One question that I get asked constantly as a media professional is people asking me to work for little or no money. People assume that since digital files are painless to copy and don't cost much to store, that they shouldn't have to pay much money to have a video or photos made. After all, it's not like you have to buy DVDs anymore, right? You can just make something simple really quick, and it doesn't have to be anything fancy, right? Why do photos cost $100+?
If you've ever had that thought, this post is for you! At this point, many photographers start complaining. "These people just don't understand... No one appreciates good work anymore... and (my personal favorite) You wouldn't ask your dentist to work for free, so why should I?" Today, I'd like to take a different approach. One that recognizes that most people have no idea how much photography and video really cost. I'm going to walk you through what a basic shoot costs, why media professionals like myself charge "unreasonable" rates, and why you probably aren't budgeting enough for your photos and videos.
But this guy will do it for cheap/free
Let's get this out of the way. If you want, you can find photographers and videographers who will work for cheap or free. However, if you go this route, do not expect them to act professionally, and expect their work to be sub-par. Is this always the case? No, but you're better off expecting this, so that if you do have a good experience, it will be a pleasant surprise. If you hire a first-year university student with a basic DSLR to shoot your wedding photos, do not expect them to turn out like this (Shout out to Kevin Barre for doing a great job over in Memphis!). Expect them to look more like this *shudder*.
Ultimately, if you are willing to settle for poor quality, then there's nothing stopping you. However, the old adage holds true in this case. You get what you pay for.
OK, I get it. But why are you so expensive?
I'm going to break down the cost of your average video shoot to show you just how much these productions cost, then I'll do the same for photos.
Let's say that you're looking for something pretty standard. A two minute video made up of event footage, and interviews with B-Roll. Let's assume that I'm renting all the equipment, I only need one production assistant to run a second camera, and I am editing the project myself on my own computer. This is pretty standard for something like a wedding or other event. Let's break down the costs:
Below the line (non-creative) costs
- Gear rental= $1359.00 (Two cameras with mics, one standard zoom lens, one telephoto zoom lens, tripod, slider, shoulder rig, and light kit.)
- PA for 6hrs= $120
- Food for one day (unless otherwise provided)= $75-100
- Music Licensing= $50
Total below the line cost= $1669.00
This is just my costs. This doesn't include what I charge for my time. As you can see, it's pretty hefty already, and that's using a pretty basic kit. We aren't doing anything fun and expensive like using a glidecam or drone. This is high quality, but super vanilla.
People bill their time in many different ways, but when I calculate my rate, I don't charge hourly. I charge per project. That said, my rule of thumb is $100 for every hour that I'm on location, plus an additional fee for general headaches and discomfort that varies based on what kind of work I'm doing. I know that sounds steep, but I don't include post-production in my calculations because the post-production process (logging footage, editing, special effects work, etc.) is difficult to pin down. Sometimes, a video takes me half an hour to put together, other times it takes me days! In general, I assume that I'll be spending between an hour and a half to two hours in post production for every hour I'm on location. If you break that down, that essentially means that I'm charging between $30-40/hour, though it can be much less depending on how long editing takes me. This similar for photography.
So for a 6 hour wedding, my rate will be $600 plus about $200 because of the various headaches that weddings bring with them. That basically means that I'll be charging you about $2500 to film your wedding. If you want to have a third camera, or you want me to do some really cool stuff with a glidecam or drone, that will usually cost extra due to the cost of procuring those items. Occasionally, I'll throw in little goodies like that if I happen to have it on hand for another project, but that's not a guarantee. I do own quite a bit of my equipment, but I still have to rent stuff whenever I do video work, so the rental cost almost never goes away.
If you are looking at doing a short film or music video, it costs even more because you have to get licenses and insurance for your locations, as well as paying extra crew members.
Well how much does your photography cost then?
The breakdown for photography is similar, but quite a bit less. Because I already own most of my photography equipment, it's just a matter of renting the right lenses for the job, as well as an extra camera body. For a wedding, you're looking at the following cost
- Gear Rental= $456 (Extra camera bodies and lenses)
- Second shooter for 6hrs= $120
- Food for one day (unless otherwise provided)= $75-100
As you can see, this is about half the cost of video for me. Factor in my time, and I'll be charging you around $1500 for a basic wedding package. Still pricey, but they'll be memories you won't forget!
But that still costs so much! You must be rich charging that!
Consider this. While I land a good amount of work, I'm not on location 40hrs a week. Most of my time is spent editing what I shoot, which I don't bill for. So I'm not making $4000 a week doing this (I wish). The average creative professional isn't living high on the hog with this kind of money. For most people it's just enough to get by. Also realize that I'm not even one of the more expensive media guys. My rates are pretty average when it comes to this kind of work
So what is cost-effective media? It's high quality photography and video that gives you your money's worth. Next time you need photos or video, be sure to prepare a budget that's adequate for your needs. That means not assuming that your photographer or videographer will work for free or cheap. Most of us can't afford to do that, and you show us a lot of respect when you pay us well. I know I speak for more than myself when I say that that respect will be returned to you in the form of high quality work that you can be proud of!