Why freelance photographers seem expensive

If there’s something I’ve learned in the past 15 years as a photographer, it’s that most people perceive photographers as being too expensive. So, I thought I should tell the other side of this story.

First, being a freelance photographer means you’re a business. Yes, you read that right, not in business, but an actual business. And this probably applies to all freelancers out there.

I’ll tell you what: let’s start with your salary. Let’s consider the average salary in your country, think of how much would that be per working day and call it X. When sending an enquiry to a photographer, you always compare the price with your X, right?

Oh, this photographer asked for this much for a few hours, and I have to work 5 days to make that much. He’s so expensive. Why are all photographers so expensive? They must be so greedy.

Well, no, it’s not greed, let me explain:

Every business has fixed and variable costs. Your gross salary is only a small part of the fixed costs. Your net salary is even a smaller part of those costs, because in addition to what you’re making, the employer has to pay for your social security (health insurance, pension and so on). When offering this salary, the employer must also consider an annual paid leave. For a freelancer, the clients act as an employer, therefore all the employer’s expenses must be included in the final price. I can tell you that this usually amounts to a multiplier of 1,3 minimum, depending on the country. So, just considering your salary, the price of a freelancer must be at least 1.3X.

But wait, there’s more.

Remember when I wrote “only a small part of the fixed costs”? Yes, in addition to your salary, your employer must also pay for an office (rent + utilities), and marketing (web presence, advertising, customer support, sales). Photographers are either paying or spending a lot of time doing some things by themselves, yet these are costs that should be included in the final price. Not all photographers need an office or studio, but they surely do need a strong web presence and that takes a lot of time and/or costs a lot of money.

But wait, there’s more.

Amortization. Let’s talk about investment, which should be recouped in a certain period. Most employers must invest in equipment, so that employees would have something to work with. Well, have you ever heard about photographers without cameras? Photographic equipment is famous for being expensive. But in addition to cameras, lenses, lights, tripods and all, photographers must also use computers and software nowadays. Add these to the final price, because, as I said, the client acts as an employer.

Just this far, the price of the freelance photographers easily gets to 2X. Minimum.

And we only talked about the fixed costs, also known as “the cost of doing business”. I’m not gonna talk about variable costs, so we can have a stronger formula at the end.

But let’s talk about time. The time spent on location taking the photos is not everything there is to a job. Add to this time the time spent for communication (before the job), post processing the images and delivering them (after the  job). This time is usually at least double than the time spent actually taking the photos. Sometimes triple, sometimes ten times longer, depending on the job.

Let’s just adjust the price to 4X.

So far, we only talked about the costs. But a business should also make some profit. This, in photographers’ world, can be translated in many ways: money for upgrading to better equipment (not just for replacing the old cameras and lenses with new same-level equipment) money for better continuous education (courses, workshops, books) and so on.

The price easily gets to 5X, if we’re being reasonable. And we didn’t talk about the risks of getting out of business, because of market shifting. But I can assure you, most businesses consider it as a cost.

As you could see, in this article we only considered the average salary for an average employee, which translates to a freelancer’s price of at least 5X. If you’re looking for a great freelance photographer, this corresponds to a more valuable, better paid employee, so you should also consider paying anything from 6-10X for that. If you’re looking for a genius or the best photographer out there, consider paying 10-20X. Where there’s a demand, there’s an offer.

If you’re reading this and you’re not a photographer: does this make sense to you, or should I be more clear on certain aspects?

Nobody paid me to write this post, so I’m not sure where to include the time spent on it: in fixed costs or variable costs?

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