Pricing the digital darkroom

Richard Charpentier The Business of Photography Leave a Comment

Not too long ago portrait studios didn’t necessarily do the whole 9 yards.  Before digital there was film.  And part of your process had to include developing.  Often times studios would actually send out their rolls to developing and print houses, and that part of the studio business was external.  Retouching and enhancement were also part of the process that was external to the photographer.  All of these processes had to be accounted for in the final pricing of prints.

Today most studios have Lightroom, Photoshop, Aperture, etc.  The images are not sent off to some lab across the country.  Normally they’re now viewed by the photographer on their own screen and some of the processing is done in house.  Previously there were set rates from developers and retouchers, but with the advent of digital photographers can now do that work themselves.  But what do they charge for it, is it built into the price, or is it just part of a package price?  Who knows, it’s actually all over the place when I talk to other photographers.

Valuing post processing – Look at what’s being charged

Interestingly enough, there are companies still out there who do retouching for photographers.  These businesses realize that photographers need to move on to the next shoot, and that many would rather outsource the edits to someone else.  Still, many smaller studios have internalized the editing and retouching process, yet they’ve forgotten to value their own time and effort when it comes to post processing.  So, what should they be charging?

Well, after scouring the net and finding too many retouch companies I had a hard time nailing down what an “average” price is.  Some services have you buy credits from them and then each level of retouching has a different number of credits.  Other companies charge a flat price per image.  In the end, a spread of pricing.  But I found one service that had flat rate prices that made sense to me, so we’ll use their model.

From our wedding example yesterday the photographers I’d mentioned with the amazing 12 hour day rate included 80 retouched images in their package.  So, we’ll go with the 80 number.  How long does it take to do basic enhancement?  And what is basic enhancement?  No clue, but we’ll use one of the retouching services I found for our baseline.  Their basic retouching offers:

  • Exposure correction
  • Color correction
  • Teeth whitening
  • Skin blemish correction

The cost for these basic steps?  $2.50 each.  If we went with 80 basic retouches we’d be talking $200.  And that’s basic.  What if there were a few images that need some extra bump and correction?  The guys I found online do more serious retouches and corrections at $5.00 each.  And total edits (removal of people and backgrounds) are $10.00 each (you know, removing drunk uncle Frank from the image).

Alright, so let’s say in offering 80 “polished” images there are 10 that need some extra enhancement, and 70 that require basic.  If outsourced that would cost a photographer $225.00.

But editing is easy and anyone can do it…….uh huh, sure.

Years ago when I was still a network engineer I purchased Photoshop for reasons I can’t even remember.  And I sat down to learn Photoshop and quickly realized, “This isn’t easy at all.  It’s as bad as reading a Lucent Switch manual.”  Quickly I put Photoshop away and went with the statement, “I don’t edit because you shouldn’t edit.”  Sour grapes to be sure.  Years later a really talented outdoor and wild life photographer asked me why I didn’t edit, I gave him my lame answer, and he totally schooled me on the editing that has been going on well before Photoshop and Digital photography and I finally had no excuse… was time to learn Photoshop.

6 years later I’m still learning Photoshop.  I’d say I know about 60% of the features, but there’s stuff hidden in that program I’ve never used or touched.  Photoshop itself has a steep learning curve, and the possibilities of what you can do are astounding.  With the learning curve and then time spent editing let me tell you, there’s a lot of invested knowledge and time there.  That has value, just like knowing how to run a Lucent Switch has value.  How do you price that?  Well, our retouching service above gives you a hint as to how to price it.

Tying this together with yesterday’s post

In assessing the reality of the 12 hour day wedding shoot we played with an hourly pay rate.  We found that the photographer team, if charging $25 per hour for the shoot should be paid $600 out of their $800 fee.  Now if we dump $225.00 of post processing in there we’re at $825.00.  Whoops, we just went past the fee charged.  They’re in the negative $25.  And that doesn’t include the prints, book, disc, and DVD.  Quickly we’re going to go further into the negative, or we drop the pay rate.  See, that’s how I got to the McDonald’s pay rate quickly when I did a full analysis of the package last week.

Beginning to understand why professional portrait and wedding photographers charge what they charge?  I hope so.  So much more goes into a shoot than just the time you’re with the photographer.

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