Friday, April 20, 2012

The Price of Quality: Trying to Earn a Living

On Assignment
Midtown Manhattan, NYC
Image by Zack DeZon

A photography business fine art or commercial is not for the feint of heart. It requires an inordinate amount of thick skin. The typical consumer has no idea of why someone trying to earn a living as photographer has to charge as much as he/she does.

In Front of the Camera
Image by Zack DeZon
For a moment, let's exclude the mastery of skills and the investment of time. Let's just talk business. Like other small business owners, we photographers pay self-employment tax. For 2011, that's a nifty 13.3%. In addition, we contribute to the state and local economy another 8.25% (local tax rate in Texas), which we collect from you. We do not enjoy the privilege of buying affordable insurance and depending on our age and family size, we pay another $450-$1,000 per month for medical insurance premiums with very high deductibles ranging from $2,500 to $5,000. On top of this, we worry about wedding guests stealing our equipment, so we pay additional insurance on our valuables and computer equipment.

Some photographers like myself do all of their own photo processing so that we can insure that we provide our customers with the artistic quality required for the images we render. We make investments of @ $4,000 on computer hardware that  we must replace every three years. We purchase many hard drives for the storage of large files and to insure against catastrophic failure. For our fine art work, we invest in sophisticated printers varying in price from $2,000 to $5,000. Oh and we have to buy software to insure that we print optimally on all kinds of paper of various color profiles. That's not cheap either and it costs us @ $1,000 and an additional $300 for each upgrade when the underlying operating system software changes.

Of course, I've left out the software and filters we use to create various moods and appealing tones. A basic investment in Photoshop CS5 costs $699 and initial upgrades run $199. Other software investments can include: a suite of NIK filters, $499; Lightroom, $149; various filters and actions at $35/piece.

There's something, I've left out, yes that's right, I don't know why I didn't think of it before, the camera equipment. Let's see camera body, $3,600. Oh I forgot we need a lenses too... Umm let's see my 85mm which was stolen, $2,200, 24-105mm $1,200, 70-200mm 2.8 $1,500, 100-400 mm (used) $1,200, extender $499, wide angle lens just in case, 12-24mm $949. Oh yes, there's more, got to have a tripod at times and a ball head and a bracket for your camera to mount on, let's see that another @$1,200.

Meeting Customer Expectations
Image by Zack DeZon
Oh you want to shoot weddings and do portraits??? Now you need off camera flashes at $600 each, probably 3 and or you need a strobe lighting system, used for @ $1,300.

Oh so you want to shoot some interesting images? You need to travel cause there ain't much to see in Texas. You better factor that into to your print prices too!!!

My point is simply this, we are trying to earn a living doing what we love and you enjoy by creating meaningful images and memories that inspire and move you. It costs us money and most good photographers are not trying to gouge you. We simply are trying to earn a living doing what we love. Please try to understand. You don't have to buy it but please don't flinch when we tell you the price. Just acknowledge that we are human and extend us the common courtesy of returning phone calls and emails. It's our time too. Most of us can't begin to tell you the amount of time we've invested to master our skills and the courses we've taken to improve our techniques. My high end jeweler friend does not discount his price. Why??? This is what he told me recently, "I sell luxury. If I discount it, I am acknowledging that it has less value. I sell value."

Given the economy, I try to provide reasonable prices for my clients by offering a range of products at different price points.  I keep my costs down and work from home so that I can compete with those that are hobbyists and do not pay taxes. I remain sensitive to my brethren who earn a living from this fine profession. Please don't hold my remarks or those of other photographers against us. We simply are trying to earn a living. Yes, I could go work for a mall photographer, earn a living, but I refuse to be simply point, shoot, and print. Why would I sell inferior quality to people that trust me? Rather than do that I could just as well flip hamburgers at McDonalds. By the way, I get it, I am an artist, but I choose not to be a starving artist. Just sayin'.

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