Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dollar for Dollar II~

Welcome to Part II of our installment in the quest to understand –
Why does custom portrait photography cost more?

Let’s begin by saying that – in reality, comparing a chain store photo department is TOTALLY different than a custom portrait photographer. It’s apples and banana’s my friend. They’re not even the same shape, my friend.

But, for the sake of education, we’re going to take a few minutes to explain why the prices are different. We won’t discuss the fact that chain store photographers are mostly unfamiliar with the rules of composition, the technical aspects of the camera they’re using, or the effect of various forms of light as it relates to aperture, shutter speed, and exposure. Most of the time, they’re employees uneducated in the field of photography, who have been trained to use the company owned and supplied camera in the same way a fast-food employee is trained to use a deep fryer. And we won’t talk about how a chain store model is geared toward getting the highest volume of customers in the door, and then offering the same exact experience to each person. Nothing customized. Nothing personal. And we won’t talk about how they herd you through the system like cattle.
Nope – not going there.

Let’s just talk about the cash. Cold, hard cash. If a print is a print, a photo is a photo, why does it cost more for a custom photographer than for a chain store?

One word – TIME

Let’s say you plan to take your children to Sears for family pictures. You call, 5 minutes later you hang up, having put your last name on a time slot for Saturday morning. You get there with your children, and wait in the lobby while they finish up the crew ahead of you. All the while, you’re trying to keep your daughter’s bow in her hair, and your son from getting what only little boys can find all over his white shirt. Finally, the girl – barely 20 years old – calls your last name.

She ushers you into a cramped room with a narrow background pulled. You wonder – is that the same background the family in front of me used? I wonder how many people’s Christmas cards will have that winter scene? She sets your kiddos on a stool and steps behind the camera. Feather duster in hand, she gives them a tickled and then CLICK – the shutter goes off. 10 minutes later, she’s taken 8-10 shots – you’ve frantically worried about the bow, wiped the tears from your son’s eyes from his stranger/danger reaction to the girl with the rainbow duster, and added at least 10 gray hairs to your scalp.

“Stranger/danger”-twenty-something takes you back to the lobby and tells you that your photos will be ready to be looked at in 30 minutes. You decide to reward the kids – it was not an easy morning, and ½ hour later you’re back to see your pictures. She brings them up on a computer screen and you see the wonderful product of your morning. That stupid bow!, you think. Little man’s cheeks are still red from the fear you’re not exactly sure if baby-girl is looking at the camera, the duster, or you.

I could go on and on, but let’s take that – rush-‘em-in/rush-‘em-out model and compare that to what happens in custom portrait photography, shall we?
  • Booking time~30 minutes to one hour  
    • Time spent with client through phone conversations and emails
    • File prep – create file, fill out documents, prepare welcome packet
    • pre-session prep time~1-2 hours
    • Studio preparation – planning props, lighting, and backdrops
    • On-location pre-shoot scouting – includes evaluating light for session time, test shots, and general shooting directions, as well as props for session.
    • Equipment checks and vehicle checks
  • Travel time~1-2 hours
    • Depending on the shooting location, this would include travel to/from the session.
  • Session day prep~15-30 minutes
    • Setting up for the session includes, camera and cards (spare), tripod, lighting if necessary, prop location and storage for easy access, and final light analysis
    • Shooting with client/in-session~90 minutes-2 hours
    • Taking time to get to know the subject to build relationship
    • NEVER rush the capture of images. We work fast when we need to capture babies and kids in their ‘happy time’, but are fully prepared to relax and take our time if that’s what we need to do.
  • Uploading and backing up images~30 minutes
    • Shooting in RAW takes longer to upload.
    • Back up of all images better insures longevity and security.
  • Post-processing~2-5 hours
    • Edits are made for blemishes and other faults, such as eye circles, gnats, stray hairs, etc.
    • Custom white balance, color correction, etc.
    •  This includes everything we need to do in order to present you with a full gallery of edited images.
  • Photo presentation prep~1½-2 hours
    • Inclusion into online proofing gallery
    • Back up of final edit images
    • Inclusion into presentation display program for in person ordering session.
    • Paperwork prepared for in person ordering session.
    •  Files updated.
  • In person ordering session~1-2 hours
    • This includes the consultation regarding images, and the time spent with the client working through everything they need to order, as well as the presentation of sample products and custom work.
  • Order confirmation and placement~1-2 hours
    • Time spent working through your order, image by image, resizing for specific print orders, sharpening images for print, placing the order with the professional print company, and double checking order completion.
  • Order deliver~1 hour
    • Once the order is received, it is double checked against the order placement
    • Packaging
    • Client time spent preparing order delivery/pick up.
  • Session/Order conclusion~1 hour
    • Time spent on email/phone with the client as a follow up
    • Completing file documents
Just by looking at this schedule, it’s easy to see how a photographer could conservatively spend upwards of 15 hours working for a single session. Consider, also, that a huge percentage of the time scale above is completely non-existent in the chain-store photo department model.

This, my friends, what your session fee covers… It’s the “time and talent” of the photographer. If you think about a $75 session fee vs. the, let’s say 15 hours spent, you find that your professional is actually making $5 per hour.
There is so much more to be considered here, though. Think about the cost of the website on which you have a password protected image gallery. Your photographer pays for that. And what about the equipment? If he/she is a bona fide professional, they won’t be using standard equipment. Great images require great equipment, cameras/lenses/high-def cards/lighting/props/tripod/wireless remotes… the list could go on. Trust me, your professional photographer is not editing your photos on Google’s free Picasa. And your images are stored on hard drives, and external hard drives, and CD backups.
All of this is paid for by the photographer, and it’s NOT going to happen on a $5 per hour budget. There’s a business to be run. Marketing to be done. Samples to be bought for you to see. So, you see, even that $5 per hour doesn’t pay the photographer. It wouldn’t even pay for everything else needed in order to make your session happen in the first place.
So where does the money come from? How does the photographer make enough money to pay for the business, purchase the products you order, and make enough money to live on?
The pictures you order.
Keep in mind that those pictures are NOT printed in the same way as that which you get from the local Wal-Mart. Oh, no, my friend. Totally different product, again. But, if your photographer only charged you the exact cost of the print itself, there would be no business at all.
The service you enjoy, the session and the attention, the luxury of custom photographic work is fueled by the session fee and print profit working together to bring you a phenomenal experience, complete with professional knowledge and wisdom.
Because this post has taken so much space and time, I have decided to split it into another installment. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss value…
Did you hear that? VALUE, VALUE, VALUE…
How valuable to you think this is going to be when she's 60 years old? 

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