Why professional photographers cost more than chain stores

Why individual, custom-boutique photographers cost more:


If your primary experience with getting photos taken is from chain stores at the mall, pretty much even the cheapest individual photographer’s prices are going to seem too high, as if the numbers are randomly picked and inflated.  If Sears or JCPenny offers photos for $39, why would anyone ever pay over $100? Here’s some of the why:  department stores hire people who aren’t photographers (no photographer is going to take $9 an hour) and teaches them to be camera operators, not photographers. They aren’t skilled in lighting – they leave the same setup for everyone and just go with that, rain or shine. Department stores are able to have loss-leaders, where something is priced intentionally to lose money in order to get people in the store to sell them something else for a hefty profit.

So if somebody comes in and uses the free 8×10-with-no-purchase deal, and doesn’t buy anything else, that company has lost money immediately.  But they offset it with the two skillets you bought on the way back out of the store, that are already marked up for a tidy profit anyhow.  They don’t care – they aren’ in the photography business, but they’ll offer it anyway to get you into their stores to sell you televisions and washing machines.

Lots of those places take fairly okay pictures, especially if your eye can’t yet see the difference between a high school yearbook photo and a professionally done senior portrait. The problem is, that the more pictures you take, the smarter you get, and you start to notice the difference.  And now you’re stuck forever, looking at pictures of inferior quality that you can’t go back and change, now that you know better.

Snapshot pictures document the facts, like your drivers’ license. It’s accurate.  This is what I looked like on X date at X age.  Would you frame your driver’s license photo?  Why not? It is accurate, after all.  But it’s not artistic, nor high quality. And most chain department stores offer snapshots masquerading as portraits.

The Experience:

Usually, a 15 minute slot, back to back with 20 other client that day in a mall, isn’t a rewarding experience. If your kid is crying, guess what, too bad – you get what you get. There’s somebody waiting outside, with their own crying kid in the waiting room and their time isn’t getting trounced because your child’s having an off day.

With a custom portrait photographer, you get the relaxation of having the photographer’s complete attention, of not usually being booked directly between 2 other clients.  If something goes wrong and your kid is crotchety, you might be able to distract them for 5 or 6 minutes until they calm down.  Many shoots are outside, where people are fairly relaxed, without loud popping lights, white walls and that same old mottled-gray backdrop.  No other people waiting and breathing down your necks.  No germ-filled room full of toys that 20+ kids have fondled that day and Lord knows how many have touched and/or sneezed on all week, if they wash them.

And they seem so much cheaper!  Some times they are.  If you are the type of person who buys the minimum package they offer – $19.95 for 1 8×10, and you walk out having spent $19.95? Well, that’s pretty cheap.  But most people don’t do that.  They get lured in for some small price, and $100-$200 later, they walk out. Custom photographers know, by virtue of the fact that you’ve outgrown the chains, that you want better pictures and more of them, so it’s built into the price as a given. And you’re not getting retouched, customized photographs.  You’re getting whatever comes out of camera (SOOC) and that’s it.  A real photographer spends as much if not more time in development than they did in taking the actual photos. The reason a photographer’s photos look better than most people who own a DSLR’s photos because there is a whole part of the process being left out by non-professionals

Lastly and most importantly, there is this: you are buying your past and your future.  You are buying something that, in the future, is literally going to be priceless.  That’s why a lot of photographer’s pages say “investment” versus “prices”, because it is an investment.  Whatever you initially pay for your photos, the value of the photos to you will only appreciate.  You can never go back to that moment in time, and those photos are the closest thing you’ll ever have to a time machine.

Sometimes I look at my youngest son’s baby pictures and I can actually smell his hair in memory.  That’s how precious those memories are.  And seeing the details clearly brings it all back. The only thing worse than spending more money that you initially think something’s worth, without any research, is regretting later than you didn’t do it.  I have never had someone say to me “I wish I had skipped the newborn photos and just gotten the 3 month ones instead.”  But I have heard, plenty of times, “man, I wish I’d taken more photos with you. I was being cheap, but I really regret it.”

You don’t have to regret if you make a quality choice the first time around.