How photographers charge for their services and prints

“How in the world can you charge $40+ for an 8×10 if it costs me less than $2 to print at “x” store?” Photographers hear this statement more often than you may think.

The digital revolution has brought about amazing flexibility and ability to control various factors during the image taking and making process. The ability to shot and delete and only keep the ‘best’ pictures is really nice. Plus, the auto settings on a lot of these digital cameras do a ‘pretty good’, not GREAT, job of setting the proper exposure. In addition, we all know that you can go to the local Walgreen’s and pay a $1.99 for a print – as a client you may wonder why you may pay upwards of $40, $70, $90, or more, for a custom photography print.

The truth is, much of the cost of a photograph comes down to the EXPERTISE (see below) of the photographer, their time, equipment costs, artistic vision, the HIGH quality of a professional lab (prints the photographs) and the usual costs of running a legitimate business.

The cost of TIME:

Here is an example of a time it takes for a typical session:
• Booking time: 30-60 minutes (client contact time + paperwork)
• Pre-session prep time (30-60 minutes, includes equipment checks + vehicle checks)
• 30 minutes to 2 hours travel time to session (L.A. traffic)
• 15-30 minutes prep time at location
• 90 minutes -2 hours with client photographing subject
• 30-120 minutes travel time from session
• 30-45 minutes uploading time from digital cards from camera to computer
• 30-45 minutes time spent backing up the original images
• 3 -15 hours editing time to present you with a diverse gallery of edited images
• 1 hour prep time getting ready for ordering
• 2-3 hours time with client for ordering images
• 1 hour sorting through and checking order
• 30-60 minutes prep time for delivery
• 30-60 minutes getting order shipped

The time range for a session can range from just under 13 hours to 20, 30 hours. When the photographer charges $150-$300 for the photo shoot (aka SESSION FEE) you are not just paying for the 90 minutes of session time, you are paying the photographer for TOTAL amount of hours complete time for YOUR session.

The COSTS of Maintaining a Custom Photography Business:

Regarding equipment costs, a good quality professional camera with a selection of high quality lenses, digital storage mediums and computer set up can run from $10,000-$30,000 costs dependent on the photographer. Even though you can purchase a really good quality DSLR for about $2100 there are still other costs related to photography. A good lens for portrait photography can run from $900 to $2500. A dependable computer system with software loaded for business and creative usage can run $2500 to $8000 dependent on the photographer.

Then lab costs for specialty products are significant. A good photographer knows their professional lab is an integral part of their success. These labs often cost more and offer a range of products that allows the photographer to continually offer new, innovative products and high quality products for the discerning client.

Discussion on other costs of running a photography business could take awhile so we’ll skip many of the intricate details. An overview: the costs of running the business, taxes, studio rental/mortgage if the photographer has ownership of a dedicated studio, vehicle costs, and the costs of advertising/marketing.


Often times clients will mention to their photographer that X studio in the mall/department store only charges $19.99 for an 8×10 “sheet” or they may mention other things related to discount photography chains. The fact is those discount chains make their money on volume, not on customized 1:1 service.

In February 2007 a company who has leased photography retail space in a rather well known discount retailer closed down 500 of their portrait studios across the nation. The reason it happened is simple, you cannot make money on 99¢ “professional” prints if you do not sell enough of them. It’s interesting to note – those same studios that offer the “loss leader” packages often charge much, much more for their a la carte pricing vs. many custom photographers (as high as $40-50 for an 8×10).

The whole reason the big department stores began offering portrait services in the first place was to get you, the savvy consumer, in through their door so that you could spend more money with them in other departments. Your “PORTRAITS” are considered the “loss leader”. Your portraits that are meant to symbolize a once-in-a-lifetime stage in your family or child’s life are part of what a store considers a way to get you in their door to spend more money on goods that you might not really want or need.

Finally, keep in mind that when you go to a chain studio, as a consumer, you don’t have the benefit of 1:1 attention from a professional photographer who is able to capture those special, candid moments in a park, at your home, where you, your family, your child are allowed to explore, play and be. Nor do you get the experience that many custom photographers is known for, as well – the lovely captures of natural expressions. Instead, you simply get bare bones, “SAY CHEESE” experience.


There is an old story about a ship that cost the company millions of dollars to build. One day, something went wrong in the engine room and the ship was sent to dry-dock. They called various “experts” who spent weeks trying to fix the issue to no avail and at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars. Finally an older gentleman was called in who brought in his small tool bag and a hammer. He set about pinging on various parts of the vast engine with his hammer, finally settling on one area. He spent a few minutes pinging in that area took out a few tools and fixed whatever what was wrong. After a few moments the man straightened up, looked at the captain and instructed him to “start her up.” The captain disbelievingly went to get the engines started while the man sat in the engine room listening as the engine roared to life. The man tipped his hat to the staff, who sat dumbfounded because they had seen all the experts come on board and been able to fix the problem. This man did it in a few minutes, with a few pings of his hammer!

A few days passed and the man sent the shipping company a bill for $10,000. The accounting department contacted him immediately. Rumor had it that it took this man only “a few minutes” to fix the ship. When questioned about why his bill was $10,000 – if he accidentally added an extra zero on the bill, the man confidently responded: “In fact the time was worth the $1,000. The other $9,000 was for the years of experience and the ability to discern the issue as quickly as possible for the company.”

So it is with professional, experienced photographers. A photographer’s expertise comes at a cost. The years invested in education, photographing and the artistic ability to capture the ‘right’ moment is a real factor that comes into play when considering price.

A great number of photographers go a very long time from the time that they purchase their first good camera to making money. Many photographers, when first starting out, rush in thinking that the business will be profitable in no time. These photographers often undervalue what they. They have the realization that they do not have experience or expertise, that it’s much more than pushing the shutter button. Many times these casual “professionals” neglect to factor in the cost of business, the cost of equipment, software, back ups, etc.

When you hire a photographer of sound reputation, you are hiring an expert, one that knows that they must always reinvest in their business to create the reputation of being top notch.

I hope this lengthy article helps shed some light on WHY a professional photographer is a better choice for your family’s memories. The photographs that are produced as a result of the professionalism and dedication that the photographer has to their craft will be cherished for a lifetime and beyond. Great thought and consideration should be placed into hiring who is right for your family’s most precious investment.


This article was inspired, copied from Professional Child Photographer via Caught On Film Photography.