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.

  • Joshua Reber

    She is running a business, I know plenty of programmers and engineers making just as much or more here in WA that run their own businesses.

    She happens to be on the higher end of the spectrum too, most photographers make less than 35K a year

  • Damien

    i noticed you didn’t mention your tax preparer though! All that s*** you spend for your “business” you can ride off on your taxes! C’mon!!!

  • rayo

    20 work days per year. After schedule C, SE and the SE deduction, federal taxes are more likely about $6k.

  • dave

    Sorry, not buying it. You work about 20 weddings at about 30 hours per wedding. First, your hourly rate is not too bad when you divide $2500/30 hours. Your equipment is mostly one time purchases. Your living expenses, well get over it, we all have insurance, gas, rent and so on. And yes, most of what you mentioned are tax deductible unlike most of us reading this. So rather than work part time and complain you have no money, get a second part time job. 600 hours a year for a job is less than a third of what full time people work. Sorry, not buying your sorry story here.

  • john

    this is the most bogus article. first off, things like high speed internet, cell phone, etc. are all expenses you are likely to have regardless of your job. 2nd, who pays $200 care insurance? 3rd, you are comparing an average wedding season of 4 months, (20 weddings) at 8-10 hrs for the wedding and 20-25 hours for editing (40-45 hrs for a work week, which is no different than any other working human being). so you’re telling me you’re making $50k for working 20/52 weeks in a year!?!?!? do the math, that’s $130k for the year. You are comparing 20 weeks of worth for a year’s worth of expenses. you’re math makes no sense. So compare apples to apples here. multiply your income times a normal working year, and that’s $130k gross/yr. that leaves you with $87k, not $7k, after all your bogus expenses, mostly of which are tax deductions

  • Pearlly Luo

    Where I live, professional photographers charge way more than $3K and as a recently-married woman, I gladly paid for the best. Photos immortalize the most important day of a couple’s life and I totally don’t mind over-paying! I don’t need the cost to be justified if I like the photographer’s style and working personality.

  • bob

    I think you’re paying too much for some of your gear…or exaggerating maybe…but true point.

  • Julie Fisher Knisley

    Wow, I wish the “photographer” I got to photograph my wedding was HALF that professional. She didn’t even know how to pose people or catch that my whole train had half fallen off the back of my dress. There was no editing either. I should have done my homework, most of what she does is babies, not weddings. I just went by her name alone. STUPID- since she didn’t know me, she didn’t give a crap about how I looked that day.

  • am

    ….why shouldn’t photography be a profession? You do realize that there are more types of photographers than wedding and portrait right? What about commercial and fashion photographers

  • Hill

    Yep, I don’t think there’s a professional wedding photographer on earth who would “want” to take her wedding photographs. Mainly because of her lack of respect for their profession. After years and years of shooting weddings, this kind of bride spells trouble from the start. She should probably just have her cousin’s cousin take pictures.

  • ItsMeBitches

    I’m sorry, but not all the responses are justified. You need insurance whether or not you do photography, it was your choice to turn your garage into a studio, buying shoes is again ON YOU, i’m sure you don’t have to buy the lenses over and over every shoot, you can’t put your car payment and its insurance on the bride because it’s a necessity regardless, the fact that you ONLY pay $200 for a second shooter says a lot considering you make $2500, and you’d probably have high speed internet, cell phone, and a home phone regardless if you were or weren’t a photographer. if you’re going to complain, find a new career! she spoke her mind which she has every right to. that’s an insane price that you try to profit off of!

  • Kyle

    So she works 20 weddings per year, and does about 20 + 8 hours of work per wedding. That equates to 14 weeks of what we call “full time employment” and she still brings home 50,000 grand. Clearly the poster doesn’t understand what the original poster meant by charging ridiculous fees for their work. A full year of 40 hr/week would net her $185,000!! Can she really defend that?

  • clark1904

    Ummm you make more … I am sure you claim a large amount of these espenses on your taxes. Quit crying about a nonsense comment on… You obviously have too much free time.

  • Mehtare

    Anyone can build a house, but wouldn’t you rather pay someone who has the tools, the professional know-how, the insurance and the experience?

  • lc

    No they aren’t. Photography equiptment is only tax deductable the year you buy it, every year thereafter it is not. Furthermore, “tax deductable” doesnt mean they get the money back, it just means if they paid $400 for a new lens, they dont have to pay the income tax on $400 they made that year.

  • LC

    No they aren’t. Photography equiptment is only tax deductable the year you buy it, every year thereafter it is not. Furthermore, “tax deductable” doesnt mean they get the money back, it just means if they paid $400 for a new lens, they dont have to pay the income tax on $400 they made that year. Which means they dont owe the goverment 15% in tax on that $400. the Gov doesnt actually give them a check for that $400 back in their pocket. You should probably understand how the system works before you state your opinions as facts. Clearly you do not.
    Also, keeping the focus on the bride- she can’t expect champagne on a beer budget.
    Its funny how a photographers pay shouldnt be used to pay her rent according to you, but Im sure the paycheck you get for working goes towards your rent. Rent in your glass house that is.

  • sureyeahwhateveryousay

    This holier-than-thou screed of the average bills a person pays to live their life has no bearing on the price of wedding photography. You forgot to include the money you make from your other projects in the other 75% left over of the year–or are you just on vacation? Weddings are a year-around business nowadays. I’m sure even in PA you get business in the “off months.” Every line of your response is not so much as informative as it is crying about your own bills. Newsflash: everyone has bills. If you really think that your business expenses somehow entitle you to charge outrageously for your product, you’re insane. But I’m glad you feel like a starving artist (who probably shops at whole foods) barely managing to rent a house (god if my job paid like yours maybe I could rent one too instead of a crummy apartment).

  • audre rae photography

    best response ever

  • Dugger

    The reason you pay for the professional services is this, If you botch your install, Or God forbid your power goes out and you corrupt your HD you are SOL, a Professional, pays for insurance, meaning you will be covered and will not be out money to repair or replace your equipment. Professional (insert job) are experts at their respective careers, They Constantly expand their skills and Knowledge about (insert Job). When i want something done that I don’t have the knowledge or equipment to do myself, you can be damn sure that I want someone who is the best at that thing. Especially if it’s a all or nothing once in the lifetime type thing.

  • DerekW007

    Um, why would I deduct stuff every year if I only buy it once? Also, Section 179 allows tax deductions UP TO 500K this year (2013) – so all her capital expenses (lenses, software, ink in printer – even her shoes) are deductible this year. If she leases a new car this year and that car is for her business, she can deduct the capital cost of the car regardless of the fact she is leasing it and spreading out payments., Additionally,since she uses a personal car, she can write off the business portion of vehicle usage – this year it’s 55 cents a mile. She has the home office deduction (which may include phone bills, Internet fees, insurance, rent and more) as well as her “seminars and workshops” as Professional Fees and Training Costs are fully deductible. I’m no Albert Einstein, but if what she says above is TRUE, she’s paying her accountant WAY TOO MUCH…

  • Robert Meeks

    Great job man… More photographers out there need to stick to their guns. I’m well past sick of seeing photogs charge $500 for a wedding. So so so stupid. They don’t realize they are killing our industry and livelihood. Great post!

  • robsky

    Only working four months out of the year? Ya, you’ll be in the whole working almost any job only four months out of the year. Figure out how to make money all year and people won’t complain about the hourly rates you need to charge to stay afloat. In this example, (ie. showing income figures for four months and expenses for the year) you are essentially saying you expect 8 months paid vacation. A more accurate analysis would have shown expenses only for the time frame you are working, and then I think we would see that 3000 a shoot actually is really high. The fact that you are not working most of the year is not the clients problem.

  • retsnom

    2 x 2TB external HDD shouldn’t cost $500-you should be able to get 4 x 2TB externals for that price. You’re either inflating that number or getting ripped off.

  • Andrew Richardson

    Or she bought them a while ago before the prices came down so low. She’s listing what things cost HER, not what they cost NOW.

  • retsnom

    2TB have been hovering around the same price for quite awhile unless she bought them during the Thailand flood aftermath(2011). Looking at my own order history, 2TB drives peaked at around ~$200, with its average in the last few years being $150. My guess is that she bought the external drives from her local store which are usually terribly priced.

  • Andrew Richardson

    Or she could be referring to a 2TB raid setup and oversimplifying, who knows?

  • anon

    Sounds like you don’t think you make enough money…get another job? Or, accept the fact that it’s more of a hobby and charging people thousands to take pictures to fund your hobby is indeed, absurd.

  • pete

    Those are still business expenses that must be available for the business – you don’t subsidise your business with your personal funds

  • pete

    Going by the massive upvotes on tempo’s post – you lose, loser

  • pete

    you totally missed the point half wit

  • Nick

    Hopefully her inbox is flooded with responses like these. Maybe a few that are even as immature as her ad.

  • Amanda

    I’m sorry, but please tell me that you don’t honestly think that being a photographer is the only job that creates 24/7 stress. If so, you are sadly mistaken. Before you go around throwing stones, take a minute to think about the life style and politics that goes into being a nurse, teacher, soldier, doctor, lawyer, politician, firefigher, policeman, etc.

  • Jim

    If wedding season is only 4 months… GO FIND A JOB FOR THE OTHER 8 MONTHS OF THE YEAR AND STOP WHINING!

  • Adam

    I’m going to have to start charging 10x more since I have to buy tools and supplies. I bet you only get 20 jobs a year with those prices,nice way stick it to people on a special day.You people remind me of stores that raise the price of water during a storm.

  • Jojo

    $0.565/mile she can deduct actually or a portion of her lease fees. If she makes 50k/year and is single that should put her in the 25% tax bracket (marginal rate, not effective). Federal taxes would be $12,500 – not sure on state taxes BUT if she takes accelerated depreciation on business assets and expenses all ordinary and necessary costs, she would not be paying on her gross (50k). She would pay on her net income. You can’t deduct rent and other personal crap except as it relates to the business or home office deduction. Her numbers seem inflated to prove her point. I do think many photographers charge too much (the market is saturated with people who think they are artists). My photographer spent like 3.5 hrs max at my wedding…8-10 hrs is unlikely. Not sure how many hours to takes to edit stuff but my CPA billing rate is $90-$150/hr…to me that’s all the more a photog should charge for their services.

  • johnnydash

    car is used for more than one shoot + personal use, so is the insurance
    shoes ditto
    lens and equipment for more then one shoot

    the reason why you are fking in the hole is because you only shoot 20 weddings a year.

    anyone who has started a business why know that every cents count, and when you understate some revenue, overstate some costs, you can make yourself sound like you are having a much worse time then you actually are

  • Pera Peric

    All of those expenses are calculated on yearly basis. So you are basically explaining to this woman why it’s OK for you to work only… what?.. 90 day a year?, and enjoy a full year worth of income?

    You are charging $2500 per wedding because you can. If competition were stiffer, you could charge $1250 and do 40 wedding instead. And you would still enjoy 185 days of leasure.

    So quit the BS.

  • Guest

    This is all so very silly and I have clients to take care of so I just wanted to say thanks for being so helpful Tony :-) No really, you’ve shown me that it is not worth getting emotionally invested in people that don’t value photography. It’s like politics…no amount of information or “meaningful debate” will change a person’s mind. I have a family and wonderful clients that value my work to focus my energy on! Have a super awesome day :)

  • David Haskins

    If you’re paying $15k on $50k gross income you need to get an accountant.

    Why would you list all those expenses after taxes??

    I agree with the premise though

  • Bokeh

    No wonderful response! I can’t pay your costs, i have to pay for the product! No one wanna say that it is not an hard work, but it seems like “Oh i spend 10000 in a year, do 10 marriage so… ok 1000 x marriage is enough!” If you have a small business you have to start with a loss, and working slowly earn money. Clients has not to pay all your stuff in a year. It is not enough? Mabe start with a littler investment… or change work if you are not able to reentry in your budget… or you always have others 8 months free for working! a WEDDING set has to cost a minimum part of consumption of cameras & materials, live costs for the hours of work and the day of shooting, a little part incremental to the quality of your material and the biggest part is YOUR ABILITY. Because if you are a genius of photography i would pay 5000$ for you photos also if are polaroid… and not to pay 100$ if you have canon best camera and shoot ugly photo… IMHO 3000$ are correct only for a good talented photographer, but i refuse your reasonament by logic! We don’t have to pay your loss, we wanna pay your photos: if photos are good they are PRICELESS. Really. :)

  • Stephan Haggerty

    I looked at this women’s web site and confirmed what I suspected..her work is mediocre at best. Poorly exposed, blown out details, poor focus control, terrible composition, muted muddy colors, confusing/distracting or just weird backgrounds (um yeah nice shot of the bride and groom in an alleyway o.0…) every pose looks plastic and unnatural, no candids shown. It all screams amateur hour on full auto settings all the way, then batch processing with canned filters.
    This is a perfect example of why people hate wedding photographers and feel ripped off paying $3,000..because they so often get garbage like this for their money. That was the same 20 years ago as it is today. The days when a mediocre photographer with a technical training and some expensive equipment could hack away a living are going real fast, not just wedding photography but work for hire in general. Only the best will make a living or better at it, like sports, acting, music, writing. If a client just wants mediocre photos they can buy a camera and hand it to an employee or family member. The learning curve to take decent photos is very low with the technology we have now. Just about anyone can pick up a $400 Sony NEX and take good photos, maybe not amazing or fantastic right off…but good even excellent, with little effort..and if it doesn’t come out right.take’s not rocket science. Not anymore anyways.
    There are some wedding photographers out there worth $3,000 a day, very few, but this is not one of them.

  • Stephan Haggerty

    She sure seems to think its others that should pay all her bills doesn’t it? What does she do the other 8 months? Lock her cameras up and go watch tv and eat Bon Bons? Some people think the world owes them something..and this one wants to get paid $50,000 for 4 months work. She sounds whiny, spoiled , and arrogant…I wouldn’t hire her for ANY kind of job. I’m not sure how she thinks writing this tripe this will actually help her business.

  • Ang

    It doesn’t make sense, as you said wedding season is 4 months a year, you’re calculating expenses for the whole year. Perhaps find another job the rest of the year as you highlighted most do?
    I’m not saying you’re not worth it, just if you’re doing the math and calculating your income based on 4 months of hard work, you shouldn’t be counting everything else on an annual basis.

  • Stephan Haggerty

    I remember the 1990’s too lol. Its not 1992 anymore. This guy is comical. Some how his camera and computer equipment is impervious to breaking or crashing because he charges more than his photos are worth to anyone even to those in the photos.
    He sounds like all these plumbers whining and crying about these new push on compression fittings that let anyone with half a brain cell and a $5 pipe cutting tool and $10-20 of fittings can make a permanent repair in minutes instead of a $300-500 reaming for a single simple leak. Technology changes the world. Adapt or go hungry
    And seriously…I need the number of all your contractors..but then they live in FANTASY LAND, so never mind. Because in the real world when very often when you hire someone who is a contractor, first off about half are druggies , drunks, conmen, and scumbags, second when someone &%$#s up your house, and they decided they don’t feel like fixing it, particularly if the problem doesn’t show up till after final payment, your only option is to sue them.
    So it’s a good comparison to compare contractors to wedding photographers because like them there’s a large number of bottom feeders in the business who are incompetent, do poor shoddy work, and then expect to get paid excessively and in full no matter how bad their work is.

  • Stephan Haggerty

    No, it’s like if you went to your boss and demanded $50,000 to work for 4 months of low grade mediocre work that leaves your boss angry and regretting they hired you because there is no way to fix what you did such a poor job on.

  • Stephan Haggerty

    Grow up and get a life.

  • sp

    You know you can make money taking photos of other things, right? Diversity your markets, numb nuts.

  • Wellread

    “most important day of a couples life” how sad is that mentality. That’s what’s wrong with it.

  • Stephan Haggerty

    Your a childish hypocrite.

  • MikeF68

    I am a musician and have played many weddings either in the band and as a soloist for the ceremony. As the soloist i might make $300 and in a band situation i might make $250. The two highest paid people at weddings (other than the consultant) are the photographer and the DJ. An entire band will be lucky if they are paid $3000. If I were to factor in my hundreds of hours of music lessons (close to $100,000) my musical equipment (over $20,000), the hours learning material for the gig (unpaid)and all of the other expenses I incur as you do, please tell me who is being overpaid? Why do the people who make the most amount of money complain so much? If you can get away charging a lot of money for a service, people will generally do so, even if the amount of money doesn’t justify the work done.
    Why is the bride responsible for taking care of your new shoes? Give me a break.