What is the true cost of a fine art photograph?

Now that everyone seems to think they are a photographer, every professional photographer has heard something like, “Why do you charge so much for your photographs? I can get a 16″x20” printed at Costco/WalMart/Shuterfly/etc.* for like twenty bucks.” Well, I’m here to give you a peek behind the curtain to see what you are actually paying for when you buy a fine art print from a true professional. (Note: These are based on my personal experience. Though I kept it fairly general, other photogs may differ.)

  1. Education.
    4 year Accredited University– tuition, room & board, books, etc. (I majored in Photojournalism and minored in Art at NIU.)
    Continuing Education– workshops, seminars, books, videos. (And not just in photography, but also environmental based design, color theory, business, etc.)
  2. Equipment.
    Camera Equipment– cameras, tripods, lenses, lighting, & many, many various accessories. While consumer model cameras can be found for a few hundred dollars, the latest professional camera body will run a few thousand.
    Printing Equipment– 24″ & 44″ wide professional printers, ink, print media, paper cutters, etc.
    Photo Editing Equipment– high end desktop computer, multiple monitors, a bazillion HD’s, screen calibration equipment, a plethora of editing software.
    Business Equipment– mobile phone, all-in-one printer, laptop, digital projector & screen, tablet, more software, shipping supplies, etc.
  3. Travel.
    Local– vehicle (large enough for deliveries), fuel, admittance fees/memberships.
    Non-Local– air/ground/sea transportation, hotels, tips, guides, admission fees.
  4. Time.
    Location Research– reading guidebooks, looking through brochures, visiting websites, checking maps & satellite views, talking with trusted colleagues, physical exploration.
    Shooting- time spent traveling to destination, waiting, waiting, & more waiting for the right weather & atmospheric conditions, multiple trips just to get “the right” shot.
    Editing- sitting in front of the computer combing through dozens if not hundreds of images to find a few “keepers”, making any number of adjustments to create the desired image, adding keywords, titles, & descriptions.
    Printing– maintaining printers,changing print media, inspecting prints, varnishing canvases.
    Marketing- emails, phone calls, presentations, social media (woohoo!), designing & mailing marketing materials, events.
    Paperwork- quotes, invoices, taxes. (2 out of 3 ain’t bad!)
  5. Miscellaneous.
    insurance (equipment, studio, liability, health), taxes/fees/licenses, association membership (IIDA Industry Member!), advertising, marketing, rent/mortgage, utilities, etc.

This is far from an exhaustive list, but you can see that while it may be “free” to take a digital photo, there is a lot leading up to and after the shot that factor into its price. Thanks for reading!


*Interestingly enough, I have a few large canvas prints hanging at some Shutterfly offices that they paid a bit more than 20 bucks for. They understand the value of professional quality photography!

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