Why Wedding Photographers’ Prices are “Wack”

Earlier today my friend and fellow photographer posted a link to a craigslist ad from a woman in Seattle looking for a wedding photographer. The woman was upset because she thought that $3,000 for a wedding photographer was “wack” because all we do “is hang out at a wedding taking tons of photos and editing them” and that we are “making so much money its crazy.”

I first read this post earlier today while I was running errands and my head almost exploded. I immediately started drafting a horribly mean and punishing response in my head, but by the time I got home, I realized that this is probably a common misconception and that maybe I should try to explain why photographers charge what we do for our work.

Before I post my response, I want to thank all of my brides who appreciate my work and think that I am worth the price. This response is not meant to offend anyone. I understand many people are on a budget — especially in this economy — and I understand planning a wedding is both expensive and overwhelming. I always try my best to work with my couples and offer customized and discounted packaging options for those who are on a tighter budget.

I just want to state again, that being a photographer doesn’t mean that we wake up in the morning, photograph a wedding for 8 hours and then go home and our job is done. Those of us who are lucky enough to be able to support ourselves as full time photographers don’t just work as photographers. We are also small business owners, which also comes with the job of doing all of our own marketing, sales, accounting, scouting, art directing, managing our offices and studios, being our own webmasters, doing our own post production, designing, blogging, being students, being mentors, researching, etc…

Sorry for the novel. Here was my response:

Dear Bride,

I am a wedding photographer in the Erie, PA area. Wedding season only last about 4 months here, so I photograph an average of 20 weddings per year for an average of $2,500/wedding (which totals about $50,000/year).

  • That being said, I am a small business owner, so I pay all of my taxes, totaling about $15,000/year, which leaves me with a gross income of around $35,000
  • Of that $35,000 I pay $600/month in rent for my small house and garage which I converted into my studio (which is where I would be editing your wedding images). $35,000 – $7,200 = $27,800
  • Then I have my car, which I would use to get me to and from your wedding, which I pay $400/month for the lease, plus $200/month in car insurance. $27,800 – $7,200 = $20,600
  • To get to your (and my other brides) wedding consultation, second wedding pre-consultation, the wedding itself, and to and from the printers I spend $840/year in gas money. $20,600 – $840 = $19,760
  • I also have $500/year insurance in case you sue me, or if any of your drunk guests would happen to break any of my equipment. $19,760 – $500 = $19,260
  • You also probably found me through my website, which I pay $30/month for hosting, and another $30/month so that you can view your photos online and share the images with your friends and family. $19,260 – $720 = $18,540
  • Or perhaps you found me through my advertisements in the newspaper or local bridal magazines, or a bridal show that you attended that I paid to have a booth at. $18,540 – $1,000 = $17,540
  • I also pay $250/month for my own health insurance in case I were to get hurt at your wedding. $17,540 – $3,000 = $14,540
  • I pay $200/wedding for a second shooter for your wedding, so that you can have more images and different angles, as to make sure you get the best images possible at your wedding. $14,540 – $4,000 = $10,540
  • I also need to have a new pair of shoes ($100) every season because my shoes get worn out and dirty from season to season. $10,540 – $100 = $10,440
  • I need high speed internet so I can upload all of your images online, my home phone for my business and my cell phone so I can communicate with you. $10,440 – $2,500 = $7,940
  • Oh yes, and I also pay a lawyer to make sure my contracts are iron clad and an accountant to make sure that I am paying all of the taxes I need. $7,940 – $500 = $7,440
  • Sometimes I attend workshops and seminars to teach me how to better my business, and make my client happier (that would be you), as well as keep up on the trends and learn new techniques so that I can make sure you have the best quality images available.

That would technically leave me with about $7,000/year to feed myself, buy groceries, pay for my heat and electricity, clothe myself, etc. But, usually I end up reinvesting whatever I have left on upgrades and new equipment:

During your wedding, I bring my professional equipment that I use so that I can make sure you have the highest quality images.

  • I have 2 Canon 5D Mark II cameras (because you always need a backup in case of a camera malfunction, which would ruin your big day’s photographs) which cost $2,500/camera = $5,000
  • I also have quality lenses which can capture your special moments in low light situations:
    Canon 24-70 f/2.8 lens = $1,200
    Canon 70-200 f/2.8 lens = $1,300
    Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens = $500
    Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro = $600
  • …and I have speed lights to catch the fun moments at your reception:
    2 x Canon 580EX II = $1,200
  • Also multiple battery backups and memory cards, lens filters, light stands, umbrellas, light boxes, external battery packs and a bag to carry everything in = $1,500
  • Because this is equipment, sometimes I need to have it serviced or cleaned to make sure it is all working properly = $200

After spending 8-10 hours at your wedding, I then come home to my home office and spend about 20-25 hours editing your images, creating your album, blogging about your wedding, posting pictures on Facebook, ordering you prints and burning your DVDs.

  • I edit your photographs using a 27-inch iMac computer = $2,500.
  • I edit your photographs on Adobe Lightroom ($200) and Adobe CS5 ($400 for the upgrade and $900 for the new program).
  • I print your DVDs on a printer which costs $300 and which uses $200/year in ink.
  • I buy the DVDs and jewel cases you’re getting printed for $300/year
  • I archive all of your photographs on 2 x 2TB external hard drives = $500.
  • I also back up all of my photographs online so if there was ever a fire in my office, you would never lose your photographs = $400/year.
  • I also have office expenses as far as buying paper, staples, envelopes, packaging, filing cabinets and files, etc…
  • I also spend time and money ordering your prints and albums, paying for shipping, going to the post office etc.

All of that being said, I’m usually in the hole at the end of the year, and take on many family portraits, senior portraits and corporate jobs in order to make ends meet.

Photography is my passion and my livelihood, and it is also expensive. Yes, it seems like a lot of money for one day, but one day isn’t all we spend on your photographs or on our business. You will spend thousands of dollars on a wedding dress or flowers or a venue or on catering which you are going to have for only one day, but your photographs will be the only thing you have to remember that one day for the rest of your lives.

I’m extremely insulted by your craigslist post and hope this sheds a little light on why we charge $3,000 for one day of your memories that are going to last you forever.

— Nikki Wagner, Photographer

About the author: Nikki Wagner is a wedding, portrait, and event photographer based in Naples, Florida. Visit her website here.

  • Bill

    You should charge your customers a realistic price and get a real job. Wedding photographer is not a job.

  • Blake McClure

    So this article is basically saying you work to just get by and have no life other than taking pictures and editing? Weddings only 4 months out of the year? Only wedding shoots no senior pics or family pics? Hmm…. if you’re making 50,000 in 4 months you’re doing something right! You made enough money in 4 months (doing what you love) to pay off 1 year of bills and have 8 more months to work wherever and make even more. I feel so sorry for you. Lol come on not trying to be an ass but realize that you’re making a lot of money haha

  • niket

    Awesome response.

  • Helena_Handbasket

    Speaking as a friend of many pro photographers, you let her off easy.

  • hazyblue7

    We all have bills! None of your random expenses should be considered.

  • Amanda Douglas Events

    I love the break down, and it’s so true! Great post Nikki!

  • Andi Bravo DelGrosso


  • snaapz

    Anyone can buy a SLR camera and a flash; pinterest search “wedding portrait ideas”; have a quick read on lighting, diffusing and using natural light; practice shooting moving objects and you’re ready. One day of shooting, half a day of editing. $600.

  • Sean Caskie

    While I appreciate the author’s reply to the woman’s ad, I do disagree with a significant amount of what she said. I’ll break it down in a minute, but let’s start with her point about being in the hole at the end of the year, and being a business owner… If, after several years in business, you’re still in the hole year end, you might want to think about a new line of work. Typically, the only folks in a hole at year end are businesses who are paying off loans or investments – and in those cases, their salaries are included in the expenses. Frankly it sounds like she isn’t very good at running a business.

    Now, if you’re still with me after that, then consider the following: unless she’s completely ignorant, while wedding season may only be 4 months long where she lives, she has plenty of other gig opportunities, such as:
    Business Events
    Fraternity and Sorority Events
    Stock Photography (istock anyone?)
    Advertising Photography
    Children and Family Portraits
    Modeling Photography
    Concert Photography
    Contract Forensic Photography
    Legal Photography
    Private Photography Lessons
    and on and on…..
    Many of these types of photography do not have a “season”, and many can be done in her studio, requiring only lights and backdrops – a minor capital outlay…

    Further, she describes the cost of her equipment which is a bit disingenuous, because some of it is capital outlay and some recurring monthly cost. The capital equipment costs should be depreciated or at least pro-rated across all events over the course of a year to determine actual expenses, and the monthly recurring could be shaved a bit with better spending habits.

    So I believe this is a case of “methinks thou dost protest too much”. Honey – take the shoes out because unless you wear them ONLY for the weddings, it doesn’t count and makes you seem petty.

    Now, I agree that replacement equipment, upgrades, repairs, etc… will be required, and I certainly don’t begrudge her charging whatever fee she feels appropriate, but she needs to improve her argument and re-evaluate whether or not this is a business or a subsidized hobby before she goes off on a bride.

    Lastly, I was for several years a professional photographer. I made a living off of it, but not by shooting weddings. I did everything else, mainly because I didn’t want to deal with brides.

  • Patrick Vail

    It sounds to me like some photographers seem to think they only need to work 4 months a year. join the rest of us, work 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year. The photographers I know work 2 jobs, in order to make ends meet and fulfill their passion, with that said $3000 seems reasonable to me for a wedding.

  • hgg

    50 grand for 20 days of work?
    Quit complaining.
    Most people don’t make that much working 9-5 all year.

  • Jaron Miller

    I mean sure, it’s an expensive business: equipment, travel, production, ect, but seriously cut some costs out of there and rely on more than wedding season to pay your bills. This writer sure does an excellent job of making a non-sustainable business, when they could go about half of those costs a ton cheaper if they’d bother to try.

  • Bipartisan Jerk

    You’re clearly an illiterate idiot, hgg.

  • Thomas

    “What makes your photos and service different from my less expensive options? ”
    That is the key question every business owner needs to be able to answer: “Why would I hire your company instead of one of the other companies out there.”
    That is not an easy question to answer, and the business owner may not like the answer.
    But it is the question the business owner expects the customer to answer.

  • Thomas

    “Your value is not derived from the costs that it takes to produce the work you produce. Your value is derived from the work you produce”
    Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
    The client does not care if the picture is OOC or takes 50 hours or PP. They only care about the value of the final product when considering the price.

  • Thomas

    You are presuming that the “professional” photographer has tons of experience and training. I don’t think that is always a given.

  • Angela Perez

    You probably got an amateur for $400. The second shooter is only there for 8 hours then hands over images for the first shooter and he is done that is why he only gets paid $200. The first shooter on the other hand is stuck working and editing and retouching your images, It takes me around 2-3 weeks worth of work for me to edit and retouch through an entire wedding and design albums and go back and forth between client to deliver final product that is time and time cost money and I believe 2-3 weeks worth of work is worth 3k. Our job doesn’t end when we leave your wedding and it starts way before we arrive at your wedding as well. If a bride can’t afford 3k then instead of complaining she can”t afford it she should go find some cheap amateur photographer not everyone can afford gucci either and instead they shop at walmart. A quality photographer is a luxury purchase if you can’t afford luxury then you find an amateur in your budget is that simple

  • guest5745

    LOL…well she can always go to Olan Mills or JC Penneys for cheaper wedding photos they have been around awhile. lol

  • albertan

    pffffttt… think wedding photographers have it rough try being a musician, hire 4 guys to play a wedding for 5 hours, usually preceded by travel ,setup and tear down time and its a 10 hour day, you think your photography gear is expensive, a good set of drums can cost as much as all of this guys photo gear combined. The worst part is the entire band gets about as much as one photographer, I know they have editing time, but bands have rehearsal time…lets face it were not in it for the money.

  • unlisted

    My wife is a wedding photographer and many times I’ve questioned her why she even wants to keep doing so when it doesnt pay off. she only charges $2500 and thats cheap for a wedding. But after all said and done she sees very little profit for what she offers. here is a more realistic break down than the article. I did find the article to be a little extreme with some of the expenses btw.

    My wife used to offer a wedding package for $2500 that included a 8hr day, a second shooter, and a wedding album. Prints were available at additional costs. Wow what a rip off you say? How would you know?….

    My wife pays a second shooter $300-$500 depending on their skills and experience…but lets just say $300 to keep it on the low side. So already takes it down to $2200. The wedding album alone ranges from $300 minimum. And thats not even including time to edit and design the album. Thats what they charge my wife for an album to keep it simple. That now brings it down to $1900. Most weddings that she shoots averages about an 1-2hr drive one way then driving all day to the brides house, church,photograph destination, and reception. So well just say $40 for a tank of gas. Now were down to $1860. Oh yes let me back track because i forgot to mention that an engagement session is also included. Its usually an hour photo session and she drives to the location where the bride chooses. So lets keep it low and say $20 for gas since its USUALLY only at one location. so that’s now $1840 no charge for time and labor yet.

    It’s still $1840 that she profits you say….but did you know she has to go through over 100 images from the engagement shoot? And over 500+ images from the wedding day? Thats probabaly over 36hrs for ONE person editing alone constantly working at it. So lets say she pays herself $25/hr for labor…thats $900. So now her profit is only $940. And thats keeping it on the simple side. Im only counting 500+ images from her camera and not from the second shooters camera. So whats $940 profit really mean to a photograher that also has to pay bills? Not too much.

    And this is all based on the low averages cause i wanted to keep it simple.

  • angelorabbit

    I would like to see this posted to her, and see her response.

  • Martti O Suomivuori

    You can get a very nice lightly used camera setup for that 3000 dollars. Make a nephew or a cousin read the manual very well and watch some videos on wedding photography on YouTube. Let her/him get to know the couple in advance and learn the ropes of a DSLR. Then when the wedding happens, be careful that she/he does not take too many glasses of sparkling Burgundy booze. You put the photos on a stick and take them to the mall and order prints with frames and books and DVDs. Then sell the nice camera for near the same price you bought it for.

    Your barber can nicely remove your hemorrhoids. He has lots of sharp tools and he is used to being around with assh….

    Yeah, why do people want to play Rockstars and Paparazzi in their wedding when it it more than 30% likely that the marriage will end in a divorce?

  • gochugogi

    My landlord requires me to carry 2 million in liability insurance on my studio. I have to send them the insurance certificate every year or I get threatening letters from their legal department. But a less than a grand annually for insurance isn’t too bad. Website is relatively cheap. What hurts is the monthly studio rent and common area fees, due even during holidays and slow seasons.