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.

  • James

    My god man you are arguing with a one year old comment, have you nothing better to do in your life.

  • James


    I think you misunderstand the issue of wrecking the car, it has nothing to do with being tired, it has to do with losing the goods.

    If a programmer crashes his car on the way home the work that he left at work will still be there when he returns.

    However the images, equipment and memory cards of a wedding photographer are likely to either be lost, stolen or trashed by the time the photographer is able to get back to the vehicle.

    Programmers don’t take home their office computers nightly, they may take home a laptop, but then they still have the repository that they are pulling code from, if the laptop is stolen or destroyed they still have the most recent commit, so there is little work lost.

    Since you state you play the piano, can you please grab your baby grand, transport it to my house here in Washington, and play for oh, say 12 hours, record the playing (but remember, it must be perfect no do overs) and give me that recording after spending 24 or so hours ensuring the levels of your mic were perfect and there was no external sounds etc.

    Oh and I can pay you say, 200 bucks, that should cover all of your expenses right.

  • James

    You don’t understand English very well do you?

  • James

    No, you won’t, in fact you don’t have to even have a wedding photographer, hell you don’t even have to have a wedding.

    It is a not a requirement unlike food and water.

    However if you CHOOSE to have a wedding, and CHOOSE to have a professional photographer and then CHOOSE to pay for one who knows what they are doing then you are likely to pay the going rate of around 2500 to 3k dollars.

    But again, no one will ever FORCE you to do this.

  • Smile:)

    Well said!!! I agreed with you. She made it sound like she bought all those lens just for one wedding sessions. Buying all those lens, you will be using for many other customer. Now if it was just for my one time session than heck yea I wouldn’t be complaining. Most of the stuff that she listed was unnecessary such as her paying rent, health insurance, high speed internet, lawyer,etc. LOL, I’m not even a photographer and I have high speed internet and health insurance. These are basic daily living things that we choose to purchase.

  • Ashley

    We all don’t have any thing better to do that’s why we are on here making our point. I ship you Tony and Eco_wave.

  • Nancy

    I see your point of view but the sad thing about this is that now a days, everybody think that they are a professional photographer. I can assure you that there’s a lot of so call professional photographer out there who does not purchase all or even half of the things she listed. Matter of fact, who know, they probably don’t even claim it with their income tax. I’m just saying…

  • Matt

    Well said Tony!!! Let the immature and unprofessional ones wine and brag. They are the one making a fool out of themselves.

  • Nancy

    Wake up Laura!!!! You, yourself need to see the big picture. The way how economy is now a days, $3,000.00 is a lot especially throwing it down the drain for one selfish or so call professional photographer.

  • Alexis

    While I understand that a self-employed person doesn’t make as much money as it seems, and the photographer will be the single most expensive thing at our wedding except for rings, your complaints seem kind of frivolous. I don’t pay my wedding photographer to lease a fancy car. And I certainly don’t pay my photographer so she can lounge about 8 months of out the year. You also don’t need new software or hardware every single year.

  • Toua Lee

    Her dumb personal spending shouldn’t reflect what she charge her customers. imac for $2500? she needs to start building herself a custom PC that is superior in all forms with a pro grade IPS panel for a cheaper price.. $100 shoe? why not $20? her dumb decisions and then listing them makes her look dumber.

  • Toua Lee

    personally i think a serious amateur who is really into photography without the education can and will match a pro with an education. i’ve seen some serious amateur photographers who can take far better pictures than the so called pros..

    on top of that, you really do not need a degree to be a photographer. It’s like a hobby that can turn pro. It’s something that can be easily acquired esp with the internet. having a photographer degree is useless in my opinion. Now, a degree in engineer is something else. Try acquiring that knowledge by doing a google search.. Or a doctor.

    Photography is a hobby and anyone who is serious about it can take awesome pictures. No need to waste $$ and time on a degree. Use that $$ and time for a real degree..

  • Toua Lee

    i’ve seen wedding photos taken from amateur photographers who do it as a hobby/part time and the pictures are just as good as pros. when was the last time you saw a hobby doctor or engineer? If you are good at photoshop, know your equipments, got some spare time and simple good knowledge of photography, you’re good. i’m not even impressed with some of nikki’s photos considering her price.

    I would never pay a pro photographer to shoot photos for me when i can do it myself and looks good enough in my eyes.

  • Toua Lee

    but let’s be honest. learning photography is far easier than engineering/doctor. a degree in photography is useless when you can become just as good as a pro during your spare time

  • Toua Lee

    don’t get too cocky. just because someone charges only $400 doesn’t mean their photos are trash. i am not even impress by some pros like nikki’s photos.

    does it hurt when you see an amateur photographer who shoots better photos or just as good as you as a pro or whatever you want to call yourself..

  • Toua Lee

    so why should i pay a professional to repair/diagnose my computer when i can do it? Just so i can say, “it was professionally done”?

    I love it when Geek Squads tell me they can professionally installed and configured my router and computer for $$$..haha!

    If the house designed by the builder makes her happy, what’s the problem? Stop trying to sell people stuff they do not need or isn’t required.

    If the results make you happy without a pro working on it, that’s all it counts.

  • Toua Lee

    like spending $2500 on an imac when she can easily teach herself in a week and custom build herself a computer that is far superior for less.. her dumb personal spending shouldn’t reflect what she charge. “oh i charge you this much..bla bla because i spent this much on this to do your work.” Some made sense, but the imac and that $100 shoes makes no sense. the shoe shouldn’t even be part of the list. it was her choice to spend $100 on a pair of shoes..

  • Toua Lee

    i would suggest people look at amateur photographers before hiring pros. i’ve seen some stunning photos taken by amateurs that it makes the pros look worthless. best thing is, they charge faaaaaaaaaaaar less like only $500..

  • Toua Lee

    and how do you know that one picture tells a story and the other doesn’t? it can be a crappy picture and may not seem like much to you, but it tells a story from the eye of the photographer… in reality, you do not need to be an artist to take a photo that tells a story. your logic is flawed

  • Kin Anderson

    Not all brides spend $50,000 on a wedding. For those who do, $3000 for a photographer to make National Geographic/LIFE magazine quality pictures is probably worth it. We spend $3000 total on our daughter’s wedding. More than a third of that was for one professional photographer. We loved the pictures, happy with everything, no complaints. When I got married, we had a friend with a nice camera take pictures. Nothing fancy, not artistic photos. But loved the pictures, no complaints. We didn’t expect magazine-quality artistic “light-painting” photos back in the day.

  • Guest

    she’s “NOT MAKING MONEY” because she’s “NOT WORKING”. She could work at McDonald’s the other 8 months of the year and make enough to feed herself (since rent and all other expenses are covered through her wedding photography business). She could spend $1000 for plane tickets and live nicely in a developing or “third world” country for those 8 months on the remaining $6,000.

    It doesn’t matter. The point is, she didn’t make her case. If someone came to me with her math, I’d be cutting their rate in half and tell them to take it or leave it.

  • Chas

    I agree that photography is expensive, especially start-up costs. This is true for any business, self-employed individuals, or even hobbyists. …
    My question is, why should I have to subsidize your part-time career?
    You state that you work 20 weddings during the “wedding season”; approx. 4 months. Let’s say that’s 1 wedding a week. Your stats indicate that you work 28-35 hours per week. You charge an average of $2500.00 per wedding. So your are getting paid $71.00 – $89.00 per hour.
    Even with expenses (some of which you can claim), taxes, etc. That is one heck of an hourly wage!!
    You say that you have to take on many other projects to make ends meet. Well, I certainly hope that you would. I should not have to pay exorbitant costs to pay for your 8 months off.

  • James

    I won’t bother with responding to you since you don’t care to sign in and discuss it face to face.

    I will note however that I said to ensure she does not have to work at McDonalds. For you see, her working at McDonalds 2/3rds of the year makes her business less of a business, and more of a hobby, which is exactly how the government will see it and tax accordingly.

  • Lynda Denson

    If you look closely, this wedding photographer is griping about making $50,000 for 4 months of work… They do not mention what they do for the other 8 months… My guess is that they keep busy doing senior pictures, family photos, baby pictures, nature photography, photo contests… etc. which would also bring in some income that is not reported in the $50,000 amount… Either way, they seem to be expecting their wedding clients to pay them for 8 months of vacation “off” time each year because they choose to work in this profession? GET REAL! You know you are making more than what you put out there… otherwise, you would be working a different job. As for people taking their own wedding photos… I’ve seen some wonderful wedding photos where there were family members and friends throughout the church, reception, dance, dinner etc with cameras and everyone was tasked with taking photos of the event. In the end, everyone sent their best photos to one family member who was really good with photo editing software and they edited the photos and put them all together…. They were GORGEOUS! They had everything and more than a professional photographer would have given them…. at a tiny fraction of the cost. There are cellphones today that take pictures that look professional. With the photo editing software and the nice cameras that are available for a reasonable cost today, you don’t need a wedding photographer or professional photographer to get nice results. All the professional gizmos and gadgets are nice and they are fun for the professional photographer and make his job seem more glamorous or more “needed” but, seriously… they are not that necessary for good results…. Cutting out a professional photographer is a great place to start, when cutting the cost of wedding!

  • TFanny

    You’re not paying for a new MacBook every year. Enough with the whining. Everyone has bills. Ugh, privileged people.

  • Bri Brenneman

    I think she should of left her personal expenditures out of the argument. What she is implying is that she prices her photography off of her personal needs and not her experience, qualifications, time, etc. Since it seems she is basing a lot of her pricing off of her spending, taxes, rent and insurance costs, maybe she should consider finding another job to help her not be “in the hole” at the end of every year. She admits her work is seasonal. Typically individuals who have seasonal work find a job for the rest of the year. I’m interested in why her PROFESSIONAL experience earns her a $2,500 price tag, not what she personally needs to pay for.

  • :p

    I came across this old post because I was really frustrated when my photographer contracted with me for hi-res negatives, and gave me negatives that were worse than what I could take on my iPhone.

    I completely get that there is more to it then just hanging out at a wedding and shooting — there is lots of editing time, training, and you have to invest in the gear.

    If you are a small business, then you would have deducted all of those expenses from your taxable income, so you shouldn’t have paid $15,000 in tax, if you say you only had $22,000 in taxable income (the $7000 you say you had leftover + the tax). You should consider getting tax advice in order to properly account for your income. If you were not able to deduct the expenses you listed (or depreciate them), then they were not business expenses and should not have been included in your analysis.

    My photographer shot year round by doing destination weddings – maybe you should look into that! Also, it is pretty sweet that you can earn $50,000 in just four months — maybe if you can’t get work down south, you could look into other seasonal work to supplement your income!

    Good luck!

  • Jmorg21

    Because any other profession doesn’t have expenses? Seriously, you get to do what you love for a living. Shut up, you said your job lasts 4 months and you get paid 50,000 a year?! I’m making less than 20,000 working all year. Don’t complain because your life is a little hard for a third of the year and for those other 2/3 you just have to pick up some family portrait jobs to make ends meat. If it’s so hard, get a real job and work all year. Or don’t complain about your awesome job and a bride who is on a budget. Seriously, you have no right. And if you’re in the hole every year (probably because you don’t work for 8 months of it) then have fun paying $3,000 of the money you don’t have when you get married to get your pictures taken

  • Steven

    Also if you’re paying $200 a month for car insurance, maybe be a better driver and get less tickets and don’t complain about it. Do you think nobody else pays taxes? Because BULL CRAP you pay 15 grand when ALL THAT CRAP YOU BUY IS TAX DEDUCTIBLE. And also reusable, it’s not like you buy a new camera and lenses for every wedding, so stop exaggerating how much you spend. Your post is full of crap and I don’t respect it at all. WHat you should have posted is: “If you want quality wedding photos, pay for them.” That’s all that needed to be said.

  • Keyser Soze

    “Boo hoo i picked an expensive hobby, pay me thousands of dollars boo hoo”

  • Keyser Soze

    Man, thank GOD those guys who work at McDonalds dont have to pay for cars, gas , rent, bills, health insurance, shoes, internet, or taxes! If they did wed have to pay them $100 a hamburger!

  • Marcus Sudjojo

    And you have just got the answer, from experience, the difference between amateur photographers and professional photographers. They are all different, the gear, the skills, the troubleshooting capability, the preparation, and most importantly, the professionalism.

    I feel bad that you had to found out the hard way, though. This is not a sarcasm, I truly do feel bad for you, because I know how important wedding day is….

  • True

    Nice response thank you for speaking up for all of us photographers, well said!

  • Rosemarijn

    “That would technically leave me with about $7,000/year to feed myself, buy groceries, pay for my heat and electricity, clothe myself, etc.”

    I’m sure you don’t mean to be funny, but your income calculations are based on 40 days work (1 day photoshoot, one day editing).

    If I only worked 40 days a year I’d have a hard time feeding myself too.

  • Reality Check

    You sound like you are living well above your means.

  • Will McGregor

    lets see your $400 wedding photos then ? you total bellend !!

  • BenInNY

    Right, those workers who have the ability to work year-round rather than 4 months out of the year, and generally still live with their parents, therefor having far fewer of the larger bills, like rent, utilities, and insurance, since at that age you tend to be on your parent’s insurance.

  • Asia

    You’re making some ridiculous claims. For one, just because you operate your business from your home, you should not assume that a bride should feel responsible for paying for your house. Everyone has to live somewhere. The amount you spend on rent or your mortgage is not the amount you spend on ONLY your business environment. (Your business environment also has certain tax advantages). Does the tax break you get on your home office somehow mean you’re living it easy? No. But it does reinforce the concept that your work space and your home space are separate, and it’s stupid to think that somehow your brides or grooms should feel responsible for paying for it- no one else on earth gets to complain about how much their home costs to their clients.

    Similarly, almost everyone of legal age needs to have a vehicle to get to work. It’s just a part of our American work environment. Once again, you don’t get to charge your brides or grooms for that. It is not a part of the product your consumers are receiving, so stop whining.

    Your other points are, for the most part, legitimate business expenses. But you somehow seem to think that just because you run an expensive business, it is up to your consumers to absorb those costs as though the product you ship to them is worth it. A consumer does not benefit from your health insurance or your high speed internet or your camera costs. The consumer gets you during meetings, they benefit from the time you spend doing research, they benefit from the time you spend in post production. They benefit from the images and products you receive. Honest to god, only photographers gripe so much about the fact that their clients UNDERSTAND that the value of the products they receive DOES NOT MATCH with the costs of those products. It’s a sign of a sickness in your industry. But whining about the people who use your services is just stupid. I’m not saying you can get by by charging any less. I get it, you can’t (not unless you diversify your business with, I don’t know, other photographers to share some of those overhead expenses). What I AM saying is that it’s still true that 3k to 5k for some pasable wedding photos IS STILL HIGHWAY ROBBERY

  • Audrea

    How is everyone on the Bride’s side? Laugh out freaking loud. People who charge $X amount for their services – no matter how high – do so because people are willing to pay for it! If no one were taking up their offer, they would lower the cost. If you can’t afford the Mercedez, get a Toyota, people. You have a beer sized wallet with champagne taste buds.

  • Youreanidiot

    So if all your income comes from 4 months of the year wtf are you doing the other 8 months? I realize you said you “take on many family portraits, senior portraits and corporate jobs in order to make ends meet” but you can’t just expect people to feel bad for you for making $50,000 in 4 months of work. I’m insulted that you’re insulted.

  • MRwindycity

    What I don’t get why she needs to break down and subtract the cost of equipment and contracts which is drafted by the lawyer (generally once unless a specific contract is needed by the photographer and the client) and is a general contract with “fill in the blanks”, to the total. It’s you are buying each individual lens, monitor, computer, SLR yearly. You can also get away with cycling programs once every other year also.

    For any business, these costs are initial expenses to start up a business. I can understand her itemizing the cost for maintenance of equipment, replacements etc.

    Let’s face it. You aren’t going to start a business if it isn’t profitable. I can somewhat understand why wedding photographers charge so much, but this author makes it seem like she’s barely making ends meet with her business with these inaccurate expenses.

  • zhaabo

    So…just to be clear, you only work 4 months out of the year? Or do you earn a year’s salary in 4 months because of the rates you charge?

  • burdieuk

    Nikki Wagner puts yearly expenditure against a 4 month income; so she does NOTHING for the rest of the year!

  • Ariel Stinson

    Awesome response! I hope she has a different perspective on all of this.

  • John Smith
  • grey

    no problem against a potato.

  • grey

    too many potatoes in the comments. generally with the name starting with T

  • julia neal

    Toua. Don’t be silly.

  • julia neal

    er, I think you’ll find that if you read what I wrote, that’s what I’ve said.

  • julia neal

    Hilarious. Well what I read anyway, fun as it’s been, I can’t devote any more time to your ill-informed rhetoric. Believe it or not Tony, not everybody has a need to ‘sound threatening’, that’s why it it was put deliberately mildly. I’m not sure why you insist on tearing apart a subject on which you clearly have no knowledge, although you clearly have a lot of opinions, to which of course you are entitled. If you had any knowledge of this industry, you would know that the fee the original post mentions is actually not only reasonable, it’s quite modest. Bye bye.