Updated: Jan 14
You're finally engaged and ready to find your photographer.
After hours of browsing, you find the perfect match! You love this person's editing style, the way they frame their shots is perfection, and you want them to tell your story. Now, it's time to look at pricing.
WHY is wedding photography so expensive?!
I wondered the same thing when planning my own wedding and before I was a photographer. In my mind, I thought, "This person gets paid THAT much for a day's work and pressing a few buttons?"
I could not have been more wrong.
I want to break down a few things for you to help explain why wedding photography seems to be so expensive and to provide a better understanding of the industry.
1.) We are legal, tax-paying businesses.
Professional photographers charge professional prices because we are real businesses. That means that about 1/3 of the price tag you see goes toward paying taxes and insurance.
Why is it important to use a legal, tax-paying photographer?
There are SO many reasons you should only hire legal photographers, but one of the biggest is that photography is an unregulated industry. That means that there are no rules, regulations, licenses, education requirements, or standards for being able to offer photography services and anyone can purchase a camera and advertise. Because of this, I have seen MANY instances where someone purchases a camera, decides they want to be a wedding photographer without experience, accepts a deposit, realizes how difficult it is to be a photographer so they quit, and then they leave the wedding couple high and dry, never speaking to them again. I've also seen instances where the photographer does show up to take wedding photos and subsequently never delivers them, or they deliver unprintable/unusable photos. Hiring a professional photographer who is operating a legal business is important because it shows the person is serious about this business. They have done their research, have experience, and are in it for the long haul. The likelihood that they would leave you high and dry on one of the most important days of your life is slim to none.
If you question whether a photographer is operating legally in the State of Michigan, the best thing to do is to simply ask! You can also look up corporations, LLC, and partnerships here: https://cofs.lara.state.mi.us/SearchApi/Search/Search (Note: if you can't find your photographer here, they may be operating as a sole proprietorship and still legal, that's why the best course of action is to ask).
2.) Our equipment is EXPENSIVE.
I can only speak for myself in this instance since not every photographer's arsenal is the same.
I have two camera bodies which are about $2,000.00 each. Most wedding photographers will have at least two cameras because we'd never want to risk losing anything on your day due to faulty equipment. I have a main camera and a backup camera with me at all times.
I also have several lenses. ONE of my lenses alone was $1900. My arsenal of lenses ranges from $125-$1900 and I have EIGHT.
Batteries are about $80 and I have three per camera right now.
Memory cards are about $20/ea and I will use a minimum of four at each wedding.
Off Camera Flash varies in price, but starts at about $400 for a simple setup.
I have a desktop computer which was over $2000 and a laptop which was about $1200.
There are other items like tripods, weather guards, underwater casing, etc. that a lot of people use as well. Those items aren't as high in dollar value as others listed above, but all of these things add up and take away from the bottom line. Note: Some of these pieces of equipment are not one-time purchases. For example: DSLR cameras have a shutter count and once that count gets higher and higher, the shutter is closer to no longer being viable. Replacing the camera once that count gets higher is important. Memory cards have the ability to fail which compromises the photos on it, so replacing them often is very important. Technology is always changing, so my computers will need to be replaced. Etc. Etc.
3.) There are lots of operating costs.
Our job isn't done when we've left your wedding. There are so many things that go into not only editing your photos, but also running the business. Here are a few of my most basic operating costs and things most photographers need: Adobe Photoshop + Lightroom - $10/month
Customer Management System - $20/month
Website - $16/month
Email - $5/month
Phone - $70/month
Internet - $30/month
Online gallery software - $40/month Credit Card Processing - 3% of total balance
Photo Storage - $17/month
Advertising - $50/month (minimum)
Postage - $15/month (average) Gas - $75/month
That's $348, not including credit card processing.
There are other items I personally pay for such as ongoing education, workshops, webinars, Photoshop add-ons, tools to make the narrowing down of photos faster/easier, etc. The things listed above are the most basic needs.
So, let's break here and use some real life figures.
Say someone is offering $1200 for 8 hours of wedding coverage. Say they're just starting and do two weddings per month at that price. That's $2400 for the month.
1/3 of that goes to taxes and insurance if they're a legal business ($792) Now, let's take out their operating costs ($348)
Now the credit card processing fee ($72)
That leaves them with a profit of $780 after two weddings.
They were at the wedding for 8 hours and let's say it takes them 15 hours to edit a wedding (I did a poll among photographers and this was the average). That's a total of 46 hours of labor between shooting and editing the wedding.
That would be $16.96 per hour.
Some things to consider:
- I didn't include any equipment in the calculation above to keep things simple, but if this person needed to purchase new equipment, they wouldn't be able to afford to at these rates.
- I also didn't include hours spent behind the scenes sending emails, coming up with marketing plans, creating contracts, phone calls, Pinterest board sharing, timeline creation, etc. I spend 15 hours per week alone doing those things, but I'll make that a monthly figure since we're using figures of someone just starting out. That would cause the equation to be:
46 hours of labor between shooting and editing
15 hours of administrative work
61 hours total
$780 divided by 61 is:
$12.79 per hour.
Pricing this way makes it difficult for someone to survive doing photography as anything other than a "side gig" or as supplementary income.
I say all of this not to shame anyone for paying or charging a certain price for photography, I simply want to share some education about this industry! I hear people often say "I'm looking for someone who doesn't charge an arm and a leg" and I'm just here to educate and let you know that we don't want to be paid in limbs, we just price ourselves in order to provide you with the best art, the best service, and an amazing experience while also putting food on our own tables. :)