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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

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!

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!

How I Manage Back Pain as a Photographer by Jordan Hefler

as a Photographer | Jordan Hefler

If you have been following along for the past few years, you know about my annoying back/neck saga. A quick summary: during my senior year of high school, I went to the chiropractor a lot because I always had back pain. I dealt with it throughout college not knowing what was going on, and as soon as I graduated decided to go to the doctor and start getting into yoga. Come to find out, I have an extra lumbar vertebrae in my lower back which contributes to some crowding and pain. Flash forward to 2016 when I was working full time at a desk job as a graphic designer and doing photography in the rest of my free time- my right arm and hand started going numb and had stabbing pains, so I went and had an MRI and we discovered that I had a slipped disc and multiple bulging discs in my neck. I tried epidural shots, physical therapy, and chiropractic care but we decided to go ahead and do a full disc replacement surgery in my neck in late 2016 (I was 24.) We’ve since realized I also have a cyst in my lower back that gets inflamed really easily, so for the past 2 years I’ve really just been trying to learn how to live life and manage the pain in both my neck and lower back, because it doesn’t look like it’s going to be going away anytime soon.

Little did I know…

Little did I know…

People love to ask “Well what happened? How did this happen?” and the answer is… nothing. It was a weird storm of genetics, habits, my athletic childhood/high school years, and career choice that probably created these problems. But now that I’m aware of what’s going on and am getting better at figuring out my body’s limitations, I’ve become stronger and more attentive to what I need to do to be successful in both my personal life and business.

The peak of my modeling career

The peak of my modeling career

Here are the 10 main things that I attribute to helping me manage back pain as a photographer:

1. DRY NEEDLING

I’m obsessed with dry needling. I’ve been getting this done 2-3 times per month in my neck and lower back for almost the past 2 years. If you’re unfamiliar with dry needling, here’s a pretty good overview about it in this article here. It’s is a technique that’s kind of similar to Acupuncture but it’s facilitated by your physical therapist and is done with different/smaller needles. Basically they just stab needles into the areas you’re having tension in, and it causes the muscles to reflex and loosen. Sometimes I don’t feel it happening at all and other times it’s excruciating- there was this one time my muscle was so tense that it bent the needle LOL. I did an IGTV episode on dry needling that you can watch here!

2. CAMERA STRAP

OMG! Carrying heavy cameras around your neck is terrible for your discs! I would not be surprised if this is a big factor that lead to my discs to start bulging/slip. I now use the Black Rapid double-harness camera straps because when I wear two cameras, they balance each other out through wearing them on my shoulders like a backpack, and when I only want to wear one I can wear it across me like a purse. This puts more pressure on my shoulders vs. my neck and it’s made a HUGE HUGE difference.

3. SALTWATER FLOATATION THERAPY

This is something new I’ve been trying and I love it! I’ve been going to Fleauxt here in Baton Rouge and it’s a saltwater therapy facility. I’ve done 3 sensory deprivation sessions at Fleauxt over the course of the past few months and I really feel so relaxed and less tense after I leave. You basically lay in a tub full of saltwater (they put 1000 pounds of Epsom salt in there so you are really F L O A T I N G) for an hour. You can choose to lay in full darkness and silence, or with a small light on and some soothing music. I’ve done it both ways and I must say I prefer to do it in silence with the lights off. I find when I leave that my head is clear and that my muscles are relaxed. How many times do you have permission to just lay still for an hour with no distractions?! I’ve not tried the dry salt therapy room, but I hear it does wonders for when you’re sick and need to clear your sinuses!

4. STAYING ACTIVE

I was a really active kid growing up, especially in high school- I did cheerleading, track, tennis, and marching band so I was always moving…until I went to college. I gained a bunch of weight in college (like, the freshman 30?!) and since I’ve graduated and had back issues I’ve found it hard to get back into the swing of things. I really got into yoga right after college which was great for relaxation and stretching, but lately I’ve been craving something more (I get restless, y’all.) I just started Orange Theory fitness last month and so far I’ve been loving it! I find that even though the classes are brutally hard and I’m sore all of the time, my neck and back pain has actually sort of subsided during the past month. Although getting active again was a scary thought because I thought I’d hurt myself, it’s actually been such a great help.

5. CONFIDENCE AND SELF-WORTH

As annoying and painful as this whole experience has been, it’s taught me a lot about my self-worth. I no longer feel guilty for the prices I charge in my business, or how much work I choose to take on. I’ve gotten better at saying “no” and I feel more confident than ever. I’m realizing that I have limitations to my health and wellbeing, and that’s far more important than trying to please everybody.

6. DIVERSIFYING INCOME

Piggybacking off the last topic….because I physically can’t always say yes to every opportunity as a photographer, I’ve begun to offer digital products, workshops and merch! This has opened up so many doors for me in my business, as I can now support my income by helping teach people different skills, design merchandise that is representative of me and my brand, and even speak at events about my experiences. With these things cushioning my income, I’m now able to be a little more selective with the photography jobs I take on and I find that I can be more impactful with those clients instead of running myself ragged to make ends meet.

7. LIMITING STATIC POSITIONS

I am really bad about this one!!! With my lil ole’ grandma back, I can’t be sitting or standing in the same position for too long. I am terrible about this- whenever I’m on my computer (like now) I get on a roll and 8 hours later I pay the price. I’ve had so many times where I thought I was being productive and working on the computer only to realize that I had to take the next two days off because I screwed up my back. The nerve pain I have from before my neck surgery is still prevalent in my arms and hands, and it gets worse when I don’t give my body time to move around and stay active. This goes for sitting in the car too long, laying in bed too long, and most importantly working on my computer for too long. I typically work at a standing desk when I’m at home but I still try to switch up my position from standing too. A fun thing I will do to remind myself to get up is to listen to music on my record player, because it forces me to get up and flip the record when the songs are over!

8. ALEVE, ICY HOT, AND HEATING PADS

NUFF SAID, next!

9. SLEEPING SITUATION

Get a new pillow and try to elevate your legs when you can! I’m no doctor so don’t hold me to this- but I swear getting a new bed that has the ability to raise/lower the head and foot part of the mattress has made a world of difference. I feel like a pimped out grandma when I grab the remote to my mattress and slowly raise or lower it. It reminds me of those crazy cars on MTV that have hydraulic lifts… but it’s just a mattress. If getting a bed like that is not available to you, simply get a new pillow (I like the contoured memory foam ones for neck pain) and sleep with some pillows under your knees.

10. TRANSPARENCY

A lot of people have advised against me sharing so much about my situation. I find that in being transparent about my issues I’m able to help others who may be experiencing similar problems! I also am not good at keeping secrets HA. Knowing that what I’ve gone through might help someone else makes sharing seem worth it!

Some things I haven’t tried but still want to are…

-Acupuncture

-Cryotherapy

-More massages (I’m hesitant about massages because if you get someone inexperienced they can make bulging discs/nerve pain worse)

-That gravity bed thing that looks like an ab lounge but goes upside down.. y’all know what I’m talkin about?

-Meditation

Let me know if you have any questions about any of the things I’ve talked about in this blog post!

How I Manage Back Pain as a Photographer | Jordan Hefler