I met up with a fellow professional commercial photographer, Collins, introduced to me by a friend from the advertising industry. I was hoping to get an insight into this ever competitive, creative and challenging livelihood of making pictures.
What exactly is the market price of photography services in Malaysia? Here are just a few points noted in my conversation with Collins:
Caveat: Note that these prices are purely deduced from an observational basis and deemed best market practices. They are by no means considered an official standard to be strictly adhered to (even if it is, no one does). Cost may vary depending on many variables such as any value-added inclusions into the package. Clients are always advised to negotiate for a packaged deal with their photographer. A highly subjective service such as picture making commands a wide price range which is subject to client-photographer interaction & relationship (chemistry, familiarity, cronyism, binding contract etc), image quality (physical print, file size, style, mood, concept etc), quality of service (efficiency, responsiveness, flexibility, honesty etc) and a host of other reasons which may or may not make sense.
Type: Corporate Event Shoot
Duration: Typically 4 – 6 hours
Price: RM 500 – RM 800
No. of photographer(s): 1
I’m not too sure if this is a day charge but obviously, this has to be on a per-event-day basis.This is considered one of the bread and butter of most fledgling photographers, or photo “enthusiasts” yearning to make that extra buck to complete their accessories. I would say anyone who can take decent pictures and know how to handle a camera can pretty much get the job done, hence the low barrier of entry. This results in incredibly cut-throat, under-cutting manoeuvres in a highly competitive scenario, where a job can easily end up in the hands of the lowest bidder. Under-cutting by 50% – 60% is common. Hence, there are people who could have offered to shoot events for a mere RM 200.
The conundrum? If someone takes really good event pictures; i.e. launch, VIP booth visits, for media press release etc, that pretty much accomplishes the objective, doesn’t it? Say, I’m not picky, the pictures serve their purposes at their mediocre resolution, so why should I be paying RM 600 when I can get it done now at RM 300? But wait, RM 600 is for a 5D’s resolution with the crispness of an 85mm f1.2 by an ex-AFP shooter! You get the pic… In the end, how much are you willing to spend against your “needs”?
Note: The original fee includes professional services and a CD of all pictures (though some shooters include 3 successive shots of the same subject to make up the numbers. Reason being: different facial expressions. Take your pick. Lame, I know). Photographer may extend no. of hours put in, throw in an additional shooter, provide limited physical prints (framed?) or even include a nice photobook. All these justify the price you’re paying. Also of great importance: location!
Type: Commercial Shoot (Portraiture / Corporate / Product / Architectural / Operations)
Duration: Typically 9am – 5pm (8 hours)
Price: RM 2,000 – RM 3,500
No. of photographer(s): 1 [ + Assistant(s) ]
This is normally the day‘s rate for professional services rendered with the assistance of 1 or more photography assistants. Deliverables include a CD of very high resolution images for subsequent ads use or printing of promotional materials. Location of shoot could either be in-studio or client-side. If it’s an outdoor shoot, then the fee balloons in proportion to the logistical arrangement required. Most clients would not understand the amount of gear, backups and wear/tear incurred from such assignments, hence the seemingly high price tag.
This rate is very subjective depending on the complexity of the job (e.g. heavy post-processing of image files, intricate composites, correcting perspectives, no. of items for product shoot etc). What’s the concept? Has it been developed? Will the photographer be tasked to figure this out (some are capable of doing so)? Normally an external ad agency is assigned to do the art direction. They will work alongside the photographer.
Any hours in excess of the stipulated time is chargeable at RM 200 – RM 300 per hour for professional services fees. Studio space rental ranges from RM 500 (using own equipment) to RM 800 (renting studio equipment) a day. However, renting a studio specially designed for shooting cars (with turn-table facilities) can reach up to RM 5,000 or more a day. A surcharge of RM 100 per hour applies for every hour after 6pm (depending) for studio space rental.
Note: Professional services is commonly referred to the time, effort, creative faculties, directing and equipment utilisation by the photographer. The original fee may or may not include post-processing of image files or creative consulting depending on the job complexity. This is something that can be negotiated with the photographer. Some choose to bundle it together, while others include separate breakdowns of both professional services and image processing/creative consulting.
Another point to note is that working with an ad agency is undoubtedly expensive. I thought they would mark up about 20% – 30% (commonly) off the photographer’s fees, before quoting the client, but apparently, according to Collins, this may go up as high as 100%! Obviously due to the agency’s higher headcounts and bulky operations, this is understandable. But 100%?! Hence, some clients are better off working directly with a capable photographer who can do all the concept works, copy writing etc. Good news for photographers, not so for ad agencies. But how many such capable creative photographers are out there?
Type: Domestic Shoot (Parties / Family / Pregnancy / Children)
Duration: Typically 2 – 4 hours
Price: RM 200 – RM 650
No. of photographer(s): 1
A typical shoot for the above domestic events could be anywhere between RM 200 to RM 400 with only a CD of all image files included. Any amount in excess of that covers additional items such as prints (framed?), photobooks, extra hours or additional shooter assigned for the job. Also worth noting is the location of shoot, and if it’s an outdoor or indoor session.
How about wedding photography? The price varies vastly between FREE or REASONABLY ACCEPTABLE to INFINITY or RIDICULOUSLY-SHOWING-OFF. The whole genre of wedding photography has been overblown out of proportion and distorted. Self-proclaimed wedding photographers that command more than RM 5,000 per job have become no different than expletives-ladden celebrity chefs.
A typical wedding day shoot (morning ceremony till dinner reception) ranges anywhere between RM 1,200 to RM 1,800 for a single shooter, and RM 1,500 to RM 2,500 for two shooters. Pre-wedding shoots for a single day session is anywhere between RM 1,500 to RM 4500. Whatever the price, the determining variables are the same; duration, location, prints, photobooks, no. of softcopies, bridal gown/props rental, make up etc. The possibilities are endless.
So how do you choose? The comprehensive answer to that would warrant a dedicated post to the entire topic of wedding photography charges. I shall save that for later. However, two schools of thoughts prevail. One would not mind paying a limb or two as wedding is considered a sacred once-in-a-lifetime mark in one’s books. The other sees it as just another unnecessary spending that yields deliverables of archival material that hardly see the light of day after the event.
While there’s no one price that is deemed “reasonable market price”, I personally feel that one should go with whatever price they find comfortable with. It’s an open/free market after all. Do note that most prices are artificially inflated by virtue of one’s accreditation and awards received. Hence, I would advise clients to choose a package/service that is equally as good (in quality works and experiences) if not better than “celebrity photographers”, but yet priced competitively. Of course, there’s a whole lot more weighing criteria that go into decision making but I’m sure you get my point about the subjectivity of it all.
I’ve long known the fact that making a living out of photography isn’t going to be easy, judging by the attitudes of most Malaysians (or Asians at large, presumably) espousing the “I can do it satisfactorily as well, if not better” motto. The fact that commoners or the general masses do not actually appreciate arts in their purest form adds to the challenge. What purest form you may ask? Pure as in original in concept and idea, from which visual body of works communicating a message is translated into. This is very much unlike simply taking pictures of a wrinkly-faced old man smoking or the ubiquitous sunsets.
There’s a huge lacking in one’s ability to distinguish and appreciate quality works by “real” photographers. The proliferation of digital cameras, while on one hand help spur the uptake of a wonderful hobby, doesn’t seem to make the life of professional photographers any easier. Well, after all, you can argue that it’s a big free market out there. But then what’s “professional”? I shall leave that to another post.
Before we went our separate ways, I asked Collins how was it like making a living out of what he does now. He admitted it was challenging but it all boils down to getting referrals from a small circle of existing clients and word of mouth. He does feel the pinch in this increasingly competitive industry. Things have changed much since the advent of digital cameras more than a decade ago. He hinted he might make a switch possibly in the next decade or so.
So there you have it, a very brief overview of the market price of photography services in Malaysia. I’m aware that my arguments above may be flawed, incomplete and questionable. After all, the world is definitely larger than the screen from which you read this. It wasn’t meant as a bible anyway.
If you happen to disagree with any of the above, good. At least you’re thinking and being wise in parting with your hard-earned money.
Do sound out in the comments below if you feel I’ve made a huge blunder in my thoughts on this matter. Cheers!