Many people thought that the digital era would bring down the cost of photography to the consumer.
I suppose in the realm of Sears portraits, that’s probably true. They have a cookie-cutter approach and economies of scale. Add to that the fact they use inferior print materials (as do all of the chains), you get an inexpensive, crappy option for your photos.
Professional studios have gone the opposite direction. Yes, the cost of shooting digitally is lower than the cost of shooting film, but the available options for post-production and media have gone through the roof. Costs for cameras, lenses, and accessories have basically stayed the same since I started shooting in 96. In 1996, $3,000.00 would buy you a pro film camera like the F5 with a couple of lenses. Today, $3,000.00 will buy you a pro digital camera and a couple of lenses.
In 1999 when I was shooting film regularly, I had to worry about how much the film and processing was going to cost when I shot a wedding. Now, I can grab my 300 GB worth of Compact Flash cards and I can shoot 10,000 photos if I want to. It costs the same for me to shoot 1 photo or 10,000.
It’s the back end that keeps my price to consumers at a premium level.
In 1999, I could do some retouching. Now, I can basically do anything you can think of in post. You want your photo to be on Mars? Done.
Add to that the quality of the digital media pros use, and it’s an entirely better end product. I have 3 main options for output. Endura Metallic color paper, Ilford Silver Gelatin black and white, and Canvas Gallery Wraps. I also have specialty products, but those are the main ways people purchase prints.
Sears uses what’s called an e-surface print. So does Walmart, and every other chain out there. If you ask them for Endura Metallic, they will look at you with a blank, toothless expression. If you say Silver Gelatin at Sears, they will snort milk out of their noses.
The final outputs available from professional photographers is so far advanced beyond what they were in the film era that the price is only going to go up.
Unless you hire a photographer from Craigslist who shoots in his basement. Which I don’t recommend.