Anatomy of a Photoshoot from Concept to Completion.

As we head OUT of the photography busy season and into the new year, it seems like a good time to take stock and re-evaluate, make any necessary changes which, depending on that evaluation, may include raising  prices for the new year.

This fall was by FAR my busiest ever photography wise, and I know I need to make some changes in order to feel like I’m being properly compensated for the time and effort I put into each and every session!

It’s so easy to forget just how much effort is involved when you are only working on say one client’s order during slower times, but while juggling multiple shoots, multiple sessions to edit and multiple orders to fulfill, it hit me HARD just how much time I put into each session that I wasn’t accounting for.

What follows is a break down of a single session and all the thought, planning and execution that goes into the shoot from beginning to end.

For me, this is s good exercise to remind myself why I am WORTHY of charging what I do (and probably a good deal more.)  If you are a photographer and haven’t broken it down by effort (and cost of goods of course!) I encourage you to do so too, it can be pretty eye-opening.  If your prices are based on cost of goods alone, you might be overlooking the greatest cost of all, which is time away from your family!  If you are not a photographer, then this might help you understand WHY some photographers charge what they do..what we put into each shoot is so much more than meets the eye.

Ok, I’ll get on with it now!

I’m using a session I did this fall as an example.  I LOVED this session so I thought this would be a fun one to follow through the journey that took several months when all was said and done!

Step #1: Concepting.

The client contacted me via email that her husband was turning 40 and she wanted to surprise him somehow with photos of her (gorgeous!) 3-year old twin daughters.

After brainstorming about it for a bit, I came up with the idea of the two of them standing by a chalkboard sign that said “Happy Birthday Papa” (which is what they call him).  I also thought it might be cute for them to each hold up an organic bloom frame with the words separately, and then hold a bigger one. I also thought it would be fun to incorporate balloons to go along with the birthday theme.

Step #2, gathering & purchasing supplies

For this, I had to get some black chalkboard paint and paint the inserts of the organic bloom frames.  Our helium tank from Jasper’s party was tapped so I had to go to Party City just a few days before Halloween (!) to get one.

Step #3:  Wardrobe suggestions.

I created a story board in Photoshop for the mom all with outfits from Baby Gap that she could pick up on her lunch break (she’s a busy TV producer!) and emailed it to her:

Step #4:  Find new shooting location!

Because of the early sunsets, we needed to be shooting by 4:30PM, but the girls nap until 4. This was going to make it very difficult for the mom who lives a county over to go to my usual outdoor spot that is almost an hour from her. So I spent hours scouring the internet for places closer to her and finally found something I thought would be suitable..and then we did something that I have NEVER done before, which is shoot in a location I haven’t scouted yet in person! Given my schedule, I just couldn’t make it over there to check it out in person, but I WOULD have if I could.  In the end we got super lucky because the location was to die for and is my new favorite spot to shoot. I guess maybe it’s not so bad to go out of your comfort zone a little every once in a while!

Step #5: The Shoot. (1 hour driving time there and back, 1.5 hours at the shoot)

Luckily, the spot was spectacular, the Mom did an amazing job dressing the girls and the girls were adorable and even a bit cooperative!  Here are some of my faves from the shoot:

















Step #6: Editing.

If you are a photographer, I don’t have to tell you is the most time consuming part of it all (at least for me!)

Step #7:  Prepare for the ordering session.

Create the slideshow (I use Lightroom for this), load it onto the laptop etc. and also create any wall mock-ups you want to share with the client:




Step #8: Have the ordering session.

The ordering session took 2 hours.  Part of this is my fault because I proofed too many images, but the shoot went so well it was hard for both of us to decide on the 20 images to go in the album! (If you are interested in how I use Lightroom to run my in person ordering sessions, see this post.)

Step #9: Prepare the order.

After editing, this is the MOST time consuming step, particularly if the client has ordered products that need to be designed such as mini-accordions etc.  My most popular package includes an 8×8 session album, 2 mini accordions, various gift prints and 3 digital negatives, so most of the time I am at least designing the minis.

In the case of this particular client, she wanted to get the album back in time for her husband’s surprise party and I wasn’t able to guarantee her that if I used my normal Session album vendor (Finao Elements album) so I had the idea that we could do a photocover album from H&H which only has about a 4-5 day turn around time including shipping!

Because the Photocover album is not fabric like the Finao, the album cover itself needed to be designed, which is more time consuming,  HOWEVER, I did get to save time not having to assemble the self mount album! Here is what I came up with and the client approved it:

The mini album also needed to be designed an approved:

Because I think it’s kind of fun to see how everything came out, here are some photos of the finished product. (You can see many more images of the album on this post that I did reviewing the H&H Photocover album.) The little pink frame is an Organic Bloom ornament which I included as a gift to all my clients that had sessions in the fall/holiday season!










Step #9: package up the order.

This is always more time consuming than I realize, all the ribons, stickers, wrapping the ornament, writing a little thank you card etc.

Step #10: Deliver the product.

Because this mom needed all the product before the birthday surprise and lived a little ways away from me, I met her for coffee half way.  Part of this was self-serving because I wanted to see her face when she saw everything!  But still, this is the kind of service you can only expect when hiring a “boutique” photographer.

So that’s it, the 10 steps just for one session!  Each one of these, even the ones that seem short often require MULTIPLE emails back and forth with the client, those communiques are something we often don’t consider when assessing the amount of time we spend on each session.

After calculating all of the time I spend shooting, editing, designing, concepting, communicating plus my cost of goods, I realized that I definitely need to raise my prices in 2012.

How ’bout you?

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wow, just love that warm, misty look on the last two. Is that an action?

Shane says:

Great post! I think many ‘customers’ don’t realize the amount of time that goes into a shoot and especially not your Step #6 Editing. This post is just for the shoot… you still have the other aspects of running the ‘business’ – financial tracking, taxes, contract review, blog posts, events, vendor evaluations, location spotting… it really adds up!

Jackie says:

Thanks for this post! I’m at the (very) beginning stages of figuring out how I want to turn my hobby into a side-business. I know pricing is something I need to address but I keep putting it off. It’s definitely tough to figure out how to balance time, effort, talent, experience, client expectations, and self-worth/assessment in the pricing equation.

All the best as you make your adjustments for 2012. Your work is beautiful and, as you stated, you are WORTHY! :)

caroline says:

can you please share tips of how you capture gorgeous catchlights in the eyes even if the subject is backlit? I shoot my daughter a lot and have a hard time capturing catchlights when she is backlit. It may be because her eyes are super dark, but I’m not sure if super dark eyes is just an excuse. Would love to improve.

Cole says:

As always, gorgeous shots! Mommy is not a photographer in ANY sense of the word at all, but she had a thought: when we take a picture that she knows she wants to add words to, she has me hold a blank page or frame or whatever… That way she can add the words in whatever font/color she wants later, without worrying about whether it’s legible when taking the shot. Is that dumb? Disregard it if it’s unfeasible for some reason – again, Mommy takes most of my very blurry pictures with a point & shoot. :)

Mama Smith says:

I’m not a photographer but as an architect I completely relate to the frustration of not being compensated for the actual time invested in a project. We’re totally in the same boat that clients just can’t understand what actually goes into a job and so we can’t charge what we really should because no one is willing to pay. It’s a big sacrifice for doing something that you love!

All of these photos look absolutely amazing so hopefully you’ll be able to raise your prices to what you deserve and still get great clients.

Kristen says:


Did your 70-200 stay on your camera this whole session? (Ordered and emailed for a new barnboard floor, mine definitely did not look like that! :) )

pam says:

wow, those photos are stunning. (and i can’t believe those girls are younger than my boys. they seem so much older!)

amazing how much work goes into it, but from the looks of the finished products, it seems like you could charge the moon and it’d be worth it.

Ava Hristova says:

Ok, in terms of changes, I am def. making some modifications to my services as this year, like you, I’ve learned a lot.
For me, it will be adding an additional type of shoot (mini sessions) and changing how I do bookings in the end of year period.

ariana says:

Wayfaring, I was surprised too when I wrote it all out!
It kind of catches you by surprise even though you’ve been actually doing it all along.

Ava, good point. You always have to consider what the market will bear. In my case, photography isn’t my main source of income so I have to also weigh in the fact that it’s taking away from other more lucrative income streams and also what precious “free time” I have! I almost don’t care if I can compete on price but I realize not everyone has that luxury. That’s why pricing is such a fine art – it’s not easy to balance all of those considerations!

Ava says:

As the bulk of my clients aren’t interested in physical prints, I oftentimes skip 7, 8 & 10, but I hear what you’re saying.

Another piece for me, though, is competitive price analysis & skill level.
I charge very appropriately for what other professional photographers in my area are charging. It’s a bit restrictive on that end.
On the other end, there are the very highly priced photographers (Augie Chang, Veronica Van Buren, etc.) whose level of experience and skill I can’t compete with (yet), so I’m not even going to try going to those price points.

With that said I keep a careful eye on each of the two factors above, and raise my rates accordingly.

Wow! This really gives you a whole new perspective on what actually goes into a photoshoot. I mean, I know it’s a lot of work because I’ve done it many many times, but this outline really shows you exactly what it takes from beginning to end!

Thanks for sharing :D