What You’re Actually Paying For
I’ve read a lot written about this topic but since I consider myself a bit of a writer, coupled with strong opinions, I’ll have a go at explaining it in my own words.
As a professional photographer in an industry flooded with mums with cameras (sometimes unkindly referred to as fauxtographers) who can take reasonable photos (some are embaressingly bad) and provide clients with quick edits burned to a CD in high res for a super cheap price for some quick cash, I really feel I ought to, and I kinda want to, educate prospective clients and people in general of custom photography and what it is I actually do.
I’d like to shed some light on what work goes into a shoot, how many hours of “behind the scenes” work is put in and why I don’t consider myself to, and couldn’t possibly have a chance of longevity in business if I tried to be competing with fauxtographers.
A typical On-location Shoot
OK, I don’t want to bore anyone, but if you’re interested here goes.
I’m now blessed enough to be able to provide in-studio photography, but never to the exclusion of outdoors because I LOVE variety and I’m addicted to the thrill of the challenges and rewards of shooting on-location. Moody skies, beautiful backlit hair on gorgeous children running through fields, jumping off jetties, laying on overturned boats, families smooching on picnic blankets…you get the idea.
The day before the shoot, I will attend the designated location for approximately half an hour at the same time I plan to shoot on the actual day to check that it’s all in good condition (a jetty I use regularly, once burned down recently), and that I’m happy with the angles of the lighting and to scope for alternative plans in case there is heavy cloud or no cloud etc. Add usually half an hour returned driving time – sometimes less, but usually more.
If a client has a special location request and I’m not familiar with it, I will drive there to do a run-through of all the nice spots I want to shoot in. I NEVER have or would turn up to an unfamiliar location and just shoot. (On a recent occassion, this took me almost two hours return drive time alone and I won’t be using the location again as the mosquitos were so unbelievably bad).
If a corporate client has a brief, I may even spend all weekend or several weeks scouting the perfect location. It might be a public park or riverside spot or even a private property. Every time I leave my house, I am ALWAYS on the scout for locations. It could be a neighbours stunning bouganvillea bush in full blossom, a vacant block in a suburban street with long grass and gorgeous backlighting or an urban warehouse with a gorgeous rustic gate. My brain never stops thinking about it and I’m always observing.
On the day, I usually get to the location about half an hour before our scheduled meet time to again scope it for any hazards – roped off areas, holes in the ground and often have to perform the oh-so-glamorous job of removing other people’s dog poo from spots I might want my little subjects to play. (I always bring disposable gloves and hand sanitiser in my shoot box!)
Then when my subjects arive, if I haven’t met them before it takes me about 15 seconds to decide if we quickly start shooting or whether we might need a little warm up time in which I get down on the kid’s level and introduce myself and chat and work my magic charm before I take my camera out
We spend about 60-90 minutes shooting on average. This will usually involve me laying in dirt, wading in water, rolling in sand, climbing in trees, entertaining, negotiating and doing my best to make everyone happy whilst concentrating at every second on the changing light (it moves fast at the end of the day, the only time I shoot outdoors) and my required camera settings / appropriate low light lens. I have at least one assistant at EVERY shoot I do on location. It’s usually my long suffering and unbelievably special mum, Annette, who is SO talented and a very valuable second set of eyes. She has an incredible eye for detail and has spent hours with me in editing post-shoot where she has come to learn my pet peeves and things to look out for – boogers, hair in eyes, food in teeth, arms awkwardkly posed, undies showing, bra straps, dry lips etc. By fixing before the shot, saves me a lot of work in editing. Also, as I photograph mostly children, I can’t bring my props out all at once, so I’ll leave the special balloon, or vintage tricycle in the boot of the car until the exact right moment where I feel the kids need a fresh point of interest then BOOM, she grabs it and I’m ready to shoot while their faces light up. She’ll protect my gear, grab my props, pass me equipment, hold my huge reflector in strong wind, and even let me get away with barking orders at her – the minute we’re finished working, this bossiness by me is immediately no longer tolerated! I LOVE my mum for so many reasons, and I’m blessed that she too is so passionate about making beautiful images. She can also draw, paint & sew – I did not receive any of that talent, but I can cook
When we’re done, we say our goodbyes and pack the car and head home. When I get home I sort out my shoot box and usually have a few blankets / props that need washing and cleaning.
Then I load the pics and spend about one hour reviewing the pictures, flagging & culling. I promise my clients approximately 20 edited images for them to view, but usually it’s a few more. Each image, even when shot well in camera, takes a varying amount of time to edit and even though I’m pretty experienced and have a decent work flow, I’m taking around 5-6 hours to edit a session using Lightroom and Photoshop.
Then it’s SHOWTIME! We spend about an hour together going through the images where I can assist the client to make their selection.
After selection is made, I re-crop and prepare images for print. I then personally collect the images when they’re ready as I want to inspect them to make sure they’re perfect. On occassion I need to send one or more for reprint, which happily gets done very quickly. I then drive the photographs to the framer and brief them. This whole process is about another 90 minutes, including travel. When they’re ready I collect them and inspect. Most of the time, I personally deliver the completed order to my client – this takes approximately another hour depending on where they live.
Approximate Time Allocation
So in summary, looking at my time alone, not considering my costs, we’ve so far got:
Scout – varies
Check location – 60 minutes (incl. travel time)
Shoot at location – 120 (PLUS 120 minutes for assistant) minutes incl setup & travel
Shot selection – 60 minutes
Editing – 360 minutes
Co-ordinating Printing / framing – 90 minutes
Delivery – 60 minutes
My time: 12.5 hours
Total time spent – 14.5 hours
That is just my time, not my petrol, my equipment, my training, my props, my insurance, my maintenance on equipment, my professional memberships.
I’ll write more on this topic another time, but I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re paying a photographer $150 for a two hour session including 20+ edited high resolution images, chances are they’re either not great quality or that poor photographer will soon realise they’re spending a hell of a lot of time and effort away from their family for less than they’d make flipping burgers at Mcdonalds (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and I’m pretty sure they’re not turning a profit and hence won’t be doing it for long.
I’m seeking clients who appreciate high quality wall art, captured and edited professionally and printed and presented on the highest quality materials designed to provide happiness and last for generations. I hope to be the photographer for people who are like me in that they see stunning photographs of their loved ones on their wall and each time they walk past that image, they can’t help but smile.