No matter what kind of job you have, whether it's talking to your boss about it, your employees, your coworkers, if you're commissioning someone (or you're the one being commissioned) — payment always ends up being the topic that makes people feel a little weird. So today, let's get weird.
First of all, hi. I should really start off these blogs by introducing myself, so for a little context, my name is Morgan and I'm a lifestyle portrait photographer based in New Haven, Connecticut. I started this blog hoping to provide a resource for both clients and beginner photographers alike, because I've noticed a lot of holes in the communication between the consumer and the vendor, primarily due to lack of available education. I don't mean education like correct exposure or how to Photoshop acne — education about the "why" stuff. Why should a photographer charge clients upfront? Why didn't my photos turn out the way I had hoped? Why does that person charge so much? Questions like this just don't "google" very well. And so, I'd like to fill some of those gaps!
Think of some of the things you've always wondered when it came to photography pricing, but always felt too uncomfortable to ask. Remember, I've had these questions too — I haven't always been a photographer! Years ago, I know I totally wondered why photography was priced the way it was. Why does it seem so high? Why are some photographers so much cheaper, and some are so much more expensive? Are these people filthy rich?! Let's talk about it.
What Goes Into Photography Pricing
Let's get right into it. What goes into the pricing structure behind photography? Are photographers really making several hundred dollars an hour to click a button a few times?
To quickly nip this [very] common myth in the bud — abso-freaking-lutely not. While we realize that the only time you're seeing us in the flesh is usually during our actual session appointment, there's much more that goes on behind the scenes of photography, both in time and business expenses. Let's talk about the time factor first.
When it comes to time and effort, we need to rewind allllllll the way back to our first point of contact. Now I get it — a knee-jerk reaction might be to think, "What, just a few emails/calls with me costs you money??" Well... of course it does!
If someone works an office job, much of their work is often communication with their employer's clientele. That could be as a secretary taking calls and memos, a receptionist scheduling appointments, a marketing agent sending out campaigns or a salesman sending out proposals. But would any of those employees would be willing to deal with this if they weren't on the clock? Probably not! Their leisure time is valuable to them and, once they clock out for the day, they won't revisit any of these clients until they're back to work the next morning. For a photographer, we are our own secretary, receptionist, and marketer — And we use our spare time to do it.
So while it may seem like a small email thread back and forth with us is no big deal, remember: we're also keeping up with many other customers too, and doing it multiple times a day! Every email we write and call we take adds up, and that's hours that could be spent on laundry, cooking, and time with our families just like you.
Additionally, not all of our communication even leads to closed clients. We get ghosted — a lot! But, that's just part of the risk that we need to take in order to stay in business, and in turn, we need to compensate ourselves for that time in a way that allows us to stay afloat. Once we do close a lead, then comes the time spent on contracts, invoicing, location & wardrobe guidance — hey, wait a minute, all this and I still haven't even met my client yet??
Yep, you get where I'm going with this! Eventually I'll hop in my car and drive (sometimes an hour both ways!) to the session itself, but you can totally see how much it took for us to get to this point.
The Editing Process.
So this is another point of confusion I see often as well. While it may take two seconds to plop an instagram filter on a photo, this couldn't be further from the reality of editing a whole photography session. Before we can even begin, we first have to cull your photos. And let me tell you — you've never done something so time-consuming and utterly monotonous in your life. Sifting through photos that almost look identical and trying to decide which ones to keep can make you want to peel your eyelids off.
Now you may be thinking, okay, then why don't you just edit all of them to deliver?
Well first, because that would make the cost astronomical! But second, because many of these shots are completely unneeded or just plain bad. When we cull, we're getting rid of all the blinks, the blurs, the overexposing, and just general duplicates. Think about it this way: have you ever tried to photograph your pet or child with a phone? You usually have to take about twenty, and you might come out with one or two good ones — That's culling.
And now, we can finally begin the editing. But the more advanced the results, the longer the editing might take. If I had to take a guess, a full 60-minute family gallery with color and black&whites probably takes me at least 2-3 hours to both cull and edit, and sometimes more if I'm really enjoying it (or really having trouble with it). So when we look at just working time alone, that could be a minimum of 6 hours spent attending to each client, from the first point of contact to the delivery of the final gallery.
Thinking back on the typical photography price points — those might not seem so far-fetched anymore!
Business Expenses in Photography
Oh, but wait — we're just getting started! On top of all the hours your photographer will spend between communicating with you and finalizing your gallery, we haven't even touched on all of the *shudder* ...business expenses.
When initially starting up a photography business, investing in quality gear will prove to be a main factor in producing attractive results in their photos, and in turn affect their overall demand as a photographer. Pricing will obviously depend on what state of wear the gear is in and how updated the model is, but generally speaking a new, professional-grade camera with a warranty will cost between $1,500-$5,000 — and that's just the camera body! Quality lenses are an additional $200-$2000 a pop, and most professionals will regularly use at least 2 lenses at all times. Many pros often opt to use two different camera bodies as well!
Beyond this, photographers will also likely be spending a pretty penny on other equipment like lens filters, tripods, flashes, diffusers, memory cards, digital storage drives, and well — you get the gist.
And last, but definitely not least, let's talk about all of the more invisible but very regular expenses photographers accumulate on a monthly basis.
This could be physical components like memory cards and external storage drives (to keep everyone's photos backed up for all eternity!), but many of these are also subscription-based services we utilize to operate our business. Off the top of my head, a few of the monthly payments I regularly make are to my website hosting, client gallery hosting, contract/invoice platform, Photoshop, online advertisements, and even the transaction fees that are taken out of all of my bookings. And let's not forget our dear Uncle Sam, who gets 6.35% of every session I receive.
And then there's gas. Lots and lots of gas.
And so, while all photographers are going to have variations in their approaches and techniques, from a broad standpoint I think we can all see why this trade may not be as lucrative as its pricing may make it appear. And the more professional and appealing a photographer's work is, the more this photographer has likely needed to invest in their business, and in turn, the more they will need to adjust their prices to account for this.
But now that we've learned about these expenses, this may start to raise even more questions for you. If photographers spend all of this money in order to run their business, then why is there such a big disparity in pricing between different photographers? Are some of them charging fair prices and some of them are charging overhead? Trust me, these are questions I once had too, even as recently as the last two years. So in my next blog, Part II, we'll be heading over to the ethics part of photography pricing to demystify why these variations can happen in this economy – Are there logical reasons behind it, or does it mean you're being (gasp!) swindled?!
Let me know below if you learned anything you didn't know before, and I'll see you next week!
Morgan Ofsharick is a portrait photographer in New Haven, Connecticut, specializing in engagement, wedding, maternity, newborn, and family portrait photography. Servicing New Haven, Fairfield, Hartford, Middlesex, Litchfield, and other regions around New England!
It's October, it's a Tuesday, I have about a million things I ought to be doing because it's peak season – but here I am writing a blog anyway.
Months ago, I decided to dismantle all of my old blogs and start fresh. The thing is, each year that passes I grow and gain more insight into this business. I don't always agree with all of my former opinions or rhetoric; at the same time, I've also developed strong opinions about new things as well. All of this is to say that at the end of the day, my main goal is for my sessions to go well, for my clients to be happy, and to give the best advice and guidance I can to ensure both of these things.
So today, we're going to talk about locations, version 2.0. When I first wrote a blog on this topic years ago, I had been doing quite a few backyard shoots at that time on a regular basis. Initially I had written that a great photographer shouldn't need a fancy location, and should be able to get great photos of you wherever you are. While I still totally agree with this concept, I've actually stopped offering to complete sessions remotely at my clients' homes around Connecticut (except for lifestyle newborns). So, why is this no longer my thing, and what do I recommend instead?
It's not that I don't still feel that a great photographer should be able to utilize any location and get beautiful shots, but I realized a few things. First, I started to notice a bit of a pattern with these backyard shoots. To be frank, they consistently just didn't work out well! I began to notice that most of the clients from early in my career who were asking me for these at-home sessions, were generally looking for convenience above all else. While I want my clients to be comfortable for my shoots, the unfortunate consequence of shooting at homes regularly resulted in – too much comfort. I often found myself arriving on time, only to be met with my clients wandering around half-dressed and with no sense of urgency to begin our session any time soon, despite myself being on the clock and the sun going down.
With the style of narrative photography I aimed to market, I found that I needed my clients to be willing to step outside of their comfort zone a little if we truly wanted to achieve these immersive results. A backyard shoot can work well for a couple of quick posed portraits, but for the strong emotive candids I was striving to capture, it just wasn't cutting it. I've learned that in order to get these intimate connections, we need to start in a neutral location with a clean slate and no distractions.
In short, I need to pull you out of your comfort zone, in order to put you back in it. That's where the magic happens.
Now, one thing I'll say is that I still truly abide by my former opinion pertaining to grand or renowned locations. The truth is, while sometimes a famous landmark can be cool, it's not at all something that's necessary to yield breathtaking photos. At the end of the day, my main focus is to photograph you and the way you connect with your loved ones and realistically, much of our background will be blurred and distorted for the majority of our photos. So if your photographer isn't curating locations based on how popular they are, then what are we looking for?
Usually, it's a combination of things:
While a prominent landmark might meet these qualifications on occasion and look great, there's many obscure spots out there that hit the mark with this criteria too. And when I say obscure, I mean photographers will literally come to a screeching halt in the middle of errands because they saw a pretty clearing of trees on the side of the road.
Most drive past spots like this every day and wouldn't even give it a second look, but photographers have a way of making the ordinary look extraordinary. I've photographed in some strange spots around Connecticut; I've shot in the weeds near a train station in Fairfield, I've dragged a friend out to photograph her in a construction zone in Southbury, I've made my boyfriend pull over on the side of the road so that I could run into the woods in Durham to check out some weird-looking trees – all this to say that a photoshoot location is never about its fame, but about its potential.
Many of my favorite locations can't even be found on a map, and I like to keep it that way! Not only because of how gorgeous they look, but because having a photoshoot with no interruptions or distractions is also a big factor. The thing about wanting your engagement photos taken in front of that famous waterfall is – everyone else does too. There's absolutely nothing wrong with going through with this type of backdrop anyway, but having a potential audience and a rushed time frame is just something to consider. If you feel that you're more hopeful about getting the less-posed and more intimate moments that you see in my style of work, a more off-the-grid location is usually more beneficial to all of us.
And again, remember, the landmark isn't what will be the main focus of your portraits – it's you!
This goes for the time of year as well. Because Connecticut turns brown in the winter, I often have clients wonder if this will result in poorer backdrops for photography. The answer? – A hundred percent NO. Brown and beige look stunning in photos and if I'm being honest, many photographers prefer those neutral tones over greens anyway. Foliage on trees is not a determining factor in your portraits, and I've curated my favorite locations based on spots that will look good year round, leaves or not!
If there's anything I'd love for you to take from this, it's that not a single photo in this blog was taken anywhere significant. The photo above was shot in front of a very random and shabby shack we came across that seemed to be some form of maintenance building for storage at a park – but the color and texture was gorgeous. So before you jump to believing you'll need your photos done at the most grand venue in Connecticut, remember that your photographer may have secret recommendations all over the state that they've scoped out themselves. As long as we have adequate light and beautiful colors and textures, we can turn a clump of weeds into something magical.
What do you look for in a location? What type of backdrop are you drawn to the most as a client?
Comment below and tell me all about it!
Morgan Ofsharick specializes in engagement, wedding, maternity, newborn, and family portrait photography, servicing New Haven, Fairfield, Hartford, Middlesex, Litchfield, and other regions around Connecticut. –MEO Photography
While I may appear to spend all of my time photographing families in meadows or lovebirds out on the beach, my photography interests aren't strictly limited to people! It feels like most of my income gets eaten up by bills and taxes, but what the government doesn't take from me goes straight into my favorite hobby – dining out. My boyfriend and I are always looking for an excuse to try out a new restaurant, and we have no shortage of options living in New Haven! But with so much to choose from around us, how do we end up picking a place, especially one we've never tried before. What persuades us to risk a new spot, while we have so many tried-and-true restaurants we know we'd be happy with? The answer is simple to many who spend a lot of time scrolling through their phone: food photography on social media.
Who Needs Food Photography?
My boyfriend, Mehran, may specialize in business and marketing tactics for a living, but as a customer himself he knows the impact that good food photography has on a restaurant because it affects our own meal choices every day. I can't count the number of times one of us has scrolled through Instagram and said, "Wow, look at how cool this burger looks!" and then gone and visited the restaurant that very weekend to try it. It's simple; the human race always has and always will be sold on the visual appeal of products and this is especially true for photos of food – they literally cause us to feel hungry!
So you might think with such an effective and straightforward marketing tool that restauranteurs everywhere would be utilizing food photography to draw in new customers, but equally as often we actually see many who choose not to. Whether it be due to the hesitation of spending money on this venture, or sometimes even the dismissal that something like this would substantially benefit their business, we've found that many restaurant owners decide to forego food photography altogether, usually with the mantra of "our food will speak for itself". Now I don't disagree at all that this confidence and pride in your dishes isn't admirable, and I'm sure it's probably true! But there's just one problem here: you need to get diners into your restaurant first, before your food can do the talking.
Why is Food Photography Important?
Something important to understand here is that, while this may not have been the case back in Y2K, the social media age has drastically changed how businesses receive new customers since then, and this is impacting both brand new food trucks and 50-year-old diners alike. Food photography isn't just a luxury these days, it's a necessity! Now this may not be quite as drastic for a bakery opening up in a very rural town, as competition will likely be low and word-of-mouth will travel simply by the appearance of a newly-painted sign on a window. But for those opening up in a saturated market like West Hartford where there's already several other bakeries right in their zip code, how do they steal some of that clientele? Or for a coffee shop that's been passed down through several generations and sat on the same street corner for decades; how do they maintain steady business when a trendy new cafe opens up the next block over?
In this time of social media and online blogging, there's one thing that is guaranteed to catch the eye of new potential customers, and that's a consistent online presence and engaging content. And there's nothing that's much more enticing than a photo of the freshly-glazed cinnamon rolls you pulled out of the oven this morning. Content like this is what makes potential clients stop scrolling in their tracks and click through your profile and website; they might even make a mental note to persuade their spouse to go visit your restaurant Friday night!
So far I've dabbled in food photography for a handful of Connecticut restaurants and shops, and I can easily say by far that my favorite has been the most recent photos I shot for Curry On Tap, a contemporary Indian food truck coming soon to Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. While some chefs may be tempted to cut corners and forego photography for their dishes, owner Amol A. knew that photos like this are what's going to capture the attention and appetites of potential customers online. Although it requires a small investment, this food photography is going to be the icing on the cake (or chutney on the samosas?) that ties his website and social media together, and converts those phone-scrollers into real live customers that come to find his truck.
Because I'm such a diehard believer in the power of imagery, I also want to talk about some alternative tips for any restauranteurs reading here with me. While there isn't a way to truly replace the quality you're going to get from a professional photographer's work and editing, there are still several reasons why you might want to learn how to make some content yourself as well. The two biggest would be:
First, if you're a brand new restaurant and you've already spent your current budget during the grand opening process, you're still going to need some form of content to post and draw in your first customers in order to kickstart your business; later on when you've saved up a little, you can start looking into investing in a small branding session for some more professional results. And secondly, because restaurants change their menus and produce new specials regularly, it's understandable that the average owner may not have the budget for a new shoot every month. That's why in between branding shoots, it's good to know how to create some decent content of your own so that you can sprinkle these into your social media as well, to have a mix of both professional images as well as real-time blog posts of the new dishes you're cooking up. Continue on for a few tips!
DIY Restaurant Photography.
Although they may not be able to replace the quality of a professional camera, our own phones can do at least a good enough job to still give us some acceptable results for content, but how you use your phone does make a difference! In the examples above I actually used my own smart phone to demonstrate how lighting can have a big impact on the appeal of the dish. The image on the left was taken with the use of some dim yellow bulb lighting, similar to the lighting you'd get in a restaurant. I see this mistake made often, even by restaurants I've been to myself where I know they have good food – but unfortunately photos lit in this way don't usually translate that, especially in conjunction with a phone's lower quality.
However the same exact dish taken with the use of natural light, either outside or by a window, immediately freshens the food up! Now a big tip here is to be mindful of the way that sometimes our phones' auto settings can overcompensate natural lighting to be a bit too cold and blue. If this happens to you, simply go into your phone's editing settings and warm the temperature up, and maybe even boost a little contrast. Same phone and same dish, but two very different results! For some added embellishment, try photographing your dish on the table with some other props, like a pretty cocktail and side salad, or even photograph the plate from directly above the table to get that satisfying symmetry!
So even if you don't feel ready for it just yet, I hope this may have shed a little light on why food photography isn't just a luxury these days and shouldn't be overlooked. I don't say this only as a photographer, but from the perspective of a customer as well! Photography is truly the main selling point for almost anyone who owns a smart phone or tablet; it's what makes us stop in our tracks and click around. What is this restaurant? Where are they located? And what was that amazing sandwich I just saw? So come chat with me, and let's catch some eyes and make your future customers start asking these questions too!
Morgan Ofsharick of MEO Photography specializes in family portraits, engagement, wedding, maternity, newborn, senior, and headshot portrait photography, servicing New Haven, Fairfield, Hartford, Middlesex, Litchfield, and plenty of other regions all around Connecticut!
New year, new blog page! For those who have been around for a bit, you'll know that I've been writing blogs for a while, and I mean a long while, even back to my college days in art school. Recently I came to the realization that I felt my blog page had become, well, clunky; between miscellaneous posts about my old illustration projects and even my own growth and changing opinions as a photographer, I just felt there were too many cluttered topics and thoughts going on at once. And so, I threw the whole page away to start over!
I'll be writing about new topics, as well as revisiting old ones to discuss them in a way that I feel is a little more reflective of who I've become over the last 19 months in this journey. (Has it really only been a year and a half? Starting your photography career during a pandemic really distorts all meaning of time.) So to start, I want to go back to the topic that first inspired me to want to help my clients understand what goes on behind the scenes of not only photography, but many vendors and small businesses in general: The Retainer/Booking Fee. What does it mean, why is it necessary, and why it's not scary at all!
If you've ever worked with a professional photographer before, or maybe with the baker who designed your wedding cake, or even a carpenter you hired to redo your front deck, you likely have paid some form of a retainer fee. It's easy to think of this payment simply as a deposit, and in a way it is, but it's also quite different and more than that.
On one hand, a deposit is simply defined as a first installment or payment that is going towards a final product. However, and I say this in the hope that this blog can be helpful to both clients and beginner vendors alike, the problem with thinking of it as – and referring to it as – a deposit, means that legally-speaking it is refundable. If the client does not ever receive an end product, a deposit cannot be rightfully kept by the vendor, as nothing was ever received for the money. Now if you're a vendor that already sacrificed some time and money on this incomplete project only for it to be cancelled, this sounds a little unfair, right?
Which is why using the terms retainer fee/booking fee/retainer payment (and probably even more names for it that I don't I know of) is verbiage that's considered a deposit, and then some. Not only is this payment a part of the total price, it's also acting as a safety net; in its simplest terms, it's insurance. It is retaining and paying for the vendor's time, effort, and finances that are going into the project, before the product is even delivered. Now as a consumer you might be reasonably thinking, hey, that seems like it's really only beneficial to the photographer, is there anything in it for me?
Before I get into answering that, I want to dig a little deeper into why collecting this retainer fee upfront is so very important for vendors, and why we actually couldn't do our jobs without it!
Let's imagine for a minute that I didn't take a retainer fee upfront, and instead all payment was taken afterward once the photos were delivered. Someone reaches out to me online and wants to book an engagement session with me, and so we plan out a date and time that we'll schedule to meet. In the meantime leading up to the day of their session, I have someone else reach out to me looking to propose to his girlfriend, inquiring about the same date. I ask if there's a different date we could choose because I've already been booked, but unfortunately that date is very important to the proposal, so he moves on to find a different photographer.
Now the date comes where I'm scheduled to go meet up with my engagement clients. I get showered and dressed, and fill up my gas tank to go drive an hour away to the pretty lake that they've picked out as their location. When I get there I notice that they haven't arrived yet, so I text them to know where I'm parked and I wait. Ten minutes go by, fifteen minutes go by, twenty, and I still don't see any sign of them and haven't received any texts. I try calling – it goes straight to voicemail. After waiting for 40 minutes, I have no real option except to drive home, as it's nearing sundown and there wouldn't be enough light left for photos anyway.
When I get home I do try to send a few more messages and emails to see if something happened, but I never hear back from them. About a month later, I look up her Facebook out of curiosity and notice her profile image has changed to an engagement photo – by a different professional photographer.
Just to clarify, this entire scenario was not something that actually happened to me, but it very easily could happen if I didn't collect a retainer fee. There was nothing in place to stop this client from ghosting me and going with another photographer without telling me. Unlike with a salaried job at a place of employment, there are no labor laws protecting me from my client and guaranteeing pay for my time. Despite driving a total of 2 hours, waiting for 40 minutes, wasting that gas, and foregoing any plans for that day, there is no government department I can call to report these lost wages. If anything, this situation caused me to lose money, because I even had to turn away another client who wanted to hire me for that date as well.
Now at this point, I'm sure it's fairly obvious why a retainer fee is imperative to a vendor's business, but does it give any benefits to the client as well? In my opinion, it definitely does. When I see a business that's requiring some form of agreement and booking fee in order to start a job, that says to me that they're professional, organized, and competent. If they weren't asking for these things, I would be a little concerned that they might not entirely know their way around their own business just yet.
This could also give the vendor the opportunity to flake out on you. If there's no agreement and retainer fee that's holding you accountable to them, there's also not much holding them accountable to you either. This could result in poor communication, no shows, slow progress, or even possible ghosting. While a business certainly wouldn't last long with behavior like that anyway, the retainer agreement and exchange of an upfront payment at least can symbolize some faith that this vendor is professional, and is going to do exactly what they've promised to do in the agreement, so that they can get paid, and also achieve your project together!
So remember when I said a deposit can be taken away if no product was ever received by the client? With the use of an agreement, a retainer fee is also paying for the vendor's time, dedication and other sacrifices leading up to creating the final product, not just the product itself. So for any beginner photographers or other commission-based freelancers reading this, make sure you get this verbiage right and use those contracts! Booking fees are the job insurance that we don't have, and without it, photographers couldn't even exist.
I know that sounds funny and a bit dramatic, but with no job benefits or labor laws protecting the self-employed, we actually need to make our own! Things like this are what give us the security to do what we do, so that we can safely put time and effort into growing our business and giving our clients our full attention and dedication, while also protecting our income and ensuring the benefits that would normally come with a standard job. A retainer fee is what retains our ability to stay in business and continue growing better and better, for the benefit of ourselves, and our clients!
Morgan Ofsharick of MEO Photography specializes in family portraits, engagement, wedding, maternity, newborn, senior, and headshot portrait photography, servicing New Haven, Fairfield, Hartford, Middlesex, Litchfield, and plenty of other regions all around Connecticut!