Why Do Photographers Charge So Much?

- - Working

I’m reposting this from our sister blog Photography and Architecture, because I think Joshua Dool has such smart answers to the question Why do architectural photographers charge so much?

Joshua Dool, Blue Planet

Blue Planet Aquarium, Copenhagen. Designed by Danish architects 3XN. All images © Joshua Dool

Joshua Dool is an award-winning architectural and industrial photographer based in Vancouver, Canada. Joshua was interested in both architecture and photography from a young age but photography won out. We wanted to hear about the skills required to properly photograph a building, the costs to the architect, and how a photographer can be creative in meeting budgets – he was kindly most forthcoming.

Q: What justifies the cost of strong architectural imagery?
JD: Photography isn’t much different than anything else. Fast and cheap doesn’t equal good. With architecture photography, it takes time to get the perfect angle and the perfect lighting, so the fast category doesn’t really even apply to it. So then, we are left with either cheap or good, and you probably aren’t going to get both.

My experience has been: the cheaper the photographer, the poorer the image looks, and in a society that is becoming increasingly visually literate, thanks to social media and the internet, fantastic photos are a must! Strong images strengthen a brand, weak images diminish a brand. This is true for all advertising, and it is especially true for architecture. Great projects deserve great photos to represent them, because at the end of the day, for the vast majority of an architect’s future clients, this will be the only way they ever get to interact with that design!

This doesn’t mean the more expensive the better, but it does mean that good imagery comes at a justified price. Half-rate images can make a fantastic project look crappy, and fantastic images can make an average project really stick out. The strength of the imagery is going to define whether the local paper or national magazine features it; it will affect how professional your website looks; it’s going to be the face of that project for awards consideration, and it’s going to determine whether the project images get onto social media which can generate A LOT of buzz and flow to your website.

Q: Why do architecture photographers charge so much, and what is associated with the cost?
JD: Several things are associated with producing professional images. In order to produce great architecture photos, you need a decent amount of gear, and a lot of knowledge specific to the field of architecture photography.

It takes time to scout locations, find angles, and map the sun through the course of the day in order to show up and capture great images on the day of production. Most shoots require one day of scouting, and one or two days of actual capture, but then the images are not ready out of the camera either, and can often take another one to three hours per photo in postproduction. So, there is a considerable time investment in photographing architecture properly.

Professional camera equipment and lighting is not cheap either. I arrive on a shoot with usually $20k+ worth of my own gear. I have pro-camera systems, tilt shift lenses, a few strobe kits, large reflectors, multiple tripods, and then a swath of gear at home for editing the photos in post production. It’s an incredibly expensive form of photography. And then, in order for me to hone my craft and get proficient at using all the cameras, lighting, and reflector systems I use, I’ve put my time in assisting other photographers, doing lighting on movie sets, and in photo school. Architecture photography is a very specialized form of photography, and isn’t something that just anyone can do, especially if you want quality results.

Q: Do you find that a lot of clients are suprised at the cost of photography?
JD: Price is often a big factor, especially for smaller/newer firms. I am cognizant of this, and I am always happy to try to meet a price point where I can in order to build a relationship with a new firm.

I’ve had a specific scenario happen a few times this last year, where a firm has contacted me requesting a quote for me to photograph several of their projects. After collecting bids from a few different photographers, they called me back to see if I could budge my rate, basically saying that they wanted me as their photographer, but at the other guy’s price. So, I did my best to make something work, but they ended up going for the cheapest quote they’d received. In both of these instances, they didn’t end up posting any of the photographs from the other photographer on their website because they were unhappy with the results.

It’s a common practice for newer, less experienced photographers to try to compete on price point instead of on quality of imagery. The truth is, in order to work at some of these cut-throat prices, these photographers have to be either jet-set trust fund kids who are doing it as a passion and not for the money, or they are photographers who don’t have the same level of expertise and quality of equipment, and who probably won’t be around in another year to photograph your next project. That is, if you would even want them to!

I’m a big fan of architecture so it saddens me to see great projects end up being captured poorly.

Q: Is there a way that architects can keep the costs down or operate within a budget?
JD: YES! There are a few ways:
They can let the photographer know the budget they are working with, and see if the photographer has any suggestions. Personally, the best way to lower the price for me is to book me for two or more projects, as I offer discounts to firms when they package together a few commissions.

Or perhaps the photographer has a month with nothing booked they could move the shoot to, and offer a reduced rate. Here in Vancouver, it rains from November to March, so I would be more inclined to offer a discount on an interior shoot if it took place in the months I’m not busy shooting exteriors in the sunshine!

Another way is to perhaps shave a couple images off the wishlist, and make it a one day shoot instead of a two or three day shoot. Would you rather have image 12 images that look great, or have all 18 and run the risk of the discount photographer messing it up?

Q: What gets you excited about architecture photography?
JD: I am especially intrigued by the human interaction with architecture. Architecture is after all designed for people. So I try to include a human element in my photographs. Early on, I noticed that most renderings the architects had included people, because this is how they sell the functionality of the design, but most photographs I was seeing were empty spaces devoid of human life. Being around great architecture is exciting, and seeing how structure are utilized, how they shape peoples daily experiences, and how they serve there intended purpose is one area I’m especially fascinated with in my photography.

Joshua Dool Location:  Specialties: ;.

Joshua Dool, Blue Planet
Blue Planet Aquarium.

Joshua Dool, Peace Bridge

Peace Bridge, Calgary. Santiago Calatrava.

Joshua Dool, 8 House

8 House, Copenhagen.  Bjarke Ingels.

Joshua Dool, UBC Pharmaceutical

UBC Pharmaceutical, Vancouver. Saucier + Perrote.

Joshua Dool, Bella Sky Hotel

Bella Sky Hotel, Copenhagen. 3XN.

Joshua Dool, Private apartment

Private apartment.

Read about the cost of hiring an architectural photographer.

Read about how to hire an architectural photographer, from a rep’s perspective.

Read about how to hire an architectural photographer, from an architect’s perspective.

There Are 9 Comments On This Article.

  1. Photographers need to have perfection while clicking photos on different angles. Not only this but there are lot of things that should be taken into account. It’s one kind of skill that everybody doesn’t have. Apart from that if you try to capture some photos like professionals, you might not good at all.

  2. Thanks for sharing this! It really got me thinking about the way people view professional photographers and why they question our value.

    I think it comes from the fact that almost everyone thinks they can take a good picture. This has been true for a long time, but now that everyone has a camera in their phone, it’s especially so. They’ve all gotten at least one lucky shot on vacation, so now they have “the eye”. Somehow, they can’t see the difference between that and a what a professional does.

    A professional photographer doesn’t rely on luck or accidents, they simply deliver the goods every time. Like any professional, their reputation and livelihood depends on this ability. It involves talent, skill, experience, and planning, and it’s surprising how many people don’t understand that.

  3. This article really hits home. Its so true about a lower bid photographer trying to compete with a seasoned architectural photographer for a job. I can’t count how many times I have had to educate a new client on the value of a shoot and what they will receive in return by going with a low ball quote, but i am sure this is true in all areas of photography. Great interview. Thanks for sharing.


  4. John Rayner

    Nowhere in this piece has the cost of photographic equipment been drawn into the discussion to illustrate what goes into the photographer’s expenses. A T/S lens is hellish expensive as are the good prime lenses required to produce good images. Cameras need to be updated every so often, d’ya think they’re cheap ? I think a much more in-depth look at what goes into a good architectural photography (or any other genre, for that matter – wedding, springs to mind) – travel costs, insurance, ancillary equipment – lighting etc

  5. Equipment costs don’t figure in the equation.

    Every professional photographer is only as good as their last job.

    The writer asks the photog. what kind of camera does she use, he’d like to get some good shots on an assignment the photog can’t make it to, the photog asks the writer what word processing program he uses, she’d like to write a good article.

    Anyone can make a great image, but very few can make twenty.

    Just because of the proliferation of cameras doesn’t have anything to do with the sophistication of the shooters (everyone now).

    Nothing has changed for the better, it has just changed.

    How many people read Aperture?

    Or learn from the masters of the visual arts, whatever they may be.

    Post processing has just muddied the waters.

    The “journalist” photographers who adhere to the highest editorial standards, are the
    last practitioners of the arcane alchemy that once defined the qualities that made a
    photograph a photograph (selective focus, framing, chiaroscuro, volume, subject, etc.) and
    not a painting or a graphic, or whatever.

  6. We live in a world where budgets are being slashed and everyone’s looking for a deal. It’s really hard making clients realise how much effort you put in, how much the kit costs and how long the post prod takes … After many years working in the industry I still have doubts about how much to charge, and I still lose out on a lot of jobs because people think I’m too expensive. However, when I do get a good job! everything goes right and the sun comes out (!) I remember why I do it!