What Your Photographer Isn’t Saying About Holiday Sessions

You’ve probably seen a photographer’s sponsored holiday session announcement popping up in the newsfeed lately. In a couple of months, that advertisement will be replaced by an endless string of “sneak peeks,” which will then morph into hundreds of holiday cards mailed to each client’s closest family members and friends. While personal photography is popular in our time, the price tag accompanying those sessions is not always.

Two-hundred dollars for 20 minutes in front of the camera? Gasp. My parents just clipped a coupon, strapped us in matching red turtlenecks, and marched down to the local department store, no appointment necessary. Chances are, however, thousands of other families have near perfect replicas of that same photo on Grandma’s mantel: the one in front of the faux fireplace and the twinkle in dad’s eye.

With the invention of the digital camera came the death of the big box studios and the rise of the personal photographer. Unlike the old snap-and-go studios, personal photographers offer unique custom-tailored experiences. I spent hours before my sessions consulting with clients and designing sets. While the cost of entry into the profession is relatively low – anyone with a camera can call themselves a photographer – running a successful small business comes with a lot of hidden costs.

The truth is when it was all said and done, I was not in it for the money. The moment I made that two-hundred dollars a session, I spent a lot of it on bills or on the next prop or piece of equipment that would make my sessions even better. Big box studios had the advantage of big budgets. They could work multiple employees around the clock. The personal photographer, however, is one person with 24 hours in his or her one day {less if working in natural light}, who carries the expense burden alone.

That said, more clients are willing to splurge for holiday sessions more than they are to, say, a Columbus Day special. So I, like many photographers, counted on my holiday mini sessions to pay most of my bills with the hope of making a small profit. And while two hundred dollars is a lot of money, what I didn’t advertise on my promotion was . . .

Professional photography comes with one-time costs such as . . .

A camera :: $3,500

We have all seen amazing photos taken with cell phone cameras. The art of photography lies in the composition, right? Somewhat. While cell phone images and those taken with inexpensive digital cameras make for great Instagram and Facebook posts, the printed product and editorial possibilities of such images cannot compare to the quality of those taken with a good SLR camera. My Canon Mark ii 5D cost $3,500 eight years ago.

A lens :: $130 to $1,250

SLR cameras come naked and lenses must be purchased or rented separately. My favorite portrait lens, a 70-200 mm, costs $130 to rent for the weekend. I eventually bought one for $1,250.

A memory card :: $50

The expense of a nice SLR does not end at the camera body. High quality photos take up a lot of memory. To avoid changing memory cards every other shot, a 64 GB card costs about $50. I also kept a backup in my pocket.

A computer :: $1,800

My home computer was not enough to upload high resolution photos and run multiple software programs, so I bought a 27-inch iMac for its memory capacity and large display screen.

And then there are yearly costs like . . .

Editing software :: $120

At one time, Adobe sold editing programs such as Photoshop and Lightroom on disks. Those programs are now, however, offered through the Adobe Cloud for $10 a month.

External hard drive :: $60

I refused to leave anything to chance, so I protected my images by storing them on external hard drives. Every year, I bought a new, one terabyte external hard drive.

Cloud storage :: $120

And just in case, I also backed up those photos on Dropbox, which doubled as a means of sharing clients’ digital purchases.

Insurance :: $220

But heaven forbid anything short of an Act of God destroyed those photos {or injured one of my clients}, so I also carried insurance to protect myself and my business.

Props :: $2,500

Because that one time, I rented a reindeer for my holiday sessions, and she came with some big, sharp antlers. Comet and her handler were my most expensive props, coming in at $300 an hour. I usually, however, spent between $100 to $200 for a photography set, which ranged from antique couches to blankets, buckets, and other themed décor.

Marketing :: $500

Those sets, however, are of no use without clients. To get the word out about my sessions, I maintained a website {$12 for the domain and $400 for hosting}, e-mailed newsletters {$100}, and sponsored Facebook advertisements {$200}.


Luckily in the digital age, small businesses also have many free marketing opportunities at their fingertips, so every night while my husband binged on The Walking Dead, I kept up all of my social media profiles by showcasing photos or running promotions. And if I was not marketing, I was e-mailing clients or editing.

While it is difficult to put a price tag on time, it has been said that for every minute a photographer spends on a session, he or she will spend three minutes editing it. For a 20-minute session, that equates to an hour of editing time; I would argue more.

Those are just some – not all – of the costs of running a photography business, and costs vary from photographer to photographer as do their creative visions.

So why do it? Aside from the flexible hours of owning a small business, personal photography is a passion. It is an addiction. It is a rush to imagine sets, then to book clients and see them become part of it. My heart raced every time I uploaded and edited their images on my computer screen. I held my breath every time I posted a sneak peek and waited for the reaction.

Because what I didn’t say was that more than any dollar amount in the world, I wanted to give my clients photographs they would treasure for a lifetime.

A Photographer's Holiday Sessions Cost | Houston Moms Blog


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