Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Photography Overhead Costs (or Why Photography is Expensive)

Over the weekend, I received an innocent question from a couple just starting to look for wedding photographers and perhaps you've received this question before as well:  "Why is photography SO expensive?"  I sympathized and agreed that photography is, in fact, quite expensive for the photographer providing the service as well.  Professional cameras and lenses are expensive and need to be replaced frequently, maintaining computers and post-production equipment is expensive, regular software upgrades are expensive, not to mention all of the costs of simply being in business.  In fact, because these costs are elusive to people who haven't run a business before, but who may own a camera, many beginning photographers don't even know they're pricing themselves out of a business simply because they are failing to account for their overhead costs.

To aid aspiring photographers and pricing skeptics, I've constructed a table of some basic overhead costs of running a photography business.  These are rough estimates, and many businesses have even more overhead expenses than this, but I wanted to provide a very basic outline of the monthly and annual costs of being in business as a photographer.  If you're an aspiring photographer, I'd encourage you to start a spreadsheet of your own to help you gain a more accurate look at your overhead costs, so that you can budget your future needs into your current pricing.

Overhead Expenses for Photography Business

Please note, this does NOT include the expenses of a Salary or Health Insurance.  If you want to have a business that actually pays for your home, transportation, food and provides you with health insurance (rather than just a side business to supplement your income), we'll need to figure in those costs as well.  Health Insurance can range anywhere from $100/mo-$600/mo per person with a national average estimated to be around $185/mo.  Also, if we assume a salary of $36,500/yr (the national mean for photographers according to bls.gov) which is determined before self-employment taxes are taken, we would need to add $3,226 to the average monthly overhead expenses and $38,720 to the yearly overhead expenses. 

 Photographer Salary and Health Insurance Costs

As with all things, every business is different and will have different expenses.  This is only meant to be one example and not a representation of what your expenses should be.  Definitely check out the comments to see what more photographers have to say!

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography in 2004 as an independent small business. She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.


  1. Replies
    1. While Sales Tax needs to be accounted for, it is not a fixed overhead cost. It only applies when a product is purchased.

  2. You shouldn't be paying sales tax out of pocket, that should be a cost that you are charging your clients and turning it over to the government.

  3. Thanks ladies! Mine would also have studio rent, city business license, and tave! :)

  4. Another thing to note is these expenses are a rough guideline for an *established* photographer. When we started our business our equipment costs were WAY higher. $3,000 is a very low estimate and I would say that's probably for a single-photographer studio. With 2 photographers, we spent over 40k our first two years on gear alone, and we purchased most of our L lenses used. The number you quoted really just reflects maintaining and repairing gear already owned. We upgrade our cameras roughly every 2.5 years, and 4 cameras alone can run 12k, or more depending on the model. Accessories can easily go over $500 when you consider things like memory cards (you need a lot if you book a lot of events), camera bags that are $200-$500, and the never ending number of gadgets coming out - the newest wireless trigger, the latest white balance toy, etc, etc..

    The only time my rent was as low as $300 was when I was doing an office share with no studio space. Direct mail can cost upwards of 1k to get a list of enough people to make your direct mailing worth it. And while marketing wasn't estimated, if you aren't spending money on it, you won't have any business. Not to mention things like continuing education, bridal shows (more marketing), attending networking events (which often have a hefty door charge or you are expected to purchase drinks), data archiving, packaging for client deliverables, postage, blah, blah, blah, you get the picture. It never ends.

    This is a good starting point, but for someone thinking about getting into the business they should realize this is on the low side and there will be a lot more expenses.

  5. It's very important to track costs, so that you know what to spend. Many of my wedding clients have no idea what it costs/entails to run a photography business. All you need is a camera . . . right?

  6. $185 a month for health insurance! Who do you use? Paying for a family on a high deductible plan runs us around $900 per month. And that is the high deductible plan!

    I realize that number was just used as an example, but it is probably far too low for someone that is truly self employed and not working as a part time photographer while working a full time job with benefits.

    1. Brian- the health insurance number was intended for a single healthy low-risk individual and was based on a national health insurance survey from 2012.