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What Is Custom Photography

What Is Custom Photography?

The photographic art you choose to place on your wall is ultimately the result of the vision of the photographer. This vision, coupled with what you wear to your session, the environment, the lighting, even the mood the subjects are in at the time of photographing creates the work that you will want to proudly display on your walls forevermore.

Your first step in the process is more about determining who you are, who your family is and then seeking a photographer that reflects your style.  The next step in the process is to find a photographer – after a bit of internet research you have narrowed it down to two photographers who do what seems like solid work, the sort look you desire.  It is now time to ask yourself: Do you like photographer A’s style over photographer B’s style?  When making an enquiry what does their phone manner/email response tell you about their professionalism and persona?

What custom photography ultimately is all about is choice and experience. Custom photography is about finding someone who will photograph your family, give you devoted 1:1 attention without worry of who is next ‘in line’ or the feeling of a crowded portrait studio.

  • A custom photographer will typically show you a fairly extensive gallery culled to only show the good images that meet the photographers’ creative sensibilities.
  • Often the images are fully edited images-color corrected with blemishes and under eye circles removed.
  • Custom photographers are also known as boutique studios, offering a range of products and unparalleled service. Think Lexus vs. Hyundai, think Fine Dining vs. McDonalds

A custom photography experience should have you, the client and your experience in mind.

Why Choose Custom Photography?

Custom photography is more of a luxury than your entry-level cookie cutter chain experience.  Custom photography truly is not for everyone, it requires a level of commitment, investment in time and money, forethought and planning on the part of the subject/client and requires a larger time commitment for the photographer as well.

Custom photography has been likened to purchasing a fine vehicle.  To get to point B from A let’s face it, even a bus ride would suffice.  If you want to luxuriate in a finely appointed vehicle, customizing your own experience by listening to smooth jazz while sitting in a climate controlled setting adjusted purely for your comfort in a body hugging leather interior, perhaps that Lexus you so desire is your cup of tea.  Custom photography is much the same cup of tea.  It is the Lexus of the photography world.  It is where the intangibles make the experience truly wonderful and the images themselves make the investment of money and time truly worthwhile.

The beauty of custom photography is in the choices and in the luxury of those options – starting from where the session will take place to the range of products you will be presented with.  The customized service level you are sure to experience will be amazing.  The knowledge that your final images are the result of someone caring about those moments so much that they take extra time ensuring that the artwork you receive is good enough to stand by with their name on it.  That level of quality and commitment is all but lost in the age of “mass produced,” “mass marketed,” corporate “everyone is a number”.  Custom photography is based on being unique to you.

Keep in mind more than anything that the Lexus will never appreciate in value the way your portraits will.  The portrait art you become invested in from your custom photographer will no doubt increase in value and become more priceless as the years pass.

Why Does Custom Photography Cost More?

The digital revolution has brought amazing flexibility and ability to control various factors during the image taking and making process.  Photographers, the hobbyist, the professional, the amateur all benefit from this ability to manipulate pixels.  However, with flexibility comes a price.  Digital camera equipment is still considerably more expensive when you factor in its’ lifespan, the need for additional resources for processing those images, the time it takes to get a usable image and the effort that goes into creating a work of photographic art. We all know that you can go to the local Kmart and pay a 15c for a print – as a client you may wonder why you may pay upwards of $50, $70, $90 for a custom photography print.   Photographers hear this statement every once in awhile:

“How in the world can you charge $50 for an 5×7 if it costs me less than $2 to print at x store?”

The truth of the matter is the answer to this question is multifaceted.  Much of the cost of a photographic print produced by a professional photographer has a lot to do with the time, equipment costs, artistic vision and reputation of the photographer not to mention expertise and the usual costs of running a legitimate business. Here is an example of the time spent for one session:

  • booking time: 30 minutes to one hour (client contact time + paperwork)
  • pre-session prep time (30 mins – 1 hour, includes equipment and back up equipment checks)
  • one hour travel time TO session
  • 15-30 minutes prep time – setting up lighting etc
  • 90 minutes-3 ½ hours with client photographing subject
  • one hour travel time FROM session
  • 30-45 minutes uploading time from digital cards from camera to computer
  • 30-45 minutes time spent backing up the original images
  • 2-5 hours editing time to present you with a diverse gallery of edited images
  • 1 hour prep time getting ready for ordering
  • 1-2 hours time with client for ordering images
  • 1 hour sorting through and checking order
  • 30 minutes-1 hour prep time for delivery
  • 30 minutes-1 hour getting order shipped
  • any additional phone time or time needed for add on ordering, shipment issues, quality issues

In this example, the time spent per client can range from just under 13 hours to 20 hours – dependent on the photographer’s level of service.  This is time dedicated only to ONE session.  When the photographer charges $150-$300 for the photo shoot (aka SESSION FEE) you are not just paying for the two hours of session time, you are paying the photographer for 13-20 hours complete time for your session.

The COSTS of Maintaining a Custom Photography Business:

The costs of running the business, taxes, business insurance, cost of camera equipment and software (anywhere from $8000-$30,000 upwards) studio rental/mortgage if the photographer has ownership of a dedicated studio, professional lab services, costs of advertising/marketing, costs of sample pieces that the photographer will show you, etc.

A photographer’s expertise comes at a cost, their time learning their craft and learning the intricacies of lighting and the commitment put forth on their end to create a persona about their business that oozes professionalism.  When you hire a photographer of sound reputation, you are hiring an expert, one that knows that they must always reinvest in their business to create the reputation of being top notch.  To create good work a photographer possesses not only sound knowledge in the technical and creative aspects of photography but also good, reliable equipment and back up equipment.

The photographer who desires to be known as better/best/unparalleled reputation-wise knows that the most important thing they can do for their business is reliability and dependability.  This is how reputations get built.  Good work often is a wonderful side product of building that good reputation.

I hope this (lengthy) article helps shed some light on WHY a custom photographer is a better choice for your family’s memories.  The photographs that are produced as a result of the professionalism and dedication that your photographer has will be cherished for a lifetime (or more) and great thought and consideration should be placed into hiring who is right for your family’s most precious investment.

This article has been reproduced with permission from Marianne Drenthe of Marmalade Photography – some of the information has been changed to reflect location & price differences

  • April 29, 2013

    Katey - Love this!

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