first three no flash

Why Photographers are So Expensive: A Break Down by Jordan Hefler

Why Photographers are So Expensive: A Break Down | Jordan Hefler

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.

Why Photographers are So Expensive: A Break Down | Jordan Hefler


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!

DID YOU KNOW that vinyl lettering like this for a gallery showing costs at least $200?

DID YOU KNOW that vinyl lettering like this for a gallery showing costs at least $200?

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)

Image from  First Three, No Flash  exhibition

Image from First Three, No Flash exhibition

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.

Why Photographers are So Expensive: A Break Down | Jordan Hefler

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.)

Why Photographers are So Expensive: A Break Down | Jordan Hefler

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.

My favorite meme out there

My favorite meme out there

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!

Click the image to RSVP on Facebook!

Click the image to RSVP on Facebook!

Why Photographers are So Expensive: A Break Down | Jordan Hefler

Photos of my exhibitions by my good friend and fellow photog, Eric Garcia!

First Three, No Flash | Music Photography Exhibition by Jordan Hefler

First Three, No Flash | Music Photography Exhibition by Jordan Hefler

So if you have been living under a rock and haven't seen my 58208 posts about it, I had an exhibition for my music photography and it went sooo well! I literally posted about this show an obnoxious amount for fear of nobody showing up and it ended up being about three times as packed as the photos you'll see below (which was awesome but also stressful but mostly awesome!)

First Three, No Flash | Music Photography Exhibition by Jordan Hefler
First Three, No Flash | Music Photography Exhibition by Jordan Hefler

Here's a little run down if you weren't able to make it to the show or don't know anything about it:

It happened at Perkins Rowe, a beautiful and hoppin local outdoor retail area in Baton Rouge where I typically stroll around and go shopping at stores like Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, and J Crew. Basically one of their spaces has been empty for a while and instead of waiting for someone to lease it they started to utilize it for pop up events. They asked me to do a pop up art show there a few months ago and it got my wheels turning- I figured this would be a good time to do a show since I haven't done one in 4 years! I decided to do an exhibition of my favorite concert photos I've taken in the past 3-4 years and title the show "First Three, No Flash." More about what that means in a second.

First Three, No Flash| Music Photography Exhibition at Perkins Rowe by Jordan Hefler
Perkins Rowe in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Because it's a space originally intended for retail, there are areas on the wall with hanging rods and shelving units. My family got together and helped me drill holes in a bunch of scratched records and we put my logos on them and strung them from fishing line and tinsel to help cover those spots on the wall. This ended up being a perfect backdrop for photos and also added some fun shiny branding to the space!

Drilling holes through records for decorations
Hang records and CDs from fishing line in front of tinsel for a fun photo backdrop

The reception took place from 7-10pm on June 1st and it was a success! My mom and aunt bartended, my boyfriend helped stock the beer, my dad was the merch guy, and my brother used his truck to help move everything. Tin Roof graciously donated beer, Jay Ducote donated some of his Blanc du Bois white wine, and Capital City Records gave me some scratched records to use as decorations. We even had a rum drink we named "Mosh Pit Punch" but unfortunately spelled Pineapple wrong on the sign LOL which you can see in the photos below. Last but not least, my FAVORITE local artist Thomas Wimberly asked to do some painting renditions inspired by my music photography...obviously I said YES and he made some amazing pieces to put up next to my work!

Paintings by Thomas Wimberly inspired by photography of Jordan Hefler | First Three, No Flash
Thomas Wimberly and Jordan Hefler at the First Three, No Flash exhibition in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Thomas Wimberly and Jordan Hefler at the First Three, No Flash exhibition in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

One of my favorite things I got to do for the show was make a playlist of songs only from artists I've photographed and having it play over the speaker as people looked at the work. This wasn't that hard for me because I typically try to photograph artists that I listen to in the first place! I tried to exclude the heavy heavy heavy music and really tried to find edited versions of the rap songs haha (it was a public event, I didn't want to get too crazy!) You can follow that playlist on Spotify here!

BIG thanks to my friend Eric Garcia for offering to come take some photos at the start of my opening reception! It really was surreal to see my work printed large scale and have a ton of people come out to view it. My artist statement was printed on the wall next to the images, and you can read it below


There’s nothing quite like photographing live music. Lights are flashing making it hard to meter your shot, crowd surfers are falling on top of you and your gear, the guitarist on stage is thrashing around, security guards are yelling at you to see your photo pass…. you’re completely at the mercy of what is happening in front of you as well as your surroundings and access limitations. Lighting is unpredictable, the fans are unpredictable, and most of all the performances are unpredictable. It’s an experience that is truly out of your control as a photographer. The adrenaline rush is insane as you are trying to get all of your shots in a short window of time for your assignment, while usually sharing a small space with other photographers competing for the same thing. Your time in the photo pit is intimate without being intimate at all. Being an artist documenting other artists is surreal, frustrating, rewarding, and liberating all at the same time.

"First Three, No Flash" is the industry standard rule for photographing concerts, meaning credentialed photographers can generally only photograph the first three songs from a specific area and utilize what light is available. These limitations affect what type of lenses you bring, how many cameras you use, and how you approach your assignment. This rule is widely understood by the music industry and generally applies to the press. There are exceptions and your access is dependent on who hired you, what the venue is, if you know the band, etc. but you’re generally only allowed in the photo pit or soundboard area for the first 15 or so minutes. That time goes by fast when you’re wrestling with all of the variables at hand. The “First Three, No Flash” rule is said to have caught on in the 80’s:

“Paul Natkin, one of Chicago’s best concert photographers stated in an interview that the rule started in the 80’s with bands playing in New York. During concerts, the photographers, only having 36 shots available per reel of film became concerned with the lighting and started using flash to light up the artists on stage. This caused many artists, such as Bruce Springsteen a bit of a headache when fifty or so photographers started flashing him as he walked on stage. The Boss became concerned with this practice and said something needed to be done. According to Paul, someone came up with the idea of just letting the photographers shoot for the first fifteen minutes, or first three songs as the average time per song is around five minutes. It was around this time when MTV appeared on our television sets and artists wanted to look perfect on stage photos as they did in their music videos.” -Fred van Leeuwen,

I have always been drawn to old film photos of Led Zeppelin concerts in the 70’s and have gotten such emotional reactions to images of young screaming girls chasing The Beatles in the 60’s. I grew up thinking how important it was that someone had captured those moments, and dreamt of being able to do the same with the bands that I loved. With a photography degree in 2014 and no idea what to do with it, I quickly got burned out from photographing everything people told me I should do…until I dove head first into music photography. 

This exhibition highlights the concert photography opportunities I have had over the past 3-4 years, as well as artwork by Thomas Wimberly inspired by these photos. All of the songs playing over the speaker are from bands and artists that I’ve photographed, many of which you will see on the walls today. Most images on display were photographed during the first three songs without flash.

The past few years have been SO much more work than you could ever imagine, but gave me experiences that have intensified my passion and appreciation for music, photography, and the art of the fleeting moment in general. Photographing live music is hands down my favorite, and I am eager to see what opportunities in the industry are next.

I just want to reiterate how thankful I am for anybody who helped support this show by donating something, helping me set up, letting me hang flyers in their store, or buying anything! I sold a ton of merch (if you didn't get a chance to scoop something I have stuff in my online store here) and am hoping to do more pop up shops like this in the future. I also unveiled two new products at the show- the Thank You Tee and the Do What You Want Record Bowls!

Do What You Want "Thank You" Tee
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