Technical Talk

“These are just photos…why do they cost so much?”

  • January 10, 2015

“These are just photos…why do they cost so much?”

Or the related, uplifting comment…

“Oh, these are just photos…so they didn’t require skill or anything…”

Comments like these are made occasionally in my booth at art festivals. The reality is that photography is one of the most difficult, time consuming, and expensive forms of art to create. Photos are expensive due to the enormous investment of time and resources required to create them.  It requires not only talent and skill, but tenacity, patience, travel, endurance, and braving the elements at all hours of the day.

Every art form requires a different set of skills. Photography involves technical thinking as well as artistic aptitude for composition and color. Understanding the physics of light and how it is captured by the equipment, and using that knowledge to fully utilize those tools requires extensive study and experimentation. Understanding lighting is a lifelong endeavor, and using it effectively through composition is a talent, a skill that is constantly developing.  The various steps involved in processing images and making prints take tremendous amounts of time and dedication to learn and master.

Unlike other art forms, however, photographers cannot simply apply their skills and create images. Beyond the talent and vision required to capture effective images, photographers must find an actual place, and work with whatever lighting is present at that time and location. This challenge is unique to photography.

This often requires hours, or even days, of driving followed by hours, or days, of hiking with heavy equipment in tow. Once a scene is discovered, it must be explored for composition, then analyzed for lighting. The trek is then repeated regularly, each time setting up all equipment, and waiting in hope for amazing light, which is fleeting if it occurs at all.  Photographic excursions are expensive and time consuming, emotionally and physically demanding, ultimately dependent on good fortune, and often yield no usable images. This reality makes photography very expensive and difficult to pursue.

Furthermore, each photo is an exclusive, once in a lifetime opportunity–which is also unique to photography. If a painter makes a piece that is very popular and the edition sells out, they can make similar paintings at will. When the edition of a photo sells out, it cannot be replaced. A photographer cannot recreate the scenes they photograph–they will never again have that lighting in those conditions on that scene. Thus, time, money, and effort are continuously invested in acquiring new images.

In the realm of art, photography is distinctively difficult and costly to create, and it is priced accordingly. Like all art, it must be enjoyed passionately to be pursued successfully.


Please comment on this or any post if you’d like further discussion of the topic…

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