The value of photography

'Value' and 'cheap' are not the same thing; value is whether something is worth the price paid.  I genuinely believe that photography delivers immense value; if I didn't I would not be doing it.  But what is the value of photography, or in what way does photography have 'value'?


If we think about a portrait photographer delivering a print for £1000, then clearly the value is not in the materials; £1000 is pretty steep for a sheet of paper; the cost of printing is probably under £100.  Yes the photographer has many costs and in total it might cost him or her £800 to actually produce that print once the yearly rent, advertising, electricity and gear costs (etc, etc) are averaged across the total number of sales, but that's not your problem; that's not 'value' to you the customer, that's the cost of doing business for the photographer.

A wedding photographer might charge £3000 to cover a wedding and deliver a wedding album that costs perhaps £200 to actually print.  Now, it's probably taken the photographer 40 to 60 hours worth of work and they may have been working for a £10 an hour after costs, rather than the £3000 / 10 hours = £300 an hour maths the client may assume, but again, that's not the 'value' to the client.  It doesn't really matter to client what the photographer can pay themselves.
 

So what is the value of photography?  In the case of portrait and wedding photographers, they are creating family heirlooms; a wedding photographer is probably creating the very first family heirloom of a brand new family.  The value of these heirlooms only increases over time.  The day after the wedding you might look at your wedding photos and say "yup, that's what yesterday looked like", but in 10 years you will say "wow, that's what my wedding day looked like" and in 50 years you may be showing it to your grandchildren as they prepare for their wedding day.  

It's something your children and grandchildren will cherish after you're gone.  Very few of us create things that will out-live us, but at least we know that there will be something people can remember us by.  Long after Facebook has gone bust and taken your life history with it, that album will still be there.

As someone who has a young child that is now just becoming old enough to look at family photos, I can tell you that the value of these images has suddenly sky-rocketed.  A friend of mine did our wedding photography and gave me the files.  We never got round to having an album made because at the time that had very little value to us.  My wife has just announced that she going to go back through all of the photos of our life together before our daughter was born (including the wedding) and produce books of it all for our daughter to look at.
  

If you spend £1000 on a new sofa or gadget, chances are that in 5 years it will be worthless to you.  You may even look back and regret spending quite so much, or at least feel you would rather have the cash you spent back in your hand now rather than the worn-out gadget you're holding.  Can you ever imagine you'd look at a portrait of your new born baby, or your child at age 3 and say "I wish I hadn't spent so much on that"?  Yes, the day after the photo-shoot when you're £1000 poorer than yesterday and your child is still the same and you can look at them as much as you wish then maybe, but in 5, 10 or 20 years?  Not a chance! 

If I offered to buy your 5-year old sofa or car or phone from your for the exact price you paid for it I'm sure you'd jump at the chance.  Would you sell me your wedding album or the portraits of your children for the price you paid for them?  Assuming you couldn't just order a reprint from the photographer, I bet you would not part with them for many times what you paid for them.

This is the value of wedding and portrait photography.  
 

So what about my photography?  My photographs probably don't have much value as heirlooms and I don't even give you a print so the value in the price I charge is certainly not in any kind of physical product.  Where is the value?

The value of my photography is in the new job you got because you were called for an interview when you might not otherwise have been.  It's in the relationships you managed to build with that new customer, helped by your LinkedIn profile which was easy to find and represented you as the competent professional you are.  If you land that new job that pays £10,000 at a year more than your old one, or closed that £100,000 deal with a new client, will you look back and regret spending £300 on a new headshot and LinkedIn profile?  I would certainly hope not