A friend of mine used to be a Manager at McDonalds. He was part of a layoff and took a job there basically because it was all he could find and moved into Management pretty fast. As one of the managers, he was privy to a lot of “inside information” that few had access to.
One of the things he showed me was the “cost sheet” that every store manager used to place their daily order from their Distribution Centers. Now I don’t eat there often (WAY too many calories for this growing body), but occasionally I do love a Big Mac Value Meal. Lately, that has been around a $7 meal here locally- and higher in other parts of the country.
Now the cost of the ingredients needed to make that Big Mac is around $.74. Yes, $.74 cents. And they sell a LOT of them everyday. And add the fries and a drink, and it’s still under a buck cost to the store. So tell me, have you stood in line and argued with them that their $7 meal is a “rip-off”? And why is it that they are “marking up” their prices so much?
Because they have a business that is there for a purpose- to provide a product that people want to buy and to produce a livelihood for the person who owns the franchise, so I would ask- am I “ripping you off” when I ask for nothing more than the same treatment as any business owner?
Breaking Down The Costs of Professional Photography
Far too often there is a misconception that as a photographer of professional caliber, that all we have to do is “push a button” and we have nothing else invested. After all, “if I had a camera like that, I could take professional photos too”, right?
NOTHING could be farther from the truth. I can hand anyone my professional level camera, and it will still turn out “amateur” level images. I use the camera’s I use, not because they turn out “great photos”, even though most any “amateur level” camera can do that, but it’s because they are DESIGNED for the hard level of use I put them through. Few of you will take 100,000 images in a year, but as professionals, we can easily take 1,000 photos for one wedding, and another 200 or so for a family portrait session.
So when I show up to do any photography session, I bring the best I have to offer in not just “gear” and cameras, but also in the KNOWLEDGE needed to produce professional grade images. Lighting, diffusers, filters, meters, just to name a few are always on the ready when needed. My studio lighting alone is well over $10,000 in cost. Lenses for pro level cameras usually start around $1200-1500 EACH (and go UP from there!), not to mention that some of the camera bodies are upwards of $6500 EACH. I tell people that I have in the back of my trunk enough equipment and gear that is worth what a really decent luxury car would cost and that’s not a joke. And just like your local mechanic, these are MY tools of MY trade and without them, I can’t offer the quality photographs you hired me to produce. I may not ALWAYS need them right then, but I also have the knowledge to know when I need them and how to use them.
Now that your images are taken, let’s move into the basic editing costs. Computers, software programs, calibrated monitors, and a whole host of “other stuff” go into properly editing your images. And when software is updated or improved and new features added, that is another cost I must bear. Not to mention the educational requirements needed to learn to use it professionally and effectively so that you DO get the quality images few amateurs are capable of producing.
My insurance costs, the business taxes I must pay to the city and state, the utilities, the repair and maintenance costs of my gear, business licensing fees, website hosting costs, advertising and promotional costs, bank charges, office supplies, printing costs for handouts and promotional pieces, are more of the expenses encountered to just keep the doors open and people coming in for my services. And that isn’t even ALL of it, but a sampling of what I do pay every month (did I forget rent? Oh yeah, that rent thingy too). Equipment breaks and has to be replaced or repaired and I can assure you, that anything that says “photography” on it, is going to be expensive.
The True Investment in Your Images
Another misconception people have is that all I have to do is take your images off my camera and onto my computer, do a bit of “tweaking” to them, and that’s all the work involved. Because I came from the “film era”, that was about the truth in those days (not really, but I won’t get into so much of what we did back in “those days”). You took a photograph, sent the film off for processing and get back a proof print. Pretty simple.
Now, you MIGHT think that we “push a button” and have a fully ready image for you to take home with you. I hate to tell you this, pushing that button is WAY down the list of all that was done BEFORE “pushing the button”. Lighting had to be considered and subjects properly placed, exposure considered, composition made properly, along with lens selection, added lighting, etc., etc. THEN we can “push the button”. Now, what you see in the back of the camera today, is FAR from being compete- that is ONLY the foundation of what happens next.
Yes, there is very little “cost” involved in the actual image compared to film costs. We no longer have to “pay to take pictures” in terms of buying film, paying lab costs and print costs. BUT, there is something that is more intense today than in those years of film. TIME to properly edit your images so that what we DO produce in printed form is everything you paid me to create. On ONE family session of 150-200 images, I will spend over 2 hours just deciding what images I want to show you and do the editing to so you have a nice selection to choose from. Add to that ANOTHER hour or so just fully enhancing each image so that you get that “WOW” factor when you see them.
Now, when you go to work each day, your employer pays you for the TIME you are giving him or her. You don’t have ANY of the “overhead” costs that he pays. He or she depends on YOU to produce the effort needed so that he or she can make enough income from that business and your efforts to not only pay YOUR wages, taxes, insurance, etc., but to ALSO pay the overhead for rent, utilities, taxes, etc. AND to hopefully leave enough left over for him or her to take a little bit home to his or her family too. Its not just your TIME he is paying for either- its your TALENT and knowledge too.
So Why is that Disc of Images a Ripoff?
Let’s break down for a moment the steps needed to properly produce a digital image for print:
1. Few professional photographers produce images in jpeg format “in camera”. We take our photographs in what is referred to as “camera raw”. This is nothing more than the actual image seen by the camera sensor with NO enhancements or compression that a jpeg image has. In doing so, we MUST fully “develop” that image so that the bright parts are perfectly exposed, the shadows properly represented, the “colors” are properly displayed, and the contrast and “blown out highlights” are not where you eyes are drawn too. A “camera raw” file is NOT capable of producing a print! It must have more steps take below, and THEN converted to a jpeg image of proper compression need to produce a printed photograph.
2. Once we have processed the raw files, we are now ready to enhance them even further. Most of us use Photoshop to selectively edit parts of that image to bring out all the fine details you see in the final product. We also can do skin retouching, add color and “pop”, enhance contrast even further, whiten eyes and teeth, and a whole host of other things we do to your images so that what you first get “out of camera” compared to what you are going to see is probably two totally different images. From this initial round of editing, you are going to be able to see what is often referred to as “proofs” and usually in a digital form. However, this image is NO WHERE close to being perfected for print.
3. Now you have made your selection of what you want for your home, here is where the REAL work begins to properly prepare your images for print. More selective editing is usually done- eyes sharpened and perhaps even more skin retouching is done. Colors are once again enhanced for our labs so that nothing looks “bad” in print. Since we all KNOW what our labs produce, we are able to make sure that what you see “on screen” is matching what you get in printed form. We use Calibrated Monitors to do this so that our colors ARE correct on screen and in printed formats.
4. The image then goes through a process where we “output for print size”. If you want a 20×30 canvas and another 16×24 framed print of the same image, what I have produced up to this point is NOT going to give you identical printed images. I must do the proper cropping of that image for your size selected- so hands or feet aren’t cropped badly- and that what you get in printed format is of the quality you desire. Also, the type of media it is printed on makes a HUGE difference in this step. The “dpi” can be different for canvas vs. paper prints. The TYPE of paper can dictate the this step as well- a lustre print is prepared differently than is a matte print. This step ALSO requires an overall sharpening of your images too, so that all those fine details you see in those prints I showed you on our first meeting is exactly what you get in the printed photos you purchase from me too. And canvas is sharpened with a different sharpening “number” than paper prints are sharpened.
5. NOW that image is ready to be processed to a printable format, sent to the lab, and wait for them to produce your products. Once you get them in your possession, you are going to be amazed at what is produced compared to anything you could possibly print yourself.
Now, WHY should all of this matter to you? Because THIS is what separates the TRUE professional photographer from your “images on a disc” photographer! Please read this next statement and take it to heart-
Lie #1 – You CANNOT take a disc of images, go down to your local ” 1hour lab” and print those images from that disc and get professional grade images. If you have been told this from a “photographer”, you were lied to, plain and simple.
A properly prepared image for professional quality prints is IMPOSSIBLE to give you on a disc UNLESS I know in advance what you are planning to print, in the size you plan to print it, and on what material you are printing it on and the LAB SPECIFICATIONS of the lab you are using to print your images! PERIOD! I can’t give you a “universal” digital image that will print all sizes on any material- paper or canvas- or on any finish- glossy, matte, or lustre- or have proper color correction to those images without lab specs to do so.
You would be better off to save your money on this “disc only” type of photography and buy your OWN equipment Your images from them will be NO BETTER that what you could take yourself. Yes, I said that and I honestly mean that. YOU just got “ripped off” by someone who “calls themselves” a “professional photographer”, but probably doesn’t have a clue to what they just handed you. Sadly, they probably don’t really care either. They just took your money, gave you nothing better than what a decent hobbyist could produce, and from what I hear about many of them, they really don’t care about what you do with them or where you go for any prints you may want. So that takes me to this next statement-
Le #2 – You get “high resolution images” so you can print them yourself! You can print as big as you want.
What comes out of a camera and has had a few basic edits done to it, converted into a jpeg image is NOT “full resolution” anything EXCEPT for an image printed EXACTLY that image size. For example, a 16.3 mp camera, which is about “average” for today’s cameras of any level, produces images about 10.5 x 16 inch images. If it was photographed in “camera raw”, and converted with any other editing done, there has been no sharpening of that image, not a spec of any other enhancements done, and very little retouching done. Now, it is a 300 ppi “resolution” for that size ONLY. If you want a 16×20, that “full resolution image” will NOT print properly. There isn’t going to be enough dpi- dots per inch- so that it isn’t “pixelated”. Most labs want regular paper prints to have a 300 dpi “resolution” to match their printing equipment. So not enough pixels being there for any size bigger, results in poorly produced images for a larger size than that “out of camera” image size. And “cramming” a lot MORE pixels for smaller than “out of camera” sized prints can look just as bad as NOT ENOUGH pixels can look too, although it may not be as noticeable in some images.
Can you produce a larger image than the “out of camera” image size and it still look professional? ABSOLUTELY!! Once you have PROPERLY prepared that file FOR printing in that size! I have printed images from a 16.3 mp camera as large as 40×60 and they look PHENOMENAL for my clients. Because they were properly prepared FOR that size with proper sharpening and resolution. Add to it, I also had my lab specs needed to prepare that file for color and detail needed to get something that big.
Because I care more about the final product that my clients receive than that “guy down the street that is cheaper and gives me a disc of images”, I want you to have THE best professionally produced printed products available. I don’t offer digital “files” for you to take and “print as much as you want’, simply because I DO care about the end result. I also know that your “end result” from a disc of images is NOT going to give you the quality you paid for and you WON’T get from a “disc of images”. Why do I know this? Because not only have I seen it, I understand that in order for me to make a commitment to YOUR total satisfaction, and to give you products that you can’t get anywhere else, it’s necessary to have control of the process from start to finish.
So the next time you get that really “low price” from a so called “professional photographer”, and they are offering you a “disc of images”, perhaps now you can see why I feel that it was YOU that got ripped off when they told you “go print all you want” and the images you get are far less quality that you imagined you should have received.
And if you are in the mood for a nice Filet Mignon from Ruth’s Criss Steakhouse, and end up at McDonalds, don’t forget, one is priced much higher than the other. But the end results are as far apart as it comes too. They just don’t quite taste the same, do they?