Professional Photography is Expensive — and It’s Worth It: Part 2

When we left off in Part 1 of this series, we were talking about what you're paying for and have yet to discuss the professional photographer's invaluable expertise in working with private schools. PRG Photographer Michael Branscom explains,

Academic photographers bring experience from many shoots, sometimes hundreds, to the school. This level of experience is a tremendous asset in capturing the real life of the school while giving you the most useable, valuable, versatile images possible. 

It's a wonder to regard a photographer who, through his or her experience having shot at numerous schools, can do the following:

  • Relate well to students and make them comfortable...from PK to 12

  • Relate well to teachers and make them comfortable

  • Work as unobtrusively as possible to obtain the most authentic images and minimalize disruption

  • Deliver a large library of useable images from a single day's shoot

  • Capture the warmth and closeness of campus relationships

  • Project your campus' physical attributes in the best possible light

  • Tell the story you hired the photographer to tell in compelling images

PRG Photographer Ryan Smith notes,

You know you won’t be wasting your money if you hire a photographer with independent school experience. Knowing the culture, people and processes of a private school go a long way in not only the kinds of photographs you’ll receive, but also the quality and the quantity.

How Much Does Professional Photography Cost?

Professional academic photographers charge from $2,000 to $4,000 per day which usually includes:

  • Pre-production planning: conversations about your wants and needs, budget, planning shoot subjects, setting up the schedule, and, sometimes, scouting the campus

  • Shoot day: arrival on campus and 8-10 hours of shooting (lunch and bathroom breaks included)

  • Post-production: preparation of files (editing down the files to the best, most usable images and color adjustment) and uploading images to a shared drive for client download.

  • Licensing: varies with the photographer, but the best deal for the school is unlimited time frame with unrestricted usage.

Some photographers include or charge extra for an assistant (well worth it in making the shoot go smoothly and faster in addition to another set of eyes), travel time, and travel expenses.

(For detailed information on planning your photoshoot to get the most bang for your buck, be sure to listen to my podcast with Michael Branscom.)

“That’s a lot of money,” some of you are saying. Yes, it is, but if you chose the right photographer, the return on your investment will be well worth it. 

PRG photographer Laura Pedrick says, “I keep a pretty low production/ low tech presence when I photograph a school which enables me to be unobtrusive, very mobile and responsive to real life moments in the classroom and around campus. It's how I like to work — quietly. It also keeps my fees relatively low compared to many photographers in this industry.”

Let’s pause for a second to look at some more images that would look a bit different had you taken them, as we did in Part 1.

A Ballet Class

True, Heartfelt Friendships

A Lower School Performance

Share The Expense. Everyone Benefits.

You know what it’s like when new photographs arrive at school. Every department clamors for them, so by having each department contribute to every shoot, the costs become more manageable. 

Also, consider the frequency of use and versatility of the images when assessing costs. How will your community use these images beyond the viewbook (the driver behind many photo shoots, particularly in small-midsized schools)?

  • Website (both banner images and content)

  • Social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blog…)

  • Parent communications (emails, newsletters…)

  • Development (annual fund appeals, annual report, campaign marketing…)

  • Enrollment (search/travel piece, direct mail, automated emails, billboards…)

  • Magazine (cover, feature stories, ads, departments…)

  • Ads (print and banner ads)

  • Invitations

  • More...

how many days per year does a professional photographer come to campus for all departments combined?

how many days per year does a professional photographer come to campus for all departments combined?

How Often Should A Photographer Come to Campus?

If your school is like most, the images that were taken from the last MarCom photo shoot — which was probably 1 to 3 years ago — have been used to death. Many of those kids have graduated from school (and some from college!), faculty have moved on, and new stories lay silent waiting to be told. Your MarCom photography budget should be large enough to accommodate at least two full professional shoot days per year, every year. Small schools should invest in at least one. Larger schools should book in many more.

One of the questions the InspirED 2017 Private School MarCom Survey asked was, "How many full days do all departments combined hire an outsourced professional still photographer each year?" 200 respondents answered.  

The chart shows that the majority of the 200 schools hired a professional photographer at least one day a year with about a third hiring one for 3-7 or more days. 

Justifying the Cost

Let’s say you know you need a pro, but can’t justify the cost. Besides what we have already mentioned, here is some sage advice to take to leadership, as stated by PRG Photographer Billy Howard:

“Unfortunately, many times schools see photography as a line item. But photography is the lynchpin around which everything else they are producing connects…in a split second they have to grab the viewer’s attention and may miss the opportunity with an average photograph. The same is true online. A website depends on strong visuals to keep people online and moving through the site. There is so much good photography online that people subliminally expect it. If the photography is mediocre it sends a message that the school is mediocre.”

If you don’t have it in your budget, see if you can find an underwriter, perhaps someone on your board or a parent, or allow donors to earmark annual fund donations towards photography.

For your audience, new photos also give a fresh view of the school and impart a renewed excitement and interest in it.

  • Parents are thrilled to see their children at school. (You didn’t shoot the kids whose parents sign the waiver, of course.) They are fascinated to see what else happens at school they don’t know about and to get a glimpse of where their children will be in a year or two when they are in the next class. (This is excellent for retention, by the way.)

  • Alumni/ae are drawn back to school with these images, nostalgic for the old days and curious about what’s changed.

  • Faculty love to have their work translated into visual stories that show the joy, fascination, and excitement on their students’ faces. They love how photographs show the collaboration, conversation, and creativity in their classrooms.

  • Donors respond to visual proof of the impact their dollar has on the school.

These are just a few of the benefits of stellar photography for your school’s marketing and communications. We hope you'll share some of your favorite school shots on our Facebook page.

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Be sure to visit the Photographer Resource Guide for a list of stellar private school photographers.

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