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.

  • CCCrazyPanda

    To all fast food and retail employees: quit bitching about your wages. If you can’t live on what the market is willing to pay, go find another job!

    (and yes, retail and fast food wages are in fact determined by what the market is willing to pay)

  • CCCrazyPanda

    You are COMPLETELY missing the point. The bride was ranting because she believes $3,000 is an unfair price. This article lays out the monetary math that shows it is not actually an unfair price, it is actually a pretty reasonable price (unless of course you believe a meager living is unreasonable…)

    $3,000 of course is a large amount of money for just about anything, but to essentially imply that wedding photographers are price gougers is all kinds of wrong.

  • Arlene Adams

    All of this might be true, but this is the digital age, and taking high quality pictures isn’t as expensive as it used to be. The truth is, people over spend on wedding photography because they don’t know better. It’s all fine and good if this is what you love in life, but soon it’ll be priced out altogether. You can wax philosophic as much as you want, but anyone can point and click, and the rest of it…well, I mean, we all pay rent, and insurance, and have to buy new shoes each year. I read the original post and I thought it was kind of moronic, but the meat of it was that simple things like this have become too expensive for a lot of common people. You might find your job being taken over my ‘friends of the bride’ who can also hold a camera if prices stay like that in this economy, Just sayin.

  • Ramona Howard


  • NegativeSpace

    I was like Ariene at first thinking that it was a stupid request. But reading Nikki’s reply proved something.

    Yes. People don’t seem to be prepared to pay professional prices due to the assumption we just point and click, just like they do themselves.

    So who’s fault is that assumption? Well, it’s professional photographers.

    If us photographers are not showing the full reason why they are paying our prices, of course people are going to be sketchy.

    We are not the cheapest photography brand, and by a large margin. But we do everything in our power to prove the reasons why spending more money on our production is actually much better value for money than handing someone else a couple of hundred.

    Forget spouting your business costs, they mean nothing to your client. Start talking what you do different to uncle bob. The shooting on raw files, The multiple backups of images you will keep forever should they lose them. and so on.

    This is our industry, this is your industry… it’s time to take control of it. It is only us who can fix the perception, and unless we do that… things will just get worse and worse.

  • MCUK

    I have every confidence in my own and my peers work that actually, they can’t just replicate what photographers do, because we don’t just “point and click”. I know this because I see people try all the time thinking “auto” will cut it, and their photos look amateur and terrible. I often see wedding guests at weddings I’ve worked upload their photos onto FB and they look completely different to mine, it’s just obvious in the results.

    Do you understand what an iso, shutter speed or aperture is? How would you meter for a back lit window? What settings would you use to photograph a flower girl running through a field? What settings would you use to photograph her running through a room with wooden panel walls? How would you light a subject in midday sun? How do you compensate for daylight and tungsten lighting in a room?

    It’s a skill, and not a simple skill, taking high quality picture has sweet fa to do with how expensive your camera is, you’re paying someone for their knowledge and expertise, not for their equipment.

  • ollz

    paying $60 a month for a website is ridiculous, paying $2500 a year for phones and internet is also ridiculous, and if you consider how many hours the photographer is working a year and the money they’re making for it the prices are also ridiculous … sitting on your ass for 8 months does not warrant charging triple the price you would otherwise for 4 months worth of photography.

  • Wandering_Bard

    As a freelance videographer, I know your pain.

    People are often willing (although unhappy) to pay $3k for wedding photos, but throw a fit when one charges a comparable amount for a professional quality wedding video.

    Many people believe that because their 12 year old nephew has an iPhone and a pirated copy of FCPX, that they know how to compose a video.

    Many of the same fundamental skills are involved in both disciplines – composition, lighting, knowledge of color balance, timing – but there is actually quite a bit more work involved in shooting a quality video than people think.

    You need to constantly adjust your white balance, while ensuring that exposure, focus and aperture are all spot-on. If a photographer gets a bad photo, there are 100 more similar shots to choose from. If a videographer screws up a shot, it can literally ruin the entire video.

    Sadly undervalued for a very specialized and difficult creative skill.

  • Jessica Hanson


  • UK Photographer

    This is all crap, you go on about all of these costs yet you pay a second photographer just $200 for soemthing you’re getting $2500 for, does that person not have taxes, car, rent, bills, insurance, internet, equipment costs etc?! you don’t see why you should pay them so much so why should a bride not be able to voice her opinion on not wanting to pay a wedding photographer so much?!

    Also wedding season is 4 months a year for you right? there are 8 more months for you to have a second job and recover your costs so your stupid rant and explanation is just that… stupid.

    Get your head out of your ass and get on with what you make a lot of money to do!

    p.s if anyone wants to pay for my flights and accomodation from the UK to your wedding I’ll take photos for free :)

  • HallowGround

    But you don’t NEED all that stuff to take decent photographs, you just want it because it makes it easier to take good pictures. REAL photographers can use 35mm film cameras and get good pics, and that costs basically nothing in comparison to your 5Ds and Macs etc. I know, I do it. So shut your whining and admit that the way you practice your “photography” is expensive and fun, not necessary for the end result. You are making real photographers everywhere look like the laughing stock.

  • Atlanta Photographer

    You’re not just paying for the costs of a photographer. You pay for their expertise. Like when the ceremony goes over and you only have 30 mins left for family photos, wedding party photos, and the bride and groom. An amateur would panic and make the B&G panic and possibly ruin the day. A skilled professional knows how to work the crowd, make the best out of bad situations…like a rainy day or what not. The best compliment I get is when my brides say they are not worried about the rainy day because my photographer is awesome. You wouldn’t be able to say that about Uncle Bob. A good photographer also walks through the day from start to finish with the B&G so everything will go smoothly. Keeping the dressing room clean, make sure to have the dress hung with a nice hanger, keep the grooms ring available for pics, what kind of sparklers to buy, how to corset your dress. These are all things a $200 photographer would know little about. It’s not always about the $$$$$ it’s also about the experience.

  • DirtySouthTV

    Dear Nikki,

    I would like to let you know that your “cute little article” put you on every thief’s
    list in an 8 state radius. Each and every thief, crack-head, meth-head
    and heroin user would like to thank you for giving them such a wonderful
    list of your equipment, specs and even retail prices! Now they can
    check in advance with their dealers to see how much drugs they can get
    for each item listed in your “cute little letter (Craig’s List post).”

    Next time let your brain function, instead of letting your little feathers get ruffled.

    And now, I suggest you go out and buy TWO German Shepherds, have them attack trained–and enjoy your new pet related bills.

    I would be DELIGHTED to know what college you went to, I think
    it would be fair to the rest of the United States population to know
    where to not go, as they teach you to be an imbecile there.

    What the hell were you thinking? You honestly have no one around you that could have advised against such stupidity?

    Oh, and PLEASE feel free to send or post my email to you–wherever you like.

  • Steve

    As a small business owner myself, it seems like nearly all of the expenses you outline can be used as tax deductions, which would make your tax burden less, and would change your numbers significantly. I call shenanigans.

    OR, for example, you spend 4800 a year on a car lease which means you don’t own a car. For 4800 you can CERTAINLY purchase a reliable car that will get you everywhere you need to go and back and will, within a year, remove that cost from your budget. So, that’s off the list.

    Similarly, I don’t expect that you hibernate for 8 months when it’s not “wedding season.” So, to say you only have 7,000 left for living expenses when you could still be working for another 8 months of the year is a little bit disingenuous.

    Your lifestyle means that you need to charge a shit ton for you photos. I support paying people a fair price for a person doing a job (as a paid musician and editor, I’ve had plenty of experience with being undervalued and underpaid), but your cost analysis just made me realize how overpriced Wedding Photography really is…

  • Citizen

    Love it!

  • Victoria

    Then why don’t you try it out???

  • Victoria

    The new 70-200/2.8 IS (because NON-IS is a waste of money honestly) is actually more than $1300 now if you get the best version L series…which makes a HUGE difference in the quality of the photograph.

  • Victoria

    Who cares about inflation, the very first part explains enough. She makes about $50,000 a year on weddings PRE-EXPENSES and that is not a “ton of money” by any means. It’s middle class wages. Sheesh…it’s as if photographers shouldn’t be allowed to live comfortably.

  • Victoria

    Maybe it’ll hit home better for the naysayers if we put it like this: What would you say if your boss simply said, “I can do what you do, so how about I pay you pennies per hour for convenience?” These same people probably complain every day that they don’t get paid enough at their jobs, and they don’t even have to worry about running a business 24 hours a day and stress about where the next pay day is coming from. Psh, people are plain ignorant and selfish.

  • Victoria

    Which is all the more reason why you should invest properly FROM THE START! Also, some professionals (like myself) have insurance that will actually pay to recreate your wedding day if something were to happen to your images. Amazing right? But not cheap…

  • Victoria

    Macho, are you using the tax table for employees or for the self-employed? We pay a higher tax rate than you would pay as an employee of a company. Twice or more to be exact…and she does mention that she has to take on other photography jobs the rest of the year in order to “make ends meet” therefore she likely is in a higher tax bracket but also paying more taxes than she stated above that isn’t tied just to weddings.

  • Victoria


  • poking holes in you post

    Do you do any thing else the rest of the year to make $$ ? 4 months on, and 8 off?

  • Marcus Sudjojo

    Spot on…

    Most of the time, in discussions, I’d compare a photographer to a doctor. Sure, anybody can buy a white suit and a stethoscope. When a patient come, just act busy with the stethoscope, and write some craps on the prescription paper. It’s so easy, even a 4th grader can do it.

    But to actually treat and cure people medically, that takes skills, knowledge, studies, experiences, etc, and that’s what the patients are paying for, right?

    Kind of the same with photographers. Anybody can take a picture, but not everybody can take a GOOD picture….

  • Connie KittyBlog

    I think you are full with in your right to charge what ever you think the market will bear, but I too find your break down a little … what .. whiny? Shoes? really? you pay for an additional studio? why not do this in your house and save those expenses? Probably because you do something else with your photography besides weddings and hence the need for the studio. As someone who got married in December (in Maine) I can tell you that the wedding season is year round. If you can’t find work outside the summer months, that one is on you.

    and if we are to go with your figures, $7000 for 20 (or 40 if you want to account for a day of editing) days of work.. IDK, sounds like a pretty good deal to me.. especially since you are doing a job you love..

  • anonomous

    please tell me you replied to her craigslist post with this.

  • get it?

    Actually, your employer is paying your rent.

    you pay your rent with the wage earned at your job.

    your employer is paying you that wage.

  • Fartknocker

    Who the heck pays 30$ a month for hosting…

  • Kari

    No but a professional likely backs up the images to multiple hard drives, so it wouldn’t have happened at all.

  • ptg

    YES!!! say that, theses cheap folks don’t understand… like I JUST finished college and I have a bunch of debt.. some folks think it’s appropriate to volunteer me as providing them with a “wedding gift” by shooting for them just because they know my parents.. smh.. I appreciate your post. Blessings.. They expect us all to be starving artists out here.

  • Samantha DeLeon

    How’d she respond??

  • CCCrazyPanda

    Yes, that was my point.

  • Larry Bunkerman

    This argument is specious. Your point is that you have a lot of (voluntary) expenses and as a result you are entitled to charge $2,500 for 35 hours (on the high side) of work. This comes out to roughly $71 per hour. So you do 20 wedding at 35 hours per wedding, which amounts to 700 hours of work per year. Low estimates have the average american working around 1600 hours per year.

    You are working less than half as much as the average american, and making MORE money than most. Your bullshit laundry list of expenses (ie a 27″ iMac) are things that you probably chose to buy new, bigger/nicer than you need to. I doubt you could support the argument that you couldn’t do equally good work on a smaller screen or a 2 year old computer. The expenses that you have invented for yourself are not mandatory, they are CHOICES that you have made. You could easily cut your expenses in half buying used equipment and using a fucking sharpie to neatly write the name of the wedding on the DVD you make instead of buying a shitty printer to accomplish the same goal.

    Point is, don’t fucking whine to the internet about how you deserve to paid what you’re paid. You are exploiting people, and you’re happy to do it because it means you can spend less than half the time at work as an average american and make the same money. You seem to argue that you are entitled charge what you charge because you are not making amazing money. I would argue that you aren’t because you are LAZY not because you are DESERVING. And you’re setting similar rates to other wedding photographers because thats what people do.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love artists. I love photographers. I am a freelance worker myself. But I often work close to 320 days a year, usually more than 12 hours a day. I live in NYC where my rent is more than four times what you pay. If I got the hourly rate you get I’d be making $272,000 per year. However, I don’t — I work with artists who are often struggling to put the money together to pay me. I support and respect them and I do my best to give them the best value possible. This is what you do not do, the VALUE of what you deliver for the money you charge is what’s shitty.

    I’m sure you’re a great photographer. I’m sure you work hard at it when you work and I’m sure the results are something people are very happy and excited to have. But they pay what they pay because they have no option. Its the “market value” and it happens across the board with weddings. The second a vendor hears the word wedding, their eyes turn to cartoon dollar signs and its just been accepted by both sides. So continue to charge what you charge because you can and you will. But don’t get on the internet and try to whine about how you deserve it because you fucking don’t.

  • Phúc Lê

    Less diplomacy & more rage please!

  • Hannah

    Stop inflating your numbers. Even if you are unemployed, you still need a insurance, gas, car, and rent. Most people work 200 hrs a week, 50x weeks a year to make $40k and still have similar expenses. You do it in 4 months. Admit it is explotation.

  • Miranda

    I have to pay for a lot of those things too (house, insurance, gas, shoes, internet, etc) and I don’t count it as a work expense. Otherwise I would be on board with this response.

  • Photographer

    Right? I feel sorry for that fantastic photographer too. How he was underpaid and then the cheapo brags about it….

  • Photographer

    Yeh Right? How dare they wanna live comfortably! They should just be honored to photograph us…

  • Photographer

    Matthew you sound like you ether don’t shoot enough pictures to work with,or you don’t have the imagination for creation….

  • Not a sucker

    I guess Nikki needs to work more than 20 days a year huh?

  • Photographer

    I am sure there is someone in eastern Europe that could do your job as well for less pay!

  • Rob Elliott

    that is amazing 200 hours a week? that is impressive you seem to work 32 more hours a week then there are hours in a week.

    When your job is Photography you need to include those expenses. The Insurance ends up different then standard insurance as you often need business liability as well as insurance on the equipment.

    20-25 hours editing, 4 hours at the wedding, reception, plus the rehearsal. Not to mention driving time. The day of is a full work day. That hits 32 hours in a week. Not including marketing work that will be done to have more business rounding out a standard 40 hours work week. Each wedding is about 1 full weeks work.

    20 weddings a year is 20 full weeks of straight work..

    You will also have about 3 weeks in there of extra work.

    There will be other jobs but they won’t be full weeks much of the time.

    There is no exploitation. If 80% of your work comes for 1/3 of the year you have to make 80% of your income in that time frame. It is a seasonal profession.

  • Michele Burdette Elmore

    Why don’t you lose the $400/month car lease and get a car payment of $150/month. They do exist. And do you have one car? $200 a month seems awfully expensive.

  • SMowery

    I get what she is saying, but the thing that caught my attention was…..why in the hell is she paying 200 dollars a month for car insurance? I have two vehicles insured, and only pay 115. Not that this makes much of a difference in her figures, but maybe she should switch car insurance companies? lol

  • Ness

    I am crying with joy and a deep sense of pride and love for Nikki Wagner. Thank you. Thank you for saying everything I have ever tried to put into a coherent sentence. Thank you for so eloquently explaining all the other mundane pieces of our otherwise spectacular lifestyle and profession. Thank you for putting into ‘nice’ words what I may otherwise have answered with every swear word feasible. Thank you Nikki. Thank you. Ness Kerton @madNESS Photography

  • Jonathan

    Hi there,

    I find this a mental posting and that is exactly what the person who upset you will think and here’s why. In every business there is someone who won’t value your service at the same level as you. My mum thinks that the cost of a smart phone is insane – she just wants to make and receive calls. However Apple dont write to my mum explaining where every penny in the i-phone supply chain is send because they don’t care. She isn’t their target market.

    In my experience as a wedding photographer someone who thinks it’s not worth the expense of a 3k package has a very small budget and you know what thats fine. If you are only spending 10k in total then don’t spend one third on your photos. Get a friend with a half decent camera to take some shots and here’s the thing folks…to these people the shots will be great and they’ll love them and I say well done. The time I worry is when someone who pays for one of my top packages and says they are not worth it. Thats when I bother to have a conversation. I spend a lot of time and effort reaching my target market and I know who they are. So don’t waste your time with e-mails like this just say to the person, that’s great I’m sure you’ll still get some nice shots. It’s the biggest day of their life. Who knows maybe they have a child and feel a portrait session is worth spending a bit more on-you never know.

    So please folks we make a choice to do this, please stop trying to educate the world about our lot in life! I wouldn’t want to do anything else.

  • Flatography

    Great article – you didn’t even mention that you deserve to get paid for the countless hours it takes to edit the 3000+ images shot per wedding!

  • Michael Sheldon

    If you can not make a living that suits you—maybe you need another job and NOT a hobby. Join the real world

  • doesntmatter

    Nikki’s trying to pass off her 12-month expenses for the 4-month gig. She says the rest of the year she has to do other photography, but that’s life, wouldn’t everyone want to do 4-months of work and 8 months of play? If you’re a wedding photographer, your WPh project runs for 4 months, so you should count only the expenses for these 4 months. Another valid question is – $200/wedding for a second photographer at 10 hours = $20/hr. Nikki should show her estimates at this rate for comparison to calm a lot of people down. Also, all this equipment – you’re a fool if you buy that every year. It’s an investment, and you should discount it over 3 years, not 1. It would also have residual value for when you replace it with the newer one, so she won’t be paying top dollar every 3 years. Finally, you either treat this as a business, and run it as a business, or treat it as a hobby and run it as a hobby. Either way, stop whining. The market is telling you what it wants. If you can’t convince it that you’re adding value, you’re not cut out for this (don’t worry – not everyone is). But don’t put 12-month expenses for a 4-month gig, because now everyone can see how you’re trying to cheat. Either rewrite it with 4-month expenses, or disclose all your other revenue from the other 8-months.

  • whatever

    So this person counts her rent as a business expense? Who gets to do that? So many of these charges are over inflated, car insurance and payment, new shoes, high speed internet and phone (which of course she only uses for business), are all things we all have to pay for. I’m not saying that someone shouldn’t make a living in a home based business but this article is not going to change the fact that some of these charges are just the cost of living, not the cost of a business. Let’s get real here, weddings are expensive, but your case has an awful lot of holes. I don’t get paid for my gas or car or rent just for going to work, get over yourself.