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.

  • Jimbo

    So you work 20 days a year. And do a little editing in your home. You work very few hours to be complaining about how little you make. Your justification is wack.

  • sam

    This is a total fraud based on the first thing you say: that the wedding season is only 4 months long…if that’s so, then find something else to do for the other 8 months of the year…you can’t expect anyone to accept any of the rest of your cost arguments when you begin with the assumption that you should be able to net 50k a year in 4 months of work that doesn’t require a highly specialized or rare set of skills.

  • Concerned Citizen

    You know what’s a common misconception that hipster photographer’s all share?

    For some reason you think that because you have living costs (i.e. rent, insurance, car, gas, shoes bahahaha,) apparently that equates to value for your clients…..

    Well… let me take you to the real world and out of your apparent illusion.

    ALL PEOPLE HAVE THOSE COSTS. Does paying for your rent provide me with added value to the quality of my pictures? Does the style or comfort of your shoes give me that extra sense of “oh that’s such a nice shot!” ? The answer is no, in case this wasn’t blunt enough.

    In any business, whether you sell a product or provide a service, the price your client pays is directly related to the value you are providing. In your field of work, wedding photographers charge extremely high prices for photos because the market lends itself that way. It’s hyped up and not at all reflective of your level of effort. At the end of the day, you can’t refute the fact that you make $100/hr + for taking pictures and editing them, and then ordering an album. You should be very wary of the fact that posting the pictures on facebook and blogging is not beneficial to your client – you are simply building your brand.

    Enjoy complaining about your costs of living while the rest of us work 12 months of the year for the same salary you make in 4…….

    P.S. I do not deny the fact that there is skill involved in photography. I simply laugh at your attempt to validate it.

  • RADU

    I guess you are a shoe salesman or
    potato seller.

  • Charlene Geffrard

    she never said if it’s non is or is… and why don’t you try going online to see how much they are going for now!!! you must have got it used

  • Charlene Geffrard

    i’m doing a 14 hour wedding in jan.. for 1500 MAJOR RIPOFF! 500 print credit 250 for a second shooter 200 to rent things FOR HER WEDDING! 100 gas.. her wedding is 2 hours away… i drive a charger so gas might be more! i have to pay taxes… you do the math i will profit NOTHING after its said and done!!! and the reason she brings up rent… how do you think business owners pay rent, eat, take care of kids???? FROM THEIR BUSINESS DUH… and my car insurance is also 200.00 Full coverage! i feel sorry for ur 400$ photographer i would love to see those images!

  • Moose

    Okay, so.. your logic is wack. That’s like going out and buying a car you can’t afford to make payments on and sliding the payments to someone else.

  • Dave

    Which is what every professional does….they have their bills but they calculate their fees so someone else pays their rent, insurance, car, groceries etc. Who sets their prices only to pay for supplies for the job and time spent doing it? What, do YOU pay your car insurance from savings? THINK!

  • Dave

    “I paid $400 for my photographer and he was fantastic. Gave me the digital copy and everything.”

    Then he was a relative, a student (or beginner) or a hack. I would love to see the results. In our wedding we were married on a very remote island and did not have the luxury of a pro photographer. The person who organized it used our point and shoot to take some photos AND I LOVE THEM…….but they are not what I would call photographically excellent. I love them because they are a record of the event and I could not be behind the camera at that time.

  • Moose

    So, I should go in to my place of employment and demand I be paid more because I scuffed my shoes getting into the elevator and I -want- them to buy me another pair? Or should I tell them that I need to go out and purchase this years 3-Series and I still have the rest of the year to worry about financially so they need to bump my salary? Maybe I should make them pay my mortgage and for my groceries, too. I’m so glad you told me to think! What would I do without you, Dave?!

  • Mary Krulia


  • Dave

    Your place of employment IS paying for your groceries and mortgage Einstein. Unless you are using savings to pay those bills (Savings which was most likely accrued by earnings from your profession or Mcdon…er,… your paycheck from work), which would be stupid. Unless you have won the lottery or gotten an inheritance to pay your bills. And I don’t recall in the original article where she is asking for reimbursement for damages shoes. But your profession, or paycheck you get from a job is exactly what pays for these living expenses. It looks like you DO need someone to tell you how to think. You’re welcome.

  • Moose

    You sure showed me.

  • Dave

    It was easy, believe me, very easy.

  • Moose

    Sarcasm must not be one of your strong points. We both feel strongly about the opposite, and there’s obviously no way that either of us are going to budge on the matter. I’m still going to believe that most (not all, as there are some good ones) wedding photographers are thieving wannabes, and you’re going to continue to believe they are a gift from God who can do no wrong.

  • meg

    The POINT is this bride is an idiot for ranting in a craigslist ad… she clearly doesn’t respect the industry and thus deserves to have some cheap photographer take her pics for the amount she’s willing to spend. Why are you all getting wrapped up in the photographers details of her costs? Yes I’m sure the are approximate, and could be lower… point still remains that photography is expensive, and if you want quality you pay for it.

  • julia neal

    Wilburn, it’s possible that you are’t the twit your posts would suggest, but they’re doing a good job of giving that impression. Nikki wrote a heartfelt and accurate explanation of the costs behind professional wedding photography – what’s relevant about whether or not she adapts a lens? Ah, you have the same lens. Congratulations.

  • julia neal

    then I suggest you actually READ the article

  • julia neal

    I think it’s rather a good response. Sadly, not everybody is as well-informed as you are and a lot of photographers come up against a lot of ignorance a lot of the time. I think Nikki’s done a pretty good job of explaining the costs that many people don’t dream exist.

  • julia neal

    I once saw a quote from an architect, in discussion with a woman who’d told him ‘I’m not paying 15% build cost for an architect, my builder can design the house for free!’ He responded ‘Then that’s what you should do! And your punishment shall be, you’ll have a house designed by a builder.’
    It’s great that you’re happy with your amateur snapper’s pics. Really. But not everybody would be, which is why many choose to invest in professional services.

  • Marcus Sudjojo

    At which, after reading the response, the bride would reply/edit her post:

    Wanted, a wedding photographer who is:
    – Living with their parents, so he/she won’t have to pay bills his/her self
    – Not afraid of the IRS, so he/she don’t care about taxes
    – Don’t have a cellphone
    – Don’t have a computer
    – Drive a bicycle
    – Have friends who own great gears, so he/she can just borrow the gears (for free of course)
    – Have a spouse who owns printing shop, so I could get the prints for free, or at least just pay for the raw materials
    – etc

    Cheap people will be cheap, beyond any reasoning. They are easily spotted though. Reasonable people may (or may not) get shock at the price at first, but then politely ask why it’s so (relatively) high. Cheap people will get shock and keep on rambling on how expensive it is, how ‘rip-off’ it is, how their family got a cheap photographer, how their friend charge very little for photography jobs, and on, and on, and on….

    I usually reason with reasonable clients, but with cheap clients, I hold my price as final. For really annoying ones, I even throw in extra charges. It’s not that I’m being arrogant, but I’ve met enough people to recognize the pattern. Cheap annoying ones want to pay as little as they could (practically free), and demand off-the-scale results….

  • Marcus Sudjojo

    The author of the article may have gone over the line a bit. Perhaps emotion got the best of her. But I’d say her original point is strong and valid.

    Her point is, photographers (as like any other people with any other profession) need to live and pay expenses. So photographers would charge fees that would cover their expenses, and keep the plus on the money balance.

    It’s like, say you’re offered an office job in New York, with a salary of $1500 a year. Would you take that? Of course not, because $1500 a year wouldn’t even go near to your living expenses in the city.

    Then the guy (who offer you the job) asked, ‘then how much would you think is reasonable?’ In order to give an answer, you have to think of the food expense, apartment rent, transportation cost, not to mention you got to buy suits and ties to suit up for office work, pay the laundry of the suit, etc.Later on, what if you get sick? What if you suddenly need money for emergencies? Then you got to think about some amounts of health savings, insurances, etc. Add them up, and you got your answer to the question, right? It’s pretty much the same with the article. Except, like I said, probably the author went a bit over the line there.

  • Brad Armstrong

    Unfortunately, there will be plenty of people that won’t believe this and because with the advent of digital camera’s people think that “uncle Joe” can take the pics, he has a good camera (well, surprise, no he really doesn’t and he doesn’t know how to pose, what pictures to take when and how to “run” a wedding. I cant afford to do wedding photography anymore because anyone can make a website and there are over 300 people in the greater Nashville area with a web site claiming to be wedding photographers and 98% are beginners with a 500.00 camera charging 500.00 or less for a wedding.
    The average Bride doesn’t know any better and they get a 500 dollar wedding. Unfortunately, you can re do a senior or family shoot if you don’t like it but you can’t redo your wedding……

  • abigaille

    Honestly the breakdown of how you spend your income is too much. EVERYONE pays rent, car payments and clothes. That is not photography specific. You make 50K a year. That is a very good salary. Considering you only really work 4 months out of the year and you take the rest of the year off.

    I paid 900$ for my photographer. And I think the photos came out great! 3000$ is ridiculous!

  • cakemama

    the biggest difference with your logic here tempo is the you can’t “redo” a wedding. Your covered how? with everything else you mentioned like a toilet you can buy another one, but you can’t just go back and have a do over on a wedding.

  • corporateoverlords

    WOW. You guys only have to work 4 months a year! That’s awesome!

  • Cock_Lesnar

    She should just ask uncle joe to take pictures on his Iphone and use instagram filters

  • Jmack

    I believe you charge to much as well… HOWEVER it is your right to charge what you do. And wedding seasons are not that short. I live on a beach and they happen year round. You are complaining about all your bills so understand that the people getting married also have bills and are trying to start a life together. It is tough times we live in. So instead of you getting all upset understand her side. And by the way what wedding last 8 hours. I have NEVER been to one that has. We all have bills to pay. This is your profession you chose. I know I could live nicely off 50 grand a year. Have you thought that maybe she only makes 25 grand a year? So that may be why she thinks it is a crazy price. I think it is a real insane price and I make ok money.

  • Cock_Lesnar

    When people hire a photographer for 8hrs they are not just taking pics of the ceremony and the reception. They capture moments when the bride/groom day starts. Photography and videography should be her main priority aside from the wedding dress/ring. The cake,food, decorations,etc will be gone but photos will last forever. You dont go to a Gucci store and complain to them about a pair of shoes that cost $1000 but in reality only costs $6 to make. Photography is an art, just like how painters can charge thousands for their work, photographers can as well. If she wants a good photographer who does good work then she must be willing to pay.

  • jane

    Your initial statement about “50,000 per year” doesn’t make sense. You make 50,000 in the four months you work as a wedding photographer, as you explained. I don’t know of any job I can do that would pay that much for a quarter of a year. Also, expenses like a car, rent, and a a computer, come on. You need those for regular life, not just for your wedding photography business.

    I also don’t get the emphasis on editing and all the post-production stuff. What does this refer to? Are you touching up the peoples’ faces, or just fixing/adjusting the lighting, cropping, brightness/contrast etc? I’m probably ignorant, but I feel as if there shouldn’t be that much that needs editing. I use a film camera, so I don’t get to edit anything I take.

  • Stephanie

    great post very informative. always wonder the costs of everything you guys/gals spend on equipment. crazy. you guys/gals deserve the pay for all the hard work so that we have those memories in the end

  • Marcus Sudjojo

    Right on. I dubbed this ‘VCD vs DVD vs Blu-ray’ phenomena….

    First we got VCDs, we enjoy wathcing movies there. We think, ‘wow, these VCDs are awesome, great picture quality….’. Then the DVD came out. We thought, ‘But VCDs are already awesome. I’m not spending another hundreds of dollar for a new DVD player. Even if it’s better than VCD, how great can they be?’ We thought this because we have never seen better stuffs. Then came the great revelation, when we watch our first DVD movie, and how much better it was compared to VCD movies. Same thing with DVD vs Blu-ray.

  • dagdason

    Weclome to the disillusioned world of capitalism and a free market economy.

  • Jenny

    So, you only work 4 months out of the year? Must be nice.
    Many of the costs mentioned in the above response are one-time expenses, so about one season, or just a few weddings, would pay for all of that.
    I appreciate what you’re saying, money is tight for most people, but I agree with the Bride on this. Stamp “Wedding” across anything and the price goes up ridiculously. Not necessarily the quality, but the price sure does.

  • lacrossestar83

    Wanna know how I know you didn’t read the whole article?

  • lacrossestar83

    Tell me, what are your thoughts on public school teachers?

  • lacrossestar83

    If you had read the whole article, you’d notice that the author does other photography gigs like family portraits in the remaining months.

  • lacrossestar83

    Revenues and salary are not the same thing.

  • corporateoverlords

    I like public school teachers. I feel they provide a valuable service. Let’s stay on topic here, unless you think that 9 months (plus 1 month of teach education) is somehow equal to 4 months.

  • lacrossestar83

    Your comment smelled of the tired, beaten-to-death whining about teachers being overpaid and not working the full year. And you’re still conveniently ignoring the fact that while the author is a wedding photographer for 4 months, she does other photography jobs during the remaining months.

  • lacrossestar83

    Could you do it better, faster, and cheaper?

  • corporateoverlords

    I apologize for having a comment which challenged your reading comprehension. To put it simply: 20 weddings over four months at $3K per wedding is equal to $60K in gross income. The author of the article was complaining about the net income after initial business startup costs (camera, lens, extremely overpriced data storage, etc) and additional labor from only the $60K gross, and not from her annual gross income which is presumably much higher.

  • lacrossestar83

    Yeah, dude, I read the whole article, thanks. I just see comments like yours and they reek of “get a Real Job like a Real American™ and work all 12 months of the year.”

  • corporateoverlords

    No part of me wishes anyone to work 12 months a year. Unfortunately, it is a requirement for approximately 99% of the US workforce. If someone is choosing to take 8 months of the year off, then it’s difficult for me to offer sympathy to them when they complain about income, unless the income in that 4 month segment is lower than the average income for the same time period.

  • michael

    Yes your original set up cost is expensive… but so are a lot of other businesses. as you said you earn your $50,000 in four months, imagine what you could make if you did something productive with the other 8 months… the lady is right, it is overpriced for what you do, and just because you don’t earn enough money the rest of the year shouldn’t mean you can charge rip off prices to people trying to get a decent photo for their wedding day.

  • Skyeapotamous

    I would really like to thank the writer for this. I have just recently begun my journey into pursuing my photography as a career as it is my passion and I love to do it. This was extremely insightful as to what the road ahead of me holds and answered a lot of questions I have. Thank you for this, and also your photos are beautiful !

  • macho

    Actually tempo, just relying on those numbers listed above, NIkki states after the first round of expenses she is left with 7000/year. But if you deduct those expenses correctly, I am showing (rough calc) 22,400 pre tax, 19,509 post tax (federal level). I have no idea what her state tax rate is, but it definitely wont exceed 5%. If you add in the fact you can depreciate your equipment and software, not to mention use Sec. 179 or bonus depreciation, you can drive taxable income down to almost nothing. (not to mention a lot of those expenses can be personal in nature….so you are getting a major benefit if you arent properly allocating expenses between personal and true business use)

    What I’m really getting at is the cost of running that business is grossly misrepresented, especially if that is a full time job. If Nikki’s tax rate is still 30%, however, then she is omitting from the discussion her other sources of income to move her that high up the tax ladder – at which point readers here should view her photography “business” as a hobby, and no sympathy should be given to her outrage over brides not liking the $3000 rate.

  • CCCrazyPanda

    Since I feel like making this into a political thing…..

    In case anyone needs the math done, this small business owner and clearly not-at-all-rich person has to pay net effective taxes of 30%. 30% is oppressive for a middle class individual. Something is wrong with our government(s) at all levels if they need 30% of $50,000 so that they can still manage to fall well short of their budgets….

    We need less spending, not more taxes.

  • CCCrazyPanda

    Macho, when you factor in:

    1. Property taxes
    2. Sales tax
    3. State income tax
    4. State business taxes / licenses / fees
    5. Vehicle registration taxes
    6. All federal taxes, including self-employment tax
    7. All of the “nickle and dime” taxes from things like your cell phone and internet services…

    $15,000 is likely a low-ball estimate compared to what she is ACTUALLY paying in total taxes per year.

  • CCCrazyPanda

    “The only thing that’s not tax deductible is your rent and your client certainly should not be paying for that either”

    That’s some pretty derp logic my friend.

    How dare you ask whatever wage you’re earning at your job. Your employer shouldn’t be paying your rent -_-