Wow, now that's what I call a long week. (If this joke isn't making sense to you, please refer to the date on Part 1 of this two-part blog series).
Hi. I'm back. And the reason that "week" has been so long, is because A: I spent the majority of 2022 wedding planning and marrying my husband and B: I have the attention span of a goldfish. But now that I'm here again, I'm reminded of how much I truly enjoy finding ways to try and break down this mystifying barrier that seems to stand between vendors and their clients; discussing questions that feel too taboo to ask, and answers that are too nuanced to search for online. Stuff that's just not "Googleable", as my husband says.
In Part 1, we broke down all of the expenses that go into photography, from the gear to the calculations of time spent working. And yet, this still raises another glaring question: if all of this is true, then why is there still such a large range of pricing between photographers. Are some of them just scamming you, charging way more than what's necessary? Let's talk about it.
To start with the most obvious trait we can measure, let's discuss how pricing will vary depending on the actual aesthetic results you'll receive. Most of us, even if you don't feel like the most artistic person, can look at a side-by-side comparison of a wedding gallery from an amateur photographer versus a gallery from a high-end professional, and likely see a difference.
Let's also compare this to something more tangible, such as a wedding dress. Most of us have heard of clothing websites like Shein or Wish, and you might've even had experience ordering from them before. While sometimes you can get lucky while buying things like shirts or swimwear, most of us understand that if you were to order a $50 wedding dress from Shein — Well, it's going to look like a $50 wedding dress from Shein. Which may even be okay with you, if your expectations are aligned accordingly!
This is very similar to how it works for choosing the right photographer for yourself. There's a wide range of pricing in photography, and there's also a wide range of artistry & skill in the results, from the level of creativity, to the composition, to the editing effects, and the authenticity of the moments that are captured. Meaning there's nothing wrong with having a lower budget, as long as expectations are reasonably matched.
So of course, we can assume that the more beautiful the portfolio is, the more expensive the photographer is likely going to be. But this doesn't really explain much, does it? Are these professionals pricing themselves higher, simply because they're more talented?
Knowledge and Experience
If I had a dollar for anytime I heard someone imply that photographers and artists alike are simply talented, I could just close my business and retire. The thing is, while artists are often born with a slight knack for their trade, this talent is in no way enough to give them a free ride to success. This would be like saying a brain surgeon was born with the gift of removing tumors; though I'm sure they may have had an affinity for medical science growing up, this would totally invalidate the years of extreme study and effort they went through to achieve success in their career.
Likewise, when we see an expensive photographer with a breathtaking portfolio, their pricing is not simply arbitrary due to lucky talent. These photographers have spent years dedicating their time to learning and perfecting their trade, not to mention abundant experience with hundreds of clients. They have an expert understanding of all of their gear, they're comfortable working in a wide variety of circumstances, knowledgable on how to best compose any subject matter, and keep their clients at ease while doing it.
So when a person has a PhD under their belt, they understandably will only accept job positions that compensate them fairly for their valuable knowledge. The same can be said for a professional photographer — they are pricing themselves accordingly for the level of expertise they can offer. And not only does this include just the results of the photos, but the service itself as well.
Quality of Service
Have you ever gone to a restaurant and, even though you thought the food was delicious, the service of the wait staff made you second guess if you'd ever want to return?
The thing is, there's more to a service than just the end result — unpleasant communication, or even a simple lack in communication, can leave us feeling a little sour, even if the product itself was overall good. Like any service, the quality of experience you receive from a photographer can greatly vary. It probably comes as no surprise, but the more cheap a photographer is, it's likely that the level of service that they offer will correlate.
Now please note, this is not to say that one would want to offer their clients a lackluster experience, but rather that they simply cannot afford to offer more if their rates are too low. A high-priced professional is usually offering a much more immersive experience than simply exchanging your money for photos; a wedding photographer may be setting up in-person consultations with you, putting together your timeline, helping you source other vendors, helping to orchestrate during the wedding itself, all while keeping you calm and collected. A high-end family photographer might offer you custom style boards, source clothing for you or even offer a client closet, consultations, and full guided posing to yield breathtaking results from your session.
But the thing is, these photographers are only able to offer all of these things if their prices are allowing them to! A higher-end photographer is able to limit the amount of photoshoots or weddings that they take on each month, and this enables them to spend much more quality time attending to each client individually. A low-budget photographer may not be able to do this, as their pricing forces them to take on a higher number of clients per month to make a sustainable income, which means that they'll likely only be able to offer a limited amount of attention to each client (and in turn, to their business as a whole).
So now that we can understand why some photographers might be priced higher than others, why might we still see a few skilled professional with lower prices?
As with most things in life, there will always be a few outliers in any set of circumstances.
It's not common, though I myself have also seen a photographer or two whose portfolios looked absolutely stunning, but their low prices just didn't add up. How could they afford to offer such a high quality product for such baseline prices? There's a few scenarios that could result in this.
1. They may have an additional source of income. Whether that's a spouse who takes on the household expenses, a family member who supplements them financially, a second job with a much more dependable income, or they could simply have come from a healthy inheritance. Any of these could result in a photographer who's very skilled at what they do, but doesn't necessarily financially depend on it to make ends meet. Unfortunately, this can warp society's perspective of the true value of photography, as it makes self-employed photographers appear to be overpriced, rather than simply sustainable.
2. They could be a newer photographer who's built up their skills as a hobby, but perhaps haven't offered their services professionally before and are looking to gain more experience. These photographers will likely raise their prices eventually to match their portfolio.
3. It's unfortunate, but sometimes if you see a photographer with beautiful work yet strangely low prices — it could be a scam. If you're noticing inconsistencies on their website, feel that they're offering quite an unbelievable deal, or feel the photos appear to be edited in totally different styles, there could be the possibility the images were stolen and are being used by someone trying to grab some fast cash. Or an inexperienced photographer, using the work of others in attempt to kickstart their business. If you're suspicious, it's not a bad idea to A. Always ask to view FULL galleries and B. Ask a trusted photographer you know. We can spot a fake from a mile away!
Sustainability & Ethics
So if you were to walk away from here with any concrete piece of information, it would be this:
As much as it's tempting to view the two options as "normal-priced" photographers and "expensive" photographers, the reality is that what we're seeing is underpriced photographers and sustainably-priced photographers.
When we see something that's priced in a way that feels too good to be true, it very often is. That low price will still find a way of making up for itself, whether that's through a faulty product, an unpleasant experience, or just simply the knowledge that someone was overworked and underpaid to yield said results. What's most important as a client, is to accompany your budget with reasonable expectations as to what outcome you can anticipate, and above all — view those portfolios!
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!
– Gold Thistle Photo