Value in Photography – what’s it worth?

Today in early 2013 Britain has been experiencing it’s worst recession in many decades. If you happen to be employed you may be lucky and the recession has had little impact on your job or wages. In fact some people have just experienced a benefit from the recession with increased buying power and reduced prices in shops and services plus of course that wonderful lowering of interest rates that has helped on your mortgage repayments.

For those who have lost their jobs, the world has for many become a very dark and unfriendly place. Loss of self esteem, lack of money and the ability to share in their normal social life.

So what about the world of photography in this kind of market? What is good value in photography and how can you guarantee that you will be getting what you ordered?

Very few buyers of photography today have experienced previous recessions, you’d have to be in your 50’s to have experienced the last major one in the 1980’s with the three day week and power cuts. What happened then can be a useful example of what is happening now.

First, with people out of work and little chance of getting a job the first thing most people will do is consider what they could do with what they have, most will own a camera and there are absolutely no rules to stop anyone saying they are a photographer – You take holiday snaps, that one of the sunset aunty Maude said was beautiful, how hard could it be to do weddings or portraits? It must be money for old rope!

And so during a recession we always have an influx of people calling themselves photographers offering their services at prices undercutting the long term professional. Unfortunately you as a client are only going to know how good your photographer was after your wedding or event – can you afford to risk not having a result?

There’s an old adage that if something looks too cheap it probably is. So before you start commissioning your photographer stop and prepare that list of qualifying questions that is going to increase your chance in getting value for money instead of wasted money and grief. Here’s a suggested example.

1) How long have you been trading?

2) Can you supply a reference from a previous client that I can speak to direct?

3) Can you tell me of some of the venues you have worked? (Ring the events team there and find out what they thought of the photographer.)

4) Can I see your studio or normal place of work? 5) What professional qualifications do you hold or which bodies are you a member of?

6) What insurance indemnities do you hold? Should be 1-2 million public liability at least.

Obviously a full studio or high street premises will prove a serious intent, don’t just check a web site as proof – all the best scams are worked from there these days. Above all else ask people you trust to recommend someone they have had experience of.

Lastly lets look at some actual costings just to give you an idea of what is reasonable and possible. 20 years ago a top class photographer in the advertising work could be talking £800- £1500 a day. This was a rate for a profession that didn’t have auto focus, auto exposure, digital manipulation and rescuing of incorrectly exposed images. These were skilled technicians with artistic flair at the top of the market.

Today it is possible to produce acceptable results at far less costs and with lower skill levels than required back then but that doesn’t mean to say that it’s possible to run a business and cover all the costs of equipment, advertising, sales and backroom work for the cost of the average wage – if the photographer wants to earn an average wage he needs to add all the costs of the above on to that wage and then divide that total by the amount of work he expects to be able to do to achieve that wage.

Only the other day I heard of a local newspaper offering freelance work at £60 a day – a weeks earnings of £300. Out of that income the photographer had to cover any job they sent you on that day, supply your own equipment, car, fuel, food, computer and download the images when finished. That isn’t a wage it’s extortion.

In the same manner if any person is offering wedding photography with an album and CD of all the images and prints included in the price do the maths – an average quality traditional album will cost a minimum to buy in of £300 (before assembly). The photographer will have spent up to £250.00 for every wedding Fayre they have attended (they might on average book two weddings at a show if they are any good), spent 3-4 hours out one evening perhaps booking your wedding, possibly 10 -12 hours working at your wedding, a minimum of 4 hours sorting images, another 3 to assemble the album, maybe a lot more, time to either go to a lab to get prints done and paid for them or spent even longer printing them themselves. And lastly the cost of delivering the above both in time and money and lastly, giving you a CD of the images guaranteeing no further print sales.

As totals that’s at least £450 in outside costs before you look at time spent (£250+ half wedding fayre cost + prints). The time spent per wedding would exceed on average 30 hours, quite possibly more if the photographer is offering retouching or creative imagery.

If you only expect your photographer to earn the average wage of £25,000 a year with the average 20 days holiday that is £520.84 for a 38 hour week – so to cover their 30 hours at that rate they need to earn £411.30 just for their time (and we haven’t allowed extra for weekend or unsocial hours there). We now have a total of time and outside costs (with no mark up or profit!) of £866.50, with no retail mark up (even Lidels do that) nor any thought of overhead costs – buying new equipment, cameras, lenses,computers, rent rates, heat and lighting, car servicing, advertising like yellow pages. Is it any wonder that wedding photography from a full time professional, someone with the skill levels you need starts at £1200-£1500 and can go up to £2-3000.


Copyright Brian Russell.