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The Realities of Operating a Photography Business

Updated on December 27, 2017
Kathleen Odenthal profile image

Kathleen is an entrepreneur who runs her own photography studio, Life in Pixels Photography. She is passionate about small business.

What Clients Think Goes Into a Photography Business

When a client needs a photographer, they think about the work they see goes into their session. Typically, this includes taking photos, editing the photos, and then delivering the files to the client.

It seems like a simple job, right?

Unfortunately, the majority of work photographers do is behind the scenes, and therefore it doesn't get taken into account, making it seem like we are charging absurd rates for work that doesn't seem so difficult.

When you deal with a photographer who just shoots some photos, edits them quickly, then sends them to you all on a flash drive for $100, you are likely dealing with an unlicensed photographer who is operating illegally, putting you and the photographer at risk for a whole slew of liability issues, which is why it is so crucial to understand who you are working with, what their credentials are, and why they charge what they charge.

The Costs of Owning a Photography Business Add Up Quickly

Source

What Actually Goes Into Running a Photography Business

Now let us take a good look at what really goes into running a profitable, legal, photography business. (I have to emphasize legal because there are far too many professional photographers who are not operating legal businesses).

First, lets compare the time that people perceive goes into this job to the amount of time that actually goes into this job.

Here is a rough breakdown of the time that goes into one photography session (yes, one session alone):

  • Sales and Marketing – 10 to 15 hours per week, bare minimum
  • Initial Call, Consultation, Follow Up, Contract and Paperwork - 1 to 2 hours, again, bare minimum
  • Location Scouting - 2-4 hours depending on the session
  • Session Prep (including creating a timeline, a shot list, a gear list, and other miscellaneous things necessary to ensure that your session runs smoothly)- 2 hours
  • Day of Your Session – Around 4 hours
  • Travel - (including travel time for pre-session consult, the session itself, as well as the image reveal) - 2-3 hours
  • Post-Production – 20 hours
  • Additional Touchups If Requested - 3-4 hours
  • Image Reveal - 1-2 hours
  • Inspection of Ordered Artwork and Delivery - 1-2 hours

That alone is at least a full work week of time devoted to just one session.

But time isn't the only factor to consider when trying to understand the operations of a photography business. We also have to pay taxes, licensing fees, purchase equipment, obtain insurance, order office supplies and marketing materials, pay for our web site, handle our SEO, pursue continuing education, obtain legal services if necessary, all of the requirements that any business must do if they want to be successful.

After all of that is paid for, we actually have to be able to pay ourselves a salary. Rather than looking at us as starving artists, perhaps you can look at us as the business owners we are, who deserve not only a living wage, but a salary that can allow us to live a happy and fulfilling life.

"Owning a small business can be extremely rewarding, but then there are the less glamorous aspects no one sees. It would be nice if someone would throw us bone every now and then." - Carly Stec

The Importance of Respecting Artists and Paying Them a Fair Wage

I am an entrepreneur. I run my own business and I do a darn good job too. It is far from easy. While I do have a little bit of help, my days are long, my nights are long, and its rare that I come across a client who truly appreciates what goes into my job.

The photography industry as a whole feels undervalued. We feel taken advantage of and misunderstood. Constantly we are dealing with people questioning our rates, trying to haggle with us, and demanding that we are being unreasonable for sticking to policies clearly outlined in our contracts.

I personally would never go to a store and tell them every way they were screwing up. I wouldn't question their business methods, their pricing structure, or try to haggle with them, yet that is what we deal with daily.

It doesn't help the situation that we are bombarded by "photographers" who do give everything away for next to nothing, but the only way they could be doing that is if they are operating at a massive loss, or not operating a legal business, which not only jeopardizes them, it jeopardizes you too.

Trust me when I say that it is worth the investment to hire a professional photographer who is insured, licensed, paying their taxes, and ensuring that their studio is run in a professional manner.

Does a larger price tag come with that? Of course, but that is how it is supposed to work! Businesses SHOULD be licensed, they SHOULD be legal, and they SHOULD be charging enough that they can pay themselves a decent salary.

You want a decent salary, right? Why would you expect any less of your photographer?

After Reading This Article, What Do You Think a Reasonable Price Would Be for a Family Portrait Session?

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