We Just Push a Button: Why Are Photographers so Expensive?

We've both heard statements like "I just need a few shots, that's it. I don't need it retouched" and it's frustrating.

I'm a fan of looking within for the answer to solutions. Why do people feel that our occupation is worth less than the others? Is it access to cameras and apps in our pockets? Maybe we as photographers haven't done the best job talking about the process? I do believe that the better you are, the easier it looks and we are punished for that. Maybe that's why it looks like we just push a button.  

Either way, this is an opportunity to gain ground and make yourself look different than the crowd. You have a process and to the non-photographer, it's interesting. Heck, even to me your process is interesting. Share it!

Discussing images with client on set

Discussing images with client on set

Speak about it in parts without overwhelming the client. Usually, after I finish the initial phone consultation, I'll give them a quick timeline of what to expect. I'll tell them that it takes a day to come up with a preliminary budget, and if approved I will need a couple more days to create the mood board. I will discuss that I need to put a team together, negotiate their rates and look for the location/studio. While it may seem obvious, many of my clients are unaware of the pre-production work involved.

After the shoot, I'll remind them (even though it's in the contract) that it should take a full day of ingesting the files, backing them up and having it ready for the selection process. Then another couple days to go through the image selects and showcase the best of the best in an online gallery. Your process may be different than mine but share that with your client. Communication helps manage their expectations and gives them insight into how you work. 

Just by casually talking about the process I've learned that the connection to the client increases. They understand there's a method to it all, as a result, they are more patient. They appreciate that I put the time into their photo shoot. They are often more excited because this guy doesn't just push a button. 

Photo Shoot BTS

Photo Shoot BTS

We do more than push a button. Personally, I find that clients accept the rates once they are brought into the process. For just pushing a button, we are overpaid. When they understand that we contribute in a number of ways, they understand the rate and are more likely to appreciate your work. 

I keep them involved in the process, and not to the point of annoying them but enough to educate them on the process. 

Again, most people are good. They feel that we're too expensive because what they see daily tells a story different than the truth. They take an iPhone photograph, run it through an app and it's done. If you share the process of their own shoot, with it's enjoyable for everyone, and they tend to respect you more as a professional. Because their "cousin with a really nice camera" cannot do what you can. Maybe they just push a button, but we do a lot more!

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Ivan Lantsov's picture

Not my customer Cheap go home

Deleted Account's picture

A little long, but all true.

Walid Azami's picture

Story of my life. Also Laughing cow cheese is the king of cheese.

Deleted Account's picture

Similar to the story of my life too :)

Deleted Account's picture

Anyone can take a photo.
Making one is a different story.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I long for the freedom to just lay around all day after a shoot because I am worn out. ;)

The client who says " just a few shots, no retouching " is one who is not familiar with buying professional photography. Those are not clients until they have worked with someone who does buy pro photography and realize what they are getting. Telling them rarely convinces the naive.

Like the plumber says: "$5 for the tap. $395 for the knowing where to tap."

Deleted Account's picture

Exactly that.

Liz C.'s picture

LOL!!!!!!!!!! You win. This is so true.

JetCity Ninja's picture

maybe the answer is to install complex, multi-stage safeties and shrouds to the shutter button on interchangeable lens camera bodies. that way, it becomes more about the infamous button and having to hire someone capable of pressing it in a timely manner.

or, just drop viewfinders from all cameras since all you really need is a button pushed.

photography is purely a hobby for me. because of that, i can afford to go around town and be the ass some people dream of being, but won't out of fear of hurting your reputation, business or both. plus, all asians look alike so it's not like they can track me down and hate on me personally. i use the typical asian stereotypes to my advantage to attract people to me to take their photos for them by appearing as the typical "asian tourist." no shortage of people will ask me to stop what i'm doing to do something for them and it's at that point i take advantage.

"take a photo of us." sure. i'll either take one of them too closely or too far. sometimes i'll pretend i have no idea what all the controls are for and purposely change them while looking confused. usually i'll just take it as soon as they hand me the camera, before they've posed, prepared or otherwise, then hand it right back. or i'll play the pretentious prick and overdirect, refusing to give the camera back until i get something "perfect." if they're not specific, i'll take a photo of not them, purposely turning away from them, taking a shot and handing it back. i do avoid acting with arrogance, as that often reflects poorly on my representation of a group rather than lampooning my personal failings.

other times, i'll just say "yesu" to everything they say and treat their phone like a phone, especially when their first question to me isn't, "could you take a photo of us," but is instead, "do you speak english?" it's amazing how patronizing people can be when you're born with a camera around your neck and choose to be asian in public but at least i choose to poke back once in a while. it at least distracts me from the question of, "why?"

swinging around more on topic, if someone demands they dictate your process, why not demand they provide said button?

"We've both heard statements like "I just need a few shots, that's it. I don't need it retouched" and it's frustrating."

i'm sure some wish they could just say, "sure, no problem. where's your camera?" or maybe, "if that's all you need then surely you can do it yourself; i'll even let you rent my camera. i make for you my special price."

i used to blow up bridges for a living. it's a hard habit to break only because of the laughs i'd get out of it since people expect asians to be polite and compliant, not a jerk. i have little man syndrome, so what? you shut up. get off my lawn.

Excellent advice. I know I’ve done this multiple times before even with a client who initially scoffed at what I charged. After I showed her what I could do, she has become my best evangelist. Turning a skeptic into a full blown supporter and finder of new landscape clients proved this to me again and again.

Now when I return from a shoot I generally ask anyone who wants to see my process first hand to visit me and watch how long it takes me to cull the pictures I don’t like, edit the photos I want to keep, organize them on my external hard drive then upload them to my website.

Never fails. They all come away with a new respect for me and not just me but I like to think that this helps every photographer.

Walid Azami's picture

This was awesome to read. Yes, what you do will affect every photographer. Thank for the note.

Eric Mazzone's picture

It's all about the communication and setting expectations. I've won more clients from other photographers who the prospect thought was expensive because I've talked them through my process, and they go with my BECAUSE of talking to them, and they gladly pay me a LOT more than they were quoted by the other photographers they messaged first and were shocked at their prices.

Walid Azami's picture

Yep. Because they can only appreciate you more if you explain your process, and that's done by communicating. Keep talking to them, it obviously works!

Thank you. A very good point.

exaggerated. and nonsense
the reason is why you pay is for the talent. the outcome. you can see differences in level between photographers.
higher end photogs have a more polished look. their composition are better

editing is universal. anyone can be a good editor. new or veteran.

never had a client tell me to not retouch. they all realize that all photogs who respect themselves will edit. its a must.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like what is being somewhat over described here can be summed up in the same four words business people have struggled with forever: Cost Of Doing Business. There have been a lot of similar articles on various sites recently about the need for photographers to "educate their clients" about why their product is so expensive. This one here focuses mostly on "process" (and selection of lenses, oddly), but cost of equipment, rent, insurance, photo school, etc is the stuff most often listed to justify high prices. But "Clients" are just customers, "Photographs" are just products, and customers are the ones who determine whether any product's price is justified by its value, not photographers. Sure, some customers may be interested in hearing about all the time and money you invest in your work, or in your "process", but it's the work itself that will demonstrate whether or not its cost/value equation is justified, and that equation will change with every potential customer you meet. When it all comes down to it, it's always the customer who educates the photographer, not the other way around. They'll determine if what you're selling is worth what it costs. What it costs you to produce it is simply that, what it costs you to produce it.