$100!? Why does that photograph cost so much?

As anyone knows who has ever printed from film or a digital file, prints cost anywhere from 50 cents to many dollars based on the size and media of the print.  So, why do photographers charge more AND why do they think they can charge hundreds or even thousands of dollars?


Every photograph starts with research and a vision.  Before going anywhere, we spend a good deal of time researching the photographic possibilities from various books and websites.  We also look at what professional and amateur photographers have created in the past.  We make a plan for the photographs we want to make.  This all takes time and effort, and more often than not, some new learning.


I am not the first to assert that good cameras do not make good photographs – good photographers do.  In fact, it becomes most  obvious when an inexperienced person has a great camera, but can not seem to get a good photo, while a well trained and experienced photographer can make a great photo with a cardboard camera or cheap point and shoot. However, good equipment can give you a better chance to make a good photograph and definitely gives you a better chance to be creative, and make a great photograph.  Having the right lens and right filters for a sunrise or sunset shot is essential.  A good camera with a good lens and the right filters on a great tripod can set you back over $5,000.


The best nature photographs, most of the time, are from remote areas.  Mary and I have found that it takes about a $1500 a week to keep us on the road, so even if we have poor weather or unspectacular weather, we still have out of pocket costs while we are travelling.  This does not include air travel and the additional costs of having a guide or attending a workshop.


Time is our most valuable asset.  There are always trade-offs and opportunity costs when you spend time on a photography trip or processing your photos, or working on your blog and website.  This is all business development time and unless you are a photography workshop leader (we are not), your time is not directly paid for.  There is also the “creative funnel”.  When we get back from a trip, we may have a thousand images.  After review and editing we may only have 25-50 that are worth putting on our website.  That means we only publish less than 5% of what we capture in the field.


Every photo needs to be processed.  Even basic processing can take 10-15 minutes a photograph and some of Mary’s photo art can take upwards of an hour per photograph.  If you want to make great photos, you need processing software including Photoshop, Light Room, and plug-ins. Having a suite of software options is like having more tools in your tool belt.  They all cost money.  When we get back from a trip with a 1000 photos, we need to review each one, often a couple of times.  We will process 100-200 photos, but only print and/or publish 50.  We also have tested many different papers and printers before we found a few we liked.  Again, it takes time and money to invest in the best output.

Quality of Composition and Quality of the Print

Everything I have listed up to this point is invisible to a print buyer.  The only thing people see is the electronic file of the photo and the final print, so these have to be better than good – they have to be excellent.  Even if they are excellent, that does not mean anyone wants to buy your photos.  The quality of the composition has to be technically well done – right exposure, right focus, good composition AND it has to have that extra quality of feeling or emotion that makes it special.  It is has to be artistic, or have great weather, or have a unique characteristic that sets it apart from other photos of the same subject.  It has to be special for someone to want to buy it, regardless of all of the time and effort a photographer put into the photo, it has to appeal to someone.

So, why does that photo cost $100 or $1000 or $10,000?  Because making a fine art photographic print takes time, photographic expertise, artistic interpretation, and out of pocket costs that need to be recouped.  All the photos in this blog either sold on our website or were recognized for their artistic expression.  Other than that, they do not have much in common.  To see AND buy our reasonably priced fine art photographic prints, please go to www.pamphotography.com.


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