The $30,000 Photograph by Vanessa Joy

7.28.16BLOG > Featured | Speaker Team | Tips

Vanessa Joy is a professional wedding photographer, small business coach, author and public speaker located in New Jersey. Follow Vanessa on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

What is the value of a photograph? No, this isn’t going to be one of those mushy “a picture is worth a thousand words” type of posts. Heck, it’s not going to be mushy at all. Hopefully, this post will bring to light what the pictures we take are truly worth and the journey professional photographers take to get the shot.

Copy of VJP_6088_1

I took this picture in May of 2014 and it is currently displayed in my studio. I love telling my clients the story behind this picture. It is one of my favorite pictures. It never won any awards (though I did enter it in a competition) but I love it because of what it represents. When my clients point out this picture in my studio I always tell them, “I love that picture too. It cost about $30,000 to make.”

You see, with the over saturation of images online, around us and especially on social media, it’s easy to subconsciously devalue the art of photography. When that subconscious creeps into parts of a conscious decision like investing in photography, we have a problem.

We’re bombarded with imagery so it makes sense that photography has become overexposed in the consumer’s eye. What there is a lot of, we pay and value less. Worse, because of the paradox of choice that says the more options we have the less satisfied we are with our choice, we not only value photography less, but we demand more from it.

But I digress. Back to my $30,000 picture.

To start, let’s talk the easy stuff. This picture didn’t come from my iPhone, so the gear I used cost money.

My gear:

Canon 1D Mark IV – $5,000

Canon 35mm 1.4 lens – $1,099

Two Profoto B-1’s and transmitter and grid $4,300

Sandisk 32GB Card – $50

Two Manfrotto lightstands – $230

Two assistants by lightstands (aka human light stands) making sure they didn’t fall in the water – $200

Lightroom and Photoshop to edit – $450

Laptop/card reader to edit with – $2,000

That brings us to the grand total of $13,330 in photography gear just to produce this picture.

But if I were just some rich person that decided to buy $13k worth of camera gear to shoot a pretty picture, I wouldn’t be able to do so without learning how to use it properly. All those years of education and experience go into every picture that I capture. At the point of May 2014 when I took this picture, I had spent well over 10 years and $15,000 in photography education. To take this picture I needed my education on exposure, composition, off-camera flash, multiple light sources, white balance, posing, light composition and post-production editing. If you care to know, my camera settings were ISO 500, Aperture: 6.3, and Shutter: 1/80. Just for you to have read and understood that requires knowledge. After all, an oven does not make a chef.

I could stop there and stand by my $30,000 claim but realistically, this picture shows off way more than that. It was taken at Bonnet Island Estate which has a base entrance fee of $20,000 to have a party there. The Jack Victor tux, Pnina Tornai dress, hair and makeup by Mane on Madison, Badgley Mischka shoes and the like easily adds another $10,000 or more.  

If you’re a photographer, take a look at your images in this light. Learn to value yourself, what you’ve invested in your craft and who you are as an artist. If you’re not sure where to start on pricing, feel free to download my Pricing and Packaging Tutorial here. And next time you see a pretty picture, don’t just double tap or repin it. Take a second look, imagine its value and love on it just a little bit more.

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25 thoughts on “The $30,000 Photograph by Vanessa Joy

H says:


This IS very well put. Even though I am a fine art shooter… I think we all forget at times what it cost to make “that” image.

A subtle reminder is needed at times….. and thank you for that.

Nina Cazille says:

Really great reminder – thank you!

Ryan & Rach says:

Great info Vanessa!

Adita says:

Hi Vanessa! This is fab! The way you broke down the value of an image…I thank you!
Also I live just mins from Bonnet Island Estate and recently did Headshots for M. Rasmussen she works at the Estate you may remember her 🙂
Thank you again for this write up!

You nailed it!!!

Andrea Mate says:

I love that picture and Vanessa is great .
I always try to explain why I charge what I charge but in South Florida people don’t care about anything else but getting pics for cheap.

I truly don’t think the public cares anymore..!!!

Steve Zabel says:

It can be very disappointing when you put your skills to work and spend the money to create beautiful images and not sell them.

You point is spot on.

Tyler says:

Ok, I have to ask, I’ve seen other articles like this where the photographer comes up with a cost for a shoot or a photograph. How do you justify adding in the cost of the gear to the price or value of a SINGLE photograph?

If this is the value of this photo, then what’s the value of a photograph that was take a week later using the same camera body, same lense, same stands, same lights, etc? We can’t realistically add in the cost of all this gear to that photograph also unless you bought all brand new gear for that photograph.

Even the education cost, the knowledge being used is being used to make lots of different photographs, so why do we add in the total price of the education to this photograph? And if we do add it to this photograph, we can’t then just add it into the value of the next photograph?

Gail Manker says:

Well said. People just don’t understand.

stevep says:

I’m with Tyler on this.

Your argument doesn’t really hold water.

It’s a lovely shot, but unless you bought all that gear for that image and only used your education/computer gear for that shot and didn’t use it again ever, it’s not a $30k image. Technically, it’s just another day in the office.

Glen says:

In spite of what the obviously brilliant Tyler’s feedback is, you are preaching to the choir. It is more important to collectively lobby the appropriate legislative bodies for a law that requires that a photographer use their education and knowledge to apply for a license to operate commercially, just like a plumber or electrician has to. This would not only protect the buying public, but would go further in educating the consumer as to what “Professional” means than trying to explain the difference to your potential customer, or putting a sticker on your window, or showing ribbons and medals for your accomplishments. In over 30 years of doing business as a professional photographer, I have never been asked if I was “Certified” or had a “Master Photographer” designation.
Good luck, and may you have a long career taking photographs for real clients.

Right on. People don’t understand the time and money put in the equipment.

As far as Glen’s comment on requiring a commercial license….keep the government out of our work and it’s exactly that — our. We spend enough money to have bureaucrats get involved. Horrible idea.

Allison says:

The true value of ANYTHING, including an image, is what it sells for. Period! Please do not confuse your business expenses with a value of a product or service. If I create an image from my cell phone and someone wants to pay me $30k for it, should I refuse and sell it for less because my costs were less? It is our duty and our privilege to educate the buying public what we feel is our value. Being a successful professional photographer is more than being a talented photographer.

Sherbi says:

Definitely well said because often times we don’t put into consideration how much effort it takes to make that just one shot . And sometimes lie hard work is taken for granted .
A great reminder .

Kellee Maglio says:

Without all the education, equipment, location, etc, this photo wouldn’t exist at all. She’s also not charging $30,000 for this one photograph now is she. Maybe you guys should be accountants instead of photographers. I think she does a very good job of trying to explain that there is VALUE in our work. Thanks for this.

Tim Orden says:

yes, of course, it costs money to get to the point of making a photograph. that’s a given isn’t it? Certainly, photographers know it. But its not so much from the creators point of view that counts. It’s the customers that decide what a photograph is worth. In there lies the challenge.

Lol at the second to last paragraph. You may as well have included the price of the dock and all those houses in the background.

Tyler says:


If McDonald’s ran a full page ad in a newspaper talking about the value in their 99 cent cheeseburger, that it takes almost a million dollars just to open a restaurant (, and that their burger costs a million dollars to make – everyone would say so what, it’s a 99 cent burger. And everyone would also see the silliness in trying to express the burgers value based upon the cost of the restaurant that made the burger.

Same situation here.

Warren Mauterer says:

A number of years ago, I decided that I was going to create my own art work. My wife liked this idea, so we have worked on it together. In fact it was listed very high on my bucket list. My choice was to invest in a nice digital camera, lenses and other equipment needed and to take pictures of scenes that my wife and I liked and to have the images processed and framed into appropriate sized pictures. I knew at that time that I would be investing a pretty large amount of money into this endeavor. So it wasn’t so much how much this would cost, it was more about being very involved in creating our own art work.. We could have purchased framed artwork and been done. However, we chose the more expensive path because it was more than just buying equipment and taking pictures etc. We wanted our art work to represent what we have experienced in life. We wanted it to be something that had real meaning. My wife and I are in the somewhat early stages of creating our own art work and we are very satisfied with what we have completed and are excited about future art work. And beside making our own artwork, I have and will be taking many, many photos of our family, friends and vacations which we will always enjoy.

Billy Walker says:

Kellee, Vanessa is discussing value in our work. However, the chosen example is an extremely poor one at best. The only cost of sale that can be assigned at 100% are the “Two assistants…” . And, that is assuming the assistants didn’t provide assistance for any other images for that period of payroll time they worked with Vanessa.

Accounting related? Absolutely! My guess is the professional photography world would be far better off if it clearly understood Cost of Sales and accounting in general. But that is true of any business person.

This is NOT meant to be a dig at Vanessa. She is clearly on the upper rungs of the ladder in the world of photography. It’s just that a better example of Cost of Sales should have been used. Nothing more, nothing less. But the length of the post would have had to be lengthened substantially as the economics behind the cost of doing business in the photography world isn’t so cleanly deciphered. However, that makes the accuracy of a cost of sales post even more important. And probably more boring to many if not most photographers. And that’s an industry problem in general.

Long story short not only is the headline misleading it is downright wrong. Photographers with few accounting skills may not realize why the story is so far off base. And that is a big negative in my opinion.

Darrell Hagan says:

Come on people, geez. Some of you are missing the point, way over-analyzing a good post, and thinking too much about the actual economics of it. Lighten up and see the meaning :).

Julie says:

Fully agree with Tyler and Billy.

The title of this article is silly click bait.

The tone of this essay feels like a hyped-up sales pitch.
And why list all of the equipment costs? For the benefit of beginning photographers who want to become “serious”?

Yes, it’s important to value our work.
But the most valuable thing about it goes well beyond material or educational costs.

TR says:

Simple, call it itemized billing. You wouldn’t hire a plumber to come and fix your plumbing without the right equipment, and you wouldn’t then say to that plumber the cost of the toilet that is broke should be included in the cost for you to fix it, I mean if all knew how to Plumb we wouldn’t need them do it, and just because you have a plunger does not make you a plumber. Just because we all have a camera does not mean we all know what to do with it.

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