Inevitably when I’ve done a good shoot and some random individual (friend, acquaintance, or otherwise) spots it on my computer or in some other format, the situation is the same. They will say “That’s nice, can I get a copy of it?” as though they had some automatic right (probably bolstered by years of downloading copyrighted software and music for free) to hours of my time for free. My polite answer is always “Sure, prints start from $50, electronic one time-usage fees are from $100.” With that, a mute look of incomprehension follows. I already know what their thinking process is. It goes something like:
1) I like that picture
2) I want a copy so I can put it on Facebook or use it on my website which makes me money
3) Electronic copies cost nothing
4) The only thing he did is press a button on a camera, and he wants me to pay for it?
Let’s take a look at some of the costs of taking a picture:
1) Camera – a good pro model can cost anywhere from $2000 to $20000. Digital body values depreciate quickly. And don’t forget, as a pro you need a backup, since if your main camera stops working you’re essentially out of business.
2) Lenses – good quality lenses cost $1000 and up. A typical gig uses at least two of those lenses. Lenses break or need to be repaired when they’re being used. Some depreciate, some don’t.
3) Accessories – tripods which you will actually want to take with you cost a lot, particularly for the ball heads. A good, sturdy camera bag costs at least $300. Filters, batteries, memory cards, etc. all add up additional hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
4) Computer – I do landscape photography and frequently use HDR techniques. A computer capable of processing 300 MB RAWs has some serious horsepower. Additionally I need a large monitor or TV for processing. You’re looking at $4-5000 total.
5) Software – Software costs money since unlike your average photographer I pay for everything I use, and it needs to be updated frequently as new camera bodies and lenses come out (the software package I use has modules which are adapted to specific camera body and lens. If you want the ability to clean up scratched or spotted images, you’ll need something like Photoshop or Aperture. Don’t forget various plug-ins to deal with vignetting, distortion, and other lens characteristics which need to be compensated for.
6) Travel – Like anyone, I need to get where I’m going, whether via public transportation, car, or on foot. Transport takes time and money, both of which I need to be compensated for.
7) Processing – To get the results I want, I shoot in RAW. It gives me the most flexibility when processing. RAWs are big, meaning more computer power and hard disk storage space are required, all of which need to be paid for. Processing images takes time, imagination, talent, and judgment. I need to be paid for all of these before I am willing to give up my work to someone. A shot can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to process. The price of a print factors in the cost of my time spent doing these things.
So as you can see, even before my own time and expertise are considered, photography costs money. I realize that most of you aren’t thinking before you ask these questions, but please take a moment to think for a moment before you ask for something which has value (to me, and to many others) for free. If you take enjoyment from something, that’s worth money. If my work makes money for you through use of advertising or on your website, it’s worth even more money because I am contributing directly to your income.
Also, please stop asking me how I get my results, or what my work process is. This is akin to Toyota sharing the plans for their next car with Ford.
And to answer another frequently asked question, no, I don’t want to take pictures of your baby or your wedding. There are solid professionals who not only excel at these kinds of photography, but also (inconceivable to me) actually enjoy them. Get in touch with them, and compensate them for their hard work.