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.

  • Julian Chan

    Your photographer charged you $200 for to expand her portfolio…in the hopes that she will charge $3000 for a wedding one day………..

  • Elly

    When I got married we couldn’t afford a big extravagant wedding and that was fine but the one thing that I wish we had spent some money on was the photographer. I had a friend taking pictures and they were nice and I still have them but they could have been so much better. It isn’t like we can redo the day. The pictures are what everyone wants to see, what you show your children. Spend the money.

  • Jennifer Lucia

    Six, everyone can attempt to do everything. I could try my hand at being a scientist. I LOVE science, but it doesn’t mean that I would be any good at it on a professional level. Everyone can “take a picture” but not everybody does it well enough to do it as a profession. And some people do. Look at Susan Stripling and Davina and Daniel, then look at your work and tell me that your pictures are at the same level. I’m guessing not. So yes…everyone can take a picture, but no…not everyone takes pictures at the same level or puts the same amount of time into it or has the same amount of talent, and those who do should be paid for it.

  • Marcus Sudjojo

    You know what? Of all the fusses in the comments so far, your post is the most reasonable one, in my opinion.

    Yes, I agree with the point the OP wanted to make, and yes, I agree people (photographers) gotta make a living out of their job. But true, explaining to potential customers about our living costs is a ‘questionable approach’

    Too bad, people still see things in their ‘tangible vs intangible’ forms. A bridal dress + groom suit worth a few grants are ‘OK’, because they are tangible. Photography services on the other hand, are half tangible (the picture albums, canvas prints, etc) and half intangible.

    Photographers know for sure, without the intangible aspects of the photography services, the tangible aspects would be rendered useless. But try to explain that to the brides to be, now that’s a whole different story. Open-minded people understands perfectly, while the others, well….

  • Mike Michaels

    Yes. Good enough for a private album I go through once a year…they dont need to be “press ready photos”….IDIOT!

  • Edy Luchi

    You got ripped off on that 50mm f/1.4 and 5DII bodies, no offense.


    this is insane!!! You only work 4 MONTHS and end up with $7000 left over. That means you have another 8 MONTHS to work a REAL job. 8 MONTHS worth of salary that is left over to do whatever you want with. The $50,000 you cry about making in ONLY 4 months has paid for a years worth of everything your buisness requires. Stop passing your costs along to the customer

  • Steve

    I do tech support for a living so using a wedding photographers logic, instead of charging people $30 hr in labor + parts, I should charge people $100 an hr, because I had to drive to their house and use my own laptop that cost $700 and had to research their issue n a paid internet and copy their data to a hard drive which i paid for.

    Get real, weddings are a gouge fest and photographers know what they charge is ridiculous. Even if they spent 8 hrs at your wedding and 24 hours editing and you are paying them $50 an hr for their time and labor thats still only $1600 and I think thats a fair price. How many people are making 50 hr. Honeslty know one should pay over $1200-1500 for a photographer, unless they are making you albums too and doing other special things

  • Lee

    lol… Tony, I guess sports people and actors should also get peanuts yeah? I mean they don’t really do much

  • Dan

    Well we know nikki is a photographer, but definitely too smart…over $800 in gas to go to the locations and meetings for 20 weddings? This is gas for the whole year to go anywhere. An her 20 weddings are responsible for all of her car usage too? regardless she has $7000 left over after all her expenses for working about 50 hours a month (assuming she works on average 30 hours per wedding, 20 per year. That awesome! That leaves her the majority of time to do portraits and other jobs at pure profit since all her major bills are already listed here. Sounds like she shouldnt be complaining.

  • Srta

    The thing is your basically saying you only work 4 months of the year, 20 weddings and you make 35,000 a year after taxes doing that alone. Seriously. You Could work another job. I’m not saying photography is easy, but you make more money than teachers do or other occupations and don’t work nearly the same hours.

  • Srta

    **you are

  • Joseph

    So how about we take this to the next level here?

    First of all, Car Insurance, HA! I live in Ontario, I pay $560/month and that’s the CHEAPEST in my license class. Give it up.

    Two, Yes he pays $200 to the second shooter because they aren’t editing the pics, or paying any of the other expenses. It’s only their time.

    Three, 8-10 hours is very reasonable. Your forgetting the shots of the Bride and Groom before the wedding, at the wedding, at the reception, after the reception, travel time and shots of the venue inside and out.

    Four, Tax Deductible this, Tax Deductible that. Do you even know what that means? Well this is not Charity, you dont get it all back. Up here in Canada (not sure how it is in the states) but we write off business expenses at just the SALES TAX ONLY. The government just doesn’t hand you all your money back because you bought a business expense. or ALL of us would be doing it for everything related to our jobs.

    Five, You may have paid $400 to your photographer, but guess what, I bet he didnt give you prints and edited your photos. Just gave you the digitial copy right? Go ask someone else in the front row to take them next time. Maybe you’ll save the $400 too.

  • frankyjoe

    You may be insulted by the Craigslist post, but I’m insulted by your terrible math and assumption of our lack of intelligence to follow your bad logic.

    1) As a business owner, you pay taxes on what is left after expenses, not before. And even if you were taxed on all $50k, you wouldn’t be in the 25% federal tax bracket.
    2) Your rent, car, health insurance, are not all on the business. A percentage is, but a small percentage. As well, $200 a month for car insurance? That is more than I paid when I was a 17 year old. And if a client of mine ever asks why I cost so much, I never tell them my living expenses. It’s my job to work enough jobs to make a profit, not their responsibility.
    3) All of the equipment purchased each year are considered business expenses. Your cameras, lenses, computer, software, Just at a glance, I wonder if you filed a schedule A, if you’d owe more than $5k in taxes every year if anything, changing your starting total to $45-50k.
    4) Your lawyer fee is a one-time, and most equipment purchases one-time or once every few years. And I can edit photos on an $800 PC instead of a $2,500 MAC.

    Ultimately, the whole article is a massive pity party. If you can’t get enough gigs to make your business profitable, open a charity and stop complaining.

  • Pietro

    I truly loved your explanation!
    But at the same time that’s exactly why I don’t shoot weddings: I’m not investing all that money, time and effort for such a small profit at the end of the year and, above all, having to deal with people like that Craigslist Bridezilla!

  • davegeorge

    I think people are getting a little overly concerned about the nuance of the math and missing the point. She and most wedding photographers are making a very average living on what they charge. Yeah, she’s only working 25 hours on a wedding but she can only physically be at one wedding per week. And yes, she only does weddings four months a year but those are the four months other people are going on vacation, spending time with kids and generally having a life. She’s hanging out with you instead (believe me, she isn’t having fun). It’s a free market and there are no photographers guilds preventing you from hiring anyone you wish. If talented professional photographers weren’t short in supply and long in demand you wouldn’t pay their price. But they are so, if you’re complaining, your real “beef” is you don’t have the disposable income of other couples.

  • Julian James K

    Maybe you should get a real job and work more than 4 months a year. Why did you spend $2500 on a Mac? Learn some frugality.

  • this post a lie!

    Lol if you only earn $7000/per year, you should pay $0 tax. Besides, most of your expenses are personal expenses such as shoes and home phone. If it is a loss business, you already out of the business. Althought only 4 months are high season wedding, you didn’t include your other sales/Service not related to wedding. Sounds like you think other ppl are stupid.

  • Cate

    Why shouldn’t the client pay the rent? It’s a JOB; a job is to pay the bills. I find the rent figure a little low as well. I pay $1200 for rent. I also spend 12 hours or more at a wedding, and I pay $40/hr for a second shooter. They don’t get as much because they don’t have to spend the time editing the photos, that’s what I will be doing. One more thing, the $15 dollars spent for a DVD is not unreasonable. The packaging that the DVD comes in costs that much for me, and I like it. It’s a nice presentation to give to my clients.

  • Cate

    But you’re on here too James…so how much more of a life do you have?

  • Cate

    Well Nancy, you don’t have to “throw it down the drain”, as mentioned earlier, hiring a professional is a choice, not something you have to do. I don’t think wedding photographers, or photographers in general should have to justify what the charge. I don’t go to a restaurant and ask them to justify the prices on their menu, I just eat the food, and pay my bill.

    I hate the argument about “well I can only shoot weddings for this many months out of the year so I have to charge this much”. That’s crap. You have to charge that much because you’re running a business, and a business needs to make profits to succeed. That’s what businesses do.

    The fact is that a lot of time and effort go into photography, and also wedding photography seriously isn’t all that great money-wise. My hubby makes more than me per hour, and he buys his equipment, once, maybe twice, and he had to complete one update course in 20 years. I know lots of photographers who are moving to do more commercial and portrait work as it’s not nearly as stressful as shooting a wedding, and it pays better. So this whole idea of wedding photography makes you a bazillionaire, is “wack” in my opinion.

  • James

    Cate, using the Disquss system I am notified of responses to these thread via email. As such I don’t have to constantly watch them to know when there is a response. This allows me to do what I do, which is comment when I am bored or sitting on the toilet. Also, I am lucky in that I have a job which allows me to work at home and the ability to multitask very well.

    As such I can respond to posts like these without taking up a large amount of time.

  • Shawn Swander

    If the price was “wack”, everyone would do it cheaper and better. That doesn’t happen because its a job that take more work that it appears to.

  • Brian

    This is brilliant. You didn’t even include the cost of whatever schooling or classes you may have taken to give you the expertise to take such nice photos. Nor did you mention that you charge your prices in part to pay for all your time, equipment, etc., but also because, you know, there are brides and grooms out there WILLING TO MEET THAT PRICE. If there weren’t enough people willing to do that, your prices would presumably be lower. That is, it is customers (like that boob of a Craigslist poster) who drive prices, not photographers.

  • You’reIgnorant

    You sir, are everything that’s wrong with public opinion on photographers.

    You don’t become a “good” photographer overnight. People should and do invest years on perfecting their skills. These people you are referring to are not professional, and those with good taste can sniff them out.

  • photo

    Nikki, you said that you shoot about 20 weddings a year. You cannot expect us, non-wedding photographers/customers, to symphasize with you that you make around 50 thousand dollars a year for working on 20 weddings/year. Many Americans make 50-60k a year and they work M-F every week of the year. you cannot mix your personal costs (health insurance) as part of the cost that we pay for the photography. Since you mentioned that you work on 20 weddings a year, that makes me think that you have a lot of free time on your hand. It is your lifestyle choice. you should own it and not blame anyone for your expenses.

  • Hannah Carroll

    I had no idea all that stuff was so expensive!! Thanks so much for sharing and shedding light on how the real life of a photographer goes.

  • T.G Cid

    well said!!