What does it take to really run a photography business?


I’ve got a camera – I can be a photographer right?

The huge influx of people calling themselves photographers, as well as the many dissatisfied clients that they send our way has led me to write a quick blurb on some of what goes into creating great photos and running a photography business.

First of all there is the obvious equipment – camera bodies, selection of lenses, flashes, studio strobes, light stands, backdrops – the list goes on. Professional gear is not cheap and a lot of it needs to be updated or replaced fairly often. Now as great as the pro gear is, and as much as it aids us in capturing great images – it really doesn’t start or finish there. Think of your favourite musician. Does the quality or model of their instrument effect their creation of great music? It may help them stay in tune or fit more comfortably in their hands, but it won’t create a song for them. Or how about a master chef? Do you think he could create the same meal using your stove & utensils as he could with his professional equipment? Of course he could. The equipment just helps things be more consistent, or is built to withstand the abuse of daily use. It’s the exact same thing for photographers and their equipment. It’s funny how often I hear things like “Wow, that camera takes good pictures”. I wonder if chefs, or musicians, or carpenters or any other profession gets that? No, the true skill in taking good photos comes from years of learning and applying those skills. It develops from consistently taking new courses, learning the latest posing & lighting techniques, and subjecting yourself to critique from within the industry to help you grow. Again, all this has cost associated with it – both time and money. Then there is software and computer equipment for processing images, proofing, accounting etc. Add to the list phone, utilities, rent or mortgage if outside studio space is being used, advertising, internet & website. We can’t forget insurance – both liability and coverage for our equipment. All this needs to be covered before any time goes into the actual session and images. If any of you own a business you know that you don’t want to be paying for this out of your pocket – the business needs to take care of it’s own expenses.

Now let’s look at what goes into the actual session. (Just the basics, not including time spent on consults, email, phone calls, setting up appointments etc.) I am going to use a 40min standard family session as an example, though it is similar for any session type. Before the family even arrives (assuming it is in studio so no travel time or extra planning are required) there is at least 1/2 hour spent checking and cleaning equipment, setting up backdrops, lights etc. Then we have the actual session for 40 minutes. Now we need to load all the photos into our software to start the post production  – add another 10 minutes.

Post production. For the average family session I will take anywhere from 80-130 photos. First thing is to “cull” out the images that have soft focus, eyes closed, funny expressions, bad poses because someone had an itch etc. Remove anything that is not up to standard and won’t be flattering to the client. So now we’ve narrowed it down to roughly 30-60 acceptable proofs. Time taken – approx 30 minutes. Here’s where things start to deviate depending on session type or location etc. For simplicity I will use a high key white setting as an example so limited post work is necessary. All of the acceptable images receive general sharpening & colour correction. Two or three images will receive the full treatment as samples to help the client visualize what their chosen images will look like when finished. Add another 40 minutes. This brings our total time to get the photos ready for the client to view to  2.5 hours.

Next comes the viewing & ordering session. This is generally 45 minutes. Then the selected images need to receive the same full processing as our samples. Depending on the selected number of images this could take anywhere from 20-60 minutes for the average family session. Next comes either uploading to the lab for prints or prepping and burning to a disc – 15 minutes.

So for a standard 40 minute family session I spend 3-4 hours from start to finish. So is it really possible to give a disc of all edited images and an hour session for $40 as I’m sure we’ve all seen advertised? I guess if it is a hobby – but then what quality does that really get you? If that is a business model? Well, you do the math….

Photos are meant to last forever – cherished heirlooms – memories in print so to speak. Quality work is worth investing in and something that you should be proud to display on your wall for all to admire. We will quickly spend $40 on fast food for a meal that is gone and forgotten in no time – is that really all we want to spend on something as important as photos that should last a lifetime? Memories that can never be replaced?