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.

  • Di Zhang-Photography

    so true i wonder what that ignorant craiglist lady said in response to this article.

  • Noelle

    lol this is funny. Glad I am not the only one seeing what is wrong here… So, you only shoot 20 weddings a year? The rest of the time you sit on your ass writing articles like this? How about getting off your a§§ then and getting another job (I’d say a real job, but usually photographers HAVE a real job, as they do not only do 20 weddings a year).

  • Indy Photog

    Actually, the best way to sum up her response is that a photographer that does 20 to 25 weddings a year can expect to net 30 to 45% of revenues, and the rest goes to business expenses/capital depreciation. If she has a brick and mortar studio, it’s on the low end, if she works out of her house and does portraits on-location or in her basement, it’s the higher end. Those expenses are exactly correct, but what she is underestimating is the time for marketing. Blogging, Facebooking, Pinteresting, updating her site, studying other sites for ideas, going to bridal shows, talking to graphic designers about her logo or site design, printing sample albums, all of these take a good 20 to 30 hours per week in the off season, which is about 4 months, from mid December to mid April. Before you comment that her numbers are a bunch of rubbish, try just one year of wedding photography, then come back and comment. At the $3K level, it takes a lot more effort to get your photos to that high standard, and also a lot more effort to convince people to pay those high prices.

  • Indy Photog

    It seems the only folks these days who don’t have to explain why they make so much are professional athletes and entertainers. Doctors save lives but are valued far less than someone chasing a ball around a field.

  • Knows Photogs

    So… why can she only work 4 months a year when “peak” wedding months for venue’s cover 9 of the 12 months of the year? Also important, she can make good money doing other types of photo shoots! She even mentions this later in her letter.

    There is no need to limit herself and her livelihood by only doing wedding work in the four months she has designated wedding season or to weddings in general. Other photographers don’t. It seems like she is ignoring the bulk of photography work that other photographers thrive on. These same photographers (making a very healthy salary) then charge very high wedding prices just because they can. I know, I know a few and have talked with them. They literally just like the extra money and people will pay for the reasons the angry bride mentions.

    In truth she should be working on weddings non-stop with slow periods in July, August, and December since a little snow or rain in PA doesn’t stop weddings (I have family there). This should give her a very good amount of revenue (far more than her quoted $35K). All the everyday photo shoots, graduation pics, proms, and other revenue generators just add to that.

    This photographer just needs to learn how to market herself better and where to look for work. Maybe she is new to the profession or just got out of college.

  • Ndrs82

    But don’t you also get to deduct a lo of what you’re bitching about here bc you’re a business owner, in particular gas an utilities and such? And what kind of car are you driving that has a lease that high??? I’m understanding that you need reliable transportation but when you see commercials for Toyota an Hondas leasing at half that make one wonder…

  • Ndr82

    And equipment.

  • Sam J

    The funny thing is so many think people think the can do a better job than a proper photographer, they can’t. I think most people need to get a grip and pay for the service. When photographers start they need to be cheaper to get going but the real pros are worth every penny

  • dddd

    Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand having a small business and the costs that go along with it – HOWEVER, you made the choice to have a $400/MONTH LEASE?! You don’t HAVE to have a car that is that expensive to get you from point A to point B – so that’s very skewed. Plus, tons of people have car payments as well, but unlike a photographer, we cannot claim mileage and car payments on our taxes although it gets us from home to work. There are alot of things that are skewed here, but at the same time I fully understand where the photographer is coming from in prices. $2,500 – $3,000 is VERY average for a wedding photographer, but it is hard to think about it full scale that the amount is coming out of someone’s pocket that probably makes that in an entire month, if not two.

  • Jes

    You pay for what you get. If you want crap pictures taken on your wedding day, hire some nobody, have a family member take the pictures, or some high school kids that is taking a photography class. I promise you will get what you paid for, crap pictures. It’s your wedding day! I paid a lot for my photographer, but I budgeted on other things, flowers, cake, other decorations. I don’t regret for one minute having amazing pictures to look back at and remember the most incredible day of my life, the day I married my best friend. I am so tired of hearing people complain about nothing. If you don’t like the cost, then don’t pay it.

  • Arcadius Kul

    nice calculation – I need to rise my prices I think :)

  • Crystal Madsen

    I hate when people tell me my prices are too expensive. that is crap. i value my time and ork. I will never lower my prices only go up from here.

  • Dave

    I value my ork too. Never underestimate your ork.

  • Ingemar Smith

    That’s really not true about only pros owning the negatives.

  • Ingemar Smith

    You’d NEVER see good use of light in a wedding photographer’s portfolio???? This thread is done. People are saying ANYTHING.

  • Ingemar Smith

    You work 365 days a year?? Interesting.

  • Catherine Fiehn

    If this bride complaining about the 3000K is happily married in 25 years, I will offer her 3000k to buy back her wedding album. I bet I could get up to 5-6 figures before she would even consider it and even then probably tell me no.

  • Crystal Madsen

    Thanks for the correction Dave

  • Rita

    Everyone values different things. Just because you value a “disk of negatives” doesn’t mean someone else wouldn’t look back and cherish the treasure of having an album to go along with it.

  • digitalphototeacher

    Your prices are Wack, just like you said. If you only shoot 20 weddings a year, you can’t expect to make a living. If my business only had 20 clients, I would be out of business in a month. Please don’t work part time and then whine to the rest of us that break our backs 40 to 60 hours a week in real jobs. If you lowered your prices, you might find that you could do 100 weddings a year and make better money. You also might come close to working the same hours as the rest of us and you might draw more sympathy.

  • Dave

    Hmmmm….”digital photo teacher”. If you know so little about the business that your comment proves, then you perfectly illustrate the adage: “Those who can’t, teach”

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  • Meghan

    2,500 for internet? … you might want to look into some other companies… also, I am not sure that working four months of the year for your living entitles anyone to any complaint whatsoever. Fair enough if you can do it, but… I am having trouble feeling any sympathy for the photographer here. And I am self-employed in an artistic profession as well. Your client has rent, car payments, and all the other expenses of life to pay as well as you do, and very likely without the luxury of eight months of free time. What the Craigslist poster wrote is simply true – you charge so much for wedding photos because you can, because it is good money and you know it. not because you “need to”. Nonsense. It is not as if you went into wedding photos because it is your passion, you do it for the money and if you are taking classes in your time off, it surely is not to perfect your wedding work. Self-indulgent bullocks. The Craigslist post wouldn’t have hurt so much had it not hit home. Also, why is that second photographer you mentioned as an expense getting $200 for their precious time, when they have car payments, insurance, and all the rest to pay as well as you do? Because you’re the one paying, not some bride, that’s why.

  • Dave S.

    During the rest of the week / month you are out working on getting the clients doing research into and scouting possible new venues, keeping your technical skills with your camera and software sharp… etc. other than brain surgeons and bomb disposal experts there aren’t a lot of jobs that you get one and only one chance to get it right, you can never ask the bride to walk down the aisle a second time because your settings were wrong…

  • Aaa

    It seems you are confusing your ‘business expenses’ and ‘personal expenses’. Perhaps running a small business properly instead of combining everything into one pile of money you would be better off.

  • Shay

    Good article, but why bother addressing this to a bride? If you have to explain your prices, she’s not your bride. Stop trying to justify your living and making excuses! Costs are high for every business! Get out there and get stuff done! (From a fellow wedding photographer who doesn’t need to justify her $4,500 wedding packages because my brides just get it).

  • Daniel Brady

    Those are business expenses. Ask your accountant to take them into account so you pay tax on profit instead of revenue…saving you $5000+ per year…

  • Liam Stultz

    Yup, I feel bad for you, I wish I only had to work 20 days a year.

  • Christy Whitehead


  • Laina Brown

    Thanks Nikki, you’ve given me the courage to start valuing my product, and charging accordingly.

  • sba

    i see your point…but only one thing i find fault with. some of these expenses are a one time purchase. no way is it cool to keep adding said cost to your fees.

  • Kyria Abrahams

    I am in love with you. I think I am going to get this response printed on a t-shirt! The full extent of the hack seems to be directly proportional to the amount of negativity they put out.

  • Hillary Craig

    As a photographer, just starting my own business, this is seriously having me reconsider the HUGE “hook-up” I’m giving all of my clients. I’m new to the Hollister, CA area and really need to get my name out there as a photographer and I think I may be shooting myself in the foot with the prices I’ve set for my summer specials…ugh! Seriously, thank you for the break-down and your honesty!!

  • Lensflare

    Hmm, I didn’t see a 10-22 in her list. regardless, yea, she certainly made her point.

  • Jae

    It’s all about who your target client is… I wouldn’t expect a bride from Compton to pay the same as a bride from Beverly Hills. I’m in my first year of wedding photography and my clients have been mostly from the low-middle incomes, and I charge them very affordable rates. However as I gain years of experience and skill my target client will be the high income couples who can afford photography rates over $3,000. Relax people, let her make her money…. if you want to make $50k in 4 months, start photographing weddings.

  • Flora

    Thank you for this response. I am just an amateur photographer but I did recently marry a man whose eyes popped out at the thought of a $3k photography duo. We had a husband/wife team for 10 hours that day, and after some quick math he exclaimed: “we’re paying them $300 an hour?!?!”

    You went into such detail here about extra costs associated with your business, but really the simplest way to explain this is people just do not realize that once the party is over and everyone goes home, the job is *just beginning* for a wedding photographer. You all have to upload thousands of pictures, comb through them one-by-one, edit and re-edit (and re-edit again) each shot until it’s just right, assemble slideshows, galleries, DVDs, CDs and albums, print/mat/frame pictures….the tasks go on and on.

    People just assume that since they only see you for that 10 hours, somehow that’s all you’re being paid for. People need to think about the behind-the-scenes work that’s done to get those raw images off a camera and into a keepsake album. That work isn’t free, guys.

  • enoh

    what state? which provider? doesnt cost that much anywhere, even under 24 brand new car new license is around 500 per 6 months for geico allstate any major provider. unless’s been in some major total loss accidents you’re not paying 200 a month thats just madeup.

  • Julian Chan

    I find this discussion pointless. If someone is not willing to pay for a good photographer, then don’t pay for a good photographer. You are not shopping for a good photographer, you are shopping for a good deal, and obviously your priorities are not in the photography. Don’t complain about what someone is charging for what they do for a living, find someone in your price bracket. Even if that is your 6 year old niece with an iPhone. At the end of the day, you have no one to blame but yourself.

    OMG you pay an assistant $200? Why can’t I just pay you that? OMG, that entry level lawyer makes $40k a year! What does that break down to? 20 bucks an hour? Why can’t I just pay that divorce lawyer I just hired that? They basically are the same thing….a lawyer.

    I am a musician…I have worked in the field for over a decade. My girlfriend is a professional wedding photographer. I understand the dedication that goes into this business. It is somewhat similar to what a musician is. Sourcing out clients, finding gigs, interviews, dealing with people who think that musicians (or photographers) are just weekend warriors. And what most people don’t understand is, wedding photography is not a hobby it is a business. And unlike most people who work for someone else, wedding photographers are small business owners. They don’t just work their 9-5 and go home in their nice cars to a 3 bedroom house and kick back to watch a drama on tv at night. Party with their friends on the weekend. They wake up in the mornings, answer emails to clients, check analysis on if the SEO on their page is good enough, make sure any advertising they are paying for is correct, updating their webpages, going to client meetings, maybe there is a short 3-4 hour engagement shoot, get home, start editing photos…oh it’s 7pm already? Damn, I didn’t have enough time for lunch….field phone calls from the occasional manic bride every other day…Now its 2 am….time for bed….all to start again at 9 am. And a lot of the times 7 days a week. And not to forget the actual wedding day, which oddly enough, accounts for the least amount of time spent on the business. Although, after 8-12 hours of shooting, is almost the same as running a marathon (people tend to forget how heavy 2 dSLR’s and those big lenses weigh, plus cases, flashes and all the other goodies needed for a shoot). What I am getting at is…wedding photographers put in more time in their business than some employee at a company.

    And what are you really paying for when you hire a photographer? Well, to be honest, nothing that I mentioned above. You are paying for their art, and their experience. That is why they post their portfolios online. Like what you see? Pay for it. Don’t think they are worth what they are charging? Go to the next photographer…keep on going till you find what you like and can afford. Can’t afford what you like? Too bad. Or get another job. Maybe as a wedding photographer…so you can understand what its like. Don’t post a rant on craigslist.

    A good wedding photographer knows when to be where to be…how to pose you, how to light you, how to deal with the ever changing environments…..and to tell a story with their photos. They get it right the first time. That comes with experience. And that comes at a price. If you think your experience at whatever your job is worth a price, what makes it any different for any other profession?
    Except for accountants….their jobs is just punching numbers onto calculators….they are pointless otherwise. (if you don’t find the irony of that last sentence, then you have completely missed the point).

  • Kenton Bruno

    This is a pretty good article. I feel like she exaggerated some prices though. You don’t really NEED a 27″ iMac to edit photos and I feel like a lot of the other prices were the most expensive you could find. Which I can understand she tried to make it seem as expensive as possible since that is the point of the article.

    My favorite line was:
    “I archive all of your photographs on 2 x 2TB external hard drives = $500.”

    I just bought 2 x 2tb hard drives for a little over $200. You could buy a 4TB one for under that. $3000 for one day is still pretty expensive. And most of these photographers also do engagement pictures which go year around and there are still weddings throughout the year.

  • Nathan Veenstra

    She said she wanted an “amazing” photographer right? Then why does she not want to pay for it?

    If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

  • Pittyswains

    So what I got out of this is that you work for 50-65 dollars per hour for weddings (including editing time). As you’re not replacing your gear every year, you can’t really use a lot of those numbers unless you allocate them according to how often you replace them. And I’m sure you don’t just dump them in the trash, but sell them for a little extra cash. Kind of a misleading post, but oh well. Fact of the matter is, you make a lot of money in a short amount of time.

  • holdingrabbits

    This guy totally wouldn’t rent a place to live, get a car, or have a cell phone if he wasn’t doing wedding photography…so it’s sort of your fault that he has to have these things.

  • KNemo

    Are you saying that in Pennsylvania, NO ONE gets married the other 8 months of the year? If yes, then you take those 8 months off without pay?

  • andrew

    If you are also doing portrait work, then a lot of those expenses listed above should have portions allocated to the portrait increasing your wedding take home pay above 7K. I’m assuming you also edit portraits in your studio, so some portion of that $600 per month belongs to portrait work and not just weddings. Likely the same scenario for a majority of the expenses listed. That being said any other business that “overcharges” by perception has overhead costs built in to their pricing. The mechanic at the car shop isn’t getting all of the labor rate you are paying. You still have to pay to run the business, and for the owner to make some profit.

  • Bill Z

    While many of you have legitimate beefs with the author’s accounting methods, you are missing the larger point. The “Craig’s Listers” of the world are here to stay. They represent a viable alternative to some of our clients. They are not all rank amateurs. Some of them do produce pretty good work. Obviously, they HAVE to be cutting some corners somewhere. Perhaps they don’t have top shelf gear. Maybe they don’t carry backup gear. Maybe they are not as well trained or experienced as some of us are. Whatever it is that’s allowing them to charge prices that are fractions of what we charge, we’d better learn to deal with it and communicate this to our clients. Most of our clients don’t know an f-stop from a macro lens. And it’s not their job to know. It’s OUR JOBS to educate our clients that owning a hammer does not make me a carpenter. If it’s not important to you (the bride) that I have decades of experience, carry backups for my backups, and only hire top shelf people so that no matter what goes wrongs on your big day, you’ll never know it, then by all means, go ahead and take that chance on the $700 Craig’s List wedding photographer.

    I don’t know about you, but if I’m going in for even a routine surgery, I don’t want my hospital or doctor cutting corners when I’m the client.

  • Max

    Dear Nikki,

    most people go to work about 240 days in the year (Working 5 days a week with 4 weeks holidays). They have to drive every day to work, pay gas, they have to live in a place and pay rent, pay taxes and yes they have to buy food to eat and shoes. We all have to do that. Complaining that you are underpaid by generating 50.000$ by working 20 days is very strange to me. Either your blog is fake or it is extremely insulting for all people who go to work every day and then should pay someone 2-3 month of their salary for 3-4 days of work (you said above 8h photoshoot and 20-25h post production). Yes, most people who work 8h a day and 240 days a year find it “wack” to get ripped off on their special day just because we want our day to be special and perfect and that makes it easy for all those peeps in the wedding business to charge insane numbers from us.

    I just read a wedding photographers price list and he calls the 4000$ plus tax he charges for 8h an “investment”. That really shows that you have to give that transfer of money a fancy name because as payment for work hours it is just “wack”.

  • Matthew Wagg

    Here here. Well written Nikki.

  • Matthew Wagg

    Well said sir

  • Ryan

    Nikki — you’re looking at this COMPLETELY wrong. Your costs are irrelevant to the end consumer. Rather, what someone is willing to pay is simply going to rely on competition (or simply, supply and demand). We could easily run through all your expenses and critique them (for example a $400 per month car? Or bad marketing techniques?) but again it’s irrelevant. The margins on photography have been pushed down due to the surplus of photographers. If you maintain a strong reputation and market correctly you may be able to demand a higher price. But I would be willing to pay a higher price based on what you provide me — not on helping feed or clothe you. Welcome to the free market.

  • Robert Mark

    I’d tell Ms. Craigslist to just ask her guests to bring cameras and share the images with her. Then I’d follow up after the wedding and see how happy she was with her decision.