Why Do Photographers Charge so Much for Prints?

If you've ever hired a photographer to take photos of your family, or even just browsed around and looked at what they might charge, you would have noticed that some photographers charge a lot, some are very "reasonable", and some are priced "astronomically". (quotes are exactly what I've heard clients tell me about other photographers)

There is a huge error in how most people view photography services. It's not the clients' fault. It's a result of low-cost photo studios (Sears, JCPenny, etc) and the ability to procure photographic prints for just a few cents at the same place they buy their bulk groceries (Costco) or online (Shutterfly). Photos and prints simply don't cost how much photographers are charging for them, and every single client knows that.

We are all thinking about photos as a retail commodity. A 50% markup, which would make that photo print something like $3 (at most!), seems reasonable to most people. It works for clothing. But photography prints aren't consumer goods, even though they are physically manufactured/printed for the customer. They are ART.

Ok, I will give you time to get that eye roll over with. Every person with a camera might call themselves a photographer, but so could every artist, musician, or actor. There's no certification or test that determines if you're fit to serve in those types of professions. How much an artist can charge (and actually sell their work) depends entirely on their skill level and marketing ability.

Think about it. A canvas, paintbrush, and some paint doesn't cost a lot. But a painting created by an admired local artist will sell for thousands. You can certainly purchase the tools and equipment that made that same exact painting, but for much less. So why does the artist charge $5,000 for a single painting? Because of the work and skill that went into making that ARTWORK. We understand that. We get it. We don't start yelling at the painter telling him that we can get a fancy paintbrush down the street for $5 or that our cousin took some art drawing classes. 

A photographer is an artist. Photographers create something that is completely unique, regardless of the equipment used or the paper the photo is printed on. And if we shift our thinking to treating every photographer like a painter or an actual artist, we can better understand why creating the image can cost a lot more than the cost of printing it. Those photographers who are charging very little are simply artists who are just starting out. More established photographers are able to recognize the value in the work they create for their clients and charge accordingly. It's not retail. It's not shopping for the best deal. It's paying an artist their worth, whatever that worth may be.