PetaPixel

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.


 
Get the hottest photo stories delivered to your inbox.
Get a daily digest of the latest headlines:
  • chip renner

    gotta start shooting porn buddy!

  • Your argument sucks

    So what about the other 8 months? What I’m seeing is a nice 4 month salary

  • Shavon Vines Via

    Very well said. I could not have said it better myself. The ones not charging don’t have insur, equi, know how, or backing to cover them. They just want a quick buck. And 99% of the time they getting
    what they are paying for.

  • brittany

    While I absolutely respect the need for an explanation and the cost of the service, I don’t feel like this is a reasonable one. You’re being paid for your time and expertise, and then you take into account the expense of equipment and travel. However a car with insurance, unless it’s separate than your personal vehicle, isn’t exactly an expense to take out of salary. Nor is health insurance. Those are cost of living that almost every career requires, and no one takes that out of what they consider their salary to be.
    Like I said, I don’t think photographers’ prices are “wack,” I have many close friends that are, and I see the behind the scenes hours and expenses that are put into the art. As a hair stylist, I often get the same reaction,”because a hair cut doesn’t cost me anything to do it, why is it so expensive?” Just be fair when explaining, people need to understand your value!

  • Jessica Smith DeBoer

    A repost of a comment from a friend: In this article, there are two good points. But… lets do the math. According to the Census Bureau the median American salary is $51,017/ year. As the article said, said photographer makes about $50,000/ year doing photos for an average of 20 weddings, at an average price of $2,500/wedding.At first, you may think that this is about the same amount or slightly less than what the average American makes… but lets think a little deeper. The photographer said they do an average of 20 weddings a year. They also said they spend anywhere between 28 and 35 hours total for editing pictures per wedding. So according to those numbers lets do the math that’s 20 weddings X 28 hours = 560 hours (low end). 20 weddings X 35 hours = 700 hours (max).
    The average full time job is 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. Lets say there is an average of 3 weeks for vacation/holidays. That is 40 hours X 49 weeks = 1,960 hours a year. While the photographer is only working 700 hours a year (max).
    But the photographer said “wedding season” is only 4 months out of the year. So lets say the photographer works all those hours in just 4 months. 4 months X 4 weeks/month = 16 weeks. What does that average out to be… 560 hours /16 weeks = Average of 35 hours / week (low end). 700/16 = 43.73 hours/ week (max). So if the photographer takes 35 hours per wedding (which, keep in mind is the MAX) for the whole 4 months of “wedding season”… then they are working roughly the same as a normal full time job… FOR ONLY 4 MONTHS OF THE YEAR!! What is being done with these 8 months, if its claimed that the $50,000 earned from photography is the only source of income. 8 months to vacation? What!?
    And lets keep in mind the photographer says they get to work at your own house. Nice working conditions. Physically the least demanding job on your body you could ask for. On high speed interment. No boss. Set your own hours. Do something you love. On average, the normal American is working 1,260 hours a year more than photographers… AND according to the numbers given in this article by a photographer, making virtually the SAME amount of money!
    While Wedding photographers do a great service by taking pictures for happy couples on their “special day”. However those who overcharge people for a wedding try to make their “special day” their “pay day”. Just because the memories created on this day are “priceless” does not give the photographers the green light to try to ring the the couples, (or parents of the couples getting married) dry of every last penny they are good for in the wedding budget. Just want to say thanks to all the photographers who charge a fair and reasonable price for wedding pictures!

  • Bratista

    Maybe you should go and work the rest of the year, even if it’s not as a photographer. Sorry that in 4 months you make double my yearly income, but seriously, go eff yourself.

  • Michelle Kent

    Excellent response!!!!!! This doesn’t just apply to weddings though!

  • Rupert Murdoch

    I’ve only hired a wedding photographer once (here’s hoping it stays that way!) We paid $2500, which included a CD of all the photos and about a dozen prints. I thought that was pretty reasonable for the quality of the photos. What was less reasonable was the photographer’s high-pressure attempt to get us to buy additional products. She was fixated on selling us a scrapbook…for the low cost of $1200. It was a nice scrapbook, don’t get me wrong, but it was something my wife could’ve done online for much less. We ended up negotiating the photographer down to $350, which I’m sure she still made a profit off of. The fact that she tried to charge us more than triple what the product was worth definitely soured that relationship. I hope that’s not a standard practice!

  • http://www.ruberry.co.uk Phil Ruberry

    $2500 for internet, Phone and a Mobile phone, you wanna shop around mate!

    Also an Accountant for $500 lol yeah ok

  • MidniteSerenity

    That’s some expensive shoes!

  • Glassweaver

    Reading all that makes sense Nikki, but could you please tell me if this is literally all you do? I’m getting hung up on the ’20 shoots a year during a 4 month span’ part. 50k a year pre-tax is livable, dare I say middle class. If you spend a whole day there and then twice that time editing and finishing a final product, isn’t that 60 days you’re working out of the year?

    The whole you wrote seems to center around a living wage, while ignoring that, as portrayed, you have 8 months that you are doing absolutely nothing. Assuming there are other events that need photography/professional editing/restoration, etc…wouldn’t it make more sense to work the whole year like everyone else, charge half as much, and *still* make more money since 3x the work at 1/2 the price is still more money?

    I’m really hoping I’m missing something here and that you can explain. I’m not meaning to be rude. That’s simply where I’m getting stuck, and I’d look forward to a flaw/oversight in my reasoning being wrong.

    Thank you!

  • Josh

    I was hoping to read a good response from you here, but what I just read was “I make $50k in 4 months doing what I love, working weekends. Oh and I have bills to pay, here’s a list.”

    Everyone has bills to pay. $600 for car+insurance? At 50k, you could BUY a car and pay $50/month in insurance. Maybe you should downgrade? But, oh no, that would mean you wouldn’t be driving a shiny new BMW (I just looked and it’s $309 to lease a 2015 BMW 328i. 428i: $399)

    Your #’s say you’re making between $71.43 and $89.29 an hour ($50000/(20weddings*28[or 35]hrs)). If you worked 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, you’d be making over $185k. I think that’s a bit much…. Teachers make about 50k but work 60+ hours for 9-10 MONTHS a year.

    If I could make 50,000 on the side, pursuing my passion, working weekends for 4 months a year, I would in a second. Especially considering the median U.S. family income (family, yes… both earners) is 50k

  • Ryan Kelley

    Okay, I get the point here, but take all of those business expenses and subtract the deductions from the tax total. Also there is a $0.55/mile allowance for traveling, which more than pays for gas, unless you’re driving some gas guzzling clunker. Hell, even if you’re driving a gas guzzling clunker that gets 10mpg you’re still getting your gas payed for. Having been a small business owner I do know there are many hidden costs associated with operating a small business, but adding misleading costs to your argument is counterproductive to your point. By the way, let me make it clear that I think photographers should be paid what they are asking for in this case, I just don’t like when you add costs that really aren’t personal costs.

  • Mike

    Yeah, but most photos actually suck. to have someone take 4000 images to hopefully get ten decent ones is not gonna cut the mustard

  • Wayne C

    A business should make what a willing buyer will pay. I support you charging whatever you want to charge. People are free to will hire you
    or not.

    But…. if you feel you need to justify with cost figures you should be more selective as many of the costs you list are incurred by everyone else. Answering someone’s bad figures with your own bad figures doesn’t make for a good argument.

    If you make $50K/year on weddings and pay $15K in taxes, your gross income is $50K, not $35K. Gross is before taxes and other expenses/deductions. Plus, if somebody is looking to compare to what they make, they typically think of their gross salary, not net. We all pay taxes. Call it a wash. I know self-employment taxes are higher as I’ve paid them – it’s not a photographer-specific thing.

    I have a car that I paid for and insure. I drive it to work. You drive yours to work . Your lease and insurance payments would be there anyway. And your car expenses are partly offset in the mileage deduction, so you’re inflating the figure.

    Health insurance – I pay for mine too. Some pay more, some less.

    Our shoes get worn and dirty too. Ridiculous.

    You won’t have Internet, phone and cell phone if you did something else? I have all those. I can see claiming some fraction, but you’re attributing it all to your wedding photography. Wrong.

    As I stated, I begrudge you nothing. If you feel you need to respond, you could
    just note that you work many more hours than they see you working at their
    event location and you have business expenses to cover. Your fallacious detailed accounting lends no credibility.

  • Dave

    Soooo let me get this straight. You only pay your 2nd shooter $200 per shoot, and you get $3000? You have about as much respect for your 2nd shooter as the bride has for your work.

  • MrHappyface

    Well, that depends on who owns all of equipment & who got the gig?

  • Liz

    Can someone just explain to me then why photographers offer packages that seem to be the same as or very similar to their wedding packages, but for a few hundred dollars Vs the thousands for a wedding?

    I’ve come across several photographers who have 3 hour photoshoots at a location of my choosing, I get plenty of pictures and my choice of top ten or something being super done, a cd and online gallery/storage for a few hundred, but then I say wedding and that same package becomes a few thousand. At least it seems the same because other than the word wedding being added, nothing really differentiates the service provided, which is why I believe it is so common for people to think $3000 is ridiculous for pictures. What IS the difference between packages if the end products end up being the same? Are they actually the same? Because simply stating how many pictures a bride gets does not tell her that the plain package might not get any touching up, but the wedding package does (and as a graphic designer, I fully understand the time and patience photo touch ups takes).

    So, can someone please explain it to me? I understand the breakdown, which does make perfect sense, but if I’m on a tight budget and can get a photoshoot for $300 or whatever vs a wedding package for $3000, then why isn’t it offered or what exactly should be expected for such a huge price difference? I am genuinely asking as I am planning my wedding and ask myself this everytime I reach out to a photographer and they throw me their highest price first without indicating if there’s negotiation or how I could work it out to fit in my budget. I’ve even told a few I only want a photographer for a few key pictures, maybe an hour or two, and I’m still gettin prices in the thousands.

  • TopPhotographer

    All I could think reading this is, “You are not charging enough if you want to live in the black, and more importantly, have this be a business that sustains you into retirement.” There will be plenty of people who think $3000 is wack, but there are also people who are happy to pay $8000 for a photographer who produces gorgeous work and busts their ass before, during and after the wedding day, to give their clients the very best they have to offer. Setting your prices based on what others will accept, rather than on real costs, your target market, and planning for the future is a sure way to join the thousands of small businesses whose doors close in less than 5 years.

  • oreozipper

    To those criticizing this person’s costs and her gross income in four months, if you think being a photographer is so great, go and be one! If you believe $3,000/wedding is too much and that a friend with a DSLR can do it for free/much less, there’s your alternative :)

    Her costs are her costs, whatever they may be. If you don’t agree, fine. Don’t use her. Nobody is forcing you to hire this photographer or anyone else you believe is charging too much. For the most part, you get what you pay for but, YMMV.

  • Stephanie

    How is insurance, internet and a lawyer unnecessary!? In order to run a LEGAL business you need insurance, to pay taxes, among other things. To run a successful business, you are very strongly benefited from consulting a lawyer for contracts, an accountant for proper taxes and budgeting, etc. There are many costs of doing business that do not always involve the obvious.

    As far as internet goes, it is VITAL to running a business that does not have a retail location. How do you expect any business in this day & age to run a successful business without that major form of advertising and communication!? Also, if you’re so against rent being relevant, especially if a business were to forego internet which means no ads or website they would absolutely need a building or room to rent from which to run their business. They would not be able to provide your images electronically, and clients would be forced to travel to the photographer many times for meetings, viewings, orderings, payments, etc. While rent is not mandatory, for a professional service it is strongly recommended to have a retail location, or at minimum an office to keep business and personal separate. That office costs money, even if it were to happen to be in one’s home.

    And you say that these are “basic daily living things that we choose to purchase”? Well if they are ‘basic living things’, then they are clearly important and quite necessary! Health and/or life insurance might be a luxury not everyone has, but business insurance is a MUST. And since a business is usually one’s livelihood, health insurance could therefore also be a must because if one should be unable to perform their work duties to bring in income, the health insurance would be the backup plan.

    Before you go judging someone else and their profession, perhaps you should ‘walk a mile in their shoes’ and understand prior to doing so.