Wedding Photography: Why the heck is it so darn expensive?

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I have to admit, my first contact with wedding photography was in hiring a photographer myself.  When the initial quote came back I was shocked.  They want how much for how long?  Writing that check for the $1000 deposit, years ago mind you, made my heart pound and stomach clench.  Then, I needed to sit down.

Like many people searching for a photographer, I had no clue what was involved and it was hard to understand and rationalize the cost.  Each different photographer offered a variety of packages or services, making it difficult to understand what the average wedding photography prices are or should be.

Now that I have been in the industry for some time, I look at things with a new appreciation and respect.  Truthfully, wedding photographer’s are not as expensive as they seem.

“What?” Insert eye roll here. You don’t believe me?

If anything, most wedding photographer’s are undercharging for their services.  When I send off a quote for an 8 hour wedding at $3000, most people assume that equates to $375 an hour.  If we break it all down, you will realize wedding photographer’s make nowhere near that hourly amount.  Granted, there are some well-known, extremely talented, and highly coveted wedding photographer’s that do command a high dollar amount.  I would love to be considered in that category one day. But, I digress.  For now, let’s get back to what is involved and try to figure out the basic cost.

To understand why wedding photographer’s charge so much, we also have to consider the opposite:

“Why is some wedding photography so inexpensive?”

After jumping for joy, and singing Alleluia at receiving such a low price, most people begin to question:

What experience do they have?  Will they miss a key shot?

Do they have insurance? Are they using quality gear and equipment?

The list goes on and on.   Here are some reasons wedding photographer’s may be charging so little for their services.

Portfolio Building

To be truthful, every wedding photographer needs to start somewhere.  Maybe they shot a wedding for the friend of a friend for $500.  Or maybe they even did it for free!  Gasp! When a photographer is just starting out and they are in the portfolio building phase, face it, they need images of weddings to book weddings.  And sometimes, this means offering your services at a very low cost just to start gaining some experience.  I have been here myself.  I once shot wedding portraits for a couple for $80.  Yep, you heard me right.  $80.  After moving to a new state, I needed to establish myself in a new area.  I found a couple who needed portraits, so $80 it was.  Did this cover my costs?  No way.  It barely covered my gas money to and from the venue.  But, I did get images in a location I needed, so to me it justified the extremely low value placed on my service, and I helped out a couple who never would have been able to afford my normal pricing.

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Lack of experience

Weddings are not only about capturing great images.  That my friend, is the easy part.  Weddings are fast paced, ever evolving whirlwinds with no second chances or do-overs.  A wedding photographer has to know where and when each portion of the wedding day is happening.  They have to operate with a smile on their face even though bridesmaid #2 is having a meltdown, or the Bride is running 2 hours behind on hair and make-up.  Wedding photography is knowing how to manipulate your equipment on the fly, being confident in your posing flow, and a rock star on people skills.  You serve as part confidant, part wedding coordinator, part peace keeper, with a pinch of life coach thrown in for good measure.  So, experience plays a large part in cost. ( I would never recommend tackling a wedding for the first time without second shooting under a lead photographer a time or two. )  A wedding photographer has to calmly, and confidently know when to move, what area to stand in, how to line up the shot, not to mention have complete control over their camera settings and equipment.  They have to know how to gently direct and maintain control over a crowd of people, who often times, are overly excitable due to the atmosphere or alcoholic beverages.

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Picture of me carrying the Bride’s train while navigating our way to another location.
Image by my awesome second shooter and friend, Tegan Monfort of H2O Photography.

Low quality work

Some photographer’s charge very little for their services.  Often times, less than newcomers.  This is because the quality of their work and customer service is so low they cannot charge any higher and still maintain an income.  Low quality work may consist of composition problems such as crooked horizon lines and images, pictures that are soft or out of focus, skin hues which are not true to life, gray, blue or orange, or inconsistency-where the images are not harmonious, and each greatly differs from the next.  If the photographer does not desire to increase their worth through bettering their product or experience, they will remain stuck in charging a small amount. (Unfortunately, many of these wedding photographer’s find work through lowest bid Aps such as Bark,
Thumbtack, etc., where the lowest price is the only consideration.)

Photographer for hire:  Exploiting the inexperienced

Some photographer’s quote or bid for work, but do not actually shoot themselves.  They hire less experienced photographers and pay them a low hourly fee to cover the wedding in their companies name.  I know many large companies that do this.  You see the name and think “Wow.  X is covering my wedding” when in all actuality is a hired intern or associate who shows up on your wedding day.  Not a bad gig for the company who charges $3500 for a wedding, pays the actual photographer $30 an hour.  They pay out $240 for 8 hours, and pocket the difference for a few hours of editing and admin work.  Doesn’t seem ethical does it?

Now, let’s discuss WHY wedding photographers charge what they do.

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You get what you pay for

Photography is an art.  A skill.  And a service.  To make a wedding photography business thrive, the photographer cannot just show up, take great pictures and be done.  They have to be good at marketing, a dynamic salesperson, and have a head for business.  They handle the client calls and customer service, the invoicing and accounting, and usually all the post processing and editing.  Talk about multi-tasking.

For a wedding photographer, it is not just showing up for a 30 minute session then handing over your card of images.  There is so much more that goes into the execution and creation of your memories of a wedding day.  Let’s take a look at all the costs photographer’s must consider when determining their prices.

Equipment

The equipment your photographer will bring to your wedding is not your ordinary point and shoot camera or cell phone.  Professional DSLR’s cost thousands of dollars and that is just for the camera body.  Add in the cost of lenses (average cost per lens is $1000 and up), flashes, flash modifiers, light stands, batteries and memory cards.  Professional photographer’s use fast writing memory or SD cards, so they can shoot faster without a buffer or lag time. (That dreaded buffering or waiting to read where you cannot take another picture.  This is because lower quality memory cards cannot process the images fast enough.  Not good for wedding photography) And do not forget, wedding photographer’s are required to bring a “back up” or second camera body with them, in the instance their primary one fails, or to utilize multiple lenses.

Editing Software

After taking the hundreds or thousands of images at a wedding, the photographer must “cull” or go through them all to select and edit the images.  Editing software is expensive, such as Photo Mechanic for culling, Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop for processing.  Then there is your gallery software such as Shootproof, or Pixieset which is needed to upload the images into a client gallery.

Back-up and Cloud storage

Once the images are edited, wedding photographer’s are still required to keep the images.  To do so safely, without worry of a computer system crash or accidental deletion of files, photographer’s pay monthly subscription fees to cloud based back-up and storage such as Backblaze. They also need to purchase external hard drives and card writers.

Professional business and Insurance

To become a business one must operate as a business and obtain a business license and insurance.  With equipment costs being so high, and living in such a litigious society, insurance coverage for your gear and liability insurance is a must.  Most venues today require proof of liability insurance prior to permitting a wedding photographer to shoot at their location.  A minimum of $1 million limited liability is required in my area of the US.  The monthly premiums of these policies add up through the course of the year, which should be figured into the business operating expenses.

Professional memberships and Education

Professional wedding photographer’s attend workshops, seminars and conferences to stay abreast of the industry trends and continue their education.  They spend countless hours practicing and even years developing their style and skills. There are also memberships to Professional photography organizations such as PPA, Professional Photographer’s of America which offer local meet-ups, networking and training.  In wedding photography, there is a constant need to adapt to the ever evolving changes in technology and equipment.

Marketing and Advertising

The most professional way a photographer can market themselves is with a website.  This may involve a web designer if the photographer is unable to navigate the complexity of developing their website themselves.  Trust me, I really suck at this part of my business.  Me and web design and applications, do not mix.  It took me forever to learn how to embed code, and format my site so it looks clean and professional.  Now, let’s consider the cost of the web host, maintenance and technical support.  Add in the monthly cost associated with maintaining a domain name and email, and those costs keep adding up.   Another web site most wedding photographer’s maintain is a host for their blog, and of course maintaining a constant presence on social media platforms.  Later.com is a great web based service which allows you to schedule multiple posts in advance to your social media accounts, maximizing your time and allowing you to create content all in one sitting-rather than post day after day.

Now, what about advertising and getting your name out there?  There is the cost of  business cards, creating a logo, branding, marketing materials and brochures.  What about Facebook or Instagram Ads?  A wedding photographer cannot depend on word of mouth filling up their  calendar with bookings.  They must constantly advertise to try and reach new clients.

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Labor

Wedding photographer’s cannot just show up at a venue and take pictures.  Countless hours goes into preparation for the wedding day.  From the initial contact with the client, to consultations, email and phone calls.  Then there is actually preparing for the wedding, the cleaning of their gear, charging of batteries, and checking all the equipment to make sure it is operable and good to go.  Then there is loading their vehicles, and travel to the venue.

Now, let us talk about the actual amount of time they are at your wedding, documenting all those priceless, once in a lifetime moments.  Most wedding photographer’s are constantly moving, with little to no breaks for the entire wedding.  They will be running around, crouching, avoiding guests with their cell phones in hand, ducking and even climbing up on ladders to obtain those moments that cannot be missed.  Talk about a workout on steroids!

Then there is the drive home, unloading of the gear, and the process of downloading and editing begins.  Most people assume it is an easy plug your camera in and download the images.  The truth is, when the couple is off on their honeymoon, their photographer is still hard at work on their images.  A normal 8 hour wedding typically delivers around 800 edited images, culled down from the thousand or so taken.  Editing a wedding can take hours to days, depending on the number of images, and the weather conditions of the day.

But, the wedding photographer’s work is still not done.  They still have to upload the edited images into their gallery hosting site and deliver them to their client.  Then there is follow up, possible ordering and delivery of professionally printed products such as albums, or prints.  See where I am going here?  That hourly rate doesn’t look so great after all, does it?

And if your wedding photographer offers a second shooter or assistant to help them document your day, then they are paid out of the lead shooter’s hourly rate.

Let’s start with that $3000 wedding quote for 8 hours, and factor in all of the above:

  • 3 hours for pre-wedding consultation, calls with client and venue walk
  • 4 hours (which is low) prepping for the wedding
  • 8 hours actual shooting time at the wedding
  • 2 hours travel to and from wedding
  • 20 hours processing and post production
  • 5 hours album design
  • 2 hours print design and ordering
  • 4 hours admin work
  • 2 hours blog post and sneak peek

That’s a total of 50 hours for an 8 hour wedding!  Which lowers the hourly rate to $60.  Now, subtract the standard 2nd shooter fee of $50 per hour, and you have $10 an hour! Gulp!  Yes, I just said $10 an hour!

This is BEFORE the standard business costs are factored in like, internet, phone, gas, etc.  And if this is a wedding photographer’s main source of income, there are health insurance premiums to consider.  Still think that $3000 quote is too high?

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Why is wedding photography so darn expensive?

Honestly, the reason is simple.  Wedding photographer’s love what they do, and chose to serve their clients with their vision and art, providing priceless, lasting memories.  They invest a lot of time and money into developing their skills.  Wedding photographer’s devote countless hours to creating a reputable business which is dependable and trustworthy.  They seek to capture the raw, honest emotion in each image in the most artistic, creative and unique way.  Wedding photographer’s take a great amount of pride in their work, ensuring to document each moment in a true photojournalist way.

Taking all this into account, is the wedding photographer actually charging too much?

Booking your wedding photographer

Ultimately, it’s your wedding day.  You should chose the photographer who feels right for you.  To me, the most important aspect of selecting a wedding photographer is their personality, and making sure you feel comfortable with one another.  (Who wants to feel like they are being stalked by some strange, wedding paparazzi all day?) Then, look within your price range.  Industry standard states your wedding photographer should take up approximately 20% of your wedding budget.  If you are on a tight budget, try cutting back in another area, not your photography. ( I know many couples who chose to have the highest paid vendor as their photographer, even over the venue.)  Remember, your cake will be eaten, the flowers will fade, but your memories will live on forever in your beautiful images created by your wedding photographer.

Besides, how can you truly put a price on your memories?

If you truly must work within a low budget, ask yourself these 6 things before booking that too good to be true low price wedding photographer:

  • Will I be upset if they miss the shot due to inexperience, or equipment failure?
  • Are they insured?  (Who will be liable if their equipment gets damaged, lost or stolen?  Are they covered for any mishaps at the venue?)
  • Do they have a website and portfolio of images for you to view?  Do you like their style? (How they compose the shots, to how they edit their images.)
  • Do I feel comfortable dressing, interacting and being in their presence for hours? Do your personalities mesh? (**This is a big one for the Brides, why often a female wedding photographer is chosen over a male.)
  • What is their turn around time to deliver the images, and what is included with your gallery?  No hidden fees, or up-charges per additional image over a certain specified number.
  • Are they reputable?  (I have heard horror stories of clients waiting months or longer trying to get their images delivered from their photographer.)

Ultimately, in wedding photography, you get what you pay for.

I wrote this article to educate couple’s searching for their wedding photographer and the new photographer’s out there hoping to enter into the wedding market.  My hope is it will give you an in depth and realistic view into why wedding photography has such a wide gap in pricing, and the true, seasoned wedding professionals command a higher price.

If you found this article helpful, please let me know!  I would love to hear your thoughts or comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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