – but that is part of the sacrifice of doing something they love for a living.

That £150 you paid for a portrait session doesn't seem too bad now, does it?


  1. Very interesting read.
    As we used to say in the Army ,"good point , well made".

  2. Very nice article! I work as a guest photographer at an aquarium and when we go to sell the photos we take, about 1 in 4 people will scoff at us and ask "Why charge $20 for a photo? That's expensive!" and even though we don't generally directly answer your question, all the points you made cover that answer thoroughly. Thank you for the article!

    1. I feel your pain Daniel! You're welcome, thanks for reading and for your kind comment!