In Photography

In this age of ubiquitous and high tech camera phones, almost everybody is a photographer.  Why spend the money to hire a pro?

The goal of the following article is to clarify what you’re paying for when you hire a professional photographer.  If the hourly rate sounds like a ridiculous hourly wage, keep in mind that there is a lot more to being a photographer than showing up and snapping pics for an hour at a time.

What are you really paying for?

1. One hour of photography actually requires several hours of time away from the camera.  Before a session, I spend time preparing, gathering ideas, organizing my gear, and planning posing ideas for people who feel uncomfortable in front of the camera.  After a shoot, I spend hours editing pictures.  So if it seems like too much to pay somebody for one hour of work, keep in mind that you’re not getting one hour, you’re getting several.


2. You’re paying for extensive photo editing.  When a shoot is finished, the real work begins.  I edit each picture individually, striving to make sure each image is a work of art; as polished as possible.  I have had photo shoots with clients who had a scrape or blemish on the day of the shoot where I edited the scrape or blemish out of every single shot.  I have photoshopped gum out of the teeth of subjects.  I have shrunk arm flab, double chins, slimmed bodies, and erased wrinkles.  There are photographers who process pictures in batches to save time, but I am not one of them.  (That’s why it’s important to see the results of an entire session before you choose a photographer – don’t just go with a cheap photographer on the basis of one great image!)  One example of editing is choosing a motif for a particular shoot.  For instance, here is a shot I took at a tire shop recently:


I chose a gritty, red-tinted look for the photos from this shoot, to fit with the feel of the place.  Contrast that picture with this portrait of my youngest:


This picture has a softer feel, a dreamy quality, a very shallow depth of field.  Different shoots call for different editing styles.

3. Photography equipment is not cheap.  Well, good equipment anyway.  There is a lot more to being a photographer than buying a nice camera with a kit lens.  I have spent years researching my camera bodies and lenses, learning which lenses are best for what types of pictures.  The lens I would use to photograph a home interior would be vastly different than the lens I would use to take a headshot, for example.  I read reviews of gear and have upgraded flashes, flash modifiers, light stands, and tripods over the years.  There is a fair amount of research that goes on behind the scenes to make sure I am well prepared for each unique job I am asked to do.


In addition to gear, there are subscriptions, website and marketing costs, and all the costs of being self employed that factor into the price of any session.

4. You are paying for the ability and training to think quickly.  When I show up for a job, I have to quickly acclimate to what is often a new location.  I have to assess lighting, choose sites for pictures and be ready with posing tips.  In addition, I have to be quick with the camera to catch those candid moments in between poses.  This means knowing how to change settings on the camera quickly to make sure I am ready for moving subjects or changing light conditions.  You won’t catch me or any true pro photographer on auto mode — ever.


5. Finally, your money is paying for my expertise on light and composition.  A good photographer is an artist at heart, and it takes an artistic eye to take a picture ABOUT something as opposed to a picture OF something.  A good photograph tells a story, holds an emotion, implies motion and life.

Photographs are inherently a recording of light reflected off a subject.  Therefore, nothing is more important in a picture than the quality of light.  Light has a quality, directionality, and tonality to it that the naked eye rarely notices.  An experienced photographer sees light and can tell when it is hard/soft, warm/cool, and where the light is coming from.  The size, color, and location of a light source all influence the look of a picture.  For example, most cameras have a pop up flash.  Here is a picture that was probably taken with a pop up flash:


Notice the background is black – because the flash couldn’t possibly reach it.  Notice also how bright and washed out the dress looks, and the dark, hard shadow she is casting on her groom/father/some random guy.  This is an example of ugly lighting – it makes the picture look 2-dimensional.  The bride is dead center in the frame.  There is no movement, no emotion, no story.  This is a picture OF a bride.

Here is a picture I took at my little sister’s wedding:


Notice the difference?  No hard shadows, the room behind them is lit but blurred to separate the subject from the background.  No hard black shadows, no blown out details, and the picture looks alive.  You can see how she is feeling.  Maybe this picture conjures up memories of your own wedding, and the nervous excitement you felt on that day.  This is the difference between a professional photographer and an amateur.

In conclusion, I know everybody has a friend with a nice camera, but keep in mind that you get what you pay for.  Hire a professional when you want high quality pictures.  Leave the everyday pictures to your camera phone if you like, but doesn’t everybody deserve some special, one of a kind pictures every now and again?

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