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Notes from my “podium”…. {Northern Virginia Photography}

So recent months have brought about some great new clients for my business and I’m so thankful to them and for them!  It’s been a growing year, and at the same time a challenging year.  Did you know photography is one of the most started businesses in the country these days?  You probably do, because you probably know of at least two or three other folks who are now photographers.  They might be your neighbors, your best friend, or even a relative.  It seems Kodak did their job well when we were younger and instilled a LOVE of photography in many, many folks.  With today’s technology, you can pick up a DSLR at any big box store and have a business card tomorrow.  Websites are easy to put up quickly, and voila!  You’re in business!  Well, why not – the camera takes great pictures!  (I love that line – seriously, folks – it might have something to do with a working knowledge of the equipment, you know?  Auto mode only goes so far….)

Don’t get me wrong, I am truly FINE with competition in the business area.  I think it’s great for business and wonderful for clients to have choices.  That means you can select your photographer on their style, and of course, their prices.

But that’s the problem I’m running into frankly…folks who don’t actually run their businesses like businesses, so they charge just a little bit, if anything, for their “time”.  They don’t take into account the wear and tear on their equipment, don’t have business insurance, and worst of all, don’t pay their taxes.  If you don’t want to think about your business like a business, fine…don’t.  But when you don’t pay your taxes, I have a problem.  And I’m putting it out there – if I have to pay my taxes, and I mean my income taxes, the sales taxes, AND the personal property taxes I have to pay by being a licensed business in the county, then EVERYONE should play on the same playing field.  Because if I don’t have to pay those things, I can charge less.  I can be less encumbered by the “business end” of things and focus on just the art of it too….and then maybe we’d be more equalized.

But me, I do look at this as a business.  And I actually believe in following rules…that said, I pay my taxes.  AND I pay any location fees too – I don’t sneak into sites and take photos with a client without paying permit fees.  I feel that if a location is beautiful and picturesque, they’ve made an investment in keeping it up.  Did you know that many places, even historic parks, are permit only for photographers?  It’s usually a $50 fee and application due in advance.  More paperwork, more expenses.  Ah, that’s right – my business works in combination with THAT business!

So where am I going with all this rambling?  Well, I’m saying quite frankly that if you find a photographer that is REALLY, REALLY cheap, look at them closely.  Why aren’t they charging a session fee?  Seriously?  How do you think they pay their bills?  Even if they don’t pay themselves…someone has to pay the taxes, licensing fees, insurance…If they aren’t charging for their services, are they making it up in ridiculously high print prices??  Something to consider – especially folks comparing VERY large commercial photography outfits to the smaller businesses – check those a la carte prices!   Big box stores use their photography studios as “loss leaders” – drawing you into the store to spend money on other things.  Could a photographer not charging a session fee be doing the same?

But what if your photographer isn’t charging a session fee, and has really, really low print prices too?  Where are they getting those images printed?  And who pays for the equipment they use?

How about a breakdown?  These are MY numbers…they vary from business to business.  When someone first contacts me about a session, I –

  • Spend about 1 hour  going back and forth with questions, scheduling and paperwork
  • Spend about 30 minutes preparing for their session (much more for specialty work like newborns, weddings, etc)
  • Travel if necessary to the location
  • Spend 2 hours shooting (regular sessions, newborns & weddings are much longer), usually 1/2 hour before and after talking, explaining, etc
  • Spend 2-4 hours sorting, pretouching, blogging a sneak peek, creating a gallery (sometimes more)
  • Spend another 3-5 hours on the client for ordering, final editing an order, ordering the prints, packaging the prints.

Time wise, I’ve invested AT LEAST 7 hours into every session.  In most cases, it’s closer to 10 hours depending on the number of proofs and prints ordered.

That is BEFORE I consider the following as business expenses:

  • Equipment depreciation
  • Insurance on equipment
  • Liability insurance
  • Marketing & Advertising
  • Internet hosting, web site maintenance, online presence costs
  • Props, backgrounds, location fees
  • Taxes – income, sales & personal property taxes
  • Business licenses
  • Professional dues to educational forums, associations, etc
  • Packaging & Delivery costs

So I ask you – HOW is someone not charging a session fee?

Stepping down from my podium….for now.   But please take the small businesses out there seriously…they are struggling to make a dollar to pay their bills, too…and sometimes the ones that are paying their bills are ones struggling the most.

  1. Thanks for sharing this Patty. As a new photography business in Loudoun County and recently relocated to the states, I have had to go through all of this to be legit and it does cost time and money. Like you, I value my business. I wish that others would play by the rules too, but at the end of the day what matters is that you are doing what’s right. I have found that when it comes to the cheaper prices, you really do get what you pay for and why skimp on something that will last a lifetime? Sorry to ramble on but you hit the nail on the head. Thanks for the post.

  2. Julie Truitt says:

    I agree 100% – I can definitely say that, in addition to really loving your style, we chose you *because* you have a very well thought-out business plan that is detailed very well on your website. It inspired confidence that you were definitely organized, dedicated to your craft, and experienced enough to have anticipated questions, dilemmas, etc. that might come up when people are having their lives documented. In addition to impressing my family and friends with my gallery of your photos, I have told them all that I also am very impressed with your business process as well. Kudos and right on! 🙂

  3. Lu Ryan says:

    I was drawn in by the professional look of your web site and it was the top Google site when searching for local photographers. You have proven you capabilities. We had a wonderful time during the shoot. Thanks Patty

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