Something I hear a lot of people outside of the creative industry complain about is how “expensive” it is to hire a creative for a service, purchase a product from a creative, etc.
There are a lot of differing opinions on this topic, and rightfully so. ALL of us creatives struggle with pricing and separating the business side of things from our self worth as an artist. However, I wanted to give a little break down from my personal experiences as a photographer on why it can be so expensive for a creative entrepreneur/artist to survive in both the arenas of fine art and client work.
PHOTOGRAPHY IS A LUXURY.
Whenever someone complains about the pricing of a photographer, I have to remember that these services and products are a luxury. In fact most creative services/products are purely luxury. Nobody NEEDS to have photos of their babies to be taken professionally, nobody NEEDS fancy calligraphy for their chalkboards at their weddings, nobody NEEDS a custom dress for their event, and nobody NEEDS original artwork for their living room wall (but everybody wants those things.)
When you think about the costs of being a photographer in general, it may seem like we charge a lot for no reason. Many people argue that we’re just “pushing a button” or creating imagery from existing things in the world, from the likeness of others, or from event setups that we didn’t set up on our own. I’m not really going to get into that argument here because that infuriates me on a creative level, BUT I’d like to break down the general costs of being a photographer in a practical way to show some perspective:
$2,000+ per camera (most photographers have at least 2)
$500-$1,500 per lens (most photographers have multiple)
$75-$200 per camera bag (most photographers have multiple)
$20-$70 per memory card (most photographers have multiple)
$1,500-$2,000 for a computer
$600 per year for editing software
$100+ in camera straps/harnesses
$60-$300 per hard drive (most photographers have multiple)
$300+ for artificial lighting (not to mention costs of backdrops, studio overhead, etc.)
We haven’t even talked about TIME. There are years of education, marketing efforts, and trial and error that go into creating/branding a photographer’s style and skill. A unique vision and perspective is what differentiates all artists from each other- this is definitely something that needs to be monetized even though it is honestly priceless.
Throw in the costs of having an LLC, business insurance, miscellaneous fees, property taxes, offsite mailboxes, accounting software or accountants, possible interns/employees/assistants, gas for travel, and overhead costs if you’re not working from home and you’re looking at a lot- and I’m talking about digital photography, not even film!
I read an analogy a while back about mainstream products/services vs. creative services- You don’t walk into the Apple store and start bartering with the sales person about how much the iPhone costs… you simply leave if you can’t afford it and come back when you can. You don’t tell the salesperson a sob story for why you should get a discount, or ask to get it for free because you know the guy or think that the iPhone would be a great fit for you! You don’t try to negotiate with your doctor. You don’t try to negotiate with your plumber. Why is it that creatives don’t get treated the same way? People are always so confrontational when creatives’ services don’t fit their budget (which is why so many creatives end up being flexible with one in the first place.)
This past summer I was lucky enough to be able to have a photography exhibition displaying a lot of my music photography. I was approached by a venue that offered me usage of their space in exchange for doing photography work with them in trade. Here’s a list of the breakdown of costs it took to successfully put on this art show:
$400 in trade for facility usage (1-3 hours of my time for shooting/editing)
$1,000ish for printing costs and buying frames/framing myself
$200ish on food and drink for 50+ guests
$150ish in wine (donated, thank God)
$300ish in beer (donated, thank God)
Many of the pieces I showed were from situations in which I photographed for very little pay (editorial life isn’t super lucrative y’all) or for personal work, not to mention some were shot under contract in which I was not allowed to sell the images. I sold about $1,000 in merchandise at the exhibition (t-shirts, hats, and small craft items in which I still had to make or pay for upfront at some point) and thankfully for that I was able to almost break even with the costs of printing/framing. Many of the art pieces were priced around $200 and did not sell at the show, and now they are on display in another local business in hopes that some will sell in the future. Obviously if I had sold all of them I would have made a profit, but that’s usually unlikely therefore most times you’re just trying to recoup what you put into having the show in the first place.
I’m currently planning another art show for a series I started 4 years ago and it’s been even more expensive due to the nature of the pieces being made from a rare film that’s been discontinued. Each box of film is $45 for 10 exposures, which is insane, AND the venue will be taking 25% of the profits from anything sold (somewhat standard when showing in a gallery setting.)
None of these break downs are meant to be stated in a bragging way, nor to encourage others to feel sorry for artists- we totally chose this career path because we love doing what we do! There are also a few ways you can save money with donations, sponsorships, and grants, but most of those options usually have strings attached.
I’m also not here to teach you how to run a business, because with my art degree you can see in a lot of situations I’m basically breaking even. However, I think it’s needed and practical to explain these break downs in order to give some perspective to those not in the creative industry on why our prices are what they are.
Next time you see an artist’s work in a gallery or want to hire them for any sort of custom service be it photography, painting, calligraphy, logo design, whatever- remember that there’s way more going on in the background than what you may see on Instagram or on the price tag!
AND on that note- come to my show on December 20th! Even if you can’t buy anything, just coming out to support is appreciated more than you’ll ever know!
Photos of my exhibitions by my good friend and fellow photog, Eric Garcia!