This simple invoice shows the real reasons why professional photographers charge more

Feb 2, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

This simple invoice shows the real reasons why professional photographers charge more

Feb 2, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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We’ve all seen the memes on Facebook in response to the question “Why do photographers charge so much?”. They usually talk about the cost of gear, and other things that your client doesn’t care about. Sure, equipment, insurance, and all the rest of it are expenses you need to earn it back. But, your expenses are your choice. It doesn’t really make difference to most clients whether you’re shooting a 10 year old DSLR or a $30k Hasselblad.

The only thing that matters to your client are the things that benefit them. Your costs are irrelevant. Photographer Don Giannatti at Lighting Essentials has put together a more realistic invoice. It shows things your clients, at least commercial ones, really should care about. Things that help them and their business.

Notice how it doesn’t mention gear, insurance, paying assistants, keeping a roof over your head, or any of that stuff? Because those things aren’t important to your clients. They’re important to you, sure, but your client doesn’t care. They’re not going to pay you more just because you shoot a $6K 1DX Mark II rather than a $1k D7200. Because to them, it makes no difference at all.

Don freely admits that this is a “Smart ass” way of looking at things. Of course, he also admits that he’s a smart ass, so has no problem with that. And while he doesn’t suggest presenting this list to a potential client, he’s still right.

Yes, your costs are important to you, and they are why you need to charge what you need to charge. In the past, we’ve posted a bunch of guides on pricing yourself for various types of photography. You need to cover your costs to stay in business. If you’re not making a profit, you’re not a business. But that doesn’t mean your potential clients are happy to pay it if they don’t understand the value you’re bringing with it.

Some of the things in Don’s invoice may not necessarily apply to your type of photography. But, there are many parallels, whether you shoot weddings, portraits, pets or whatever.

If you do weddings, for example, you’re unlikely to use the risk of a reshoot as an example. Of course, making the client aware that you understand it’s a one-time, never-to-be-repeated event and that you can guarantee you’re not going to have to stop mid-wedding is important and valuable to them.

I’ve seen countless posts on Facebook over the last year “I’m in the middle of a shoot and my camera’s died, what do I do?”. That is a question that nobody calling themselves a professional photographer should ever have to ask. Because the answer is simple. You pull out your backup body, finish the job, then worry about it later. Doesn’t matter what you shoot. If you have to cancel mid-shoot because your camera’s dead, you’re doing it wrong.

Wedding clients aren’t likely to be using the images sell products to customers, either. But, if you can produce images that will make them feel as wonderful when viewing them years later as they felt on the day itself, that is also valuable and worth paying for.

There’s a huge difference between cost and value. Make your clients understand the value of what you do. Because your cost, simply doesn’t matter.

Image used with permission.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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20 responses to “This simple invoice shows the real reasons why professional photographers charge more”

  1. Brian Menin Avatar
    Brian Menin

    I shot a wedding where the bride and groom hired me at the last minute, as they had concerns about their primary photographer. The first one took a huge deposit and disappeared, so this was the second one they hired. I was the third. Normally, I would run the other direction, but they were friends of my wife.

    Anyway, Camera 2, as I will call her, waited until the day before this July wedding to try and rent a speedlite, since her son dropped her only one in the toilet a month prior. Needless to say, she showed up with an entry level Nikon, kit lens, and no flash. Not prepared. And I couldn’t help her, because none of the 5 Canon speedlites I brought would work with her camera. I suppose I could have loaned her one of the two spare bodies and five lenses I brought as backups, but that’s not how I roll. Having a shit-ton of gear does not make one a pro. Having the right gear, and backups, and being prepared, are just some of the things clients are paying for.

    1. Greg Edwards Avatar
      Greg Edwards

      Absolutely. It’s called business continuity or disaster recovery. Something any business or anyone calling themselves professional (photographer or otherwise) should have in place.

  2. Roger Botting Avatar
    Roger Botting

    Showing up on a shoot with 2 Hasselblads with 4 lens, multiple films backs plus a whole Nikon set plus multiple lights, light stands etc to do a quicky shot looks like overkill but, I never was able to quit a job due to equipment hassles.
    And on the one occasion when a flash failed I quietly continued on with the other main flash knowing I had at least one other in my camera bag.
    That is why pro photographers have too much equipment, its not for show, its for go get the job done, the first time.

  3. Kryn Sporry Avatar
    Kryn Sporry

    I disagree with this. Although I agree that the “professionalism ” is definitely worth mentioning, Gear works towards the quality of the end result. For a beauty or fashion shoot intended for big enlargements you need to choose the hasselblad over the d7000. And that does come with a price tag. In addition, insurance and other fixed costs also support the clients end product. If equipment gets stolen it easily gets replaced if you have insurance. Some production shots require a larger studio, so a small studio won’t work. That again comes with a cost.

    1. Allan Alcibar Avatar
      Allan Alcibar

      You’re one of those hard headed motherfuckers that always misses the point of shit and just argues what ever you’re already preprogrammed and stubborn about huh?

    2. Kryn Sporry Avatar
      Kryn Sporry

      Allan Alcibar what’s with the attitude? Did I insult you in anyway? Is it really necessary to become vulgar and insulting?

  4. Gvido Mūrnieks Avatar
    Gvido Mūrnieks

    I am kinda tired hearing photographers whining about, how little they are paid. Let me drop some truth bombs.
    The reason why people don’t want to pay you so much as you think you are worth is because your work is not worth as much as you think!
    Frankly, photography market is too over saturated. Pretty much anyone now can learn how to take ‘good enough’ photographs by spending few hours on youtube. Also, photography gear now is as accessible as it have ever been.

    Also, photography is a business, but most of ‘pro photographer wannabes’ think, that it is a job. A good example of someone like that is the author of the article. When I saw the full invoice of the photographer – I can say, “you have already failed at business and you should find a new job!”
    Don’t blame customers for not wanting to pay for your services, but blame yourself, for investing so much resources in business that doesn’t pay back.

    Here’s what I think about photography as business in general.
    Before you start a business – you have to find a niche/product that people are lacking. Then – provide this product.
    But what people who like photography do is: They decide that they want to jump into business of photography just because photography is their passion/hobby – not because market has a hole to fill.
    And the thing that pisses me off the most, is that they lack the self awareness, to understand their mistake when they start to blame the market(clients) for appreciating their work.

    ps.
    To everyone who loves photography and they feel the urgent need to prove themselves, by earning money with photography – read ‘The E-Myth’ by Michael Gerber.

  5. Greg Edwards Avatar
    Greg Edwards

    Sorry, whilst I appreciate what a photographer does, the gear used and the many years of work and experience to get referred to as ‘pro’. The cost is not justified IMO.

    There’s plenty of other professional creative types who don’t charge these kind of prices and they are able to fulfil similar requirements to that fictional invoice.

    For example, I’m a graphic designer with over 20 years experience. I charge and hourly rate, most of us do the same. I work for a company and get paid a fixed annual salary, as do many other designers. People use me because of my skills, talent, creativity, being able to design ‘within the brand, make technically correct and accurate artwork and deliver on time. In short the same breakdown as the photographers invoice above. The difference is, these are not chargeable extras, it’s part of the deal, it’s what I do and all other creative types do. It’s what’s expected of you as a professional creative.

    I also play in a covers band, and have played many weddings and functions, often where there’s a hired photographer too. The amount of gear used (personally purchased – no tax deductions!), the experience, talent and hard work involved is the same or if not more than an average ‘pro’ photographer. Yet the photographers will often quote higher than bands! It’s still a full day’s work for us too you know, and rehearsals learning those special songs you wanted.

    In short, the only reason pro photographer charge as much as they do is because they can.

    1. Rafael A. P Maduro Avatar
      Rafael A. P Maduro

      Totally disagree with you as a motion designer and owner of my own company I do charge more for my years of experience and while I can’t charge you because I bought the latest hardware/software I do charge you because of my expertise and the faster and reliable delivery times I can get with this combinations. Is immoral not to, I do invest 24/5 working and learning tons of tons of different software’s techniques, and many other stuff to be on top of my game and if you hire me and my prices reflect that, you can go to the corner and find that other guy that is trowing his life away by not charging right and that is just fucking up all the market value of our profession, this is truly a shame to hear from other 20+ veteran like yourself. I also did work for a fixed salary but the cost of doing that is I couldn’t afford to live decently and my salary was consider very above normal for my location, after just 2 years out and I made twice as much and this year is projecting 3times at least to be conservative. So no I don’t agree with your comments

      1. Greg Edwards Avatar
        Greg Edwards

        I am very pleased for you and your success. But maybe you have missed my point, perhaps I generalised too much. I was trying to compare your average ‘pro’ wedding photographer, with similar skill set and experience to other similar level working creatives, and that there is disparity in what they charge and what for.

        Being a salaried designer who’s life doesn’t revolve around work does not make me any less professional than a self-employed designer like yourself. I enjoy my work and it suits my lifestyle. I am frankly insulted that you imply that I, and other similarly salaried designers are immoral, throwing our lives away and messing the market up for you.I produce good work, that both my employer (multi-national corporation) and customer (local government) are very happy with.

        There’s always going to be ‘superstars’ in all types of creative fields. Whether is photography, music, acting, art and design. But there’s a lot of equally talented, hard working professionals who enjoy what they do and don’t seek fame and fortune. This is the people I’m talking about.

        Life, and being professional, is not about money. It’s about attitude, keeping you and your customers happy and doing good work.

        1. Rafael A. P Maduro Avatar
          Rafael A. P Maduro

          thank you for your reply, i do appologize if in my rant i sounded rude, that wasn’t my intention, i did work for a fixed salary for over a decade and i did made 6-10 times my salary to the company i was working for, of course they were pleased as i’m sure yours is too, since you are a golden goose to them trust me on this, i learned the hard way, again i do appologize for my bad structured and rush answer that wasn’t my intentions.

          1. Greg Edwards Avatar
            Greg Edwards

            Not a problem. Thank you for you kind reply and insight.

    2. Doug Sundseth Avatar
      Doug Sundseth

      ” I work for a company and get paid a fixed annual salary…”

      Critical point. You have a variety of things wrapped into that salary, including surety of income stream, vacation, somebody else to pay for the lights and heat, insurance, and so on. If you were working freelance, you would have to charge a significantly higher hourly rate to handle the miscellaneous expenses and the variability of the workload. I made the choice to work as a staff photographer for just those reasons. In fact, we have both contract and staff graphic designers here, and the contract designers get paid more per hour for exactly those reasons.

      “In short, the only reason pro photographer charge as much as they do is because they can.”

      First, I don’t see the problem with that. I’m fairly sure that you negotiated for the highest salary you could get as well. Charge what the market will bear.

      But if the photographer in this article were to actually present a bill with those line items, he would be a fool. It would make him look unprofessional. No customer really cares about much other than a professional relationship with professional results in a style that matches the customer’s needs.

      The real problem with photography income is that the supply of good-enough photographers is significantly greater than the demand for the product of good-enough photographers. As in many other creative professions, the result is that you can make absurd money if you are “that guy”, you can make decent money if you can or will do things nobody else can or will, and if neither of those applies, you can eat ramen.

      1. Greg Edwards Avatar
        Greg Edwards

        You are of course correct in your replies to my points. This article rather irked me that the author proposed the breakdown of an invoice into items are are fundamentally expected of any creative professional, as a way to vastly increase the cost.

        I get the point of the article, but the execution is terrible.

        1. Jon Avatar
          Jon

          These things might be expected but in this case you could argue that photography is a profession where a lot of people will be trying to offer you a service on the cheap whilst potentially not having the skills and equipment/support to deliver them.

          1. Greg Edwards Avatar
            Greg Edwards

            In which case, these particular photographers are not professional and should not charging professional rates.

  6. Rafael A. P Maduro Avatar
    Rafael A. P Maduro

    I just have to go to a meeting to explain my client why he is paying 1/8 of my real costs if he wasn’t on a yearly contract since they keep asking on the value of their money, this is in the lines of what I actually answered him yesterday, we offer a serie of services to cost since they committed to a fixed price per year and that put’s them on a really great position to have better value but it seems that they only want to translate my invoices to the amount of sales of that month, truly shitty if you ask me, and this is the first month so help me God

  7. Silverwing Lopez Avatar
    Silverwing Lopez

    Every project based hire needs to present their invoices exactly this way. May be even as a quote. Just finished helping a client plan a 12-month communication plan including video, photo, audio and on-line. When I presented the invoice, the comment was – we could have done this ourselves. why are we paying you so much?

    I almost gave a SA (smart ass) response as above. However, my face must have done the talking. They quickly agreed to pay.

  8. nestea Avatar
    nestea

    Seems like a personal issue. If people don’t want to pay you a lot of money, that’s your problem, not theirs.

    I personally find these prices outrageous. I have never charged a dime for taking a few photographs for a friend, I do it because it’s fun to do something nice for people.

    Photography isn’t rocket science, if it’s your sole form of income, learn to live within your means.

    In 2017 everyone can afford a camera and everyone has a smartphone, if you can’t deal with that, go do somthing else, because being bitter is not a quality that attracts many clients.

  9. nestea Avatar
    nestea

    Seems like a personal issue. If people don’t want to pay you a lot of money, that’s your problem, not theirs. Go get a degree if you want to make money.