Why do we charge for our services?

I was recently asked… “Why do you charge £200/£350 for a 3 hour shoot unless a model is shooting photos for your projects or commercial work?”

I have been asked this question before and I love it when the question is coupled with the comment; “it doesn’t cost you anything – especially since you are shooting in digital.”

I am now inspired to talk about this issue. Why charge SO much?

First, like any other job, photographers get paid for our time. One needs to consider that a shoot of JUST 3-4 looks can take anywhere from 3-10 hours, depending on stylists, MUA's and travel time to different locations, etc.

Perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration. However… I will give you an example: I shot the other day with this woman, Heather. I have posted a photo or two of her. I told her that I would give her 5 hours of my time.

In my head, I pictured that to be about 10 outfits. I got through 6 – and that was shallow coverage of each of them. (As a sideline: the reason for the multiple outfits with shallow coverage was to create a portfolio for her that gave the appearance of multiple shoots and basically work in different genres).

So back to this talk of money: Say for example, a model is being charged £250 for a shoot where she gets 4 looks, no stylist, no MUA, just the model and whatever she brings.

£250 and maybe 5 hours of shooting (just to keep things simple), that works out to be £50 per hour... not a bad gig for a photographer… right? Heck… not a bad gig for anybody.

However… that isn’t accurate.

After the shoot, the photographer has to go through the images and not only select the best out of hundreds of shots (okay… this figure is arguably not accurate… some people shoot a bazillion photos – others shoot five and spend most of the time composing), and then we have to edit them. Editing doesn't always consist of removing blemishes; it's more about alterations in colour and exposure of the shot. Those things are rather vital.

I usually spend at least another 4-5 hours selecting and editing. So again to keep things round and simple, let's say 5 more hours of work, dropping the pay rate to £25/hr... still a lot but also a hefty cut.

Now let's consider the fee the photographer has to pay for their studio that you get to enjoy the comforts of - £750 per month is a generous statement for rent and utilities of a small office. My studio rent is not that hefty… but some places are much more. Include into that figure some expenses for equipment and now you are more in line to what my expenses are. So let’s say on an average month of 30 days it costs £25 per day just to open the door of the studio. Figure that into the pay rate - rent takes out another £2.50 per hour – so we are at £22.50/hour now.

I am going to end things here. But, realize that some photographers have assistants to help them – and that could take a nice chunk out of the remaining £22.50/hr. While the initial £250 may seem like a lot and honestly it is, most of us deserve at least that. Not everyone can be a great photographer, just like not everyone can model... if they could, none of us would have a job.

A lot of photographers will justify the cost by the expense of their equipment. I've seen comments like:

"How much a photographer spends on the equipment he/she uses to shoot the model should not matter how much you charge a model, it's not our fault you spend so much on your equipment."

I guess in a way you're right... but models are most certainly benefiting from my expenditure. After all, my camera alone cost near £5000 without the lenses. Add in lenses – and we are looking at almost £9000. Without that expenditure we'd both just be looking at each other.

While we're here, let's have another quick discussion… Let's address the amount of photos models get back from the shoot.

Many photographers (especially those who shoot digitally) will shoot hundreds of photos in a session. Considering that digital imagery doesn’t cost anything other than hard drive space and memory cards – most photographers feel that more images can be better. Ultimately, the more images taken means that there is a higher chance that a lot of the images will be the same or similar (i.e. 5 or 6 images taken of the same pose). It also allows a photographer to try settings or poses or situations that may not lend themselves as good to images as other things do. This means that not all the images will be quality – and probably a larger percentage than if the photographer was shooting in film.

Most likely if a photographer is shooting large quantities of images, and they engage in editing them, they probably will not be editing every image. Personally, when I was shooting in film, I had a ratio of 1 image in 6 that I really liked. Now that I have gone digital, the ratio is about 1 in 10. That means that out of 10 images, 9 of them never get edited.

I have had models ask me why they don’t get copies of every image – even if they are unedited. The reason that I give is because my photos are my artwork. I don’t like to release unfinished art – or images that don’t meet my standards for excellence. I don’t want rough images to be out there (the internet, in circulation, etc…) bearing my name and or my mark and ultimately giving people the wrong idea about my work. I try to explain this concept to new models prior to their shooting with me. However, some photographers are not that clear.

So… a 3 to 4 look shoot generally nets about 15-20 good photos – maybe 3 great ones. That really isn't many, I know. But you don’t need any more than that. If a model has 20 images wearing the same outfit with the same background… what does it show? You had one successful shoot? Clients want to see that you are diverse and can do whatever it is that they need you to do. Not that you took a bazillion photos in one cute outfit. Or worse… a bazillion photos in a horrible outfit.

"Why not give me a CD and let me choose the ones I want to use?"

While it is a good question, I still am in a position to cringe whenever a model asks me this. I tell them… we are our own worst critics… and from previous experience, models do not know what it is that agencies and clients are looking for and therefore are not in the best position to make these selections.

Reprinted with the kind permission of Matthew B Harrison.