Making the case for professional photography.
In 2021, do you still need to hire a photographer?
As cameras become cheaper, better and more accessible, more and more clients seem to be picking up a camera themselves, or turning to friends or colleagues to create work where they would previously have hired a professional photographer. I have personally had several clients that have turned their hand at shooting their photography themselves, and even a brief Google search will show there is a well-documented trend in weddings being photographed a friend or relative who fancies themselves with a camera. The complaint or excuse I hear most from people considering hiring professional photographers is that “photography is too expensive” or “photography is easy”. I am going to hopefully address both, why these are wrong, and the benefits of why you should still be hiring a professional photographer.
Photography prices can be extreme, I can’t deny that, photographers with a large following or just good marketing can demand very high prices, but just remember, fame (or Google ranking) isn’t everything, don’t fall into the myth of high prices guarantees better photos, plenty of high profile photographers are a very acquired taste, talent and success are not always in tandem. Plenty of less renowned photographers can take better photos, so shop around, browse Instagram and beyond the first page of Google results. Photography pricing is entirely subjective to each individual photographer, what value they place upon themselves, their desire for exclusivity, how much work they are willing to take on, and personal beliefs in what constitutes a fair price.
However, there will always be a base price for serious professional photography. The investment each photographer must make into their own career is enormous. A professional photographer can easily take five to ten thousand pounds worth of equipment to each job. I have broken down, as an example, a cost estimate for the minimum equipment I would take with me to photograph a straightforward event.
Canon 5D (Camera) £2500
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L (Lens) £1500
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L (Lens) £1800
Canon 600EX RT (Flash) £600
TOTAL = £6500
None of this equipment comes cheap and needs to be replaced regularly to stay up to date and competitive. This is just an example, many weddings can require more even equipment, with several flashes, panel lighting, wireless systems, and light modifiers. Studio photography incurs rental costs of the studio space, a high quality and varied range of paper and material backdrops, and studio flash lighting, which can cost upwards of a thousand pounds per light. If a photographer works in a few different photography disciplines they will require dozens of different lenses. Editing photos requires powerful modern computers and expensive software.
So whilst the cost of photography may not be immediately obvious to everybody, especially to those who have no experience of buying photography wares themselves, the cost to become and remain a professional photographer can be astronomical. Therefore, a photographer simply has to charge more to work back these initial costs, on top of setting an appropriate salary to live on. I live in London, where the average rent on a room is £800 per month, add on travel, expenses for food, internet, phone and some semblance of a social life, and that is a tight budget. This is made harder by the quantity of decent photographers fighting for work, whilst unlike regular jobs, the majority of photographers will not and cannot get regular work every day or even every week, this means that each job that is secured must be charged at a premium to cover those jobs that won’t come or will be lost elsewhere.
On the contrary however, do not get suckered into hiring a dirt-cheap photographer, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Make sure you see a photographer's active and in-depth portfolio before you book anything. Like all photographers, I present a professional portfolio of my work for judgement which is representative of what you can expect from me.
Hiring a professional photographer over an enthusiastic amateur, to those that know photography, seems like a no-brainer. Any professional, in any field, who makes something their full-time career and passion, is going to have knowledge and experience that non-professionals do not. There is a misconception that you buy an expensive camera and just point and shoot, and the photos will look professional, whilst these will look much nicer than the images out of your iPhone, there is a lot more to know to turn good photos into great photos. There is a huge amount to learn in photography, it takes years of practice to understand and intuitively know the perfect camera settings for any photographic situation, be it fast moving subjects, portraits, brightly lit scenes, gloomy environments or poor lighting. I also need to understand framing a shot, to know where to stand, and what angles to shoot from (and not shoot from) to get the right shots. Photographers also have years of researching photos, catalogues of example images and mood boards floating around in their heads that they can all on at any time.
Photography, whilst not looking too physical, is very intensive. For a wedding a photographer might be on their feet for 8-10 hours, carrying several kilos of equipment. Your friend may like the idea of snapping a few photos at your wedding for you, but are they prepared for a non-stop day of photography, are they prepared to have to be constantly alert for subtle movements and small glances that make photos so personal, unique and special. Are you prepared for them to potentially miss key moments because they don’t know to expect them, or for their photos to be potentially poorly composed or lit. Lighting is one of the most complex areas of photography, and completely changes the entire style of a photo and the way it is captured depending on the lighting source, this is especially true with artificial lighting or controlled lighting such as flashes. Lighting has personally taken me the most research, education and practice to master to the level that I have, and still one of the areas I invest a lot in.
Editing is one of the key roles a photographer plays, and almost all photos require some degree of editing. Sure, editing is now ubiquitous and there are so many programs to just slap Instagram style filters over your images, and this effect sometimes works with quick low-res iPhone images, but can easily look overdone, tacky and fake. Professionals know how to edit photos carefully and individually based on their unique colour and lighting, whilst preserving all the sharpness and quality of the image.
The cost of editing is one of the key areas that is often overlooked. Unless you have previous experience in editing images, it is hard to appreciate the level of work that goes into an image and easy to underestimate just how long this can take. First, there is the initial organisation of the images, marking out the best shots and eliminating the duds. This is followed by carefully developing an edit style that reflects each individual shoot, and applying that consistently across each image, allowing time for micro-adjustments on particular images with colour or lighting variations. Using batch editing software such as Adobe Lightroom takes a lot of the labour out, but editing a small event, all shot in the same environment, can take a couple of hours of extra work. A wedding, usually shot across multiple environments, can take several days to edit. This doesn’t even begin to compare to the time creative editing takes, skin and hair retouching on a simple portrait can take hours or days per image, depending on what is required.
Therefore, it is not simply paying for the hours worked camera in hand, but also all the behind the scenes work that goes into producing the final images. Choose a photographer wisely, a cheap photographer may only appear cheap as their advertised rate does not include additional editing costs, or their editing is sub-par. Many many clients of mine tell me they don’t need editing on their images, well, to be frank, yes you do. Images that come straight out of the camera are usually just fine, but these photos are also representative of the person that took them, and most photographers will be protective over their representation and only want their best images out there, so basic images just won’t cut it but with a little editing they can become great.
In 2021, do you still need to hire a photographer?
But of course, with this as my chosen career, I am going to argue for always hiring professional photographers. However, this hopefully gives you a somewhat more comprehensive idea into the true costs of photography, and the skills required to do it well. Just maybe this will encourage you next time you consider just hiring the office enthusiast, or your friend with the fancy camera, to think twice. The accessibility of technology has encroached on photographers livelihoods, and this has only been compounded by coronavirus, and photographers really need support in this time. So I hope you can value their work and the role they can play.