Are Commercial Photographers Worth the Price?

If you understand the cost and importance of a good commercial photographer for your photography needs, read no more…

Let’s establish a known distinguishing factor of a commercial photographer in that he or she believes their photography has monetary value. Today’s market for commercial photographers is arguably as saturated as ever with people of various skill levels. As a result, some charge peanuts compared to others.

This market-fact is exacerbated by the prevalent thought that commercial-grade photography is also not really that difficult to do. Thus, many conclude, it should be cheap. After all, anyone can go to an electronics store and buy a decently-priced good camera and take pictures they like. Anyone can put a camera in auto mode and click. But, you cannot easily find a scalpel and use one, like a doctor can. They’re hard to find and it’s understood it takes training to use one – and a proper education. I’m using this as an analogy and am not trying to say the importance of a good doctor is on par with a good photographer.

People generally understand and accept there is a certain relative high cost for a good doctor. But, one you can easily acquire a decent camera and take a decent picture. So, people commonly think good commercial photographers should be cheap. Combined with a saturated market of commercial photographers – of various skill levels – you get a market that undervalues commercial photographers. And, it’s often a detrimental business mistake. Often, rather than pay a good photographer, business owners settle on a low-cost option or try to do it themselves. Then they often wonder why the pictures don’t look great or don’t help sell.

If you’re on the operating table, you want the best most sought-after doctor using that scalpel regardless of cost, right? So, when you’re looking for a commercial photographer, logical reasoning should determine the same thought-process should apply. Especially if the selling of your product partly relies on it. Sure, budgets are budgets and they have their limit. But, a bad doctor also has their limits and if your life is on the line, you’ll spare no expense. So, if a photo is very valuable to your business – and you know that it is – critical reasoning is essential. Just because anyone can buy a decent camera and take a decent picture doesn’t make what comes out of it instantly commercial grade. It takes a good or great photographer to do that – one that has studied the craft, has the experience, and the right equipment. And yes, it will cost you – just like that good doctor that knows how to properly use that scalpel.

The Investment

Most good commercial photographers have between $25,000 to $50,000 invested in gear and education. Some cream-of-the-crop photographers have spent this amount on just one item. Then there are recurring costs such as owning or leasing a studio. You then need to equip it with the items studios need, like backdrops and modifiers and a hundred other items. There are also equipment upgrades and maintenance and required software subscription costs. Then there are routine business costs, like accounting, computers, etc. These things add up to number in the thousands of dollars monthly – yes, monthly not annually.

So, yes, it does cost to work with a good commercial photographer. You really do get what you pay for. Great cameras today are complex tools, not ones you swipe left or right to use or put in auto mode and click. Such cameras are fine to capture a quick life-moment. But, to create an image to sell a product, or to market yourself, not so much… And, they’re just part of the equation. Understanding lighting is important – check that, it’s critical. I’ve not even touched upon post processing – what you do with the pictures after the photo shoot. That’s a blog post in itself.

Experience also cannot be understated. Henri Cartier-Bresson said it best – “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” With today’s infinitely more complex cameras and lighting systems, I’d double that number, at least. It takes a lot of time, effort and practice to learn and get better from your first 20,000+ pictures… Then of course there is the creative element that partially comes from experience too. These items – education, equipment, experience, creativity – all take years to acquire or learn.

So, why should you work with – and pay for – a good or great commercial photographer? The best way to summarize it is… I too can use a scalpel – to a messy end. So, if your life depends on it, you better get that great sought-after doctor instead. Likewise, your business and its products depend on good images today more than ever. Look around you at all the successful brands you see advertising everywhere. You’ll notice they generally have great images. It’s the same with headshots, whether for an acting role or LinkedIn post. Great images simply matter more than ever and only good commercial photographers can reliably deliver them again and again.

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