I have developed this FAQ to answer many of the question that I am commonly asked and to explain how professional photography works. There are so many photographers, people often confuse hobbyists, novices, amateurs as professionals. A professional is someone who conducts their business professionally. They protect their client's investment as much as they protect their own by carrying liability insurance. They provide a mission statement and/or directive that informs the customer of the business' core values and ethics.
Preface - After thoughtful consideration, I have decided to share some specific industry information about pricing. You can find this information on Google, however, why would you look for it? Your looking to find a photographer, not becoming one. I am sharing this information because some people believe photographers charge fictitious prices, or base their rates upon what so and so is charging. Yes, there are some novice or amateurs photographers who start out doing this, but they quickly learn it's a mistake. No matter what anyone tries to convince you, photography is a business and you get what you pay for.
I have been a successful photographer for over two decades, meaning I have seen a lot - good and bad. I am sharing this information to help you better understand what you are buying. Some of you will think I am trying to validate my rates, but I assure you that I have more business than I can handle at times. This FAQ is for those tears that have fallen because their once-in-a-lifetime wedding, newborn or family photos are less than ideal. I hope you never experience the sadness of a bride learning that Photoshop cannot fix the lack of lighting and resolution. I hope you never feel the disappointment of a Mom or the frustration of a Dad because they thought all photographers and cameras are the same. It's heart-breaking, please understand this FAQ is to help those who find it useful.
Did you own Lamb Portrait Studio?
- YES! From 1997 to 2012, I owned and operated a full-time portrait studio with a clerical staff, a production team and multiple photographers. I decided to close my studio for a variety of personal and professional reasons. Such as, being a Mom changed my priorities. Children don't care about your accomplishments, they just want your time, love and attention. Since I began my career while I was still in high school, becoming a freelancer allows me time to explore other genre and spread my wings as an artist.
Do you sell prints and frames?
- I still offer framing and printing, but it is all outsourced where I am the middle person. I personally oversee the entire process, but I only have so much time in the day and cannot do the ordering or framing myself. This is the best solution for those looking for my professional expertise.
- Once upon a time, the only way you could own my photography was by purchasing prints. Fast forward to today, you may or may not want to print your photos. Furthermore, professional photo-finishing labs would only accept work from professional photographers because they were closed to the pubic. Today they are open to the public, where you can buy direct with my permission.
- If you are looking for cost-saving options, printing and framing your own is ideal.
What is your cheapest package, price or rate?
- If you are looking for the cheapest photographer you can find - I assure you, I am not it. Nothing I do is cheap - not my equipment, hardware, software, backgrounds, props or time. People do not hire me because I am cheap, they hire me because of my quality, skill, talent and attention to detail. Owning a J Rosa original is not a sign of "value", it is a sign of "quality".
Side note - If you can't afford me, I understand - as an artist, I live on a budget too. But let me explain something about photography, quantity is NOT quality. There is no "value" menu or meal deal. There are those who want you to believe that you get more value by hiring someone cheaper. Cheaper does NOT mean better, it just means less. Less service. Less quality. Less experience. In the grand scheme of things, why hire someone who values YOUR time and THEIR talent the least? It doesn't make sense. I would never hire the cheapest hairstylist with the cheapest tools, and least amount of experience to color, cut or style my hair before for my wedding!! At that point, you are paying to be disappointed and you will regret it for the rest of your life. By all means, shop around - start a savings, finance your purchase on a credit card as you would with any large and major purchase, but don't think less is more.
What is a session/reservation fee?
- Any fee prior to the session is a minimal investment between the photographer and client which often confirms, secures or guarantees the appointment. Although some photographers say it's the fee associated with creating the photography, this is misleading. One can not support a business based upon session fees, however it does ensure that the photographer gets something for their time.
- Fees can vary based upon how much time and resources are required for the upcoming session, including travel expenses.
- Some sessions do not have a session fee because a purchase will immediately follow. For example, Quick-takes do not have a session fee but they do require a reservation fee which applies towards the order and you place your order right after your session.
Do you provide digitals so I can print or publish my own photos?
- Yes, it is my belief that technology has come far enough that you are capable of printing your own photos. As long as I provide you hi-resolution print-ready files, it is just a matter of uploading the files to the lab and having them ship directly to you.
- Professional labs are now open to the public. In the past the only way you could acquire professional quality was through a professional photographer. This is no longer the case. I refer my clients to www.mpix.com and www.blackriverimaging.com because they are known for their quality and customer service. Plus, mostly importantly, they are Missouri businesses which support our local and state economy.
Can I buy all of the photos on CD?
- No. I do not offer this service. At one time I tried to offer what I call "bulk rates" because I believed it was what the market wanted. It nearly bankrupted me. I cannot provide a high-end product at rock bottom rates. I know there are many who offer "bulk rates" however, they do not offer a high-end product.
What are bulk rates?
- It is the practice of combining services and/or products in order to give the appearance of "more" value (packages).
- Most packages are designed with an optimal break-even point. Although the break-even point has little to no profit for photographers, and the need for additional sales is required to be profitable (bait and switch)
- Department stores often use bulk rates to appeal to new customers. 100 photos for $19.95, yet most of them are wallet size or smaller with only one to two larger photos and all from the same pose.
- As technology has become more affordable with cheaper cameras, more people are willing to offer on-site photography at drastically reduced prices. Today most aspiring or novice photographers continue to offer "shoot and burn" services as a way to break into the business or build a portfolio. However, they quickly discover that all-in-one pricing limits growth and within a few years they either close their business or raise their prices.
- It is also known, most photographers who offer bulk rates do not allow you to select your photos, do minimal editing, retouching and little to no enhancements. To deliver the photos in a fast turn-around, they do not have the luxury of time to fully work with their images. Although they do spend more time than average on their samples or portfolio work, which I believe is misleading.
Can I buy the RAW files and edit them myself?
- This is going to sound harsh, but please understand how belittling, insulting and hurtful a statement like this is to a professional photographer like myself. This is like going to a fine dining restaurant and asking a professional to allow you to cook your own steak. I have invested a great deal of time and money into my work, please understand and respect this.
What is a service only photographer?
- I provide the equipment, knowledge, skill and talent to capture and create my photography. Following the session, I meet with my clients to showcase my photography where they select their favorite poses to purchase as digital media. Based upon my clients needs, wants or wishes; I edit, retouch and enhance each photo then deliver them electronically through the internet using a file-sharing service. Meaning I provide everything except the prints because you can order them on your own.
- If you want me to do the printing for you, please schedule an ordering appointment. I outsource all of my orders for framing and printing. This is why the cost is considerably more than if you were to do the printing for yourself.
Would you explain your rates, how are the determined?
Here is where it gets a bit business heavy, however, my point is to show you - I am running a business. I have a Springfield Business License, and I am insured by the Professional Photographers of America (PPA.com). I conduct my business professionally in a commercial location.
- When I had my full-time (retail) portrait studio, I sold my photography based upon the print. My smallest package was $125 which included your choice of 3 standard prints in any pose. A standard print is either an 8x10/8x8, a 5x7/5x5 or a 4x6. The cost for these items which you can plainly see on MPIX or Blackriver is approximately $10, with shipping around $20. Most portrait studio use this retail business model to determine their mark-up - 20% cost of goods, 10% profit, 10% advertising, 50% overhead, 10% reinvestment to equal the total cost of 100% of the sale. For example, out of $125 sale I would have to manufacture the product (including fixing any errors) for no more than $25.00, $12.50 profit, $12.50 towards advertising, $62.50 towards rent, utilities, software, subscriptions, equipment, employees, bookkeeping, etc., $12.50 set aside to replace or repair aging equipment and to attend conferences or further education. My overhead at the time was $13,000 per month which meant I had to make $1200 per day to break-even. My average client spent $400, meaning we had to bring in 3 clients a DAY willing to spend the average, 15 clients per week and 780 clients per year to break-even.
- Today my business model is based upon time, despite this, the break-down is still very similar - 10% profit, 20% advertising, 60% overhead, 10% reinvestment to equal the total cost of 100% of the sale. My average client spends $350 and to break-even I need 3 clients a week. It's not hard to run the numbers with an average sale of $350; I make $35 profit, $70 goes towards advertising, $210 goes towards the cost of running my business (overhead), and $35 I set aside to reinvest or upgrade my equipment.
Why is photography so expensive?
- Price is always a factor when hiring someone, but when someone knows what they are doing and invests in quality tools - They will not be cheap. Let me ask you this one question, "Expensive? Compared to what?". Another photographer? What you paid last time? What you can afford? We have all heard the sayings, like "You get what you pay for" but it is really true in photography. Again, I am sharing this because I have witnessed first hand the regrets many people have had in hiring the wrong "inexpensive" photographer. Ask any seasoned photographer who has been one for more than 15 years, they will share a trail of tears similar to mine.
What is resolution?
- It is a term to describe the measurement and quality of an image. It is usually expressed in a numerical sentence with width x height along with DPI (dots per inch) or PPI (pixels per inch). Such as, 2000 pixels by 3000 pixels or 8 inches by 12 inches @250 dpi is a higher resolution than the same size @100 dpi. The overall size of the image is not an indicator of quality although most larger images do have more resolution. Most photographic printers use a resolution of 250 to 300 dpi, anything more is discarded. If you intend to print large photos, it is important to properly size your photo with the ideal resolution.