Stuff I think about

Cost of Photography as a Business in Today’s Context

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on April 5, 2009

While we may all know that the photography industry is fueled from the pockets of hopeful amateurs eager to have their pictures published, how many of us know what the actual cost of photography is now? Before the dawn of the digital era, camera equipment could be used for 30 years or more if well maintained. Lenses can be used over a large range of compatible bodies, as long as it fits the mount, and you’re pretty well ready to shoot with the technical quality that the lenses have to offer. The film and the lenses used were the essence of making the image with optimal results. The camera does not need replacement unless its broken. The cost of a good kit with purpose-specific lenses could be about SGD$24k for a medium format system that could be used for 30 years or more. Running costs as and when needed for film/processing/expendables. Equipment cost per year could be SGD$800 or less, and it could well last more than 30 years with proper care and maintenance. People could actually make money back then. It was production work to be done–setting up, shooting, processing and selection. There was a film cost involved and a computer would be an additional or a bonus piece of equipment.

Cameras of the digital era have a lifespan of a maximum of 5 years before they’re obsolete and needs replacing. The lenses used are different too, each batch has its own qualities for the range of cameras it was produced for. Though mounts and other stuff may be the same, the images produced may not be optimal. The lenses now work for the image sensor, a higher resolution sensor would need a lens with a stronger resolving power. The cost of a 24mp digital kit with purpose-specific lenses would be somewhere around SGD$25k, but all that would be obsolete in 5 years, that’s an equipment cost of $5k a year for camera and lenses only. The computer used would cost about SGD$4k at purchase price, that would be gone in 5 years too, and image editing softwares cost about SGD$1055 to buy and about SGD$300 to upgrade.

Aside from the shooting and production work, there’s also an additional number of hours to be put into the back end of the work (post production), which are also costs to be considered in producing quality work. On the plus side is that more visual effects and creative input could be achieved than before. On the down side more work has to be done to break even the capital put in for the equipment while maintaining a fee for the photographer’s work. Every hour of work behind the camera would tie the photographer with computer work for anywhere between two to four hours unless a DI artist (also another cost to consider) does the back end of the work.

That being said, photographers now often give their own products (their photographs) away for free, literally (without additional licensing), and are only paid for their presence in creating the shots.


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