But can we just have the CD? The reality of a career in Portrait Photography in 2013!

How often does this question come up in photographic forums? To many professional portrait photographers you would be better off waving a red rag in front of a bull but in reality, the general public think that this is normal practice and I thought I'd write a blogpost on why it is not. I'm referring to a printable high res CD here....its normal practise to give out watermarked web files and I'm not referring to them.

Last week I shot in NZ and for the first time I considered that maybe its time to set up a shoot and burn package....mainly for convenience.... but I soon realised that I'd rather pull out my own teeth than offer something I have always strongly disagreed with....this is a long overdue blogpost that will hopefully go someway to explaining why that is. It is possible that I'm just becoming an old fogey photographer because if my kids had been brought up by someone else they would probably ask the same question.

In the commercial world photographers get paid for their time and then licence their images for a certain timeframe and get paid for that....the file gets basically edited (usually a specifically small number) and off it goes. Its going to be relevant for the short time its used (probably get re-edited by a graphic artist) and the payment depends on its usage but usually a lot more than a single print price. It could be out of fashion by the end of the month.

With Portrait photography the structure is completely different. The session fee (mine is $295 with a $150 print credit) is quickly used up during the shoot... an hour to and from a location and an hour or two shooting. If I'm lucky my time is covered but nothing else is taken into consideration such as pre-consult, equipment, or any other cost that is incurred running my business. Editing a large session takes two to three times as long as the session itself and then an ordering session is another couple of hours. At this stage we have done at least a full day of highly skilled work for $150. If we were working for $100 per hour commercially it would have cost $800 by now. If the shoot was for some reason complimentary then we are already $800 down. If for any reason a second viewing is necessary....we may as well be paying the client to let us take photos!

Now we are taking the risk that someone may only want the one print that is included in the sitting fee and they are totally within their rights to do just that, but if we've done our job properly then they should want a fair few of them....these are precious family shots which will be looked at for many years and will become family heirlooms....and keep in mind the shoot already owes us $800 and any orders will incur more time spent on them....so what do we do now? 

Sell them a $500 disk of basically edited images, wipe our hands of it, and let them run around trying to make them look good?... or worse still, get put away in a draw because its all too hard and they are too busy?....I don't think so! 

...then leave the client to print them and tell everyone that we took them and risk our branding being diluted without ever seeing them or having any control over the quality?

er ... no!

The simple fact is.... this is a major disservice to our client who is not going to be able to get their images professionally mounted on the wall as well as we can, or get them finished in some of the beautiful products that only we have access to.

Each and every file of mine that is going on a wall, or in a book, or into a box it is gone over with a fine tooth comb during my second edit. It is correctly resized and up to an hour is spent on each image making sure that it will be flattering to the people in it. Its taken me 10 years of digital education to be able to edit to a standard that I'm happy with and my skills are being updated constantly. This is a hugely important service which should always be offered to a client.

Its worth mentioning that the physical costs of running a studio are around $1000 a week minimum and that for some business models its important that people can find you and have access to you after your session. 

Most of the public are aware of how much the actual camera/studio equipment costs are to set up shop but probably are unaware of the endless monthly/yearly subscriptions we pay for software on an ongoing basis. I think I have around 10 different web services on yearly subscriptions none of which I could do without.

Like lots of other service industries in the last 20 years we now have to do all the work ourselves and usually only one day a week is spent shooting while more than half of the week is spent on marketing, advertising and making sure that the work keeps rolling in...and keeping the business afloat. 

So when I hear photographers say that they've had clients who look at the cost of the $25 paper print and assume that anything more than that is a rip off....it makes my blood boil. I have personally never had a client do that to me but I know plenty of people who have and its because the general public really have no idea how the industry works and how the different genres of working photographers differ. 

I charge $1500 for books, albums and portfolio boxes and they are about to go up. They equate to a weeks work and a $500 product cost  ...(these photography services can only be accessed by prof photographers) which after costs, tax and rent etc I probably receive $400. So although it sounds expensive in reality its not and if the customer did it themselves they'd be looking at triple the time and a higher cost.

Sadly the reason that so many professional photographers are going out of business is the high cost of goods and not charging enough to pay themselves at the end...This has been happening to some of the most skilled artists in the business. One top end Australian photographer in particular has gone back to stacking shelves at the supermarket because she makes more money. Its a sad loss!

So if you are starting out in the business or working the weekends and charging low fees (because the pro's charge so much!) for a bit of pocket money... or ....dare I say it ...shooting and burning for an inadequate price, essentially you are not only paying people to let you take their photos but taking the income away from people who rely on photography as a job to feed their families. We love our industry and really struggle to come to terms with the level of destruction that we see on a daily basis by this. My advice to people who want photography as their career is to join a professional body and learn the craft. Get qualified first and set up your business once you have the skills required....practise on your friends not your clients!

Personally for me the artistic drive to photograph is the thing that has kept me going through many hard times...and a real love for what I do....I feel privileged to be able to meet and be welcomed into peoples homes and personal lives.....I have become good friends with clients who I otherwise wouldn't have known and I have the satisfaction of knowing that the images are a gift that will keep on giving, long before they realise it.....but in reality if I was relying on it to feed my family and pay the morgage I'd probably be doing something else too!

Its up to us to educate our clients in this extremely confusing digital era and its our responsibility that they get the best products they can because that is why they are coming to us in the first place....we need to be proud of our skills and price ourselves responsibly and offer our clients products that they can't buy otherwise....so our profession doesn't just sink to the bottom of the ocean with our beloved film cameras and peoples memories don't die with their iphones and hard drives.

...and the other reason is

it isn't that pretty on the wall!