In my Part one of my “Spilling the Tea” series, I discussed how my WHY and my vision for what boudoir means to me has changed over the years.
In todays part 2, I want to talk about something equally as important and a question that I see a lot.
“Why is boudoir photography so expensive?”
I spend a lot of time analyzing my website to ensure that it get the most traffic possible when someone is searching for boudoir photography near st louis. I use several programs to identify what phrase someone might search in order to find services for these intimate sessions. Can you guess what search terms come up the most?
“Cheap boudoir St louis, MO” or “Cheap boudoir photography”
And I get it! Who doesn’t want to save some money? I also understand that in todays digital world that photography pricing can be confusing and that the majority of people do not know what photography should cost.
Its not like going to a store where you can find 15 different versions of a similar product for around the same price and you can compare and choose by pricing. Comparing photographers isn’t comparing apples to apples.
Photography pricing is highly individualized depending on so many factors.
So today I wanted to spill the tea on my own experience and growth with knowing what to charge and share with you what to look for when shopping around for your own boudoir session.
Spoiler alert: I had no idea how to run a business or what to charge.
What should boudoir photography cost?
Remember how I said that photography pricing is highly individualized? That means the cost are going to range from “too good to be true” to “Holy shit! That cost more than my car!” But why?
Lets get right into it! Be sure to read all the way through as this will all connect back to that initial question.
I find that examples are the easy to understand, so I am going to break down how my personal pricing and brand has changed over the past 14 years.
I started my business as Vintage Imagery in 2005. Looking back though, I would hardly call it a business. Sure, I had a studio, decent gear and skill and a business license. What I did not have was any knowledge on what it meant to run a business or what it meant to be sustainable.
If I’m being completely honest, which I tend to be, I had NO IDEA what to charge when I started. It actually took many years to understand the full scope of what running a business meant and how to charge appropriately.
In 2005, I started by charging a flat fee for print released digital images. Meaning the client was given a copy of the image on a disc with the rights to print it whenever and however they saw fit. I did not offer prints, albums or anything additional. My Flat per image rate was $50. That included the shoot, hair and makeup and editing on the images that were selected for purchase.
My typical client purchased 5 images for a total of $250. My shoots took on average 2 hours. If you just break that down, like I had done in the beginning, that appears that I was averaging $125 an hour!
Wow you say! That’s a LOT to make in an hour! Hey, I thought the same thing too!
Except I forgot a few things.
Lets look at just a portion of my cost. I paid my hair and makeup artist $75 per session. She was great at what she did, however, she was not a licensed makeup artist nor did she carry any type of insurance. Thus why I was able to pay her such a low cost. A typical licensed MUA (makeup artist) charges around $150.
So lets say my client purchased 5 images at 250. Then we subtract the $75 paid to the MUA. We’re down to 175.
Those 2 hours that I spent taking images did not include the time it took to find the client, book the client or edit and deliver the images. On five images I spent around 10 hours editing (I did A LOT of composite images that required intense editing) and lets throw in another hour for finding and obtaining the client, downloading the images and delivering the images (A very low estimate!) and another hour for set up and cleaning for the shoot and drive time to the studio.
Now were at 14 hours for $175… or about 12.50 an hour.
But wait we forgot about taxes! Lets subtract federal taxes which are around 33% for small businesses from that 175 first, which is 57.75. That leaves us 117.25 for 14 hours of work or $8.30 per hour. A far cry from that $250 an hour I thought I was making.
Lets also remember that most photographers are not shooting enough clients to fill up a 40 hour work week. In my example above, spending an average of 14 hours per client, I’d have to average about 3 clients per week to actually make $8.30/hour. Most months I only shot 5 clients in total or 1.25 a week.
Did I mention that I also had expenses such as gear, maintaining the gear, studio rental, purchasing and upgrading editing software, cost for storing the images per month, advertising, continued educational courses, business insurance, purchasing office supplies, fees charged by square or paypal for accepting debit/credit payments and purchasing props and clothing,
I wont even get into the cost of business and tax attorneys, hosting your own websites or all of the work I didn’t charge for so that I could build my portfolio.
Did you know that running a small business full time means that you have to pay for medical insurance on your own? There are also no sick days, no vacation days and no bonuses.
Once you factor in all of those cost and overhead you can see that I was lucky to be coming out even for all the work I was putting in!
My business was NOT sustainable! Which is why I had to also work a full time job in order to make ends meet. This is something MANY starting photographers encounter in the beginning but I loved what I did and I used every penny I made (which wasn’t a lot looking back) to reinvest into better equipment, more education so I could offer better images and services and a nicer studio, which meant I was anything but profitable. In fact, a vast majority of money invested back into my business to help it grow was provided out of my own pocket from my full time job.
But I know plenty of photographers that do not charge much and are making a living!
Are you sure about that? From an outsiders perspective I was running a flourishing business. I was booking clients left and right, shooting and editing every weekend. I was BUSY. But as the example shows above busy doesn’t always equal successful.
Also are sure that they are actually cheap? We’ve all seen the Groupons for $49 boudoir shoots. Did you read the fine print? While $49 for a shoot is incredible, these often do not included any professional services, like hair and makeup, nor do they include any products or images. No one is able to sustain a business making $49 a client, unless they are taking hundreds of clients a month and lets face it, boudoir is not a high volume business nor should it be.
The majority of “cheap” photographers on Groupon are banking on the fact that you will purchase photos and products and those cost are far greater than $49, so what at first may seem like a low cost option, quickly becomes a larger expense.
On the other hand, you’ll see photographers advertising that they will include XX amount of images with the photo shoot for a low fee. The majority of these photographers are starting out and, like I was doing in the early years, are not taking their full cost into account. Eventually they will quit because it is not a sustainable model or they will adapt their pricing so that they can continue to run a business and do what they love.
Just to be clear. I am NOT dragging anyone that charges a lower price for photography. I do not know their circumstances or their business models. I’m simply pointing out what I have learned over the past 14 years.
So now that you have a better understanding of how much goes into running a business lets talk about how to choose the right photographer and why its so important to consider more than just cost.
How to choose a boudoir photographer the right way
1. Skill and Reputation
The first thing to consider, especially when looking to hire a photographer to take images of such an intimate nature, is their skill and reputation. Both are very important! The skill of the photographer can mean the difference between giving yourself a much needed confidence boost or hating your results and blaming yourself for the photos that you do not love. Boudoir is a niche field. You wouldn’t go to a general doctor to have plastic surgery done, right? You’d want a specialist. Someone who is well versed in lighting, posing and guiding you through your shoot. Look for a photographer who specializes in shooting intimate portraiture.
Reputation is EVERYTHING in the boudoir industry. You need to be able to fully trust your photographer and know that they are there to make your shoot the best experience possible. You’re going to be in a situation where you are potentially nude and very vulnerable. You’re going to want to ensure that your images are private and protected and that you are in a safe space. No one wants their nudes leaked without permission!
Read reviews, ask friends, do your research!
2. Safe and private shoot location
The next thing to consider is where your shoot is taking place. Does the photographer have a studio? Are they sharing their space? Will you be the only client there during the shoot? That last one sounds like a no brainer but there are photographers that work with clients back to back and often times their appointments will overlap. Meaning you could be getting your hair and makeup done at the same time another client is finishing up her shoot. This can be ok if you are in a separate room but often times you’ll find that photographers will rent out hotel rooms and there is no separation between the hair and makeup area and the room the photographer is shooting another client in. You may be ok with that! Just be sure that you know what you are in for.
and while were talking about back to back shoots…
Sanitation. This one is BIG for me and why I DO NOT offer mini sessions or back to back sessions. Aside from the fact that it can be hard to get a client comfortable and create an amazing experience in 30 minutes, are you certain that you are not being exposed to the same bedding that another client was just rolling around in? It personally takes me around 1-2 hours to sanitize every chair, lingerie, bedding, set, etc after each session to ensure there are no germs or bacteria being passed between clients. Something to REALLY think about.
3. The photographers portfolio
One of the most important things to keep in mind is the photographers shooting style. Do you like their work? Are you seeing multiple body types? Do you want a dark and moody shoot but their portfolio only shows light and airy work? Photographers are artist and we all have our own distinct styling. Your photos will most likely end up looking like the work that they have done in the past so make sure you love what you see.
4. The photographers WHY
What is the photographers end goal? In boudoir, you’ll see a lot of photographers saying that they want to empower women through their work. What does that mean to them? What does it mean to them to empower their clients? One photographers idea of empowering may mean that they do heavy editing so that you look like a model from a magazine while another’s idea (my personal one) is to empower through more natural, less retouched images that shows off the clients real beauty.
Have you interacted with the photographer? Does their personality fit with yours?
Do you align with their mission statement?
5. The process itself
Are you just wanting a few quick photos and do not care about products or experience? Are you someone who wants to print their own images while the photographer has very little to do with the end process? Do you want a more high end experience where everything is done for you and you are simply handed beautiful products and images? Do you want someone who is more hands off or someone that will walk you through the entire experience start to finish? Do you want luxury products to remember your experience?
Is their pricing transparent? Do they go over everything with you beforehand? Do they offer you advice on how to prepare or what to expect? Are they available to answer your questions and address your concerns?
Lets face it! Having a boudoir shoot can be a scary, overwhelming thing to think about without professional guidance. Make sure the photographer you choose is meeting your needs and helping you to work through your nerves.
6. How much the experience is worth to you
Boudoir photography is a luxury experience meaning it is not something that is required that you have, its no different than a vacation or a day at the spa. Anytime you consider getting professional photos done you should keep in mind that its as much about the experience as it is the final images. The vast majority of women are wanting this type of session to boost their confidence, celebrate a milestone or to see themselves in a different light.
My husband has a saying that I’ve grown fond of over the years; “Buy once, cry once”. Basically it boils down to this: Would you rather save a few bucks and potentially end up with something that doesn’t meet your needs in the long run (and you end up spending more in the end to have those needs met) or would you rather spend more and know that what you’re getting is exactly what you want and need?
Women especially have a hard time justifying spending a large amount of money on themselves but have no issues spending it on their spouse or children. There is a feeling of guilt or of being “selfish”, but in reality, doing something for yourself is the opposite of being selfish. You cant fill from an empty cup after all.
I’ve heard many reasons on why someone “can’t” afford a session but I can counter almost everyone of those reasons. How? It comes down to what you really want and what you budget for. Everyone can save a few pennies a month, cut out some unneeded expenses (I’m looking at you, Starbucks!) and budget out a plan to have a shoot. In the end it comes down to how important it is to you to have a boudoir session done. There is no wrong or right answers here. Everyone is different!
If you made it to here, thank you for sticking it out through the entire blog! I hope that this will help you make more informed decisions when selecting a boudoir photographer and why choosing on cost alone isn’t the way to go!
If you’d like to discuss your own boudoir shoot with GlamMarr Studios, please visit our site and set up a free, no obligation phone consult HERE.