• Serena Burroughs

What Family Photography costs in Massachusetts - And Why


Every year before spring has even made an appearance, most people start booking their family portrait sessions. But every year there is a new family that has never had their portrait taken before and they often don't know where to start. There are actually many reasons why it can be confusing to figure out how much one should spend on photography services.

So how do you know when you're getting a good price but also good work? As with every industry there are tons of options and many different price points out there.

I decided to write down some of the things, that I have learned over the years and how I for one, determine how to charge for my work. Down below you can read up on how to choose your photographer, how to distinguish hobbyists from professionals, average pricing in Massachusetts, why photography may seem so expensive and lastly, how to potentially save money without having to skimp out on quality.

1. Make a list of your favorite photographers in your area This probably goes without saying, but use the internet and recommendations of your friends to your advantage. Find more than one photographer and write them all down. Once you have done that, hop on over to your computer or smart phone and start researching the companies on your list. During your research you should pay close attention to the work you see.

As a photographer myself, my main concern is this: I want to only display the very best of my work. So with that in mind, consider the work you see online the best possible outcome. And not an average portrait session. Look for blog posts of entire family sessions and study the quality of the photographers work. You can do this by asking yourself the following questions: Is it consistent? How good is the light in each photo, the focus, the framing? Does the photographer fit your style? Some of these things may sound very specific and you may not care for all of it, but it is a great way of getting to know your ideal photographer. Why does this matter? Because you want to spend your money wisely and get the best quality possible for the money you put on the table.

2. Are you hiring a Full Time Professional or a Hobbyist? This you can sometimes already distinguish by researching your photographer, as mentioned in the paragraph above. How active are they on social media, how much do they blog or how many sessions do they work. When you're hiring a hobbyist, you're most likely to get away with a lower price for your family portraits.

Photography isn't their main gig and they are bringing their money in elsewhere to support themselves. You may have to compromise in expertise and quality (totally depending however).

But since your photographer doesn't have to pay a lot of taxes, insurance, register an LLC, pay for any studio costs, pay for professional equipment and pay the personal bills such as food, a roof over their head and all the other fun stuff ... They will normally charge you less.

If you are hiring a professional you may pay more, but can usually relax when it comes to the quality of the work (again, this absolutely depends and I want to encourage you again to do your research). By quality I don't just mean how pretty an image is. You can absolutely apply the 10,000 hour rule here. The consistency, the accountability the expertise and knowledge is something you don't always get with a hobbyist. A professional has had their fair share of failures in the early stages and knows how to avoid them. A professional does more than just show up for your session, they make sure to prepare you for it. Don't know what to wear? Chances are, that before you've even had the time to ask yourself that question ... You bet. Your photographer already sent you a styling guide, mood board and tips and tricks on how to entertain the kids during your session. Or all of the above. A professional will know the things you may stress about, before you even get to that point and eliminates your doubts and fears, and takes the guessing out of the entire process from start to finish. Why does all of that matter? It will reflect in the pricing of your photographer and you may want to keep these things in mind, when determining your budget for your family portrait session.

3. Average prices in Massachusetts I wish I could give a short and simple answer to this, but it simply isn't that easy. New England or Massachusetts for that matter are much smaller than many other states, but prices will still differ if you book a professional in Boston or in let's say Worcester or Springfield. Or maybe you hire a photographer that lives in the countryside like good ole me right here. The cost of doing business is higher as in other states here, however. And so is the cost of living. So don't compare prices what your friends spent on a photographer in for example Virginia or Georgia. Same with a Boston and a rural photographer. You won't get a fair comparison.

But if I am playing things on the safe side ... a good hobbyist in MA can start at $250 and go as high as $400 while a professional around here should rather start at $300 and can go up from there with practically no cap on it. But realistically speaking a professional on average would be somewhere between $300 and $650 (for an average length family portrait session of 1-2 hours).

4. Why is Photography so expensive? Now this one I could talk about for a while. It could get its own entire blog post, if you ask me. Maybe I should touch on this subject in depth, soon? We shall see... But let's chat about why it can be expensive to book a family portrait session. Some may say expensive? No way. I'm still being cheap! But I get it.

Not everyone has a couple hundred dollars lying around for family portraits, right? At least not immediately. Some families simply combat this by saving up ahead of time and planning ahead. This is not a big deal when you already know you want yearly family portraits. Simply put a few bucks aside with every paycheck and once the time comes, tadaaaa you have the cash you need to book the person you want.

But here are some points off of which photographers need to calculate their pricing. Again, this is very similar to other professions. We call it the CODB - The Cost of Doing Business.

Things included are:

1. Taxes. In MA 30-35% of what you pay your photographer goes straight into their savings. Why? Quarterly taxes. We are our own employers and have to pay both halves. We don't have the luxury of an employer who pays a portion to the IRS for us, because our employer is simply ... us. A bummer sometimes, really. ;-) 2. Equipment. On a wedding day I walk around with a causal $10,000 on my hip. Full frame professional cameras and lenses each start at a few thousand dollars each. I don't always bring all my equipment to a family session since I am not working in as many environments, but the gear we work with as photographers, can come at a high cost. Then think of lighting equipment, professional computers, software, and so on. It can be a lot.

3. The type of business. In these modern days we hear a lot about lawsuits. A photographers worst nightmare is probably getting sued by a photography client. While most times things get resolved between the parties, sometimes they don't. And we have to be prepared should we one day have to appear in court. To prepare for the worst means to protect assets. Keeping business and personal assets separate is important in service professions. How does one do that? Registering an LLC and getting insurance. That is also expensive.

4. Studio. This goes without saying, but if a photographer owns a studio, they probably have to pay rent and insurance for that, too. Not to mention seasonal set-ups to keep things fresh and interesting for the clients.

5. Profit. A photographer needs to go home with some sort of income after the job is done. We can't rely on bringing home a set amount every month due to the nature of our business, but we must strive for a most steady income to pay our bills such as our mortgage, rent, health insurance, electricity ... you name it. We need to also afford our clothes on ourselves and our children, school supplies, groceries, car payments, vacation, a night out ... You know ... we need to support our lives as well. 6. Expertise. This one is very important. A professional photographer that has spent 10,000+ hours on refining their style, craft, workflow and has worked with many many families simply needs to charge accordingly. You wouldn't expect a master hairstylist of 20 years to get paid as much as their trainees. 7. Time. The time your photographer spends on your photos is valuable. When you show up for work, you expect to get paid, right? An hourly wage or salary is usually how it works in other professions. The time spent shooting, culling (sorting through), editing, designing your gallery, ordering your prints, making your wedding albums needs to be paid for. Not just the one hour you see your photographer on location. There is much much more that goes into a photographers job and he or she needs to earn a wage.

8. Education. Many photographers invest every so often in education and fine-tuning their skills. So that you, the client, gets the best experience possible and the highest quality work. To stay current in a fast moving world, we often turn to industry experts for workshops, online-courses or mentoring. Good work isn't enough for us and in a saturated market the best way to stand out, is to be better than the majority. That takes hard work, time and money.

5. Ways to save money without sacrificing quality.

How, you wonder? Easy! There is a way for photographers to turn a profit without charging full session price, meaning you can book a cheaper session, but get their regular style and quality that you'd usually get at a full price session, only. And the answer is, and you probably guessed it: Mini Sessions.

They usually happen around Spring or Fall but can take place anytime the photographer feels like hosting them. Mini Sessions allow the photographer to work several hours with several people on one date. 30 minutes per family and 10 images at a price of $250 could be a normal Mini Session. You get less images than you would with a bigger session, but you still get enough to update your picture frames. And often, if you want to choose more than the hypothetical 10 photos, the photographer may increase their profit by selling extra images for a set fee. You get off with a smaller price and session, but the photographer doesn't have to go hungry either.

One of my favorite quotes is by the iconic Dr. Suess and goes like this: "Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory"

So if you are on the lookout for a great photographer, I hope this is a good guide for you and helps you during your search. All the best, Serena


© 2020 Serena Burroughs Photography | Professional Wedding & Portrait Photographer | Boston & Beyond