The Cost of a Part-Time Photography Business; Value of Photography

December 30, 2018

This post is for professional or aspiring professional photographers and those who purchase photography (i.e. clients).

A professional photographer is anyone who has a camera and chargers for their work, right?

Vitality Images Photography by Chelsea Jones 2018 All Rights Reserved

You could use that definition; however, running a professional photography business requires so much more in knowledge, skill, experience, physical equipment and supplies, and even physical ability. If your professional photographer does not know and have the means or equipment to manage and back up a workflow, have backup equipment of everything from lenses to camera bodies, to remotes/triggers, to memory cards, to computers, to hard drives to power sources, etc. you risk just plain not having wedding photos.

I have had a really fortunate year. Very few equipment breakdowns and need for repairs and replacement. So even on a conservative year, what are the costs of being a photographer? Keep in mind, I am only a PART TIME photographer so my financial success or short comings doesn't mean I can't eat or pay my mortgage. For those who are full time and depend on their photography, this is a serious reality. Their expenses are at least twice as much and the stakes are higher.

So as I complete my year end taxes, I am going to give you a glimpse:

2018 Part Time Photography Business Overhead: 

  • Product Creation: $2709.89
  • Make up artists: 725.00
  • Props and Styling: $948.93
  • Continuing Education: $2421.73
  • Rental of Space: $4575.5
  • Repairs and Maintenance: $430.46
  • Liability and Equipment Insurance: $562.25
  • Memberships: $784.00
  • Software: $603.34
  • Hardware: $2,186.05
  • Advertising: $526.30
  • Photography Equipment: $3011.4
  • Stationary and Printing: $957.7
  • Outsourcing: $791.00
  • Total: $21,633.55

That's right folks, before I even pay myself for my time, my PART TIME overhead for the year is north of 21K and this was a conservative year where I did not have to replace camera bodies or lenses.

Let that sink in.

What I did NOT include in this calculation - the typical small business stuff:

  • Car
  • Mileage 
  • Travel Expenses for photography related trips
  • Bills and Utilities
  • Interest and fees (i.e. Zen folio, PayPal, Square reader, etc.)
  • Shipping and Postage
  • Meals and Entertainment
  • Vacation time used from other employment
  • Misc. expenses

I spend very little on advertising because I rely mostly on word of mouth and am currently not trying to add to my client base very much. I am also extremely lucky I have a husband who will assist me and is happy being paid in groceries. Even luckier, I have had enough aspiring professional photographers want to work with me in exchange for mentorship that I rarely have to pay for second shooters and assistants. 

Let's say a wedding from start to finish takes 50 hours (in reality with consults, developing contracts, editing, engagement shoot, the 16 hour wedding day, product creation, culling images, etc. it may take way more). 

If I pay myself minimum wage:

50 hours x 15.00 = 750.00

Except I am not a minimum wage level professional photographer. I have awards, designations, accreditations, back up equipment of everything, insurance to keep my clients safe, and tens of thousands of dollars in continuing education. Most professionals in the PPOC are the same way. So let's value them like we would other professionals and bump up the wage to 45.00 which is more reasonable for a PART TIMER like me:

50 hours x 45.00 = 2250.00

If you are a FULL TIMER you need to charge more.

Now let's add the overhead and wear/tear. Let's have a battery explode in your speed light which costs $800.00 (I wreck at least one piece of equipment a wedding - par for the course). Also, take into account that for me, I have to use vacation days from my other work often to come to your wedding. Let's add the cost of a professional second shooter, or the travel to remote locations. 

Doing this calculation has made me realize - wow. I need to raise my prices. I'm pricing way too low myself. #guilty 

Why am I sharing this? Three reasons:

1. I want clients to understand what it takes to be a professional photographer and why you are paying the prices you are - it isn't so we can get rich because that ain't happening!

2. Photographers - do you math. Do not undercharge. Not only does it undervalue you, it undervalues the industry. It will cause you to hemorrhage money and your business is NOT going to be sustainable. 

3. Photography is a job of passion. We love it. That is why we still do it with all of the above plus the added physical and mental stress of the work on our bodies and minds. What makes it worse is when we are undervalued and unappreciated.

We are not just, "some person with a camera." We worked our butts off to get here, and as professionals, have every step of our business backed up so equipment failure won't affect your photography and your big day.

The Value of Photography - The Most Important Part

I can write a whole other blog post (and I will) on the value of printed products which I believe more strongly about as the years go by and technology changes at a record pace.

After your wedding, you won't remember the taste of the food, the centrepieces, the songs the DJ played (don't get me wrong though - good music is really important for a good party). You will remember those special moments between you and your spouse, your family, and the emotion. Photography helps you do this.

ABT WeddingABT WeddingVitality Images Photography by Chelsea Jones 2018 All Rights Reserved ABT WeddingABT WeddingVitality Images Photography by Chelsea Jones 2018 All Rights Reserved

We will spend thousands on decor, food, music, etc. however, as of late, people do not seem to see the value in the photography. This is literally what you are left with after the day and will have for the rest of your life. This is what captures the emotion. Why is this not worth it? Why is this where we try to cut corners and get deals? 

I partially blame us as photographers for not seeing our value and being push overs. Maybe we need to do a better job of educating the public which is what I am trying to do here.

Side note: A professional photographer should never work for "exposure." if they are, then that means they need it - this should be a red flag as a client right off the bat. Look for a photographer who doesn't need or want it. Also, exposure doesn't buy groceries. 

Please see the value and importance. You wouldn't bargain with other vendors like you do with your photographer. Yet, the photographic product is what you will have 50 years from now (unless you got the digital files... then it is much much less time but that is for the next blog post). It is what your family will have 100 years from now. Please stop undervaluing what we put our heart, soul, sweat, tears, time, and money into; the images will be the only thing that shows the emotion, personality, authenticity, and love of your family, friends, and partner for decades to come. That HAS to be worth something.

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