Updated: Apr 24
I'm a bit of an introvert. From time to time I'll be out and find myself in a social situation where I'll be surrounded by normal everyday-type people chatting it up and having a good time. I do my best to politely avoid the small-talk, but the odds are stacked against me. Like one of those baby turtles who just emerged from their egg, and instinctively starts heading across the open beach to the sanctuary of the sea, I typically find myself scurrying across the party room to try to make my way to a quiet corner. Also like the baby turtle, I, too, run the high risk of getting picked off by another attendee and would be confronted by the standard party conversation that would begin-- "So, what do you do?"
When it comes to talking about boudoir photography-- I'm fairly prolific. Between my website, blog posts, Instagram account, and (retired) podcast, I have produced tons of content over the years. Talking about boudoir is just a thing that comes along with the job.
In a social situation, however, I become a different me. I'm not much into talking about myself, because for some reason it's just awkward. I tend to be quite reticent in group situations. One of those standard questions in this type of situation that people ask is typically about your work. I'll answer that I am a professional boudoir photographer and the follow up is often like, "Oh, that sounds interesting... what is that like?" Which means I have to go further into detail... In some situations this even leads to a question that makes me even a bit more uncomfortable, "I've always thought about doing that! What does something like that cost?" **cue the scratching record sound**
--This is the point where I pause knowing exactly what will come next. Sort of like a distant summer thunderstorm-- you see the lightening flash... and you know the thunder will follow a few seconds later... So I tell them.
Although the person questioning me may not outwardly act surprised, I can see it in their eyes. At that point their curiosity typically piqued-- either one way or the other, and they want to know more... and why is boudoir photography so expensive... (and they want to see boudoir photos, and they want to know boudoir stories.... )
Boudoir photography is expensive to the average person on the street. I get it. I don't see it that way, though. Perhaps because I'm on the inside and I know the inner workings of how everything comes together, and all the time, energy and effort involved. To an outsider, they just see (and hear) dollar signs and think that's a lot of money for clicking a few photos on a camera. Everything else is lost in the fog. That's a completely fair reaction, though.
A typical "person on the street" wouldn't know what's involved in producing a boudoir photography session. Why would they? If they are thinking about doing a boudoir session for a anniversary or wedding gift, women are often a bit surprised at some of the pricing they receive-- after all, its only a couple of digital photos. It really doesn't cost anything to press a camera button, does it? So why the big price?
The process of shopping for a boudoir photographer, is indeed a process in and of itself that can take a bit of work to do properly. That aside, boudoir photography prices can, and will, vary based on quite a few factors. Some of these include: Geographic region, Skill/experience of the photographer, The type of products or items purchased, and location used for the session.
I thought I'd put together a detailed article that may explain it all a bit and to help see why things may seem "expensive." If you've been searching around for why boudoir photography is so expensive, hopefully this article will shed of bit of light on the subject for you.
Let's look at some of the factors of why is boudoir photography is so expensive...
A Professional Boudoir Photographer Has Standard Business Expenses
If a boudoir photographer is using a work space like a studio she/he has a big nut to make each month. In the Northeast, where I am located, retail space is enormously expensive... probably too expensive for a photographer. Office/Loft/Studio type space isn't much less. If a boudoir photographer is renting a work space-- they are strapped with not only rent, but other standard overhead costs such as electric, gas, water, insurance, etc. On top of that, if they have an assistant or other workers, there are additional payroll expenses added on top of that that need to be met, as well.
Depending on the part of the country, and the location of the studio, these expenses can amount to thousands of dollars per month. A studio space is a big commitment for a boudoir photographer. The studio provides a reliable work space, but studio expenses will be added on to any boudoir sessions cost.
Photographers Have To Eat!
Photographers have to eat, too! 😀 Some photographers choose to work in photography only part time. They may have a full time career and shoot weddings, etc., on weekends for some extra money. This is great. Photography is a wonderful part time job. Other photographers may have a spouse/partner that works a full time career to provide a steady income to help pay the bills.
There are a group of photographers, as well, that work full time at photography, and the business is their primary source of income.
Think about all the bills anyone has to pay... There are food, clothing, medical expenses, rent/mortgage and other household expenses that need to paid monthly. That can be-- ugh, expensive! Living expenses can vary from locality to locality across the country, but in the New York metro area where am located, you aren't existing for less than $50K - $60K per year (If you are a single income provider.)
Those are living costs that definitely will factor in to your photo shoot.
Photography Has Expensive Gear Requirements
This is a great time to be a professional photographer. This amazing digital age we live in produces new innovation almost yearly! Cameras get sharper, get better low light capability, and have increased image quality with each new generation. A camera is a tool to a photographer, like a tile saw is to a ceramic installer. It's vital to the job. It gets a lot of use, though, and they need to be replaced every few years. Decent professional cameras can be $2,000 - $3,000 a pop.
The camera is just the start of it! EVERYTHING about photography is expensive. I recall a client innocently grabbing one of my lenses during a session to look at it, and it slipped from her hand-- fortunately it tumbled forward and landed on a bed. She stopped in horror and said something along the lines "That was almost an expensive mistake-- " "Real expensive," I said.
"Like $300 expensive?" she replied. I gave her a sideways head shake. "More?" she muttered "$400?"
"Keep going... like $1500 expensive." She looked at me like I grew a second head.
Yes, folks, photography stuff is real expensive.
It's not only camera gear that is expensive. All those great photos get offloaded from the camera onto a computer for editing. That computer is usually loaded with several professional editing software applications-- among other stuff- needed to help get the job done. As those innovative software companies make their products better and faster every year...that usually comes at the penalty of needing all new faster computers every few years to make them run. Oh, joy!
THAT'S not even talking about all the storage hardware to keep all your precious photos safe, in case you need them some day. (And the hard drive clogging joys of storing 60MB RAW files...)
The list of expensive gear goes on and on.
Are you starting to get the idea now? 😀 Oh, there's more.
You're Paying For Talent
You know those beautiful images that make you feel amazing and let you see yourself in a whole new light? That's a talent.
Ah, talent. How can you put a price on an intangible? Isn't everyone a "photographer" these days? The answer is yes, and no. Lots of people drive, but that doesn't make them Formula 1 drivers.
There are boudoir photographers that are just extreme talents. Give them a camera and a subject and they can create beautiful works of art that clients treasure for years.
This is the end results of thousands and thousands of hours of practice, and hundreds and hundreds of clients-- not to mention the natural ability to bring everything together to create magic.
If you see some stunning work in a photographer's gallery, and its something that you can envision yourself being part of, you will be paying for the talents of that photographer to produce that unique photographic look on a consistent basis.
Heck, you probably wouldn't pay $225 to sit front row in a local coffee shop on open mic night to hear a high school student play John Mayer songs, but you would to sit front row in a small venue to hear John Mayer play "Comfortable" just feet away from you. Why? What's the difference?
It's the same song? Who cares who sings it? The words are the same, right? Get the idea? (Boy, that's a lot of question marks there...) In that case you are paying for the talent. For the person who originally created that work of art.
Likewise, in photography, if you want to look your best, you will be paying a premium for premium talent. (Sadly, a lot of boudoir photographers don't really understand their self worth, but that's a topic for another day...)
You're Paying For Someone's Time
When I first started doing photography I recall reading a blog post about tracking your time on a photography job-- because you completely underestimate how many hours you are putting into a photo session. I was curious, so I did just that. I downloaded a time tracking app on my phone, and for a few photography projects I kept track of all the minutes I was involved... from going back and forth with the client, to the photo session, to all the editing afterward, etc. THEY WERE RIGHT! I completely underestimated how much time I was investing into each and every client. It was a real eye opener.
Sadly, I don't recall the number of hours I was averaging, but it was enough to make me reconsider the way I structured my rates. (This would be a great project to do again now... and I think I will!) Simply taking what you charge a customer, and divide by the number of hours worked on that project can be a painful reality check.
As it turns out, the "boudoir session" is only one small part of an entire photo project. Typically, there is time invested before the boudoir session, and a considerable amount of time spent after a photo session, organizing, editing, post processing and getting the project completed. This "hidden" time spent is all too real work for a photographer, but in most cases goes unnoticed by a client. Think of your session as "the tip of the iceberg"-- for what you see on the surface...below the surface lies a much larger mass.
A good boudoir photographer isn't doing what they do to earn a rate below minimum wage. Especially, really talented photographers. All the hours put into a photography session have to result in a profitable number to make it worth that valuable time.
What is considered "profitable" for one photographer is quite a different thing than another. I recall getting an email from a potential client years ago to the effect of "I have a $49 Groupon from photographer so-and-so and I was just curious if you'd match that price...." --Not to mention I couldn't even flip on the lights in my building for that rate, and even if that photographer was providing only digital images--- there is little to no point in taking on a client at a tremendous loss even for just all the time involved and walking away with literally a few cents per hours. As a professional, placing little to no value on your time and talents is a sure recipe for failure.
"Time" is the one valuable commodity you can't make more of.
Groupon clients weren't exactly clients that are picking a photographer because they are excited to work with them and are looking for amazing boudoir photos, they are people purely shopping trying to get the lowest price possible. In a specialty business like boudoir photography, the business model of "racing to the bottom" is a self defeating strategy. Which leads us to our next point...
Boudoir Photography Is Not Scalable
Boudoir photography businesses are typically a one person operations.
A business like Walmart can sell hundreds of thousands of items at very small margins and exist in a profitable manner. How? They use their tremendous volume which turns all those sales where they only make a few cents per item, into millions of dollars of profits-- actually hundreds of millions of dollars of profits. It's a wonderful system.
A boudoir photographer can't exist by that business model. That kind of volume is not an option. Making $20 per client on a boudoir shoot across hundreds of clients isn't feasible. Photographers have to exist by making very large margin on a (relatively) small number of clients. One person can only schedule and handle so many photo shoots.
They have to maximize each and every client to survive.
All those items listed above: cameras, gear, etc., have to be paid for in some fashion. AND if the photographer is drawing a salary for themselves, that's got to come from somewhere, as well. Scale is not our friend. Large margins are! There is no other way.
It's A Specialty Business...
Boudoir photographers are kind of rare. There aren't many of us out there. There aren't too many people focusing their energies on the art of making women feel beautiful via photography. This is part of the reason why a boudoir session is more expensive than most other types of photography. As with any type of specialty business, the services of that person comes at a premium.
If you want to get your boobs bigger to give yourself a boost in self confidence, you don't go into a a walk-in urgent care and ask the PA to do your implants. You have to go to a doctor that specializes in the practice. --Not just any plastic surgeon, either... yours have to look great! You put in the time to find the best doctor in your area. You talk to friends. You do some research.
Likewise, boudoir photography is a specialty business. Beauty photography is a lot of fun, but in reality, its a very difficult art to master. Photographing a boudoir session is a kind of specialty. Hopefully, you put as much effort into finding a skilled photographer as you do a skilled plastic surgeon. If you, so you will be rewarded with great boudoir pictures.
So, there you go. Perhaps that helped to answer the question why is boudoir photography so expensive. I hope this was a bit enlightening, and you've seen that it's not just the click of the camera, there are a lot of expenses behind the shutter that drive the price of your session.
Rent, equipment, talent and living expenses are all part of the factors that go into the pricing of boudoir photography. One thing that complicates all that, as well, is that photography isn't really a price comparative industry.
If I told you there were two homes for sale, and one was $224,000 and the the other was $359,900, and asked you which was the better deal-- you couldn't answer that question, right? There are too many unknowns. Where the homes were located. How many bedrooms. What type of condition they are in. You get the idea. -And that, also, is another entire blog post.
Comparing two prices of photographers, without knowing all the details, is also just as useless. Sadly, though, this is how many people shop, and the result is that there are photography clients that walk away without having the amazing experience they deserve.
It's complicated! Boudoir photography is definitely one of those you get what you pay for type industries. My simply advice has always been along the lines of... How often do you do a boudoir session? Not often. It's a special occasion. Save up and do it the right way.
They key to shopping for boudoir photography is taking your time, and gathering all the knowledge you can. It's a bit of work on your part, but you'll be rewarded in the end for your efforts.