Portraiture and Sticker Shock

I have been asked on numerous occasions why portraits are so expensive, especially when compared to the large retail outlets.
Well, here’s the hard truth about why private studio portraits are more expensive than the chain store guys…
In chain stores (and this has been MY experience only; I can’t speak for everyone) we felt as if we were at a cattle call.  Yes, we had an appointment.  Yes, we arrived about 10 minutes prior to our appointment time.  Yes, we waited in line.  Yes, we were able to watch the families in front of us get their portraits taken.  Yes, the people behind us in line were able to watch us have our portraits taken.  Yes, THAT was uncomfortable. It can be hard to be in front of the lens, and then to have an audience of strangers (or even worse, an audience of people you actually know) would make anyone squirm, and squirm, I have!  Let’s visit the proofs. It’s hard too look natural under duress like that, and the camera doesn’t lie.  You get “x” number of shots, poses, and boom you are done, and if you don’t like what you see? Well, dem’s da berries, I guess.  Have a big pimple in the middle of your cheek on portrait day? Mmmm…sorry about that. Now, mind you, I haven’t had a chain store portrait done in many years, because now I do ours myself (wireless remote is a Godsend).  At any rate, I’m going on the assumption that the people behind the camera are not professional photographers.  It’s been my experience that these folks are trained to set the subjects where they’ve been told to put them.  Tall ones in the back, shorter ones in the front, etc.  These guys probably aren’t making more than $8 or $9 an hour.  
I’m not saying that these retail photo studios don’t have their place.  If you want a few quick shots right now, run in and out, and boom, you’re done, then great.  But remember, you do get what you pay for.  Ask me about the last retail portrait we had done of our family and I will tell you how we were placed in just such a way that the tallest person’s head appeared extremely small, especially when compared to my youngest son’s head, which appeared to have the dimensions of a basketball next to the rest of us.  Poor kid.  Took a couple of years for him to live that down. 🙂
Now let’s look at a private studio portrait photographer.  Not just me, but any of us.  Many of us have been taking photographs with SLR’s for years, have mastered the actual controls of the camera (aperture, shutter speed, white balance, etc.). With the wonderful world of digital photography having opened up to us in recent years, this gives us the opportunity to have instant photo gratification, thus enhancing turnaround time, but on to that in a moment.  We are professionals, and we also had better possess some really outstanding people skills, since not everyone has the ability to make someone feel at ease and comfortable in front of the lens.
Some of us have taken classes, gotten degrees, spent many hours experimenting, or with our noses in books honing our techniques.  That big pimple I mentioned earlier?  Private studio photographers not only know how to make that go away (as well as those pesky dark circles and stray hairs), but will take the time during post processing to fix the issue, whatever it may be.  We will also color correct and take the time with you to make sure that you are relaxed and in a private setting without the world watching you.  Now in my case, I do green screen, which opens up an entirely new choice of settings to pick from, so now my clients get the mood that they are shooting for (no pun intended). 
I know that many of us try to keep our overhead as low as possible so we don’t have to charge our clientele through the nose, but please do be mindful that we need to make a living, also.  After all, would you want to go to work if your employer only paid you a fraction of the salary you are making now?  Portrait photographers are very skilled; not just at the taking of the picture, but the work that goes into your memories after the shoot.  Depending on the situation, the portraits that took an hour or less to shoot have several hours of additional work to be done on them, not to mention the time we spend backing up the processed photos, uploading them to the processor, etc.  I won’t go into all the sordid details, but a one hour shoot usually turns in to an honest 8 hour day’s work afterward for a professional private studio photographer, so when you see that sitting fee, please understand that you are paying us for a day’s work…Hopefully that will put into perspective the cost behind that precious memory that will be hanging beautifully on your wall for many years to come.
Until Next Time…..
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