"It Costs an Arm and a Leg"
As a professional photographer, this is one of the most common things we hear. That and "I am really awkward in front of the camera" - but that's a blog for another day. I almost titled this "It costs that much because it takes me f**king hours" but photographers hear the arm and a leg thing A LOT, so here we are. Let's see, what does an arm and a leg actually cost? You might be surprised to learn, that there is actually a dollar amount for both! The maximum compensation for a leg in the US is $543,367.00, at the low end it is still $153,221.00. Lucky for you, it is pretty rare to find a photographer that actually charges a leg. What about arms? Arms are WAY up there! $859,643.00!!! Thank you Google for that jaw dropper! Apparently Alabama thinks an arm is only worth $48,840.00, so you might find a photographer charging an arm for the most epically deluxe photo experience ever. I'm not likely to charge either an arm, nor a leg. On a large project with a lot of elements and prints involved...maybe, but I'm more in the realm of an index finger or a thumb. I'll let you look that one up. So you may ask yourself, why is photography "so expensive?" Or maybe you're not asking why, but I'm going to tell you anyway. I would love to say its simple, and that its because photographers work their asses off….but it is so much more complex. The obvious.…gear. Professional level camera bodies alone range from $2800 to $500,000. Yes, there are camera bodies that reach $500K. More actually, but most professional photographers aren't dropping about $3 million on a vintage Leica camera…unless you're Jason Momoa, who is an avid Leica fan, then maybe. If the name of a camera body has Hasselblad or Leica….be prepared to write out some zeros. I'm a Canon kinda gal so I stay in the $5k range, though I do have my sights set on a lovely beast of $6,300 in the future. Lenses...HOLLEEEE SMOKES! Good glass....the best you can fit in your budget. This has been impressed upon me numerous times by many of the top shooters in the industry (hello education costs). Good quality lenses range from $900 to $75K. Thankfully, I don't need a $75K lens to create beautiful images. I should add here that it is rare for a photographer to have just one lens. There is a "condition" we often joke about in photography circles called G.A.S. - Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Some of us have really bad G.A.S. I would say on average a photographer has 3 lenses. Something for the far away shots, something close for wider angle shots, and something in between. Those 3 typical lenses average around $2K each….unless you're into sports then your average is closer to $8K….yeah…remember? I shoot sports. Lights! Most of the time we can make do with natural light and some reflectors. Some photographers avoid any sort of artificial lighting and others are all about creating their looks with lights, light modifiers, light stands and reflectors. The price range is so vast and varied here it would make your head spin. Between lights, and modifiers you could be looking easily into the range of $3,000 to $10,000 and then some. So we have lights, camera, and lenses (you thought I was going to say ACTION! didn't you???) and we are already looking in the vicinity of $18-$20K. These investments require repair and maintenance too. When gear is out of commission a photographer is out of commission. If we have work to do, we have to either have back up gear, or rent gear….more costs of doing business. What more is there? Business licenses, taxes, education, computers, software, editing tools, printing, traveling (you've seen the price of gas!), camera bags, tripods/monopods, batteries, miscellaneous business expenses, and I'm certain a whole host of things I am probably forgetting. Oh yep, there it is, props, clothing, backdrops, studio costs, rent/lease/mortgage, electric bills, phone bills, make up artists, hair stylists, and more. Then of course the thing that really shocks people….we actually have to pay ourselves a salary! Some photographers are working solo, others have a staff…and let me tell you, hiring an assistant that you don't have to teach every shoot is tremendously helpful. Can we all work solo? Sure can, that's how most photographers got started. We still get a paycheck that can support us and our family. You may be asking yourself, or may have already gone to bed like a normal person - photographers are not normal, don't let them fool you- why on earth does anyone get into photography??? Why would you want to own a photography business? It sounds like an awful headache and impossible way to make a living. It is really no different than any other business. All businesses have expenses the average person doesn't consider. They see the food in the grocery store and don't consider the cost of the farmer, the trucker, the grocer, nor the cost of the store itself, the staff that needs a livable wage and on and on. So why do we do it?
We love it. That's why. Many creatives are not meant to sit behind a desk working on someone else's business. Minds wander when we see something in a way no one else sees it, falling down a rabbit hole of how we can make the mundane interesting and unique. Some are escaping an oppressive or hostile work environment leading to poor physical and mental health. The freedom to create art, make people smile, and see themselves in a new light…its priceless….but we still need to eat.