Why I Can’t Charge the Same as Big Box Studios

Why I Can’t Charge the Same as Big Box Studios

Gatineau and Ottawa Portrait Photographer

why i don't charge the same as big box studios

A while ago I wrote a blog post about why I can’t charge the same as big box studios.  I decided to repost because it’s still relevant.

As a photographer I love when people compliment my photography.  I get an even bigger thrill when people like my work so much that they pay what I charge.   I value photography, so I understand the importance of capturing these moments for my clients. Professional photography is not a priority for a lot of people.  Thus, how much they’re willing to pay for a photo session or photography products reflects that.  Don’t get me wrong.  I understand that most people have a budget.  I  also understand that having professional photos taken is considered a luxury for many.  That’s why Walmart, Sears and Superstore have studios offering cheaply priced portrait sessions.  These big box studios cater to people who want portraits taken, but don’t want to spend much money.

Many people are happy to just have some decent looking photos to hang on their walls.  That’s fine with me. However, what bothers me is when people want custom photography, but either at big box portrait studio prices or cheaper. You can’t compare apples to oranges.  Wanting a professional photographer to shoot custom photography and give you the digital files, prints, etc. for cheap is like going to an upscale restaurant, ordering the filet mignon and expecting to pay the same price as a McDonald’s hamburger. It just can’t work like that. McDonald’s can charge cheap prices because they serve poor quality food and their employees are paid minimum wage.  They also serve high volume, assembly line service. Meanwhile, an upscale restaurant is paying for a trained chef, waiters, quality food and creating a unique dining experience.

Photography Pricing

My photography prices are certainly not on the high end of professional photography prices in my area. I’m somewhere in the middle for pricing. With that said, I need to be able to charge enough to:

  1. Cover my time spent prepping and packing gear, driving to and from photo locations, doing the actual shoot and post production of photos.  This includes uploading photos, colour correction, photo shop, uploading galleries, client communications, etc.  If everyone else gets paid to work, shouldn’t we get paid for our work too?
  2. Charge enough to purchase the equipment that I need to do the photo shoot and post processing of my clients’ images.  This includes cameras, lenses, flashes, computer, computer software, etc. Charging next to nothing for prints or digital files won’t cover my costs of doing business. Many people think that shooting digital costs very little, so why shouldn’t we give the digital files for next to nothing.  Here’s an example: I own two camera bodies and multiple lenses. One camera body costs $2000+ and each of my lenses costs between $500-$2000. Shooting digital is NOT cheap!
  3. I need to pay for the gas and maintenance of my car.  I use it to drive to different photography locations, meet with clients, etc.  There’s also the tens of thousands of dollars I’ve  spent for education, marketing, buying props, insurance, etc.  The list goes on and on.

To illustrate my point, I took my daughter to three different discount photo studios to have her portrait taken.  Afterwards, I did a photo session of her myself to show the difference in quality.  To help make a better comparison, I dressed her in the same outfit.


First, was Walmart. They had an online special for $9.99.  It included one 8″x10″, two 5″x7s″, four 3 1/2″ x 5s″, 16 wallets and 16 keepsakes of the same pose. To purchase a CD of all the digital photos, you must purchase their $199 photo package. Altogether I was there for about 30 minutes.

When I asked when I would get the photos, the girl said it takes 2-3 weeks as the photos are printed in the US and shipped to Canada. Let’s do the math. Walmart is paying their part time *employee minimum wage ($10/hr). She spent a 1/2 hour with me, which means $5 of the $10 I paid goes towards paying their employee. Then they have to pay the US photo lab to print and ship the photos to Canada. Clearly, Walmart has made no money from this photo session. Is it any wonder why both Walmart and Sears in the US closed down all of their portrait studios due to losses? No one can sustain a photography business by working for free and giving everything away–not even Walmart or Sears.

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*When I asked the Walmart photographer if she was a trained photographer, she said no.  She’s a college student majoring in marketing. This is why people can’t compare Walmart’s portrait photography prices to a professional photographer running their own business.  I’m not a 20-year-old student working a part-time job to pay for school. I’m in business to actually make a living.  I can’t pay my bills if everyone expects me to charge unsustainable prices. Don’t even get me started on how many people over the years have asked me to shoot their wedding for free or for peanuts. Essentially, they’re asking me to spend time away from my family (including my young daughter), work during my free time, put wear and tear on my camera equipment and car and forgo paying my own bills because they think they deserve a luxury that they can live without.


Superstore was next. I chose the $10 economy package.  It includes two 8″x10s″, two 5″x7s″ and 16 wallets. (Presently, they have no digital purchase options.) Superstore’s studio was a step up from Walmart.  Their studio was closed off (unlike Walmart’s open concept, which allowed my daughter to keep running away). Superstore also had nicer props than Walmart.

There was one thing that didn’t impress me.  My daughter wouldn’t stand still to have her photos taken.  I asked she could sit on the rocking horse.  However, I was told ‘no’, since I bought the cheapest package. The flyer with their pricing even says “1 pose, colour only and no props.” Imagine if I told my clients that certain props were only to be used by the higher paying clients?!? (The ONLY reason why my daughter was allowed to sit on that red chair is because she wouldn’t sit or stand still.  Thus, the only way to save the photo session was to get her to sit on it.)

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Next, was Sears portrait studio. I paid $14.99 for the portrait session and $9.99 for one 8″x10″ unprocessed print. To get a print that had ANY minor work done to it, I had to pay an extra $10. As far as buying the digital files from Sears: one “unenhanced” digital file costs $79.99, three “unenhanced” digital files are $149.99 and the CD of all of the “unenhanced” files is $199.99. If you want a few cheesy enhancements to your photos, you’ll pay $249.99 for the CD of photos.

Let’s compare how much time is spent on your photo shoot.  Sears spends 10-20 minutes of post production on your photos and they’re charging between $200-250 for a CD of digital files. Meanwhile, I spend 5-6 hours of post production to make sure that the final images are beautiful.  Please explain to me the logic of why I should charge less or even the same as them?

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Little Lamb Photography

Finally, I did my daughter’s photo shoot myself. Unlike the big box portrait studios, I prefer to do my photo sessions outside in order to get many different types of backgrounds. I also find that photographing children outdoors is far easier than inside using strobes (flash units). With strobes you’re restricted to where you can angle your camera by the lighting as well as the backdrop.  Outdoors, I can let kids play and have fun while I shoot their photos. I find that this method results with more natural photos.



Ultimately, everyone will have their own opinion of the quality of the various portraits done by the different companies. I prefer good quality over cheap, so I prefer custom photography over any big box studio. In any case, you’re free to be the judge and make your own conclusion. Just know where I’m coming from and why I can’t charge the same prices as big box studios.

If you’re a client who values quality portrait photography, I would LOVE to hear from you!  Contact me today to book your portrait photography session.

My photography has been featured on 35+ photography blogs.  Some include: I Heart Faces, Little Peanut Magazine, Beauty & Lifestyle Mommy Magazine, Tiny Prints, How He Asked, Melissa Hearts Weddings, Brown Sparrow Wedding, SnapKnot and The Frosted Petticoat.  You can check out some of my photography features.

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