Budget Proposal Photography
What we See from Budget Proposal Photographers
We have seen more proposals shot by other photographers than what most photographers have actually shot. Most of the proposal photography we have seen is bad in shooting style, execution, lacks a true candid nature, and most of all ultimately is faked (86%) because they miss the shot. In our option having to ‘redo’ the proposal moment completely undermines the purpose of a photographer. The premise of this is that if you are seeking a photo of the moment and a few afterward there are some things that may happen making it not worth what you spend.
Here is our comical review of some of the problems we see in proposal photography.
Excessive Closeness . . . Yet Still Missing the Shot
How did you miss that?!? The photo above was taken while waiting for one of our couples to come to the area and propose. The body language of the guy was screaming that he was about to propose while walking down the trail. The photographer had some forethought into where the proposal would happen and yet the photographer still missed the moment feet away from them. It was crazy how absurdly close this photographer in the back got to them. It was a literal 3 to 4 feet away from the couple. They had one little camera and one kit level lens. They were not even shooting in the direction of the mountain view.
Proposals are highly unpredictable until you have seen the predictability of them. To say it another way proposals are completely different than an engagement session. It is not this planned thing where you can adjust them mid moment. If you treat it that way or think you can just take photos of it you will likely fail. You have to know what someone will do based on the slight twitch of a hand or the look in their eye. Ultimately the problem of being so close is you ruin the moment and cut out the candid real emotion nature to it. Some guys just want a photo of it but our experience is that really people say that, think that, but really want something more. Proximity to the couple logically should help but experience shows it cannot make up for bad shooting.
Attempted Copying . . . Lacking Experience
You see something online so you think – I can do that. It is about as illogical as seeing a picture of a cake, having a mixer, and trying to bake the cake. Experience with cakes in the past will get you a foundation but there is an intrinsic difference between having a recipe and working from a picture of the final product. In the photo above they tried to copy the spot, rose petals, and even the poses in the blog they were looking at that day. Ironically, they could not use the spot however due to the topography and the photographer being in an icy lake that could end their life.
Here was the problem – the couple picked out the spot based on what they said and trusted the photographer to recreate it. The photographer was a ‘yes’ photographer desperate for work. This was proven in that the photographer told them the day of they would go around with them for hours so clearly they were not running a real business with any demand. For a photographer copying does not work because you cannot copy experience. You learn experience over time and adjust based on what will work best for what you do. We are at over 34 photographer in the Colorado Market copying us in some form as of the point of writing this blog. While this is flattering it does not work and in fact makes it harder on the photographer copying another to live that lie.
Professional Claim . . . Feel good sales pitch.
We saw someone shooting an engagement session one fall. While the couple was changing clothing in the car the photographer was franticly flipping through the images in the back of the camera. As the photographer was about 10 feet away we greeted them trying to strike up a conversation. As they continued to look more nervous we asked ‘so how long have you been doing photography’ and they said ‘a couple years professionally’. We then asked how many shoots they do a year and they said ‘about 5’. Here is the takeaway – If you charge money for a photoshoot you are a professional per the current generation. We think the arrogance starts even sooner that if you have a camera and a website you are self proclaimed a professional. Reality says if you showed up to your job 5 times a year would that really be your profession?
Related to this we hear photographers talk to the couple with extremely feel good language giving little direction. As it is happening on the day of the shoot we are guessing this occurred in the booking stage. The reality of proposals is that they are harder to shoot than weddings. If you are not talking about risks or issues with the ideas / plans then your photographer has not shot a proposal or does not care about your proposal. The reason some people will not talk about the risk or issues with an idea is they feel if they do you will go find someone else. In the end you may feel good coming out of the booking process and will likely feel good on the day of the proposal as you just got engaged. Did you hire a photographer to merely feel good or get moments captured that could never be replaced or recreated?
What does this all have to do with ‘Budget’?
The things above are all things you do when you are just trying to make some side cash and upsell yourself. You shoot it like you would any other shoot as you never thought of the difference. You copy what you see out there because it looks like success to you but because you are new to this all you miss on the execution. Last you put what is best for your making some extra money before what is best for a client. In 2 of those things there is this inherent falsehood of you pretending to be what you are not. What we have found accompanies this are those who undercharge for services to degrees that they will not be able to make a profit if they were to pay taxes. Isn’t that the whole point of running a business as to draw a profit?
Let’s Talk Numbers – What is Budget Proposal Photography?
Budget in this industry is functionally defined as when the cost of performing the service is equal to or greater than the profit.
Overhead and Profits:
- Taxes: These are the unrealized overhead costs unless you have been a true professional for a few years and prepay quarterly taxes or have employee costs. You can keep these low for a few years if you were able to excessively invest in capital therefore lowering your taxable income. Based on what most less expensive photographers are shooting with we do not think they are doing this so I think they just do tax avoidance, do not do enough for it to really hurt, or figure things out the hard way. Tip: If you can pay by credit card the photographer is paying taxes as that is reportable income.
- Travel: These are variable costs of vehicle operation and time. $0.57 per mile is the national average to operate a car. With the 2021 inflation this is up $0.03 cents per mile unless you bought a car then its at least $0.10. Here is the thing – the cost of living as a local in many mountain locations is 2x in just the housing cost for something small so while you may not has as much travel cost your true profit is that much lower. Time is a variable overhead in travel. Traffic is normally bad one way making it longer than the advertised time. Below a certain amount of time it is just not worth it to travel to a location.
- Operations: These are indirect costs to a photoshoot related to running a business like equipment, services of a website, software, insurance, employees, etc. The costs here can be quite variable. No one thinks of these but if you want to see a real world breakdown look at this blog on the Colorado Market Pricing averages at the chart midway through the blog.
- Profits: This is what you have left after the direct and indirect overhead costs. Most people seeking someone in a budget photography range do not really think about the logic of cost to profits. One other thing to not is that the cost of living is higher in Colorado. It is in fact the 4th most expensive state to live from a housing perspective. For perspective, the average price of a home in the Denver area is 510k as of the time of writing this blog. Whereas the average cost of a place in Breck is 1.75million so > 3.5x Denver area and in Aspen is 2.5million so >5x Denver area. If the photographer from Denver made $100 profit in Breck they would need to profit $350 and in Aspen to profit $500 to have it go as far from a housing perspective. This is why we would argue finding a local photographer is an ignorant fix to a cost problem of overhead cost.
Common Examples Illustration:
Below are some common prices people are seeking for photography in the respective locations. For this illustration we did a 60% taxes & operations cost for the mountains and 50% for the Denver area due to the assumed higher tax bracket due to higher cost of living.
- $300 for Breckenridge.
- Local Overhead: $9-10 Travel Cost, $180 Taxes and Operations = $110-111 Profit / 3.5x cost living = $31 Profit
- Denver Metro Overhead: $108-120 Travel cost, $150 Taxes and Operations = $30-42 Profit
- $200 for Aspen.
- Local Overhead: $36-40 Travel Cost, $120 Taxes and Operations = $40-44 Profit / 5x cost living = $8 Profit
- Denver Metro Overhead: $262-293 Travel cost, $100 Taxes and Operations = $162-293 Loss
The findings are interesting in that the profit between a local and someone along the front range is similar for Breckenridge whereas in Aspen you basically are not making anything as a local and from outside Aspen you have a huge loss. Looking at things from an hourly rate perspective these prices are just unachievable to operate a business no matter what time you think a photoshoot takes. Due to efficiencies in operation /volume we do have pricing that can start in the $350 price point if certain conditions are met to lower our overhead. We strive to find a win-win in a way that makes sense from a business perspective. In general, anything under $500 would be considered ‘budget’ range due to the overhead costs specific to Colorado and business operation.
We have heard from many photographers that they hate shooting proposals in part due to the stress but as they are so unpredictable and the guys have a lot more questions / needs than a normal engagement couple. In other words the time commitment is much higher. The turnaround time expectation is also much shorter. For this reason we have see pricing go up to really high extremes over $1000 by those who have done proposals and know what they entail.
Summary: You Get What You Pay For
If the person you hire is not going to actually make money to do work how smart will they be making split second decisions in the back of a camera with all the variables of lighting, people, movement, camera settings? For this reason we have recommended to some coming to us actually save their money and not get someone to take photos. Coming from a photographer it may sound crazy but why pay for . . . well if you made it to this point maybe you get it.