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.

  • Eric

    Nailed it

  • Stephan Haggerty

    “anti-anything-professional” lol
    If you actually look at her photos you will see her work is amateuristic by every measure. It’s worse than amateuristic, just 3rd rate garbage.

  • Paul

    It’s called running a business. Shoes are a business expense, unless the bride would like the photographer to rock up bare foot.

  • FartyPants

    Personally I plan on getting blackout drunk & pissing the bed!

  • Paul

    I am an ex-wedding photographer, I was averaging 50-60 weddings per year, I shot all year around as we have pretty awesome weather here. My average wedding was $6500, my best wedding ever came to $18K.

    I spent 70-90 hours per wedding including the meetings before, the pre-wedding shoot, wedding day coverage, photo editing, album design, running too and from the printers, album binders and delivering the albums & prints. On average, it cost me $3K to have the album printed and put together, then around $500-800 for the prints, more if they order framed prints.

    As a business owner you do have to factor in insurance costs, software costs, replacement equipment, second photographers.. and at the end of the day I would have been making more money per hour flipping burgers at McDonalds.

    Nobody owes me a living, but conversely, I don’t owe it to anyone to shoot weddings cheaply. If you want me to shoot your wedding, this is what it is going to cost, if you don’t see the value, you are more than welcome to get the weekend hero who does shoot and burn for $800 down the road. You only get one shot at a wedding, there are no re-takes, no second chances and I’m with you from the time you get ready until you leave the reception.. it would be best if we got along.

  • James

    you obviously missed the part where it includes 20-25 hours editing the photos.. and that doesn’t cover a whole range of other tasks that go into shooting a wedding.

  • James

    I cancelled a booking when a bride tried to tell me it was a “family reunion” I was photographing and it turned out to be a wedding. They are completely different events, there are no second chances at a wedding ceremony, it’s not like you can just interrupt and say “oh I missed that, can we do that again”. If you screw it up, you are stuffed. Oh and I refuse to work with people who lie to me.

  • Dave Hastings

    As a professional Disc Jockey and Master of Ceremonies, my industry suffers from the same attitude. Just like having a frying pan doesn’t make you a chef, talent is an intangible that hasn’t been calculated into your equation – and that is the single biggest factor of this whole mix. Developing your talent and ability to deliver the right “final result” is something that takes considerable training and constant updating. In my business, most people think we come in with a bunch of stuff and push buttons. They don’t see the thousands of dollars spent in music, equipment, professional training and the business overhead you’ve mentioned. The only thing that I can say is that not everyone is your client – and sometimes, that’s a good thing.

  • Nick

    You quite obviously don’t run a business and have zero clue as to how the real world works.

  • PO’ed

    Ha, idiot, it was an experiment and it worked. I didn’t book any of the venues i called, neither did I book any of the tents I called, no harm, no foul. It’s not about photography too dumbass, I said halls and tents.

  • Stephan Haggerty

    “A good photographer is an artist…”
    She and many wedding photographers simply are not good photographers. Her work is 3rd rate at best.
    The reality is that wedding photography has always been considered the bottom rung of professional photography. It’s a profession where you can be consistently bad and still make money because you can extort payment form clients that want their memories even if its crap, just to have anything rather than have nothing. There’s also the factor that a bad photo will look better to a person simple because they care about the people in it as even research has documented.
    All the studios I worked in it was a running joke about if you couldn’t cut it doing commercial or editorial work you could always go do class photos or weddings. People would talk about some formerly successful photog falling on bad times..we knew because they’d be doing weddings and trying to hide it from other photogs due to the fact people would avoid working with them because those who ended doing weddings usually were on a downward spiral.

  • Khürt L. Williams


  • Andrew Newlun


  • Stephan Haggerty

    Well there’s always Walmart if they don’t like it.

  • Andrew Newlun

    Petazed Wins The Internet! Spot on :)

  • Stephan Haggerty

    Because that’s what makes a “professional”: having more equipment. Hilarious. The work for hire business has always had a lot of mediocre hacks like this one. Especially wedding photography. Extorting money for people memories becuase even when they see how bad it is before the final bill, there nothing they can do.

  • Final_Word

    Don’t spend so much time writing useless articles and you would have more time to make money.

  • Final_Word

    If you are essentially doing it for free as you claim then you sound pretty stupid.

  • Mike Robins

    This is awesome!

  • Khürt L. Williams

    The photography business can be quite challenging. I once thought I could make it as a portrait photographer. I invested in lenses, back drops, and studio lighting and set up a web site. I considered those sunk costs. When it came to pricing I thought, “I’ll only be shooting for about 15 minutes, about 10 shots) and editing for about 45″. So I priced for about 1HR of work. On my first gig, I took about 15-20 shots. I spent about 5 minutes in Lightroom culling down to 10 images. Then I spent the next 4 HOURS! getting those remaining 10 images just right. Yep. 4HRS.

    Thanks goodness my photography is only part time.

    Multiply the 4HRS your photographer spent at your wedding by 4 (or 5), then multiply by your CPA billing rate. Don’t CPAs just punch in numbers in a spreadsheet or Quicken anyway?

  • Steven Jacob

    Advertising and responding to requests goes all year. The business end of the business doesn’t stop and start with the “season” much like the work doesn’t end when the wedding is over.

  • sdtransfertomich

    I understand the need for this article and $2,500 is probably a fair price.

    But something is missing here.

    Not all photographers do this for the love of photography. Some are out there actually making a living out of this and if they are, what is there price/cost breakdown? I read this and it makes me want to never get in the business professionally nor encourage anyone else.

  • He Calls Me Grace

    Such a professional explaination! Definitly important to remind people of this from time to time :)

  • Juedne

    That’s a different argument. I did look at her web site actually, but what you or I think her work it is irrelevant; the discussion is about the cost of running a pro business and get analysis is spot on – well conservative actuality.

  • Sky318Blue

    Sure anyone can be a photographer these days. The difference is you have to know how to use your equipment correctly (camera/lens/speedlight/off camera lighting/studio lighting/etc.), as well as know about how light works.

    Photography is essentially how one uses light or if there is a lack of light, how you are going to remedy the problem to get the type of shot you desire. You also need to know how to compose a shot and think of your surroundings. People who use a DSLR camera on AUTO, more often not, do not know about the rule of thirds, how to pose people and so forth.

    And to talk about weddings in general as a professional photographer, you need to know the flow of a wedding and anticipate what is going to happen next so you don’t miss a shot. You are capturing all these moments usually between 6-12 hours with majority of the time on your feet. Even before the big day, you meet with these clients and go over the timeline and such. Then after the wedding, you have to do the post production of the images. It isnt just buy the camera, shoot a wedding, edit and be done.

  • blkbird

    Photography is the craft of light and the tool used to capture it is a camera & lens. Anyone can press a button and take a photo, and if you take enough shoots percentages say you should get some good ones, whether it’s an iPhone or an expensive DSLR kit. (it’s called the spray & pray technique).

    Why do you pay a professional? for anything. It’s because they specialise in what they do. If you’re sick you go to a health professional. You need your tax done, go to an accountant. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it yourself, but your end result is what your experience is.

    85% of any shoot has little to do with the camera (once again anyone can press a button) As a professional photographer (commercial & advertising, not wedding), it’s my job to advise clients on the best time of day to proceed with their shoot. So the lighting, weather and other factors are conducive to making their product look it’s best.

    It’s about liaising with the clients prior to a shoot to work out what is required for the shoot & how the imagery is to be displayed, is it going to be a huge wall print or images in a photo album, So I shoot their product on the right format and process it accordingly.

    It’s the correct selection of equipment to suit the job and end result. As a tradesman I have a number of tools at my disposal to do the job right, the first time. There are many shoots that can’t be done a second time, e.g. a wedding. It’s also knowing how to use the tools correctly.

    Then there is the artist side, the composition & lighting.

    Once the shoot is done, I go back to the office and download the imagery to my computer (which is backed up every night). And then go through and process them. Which is colour and density correction all imagery all on a colour calibrated screen to ensure that it will all print correctly.

    Finally the imagery is provided to the clients in their required format.

    All of the above has taken years of experience & many mistakes. As a Professional Photographer my clients are paying for my time, experience and the images I produce.

    I make no apologises for the fact I’m in Business. My aim is to provide an excellent service and make money from doing so.

    Not everyone can see the benefits from hiring professional photographers. I see them all come & go, and eventually after spending money on the cheap options, like doing their own photography, the come back and get me to do it properly.

    My question to you is do you want a cheap job or a good job.

  • Ms D

    You absolute TROLL, you only work for FOUR MONTHS??? And you feel it should pay for your whole year????? And you think that subtracting your taxes, car, rent, clothes and so on before giving an income figure is rational- as if everyone else does not also pay for those things?? WHAT.

  • Ericjam25

    If you only work 4 months of he year during “Wedding Season” you should have yourself a part time job the other 8 months to have another source of income. So her post isn’t insulting, pretty much spot on.

  • Notbuyingit

    By my math, Nikki works weddings about 88 days a year (according to the hour estimates she provides). And makes ~$50k. So if this was a full-time, year-round job she would be making $150k. Doesn’t seem so tough now, does it. But who wouldn’t want 2/3rds of the year off?

  • Adam

    Nah, the point about why she expects to get away with working just 4 months of the year stands. Also, most of them’s lifestyle not business costs. No problem saying you need a car and the internet to lead a decent life but don’t tell me you wouldn’t still have them if you had a job working from home making toy models.

    No, only about $3-4k are genuine operating costs. If she has company accounts to fill out it I bet they show something like 85% net profit. Sure she has to live on the profit rather than wages but FOUR MONTHS WORK A YEAR!

  • Adam

    Also, $400/month to lease a car! What car is this?! Sh’s trying to tell us she’s not well paid?

  • mad one

    this just disgusts me. actually $3,000 is cheap for a really good photog at a wedding. People dont appreciate it or what all goes into it. I dont do weddings because theres just TOO much involved. WAY more than pressing a damn button all day at a wedding. is this girl crazy. SIGH! whatever…

  • whatever

    are you kidding me right now. actually no not everyone can be a photographer. everyone “thinks” they can be. but not…. it takes talent and having an eye. LOL I cant believe you just said that. go by a camera and lets see your work. Id love to see it…

  • whatever

    and you also have to know how to use light, properly compose, focus, know how to use light when its not great light but still make amazing quality photos. get real. trust me not everyone can be a photog. I know people that have very expensive equipment and cant take a good photo to save their life.

  • Joseph Szala

    Why waste the time? Some people just will never get it. Post a link to a Canon Powershot with the comment, “Good luck and congratulations.”

  • Dharma chandru


  • lets talk real facts

    OMG people. who CARES what she is saying her expenses are. That s NOT the point of the blog. the point is PROFESSIONAL photography. I am not talking about someone who goes and buys a camera thinking they can take amazing images. I am talking PROFESSIONAL photography cost money. Just like ANY other pro out there. There is so much that goes into it. It is not just clicking a button going home and taking them off our cameras then giving them to you. any Joe Shmo can not be a photographer. Theres lighting, proper focus, composing, correct times of the days to shoot or knowing where and how to shoot best when you do have to shoot in the not so great times of the days. its knowing how to make images look great when you are in the worst possible lighting. having a really good computer that is calibrated to edit on so your images look great in print. having the VERY expensive software to edit your images on. backing up your images on externals AND online so we dont lose your images if something happens. feral tax, state tax, sales tax. gas to get to your place of shoot, baby sitter for your kids because lets face it you would need that for every job. you cant go to work with your kids, all the hours and time it took us pros to learn all we know. I would seriously love for all of you saying anyone can do this to go buy a camera and show your work immediately before you learn and take hours to get it all down and lets see how it looks. That wont happen. The images will be blurry, out of focus. not correct lighting, grainy and just not printable. I guarantee you. so take a second and stop bashing and think about what you are saying. NO pro is going to do anything for pennies. or for free. they spent a long time learning their craft. and let me just tell you this. $3,000 for 8 to 10 hours at a wedding is CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP. thats the bottom line i’ve heard of for good photographers. so you should be happy thats what you were bid.

  • Sarah

    Awesome, amazing response. Perfect.

  • Firebird281

    Equipment, Software Etc.. that is all a tax write off.. and if anyone really did the math really $840 in gas a year that breaks down to 21 miles a month..Really thats all you travel with all that you say you do.. Why are you paying 200 a month in insurance i have 3 vehicles on mine and its $30 less and 2 are fully covered. also if your paying $400 a month for a “lease” your crazy just buy a car for that price and after 5 yrs you own it and you save $400 a month.. Its all in the way you handle your finances and this person has no clue on how to do that in any way.. and there is no photographer that just does weddings they always pick up other with just 20 wedding this person has everything paid for that they need therefore every other shoot they do is pocket money..

  • Bil Jac

    I have an apple iPhone with the nice upgraded camera in it. I also have a flashlight, I would charge 30$ to do the wedding and send the photos to you via bluetooth, making sure to take several blurry shots of the cake and random thinks the chair and empty plates… thats my final offer, 30$… no professional photos, no strings attached. I will discount to 15$ if you give me extra cake to take home.

  • pubilius

    Simple, have her hire your second photographer for $250 for her wedding. You charge the bride $2500, but only pay your second $250?

  • Jacques Cornell

    “I want the very best, and I don’t want to pay for it”

  • Tami

    That’s probably the most insulting thing I’ve read on here. Accounting shouldn’t be a profession because anyone can operate a calculator. Writing shouldn’t be a profession because anyone can use Word and spell check and type a little story. Being a Chef isn’t a profession because anyone can stir a pot of soup. A Barber shouldn’t be a profession because anyone can wield a pair of scissors. You can apply that statement to ANYTHING and devalue ANYONE.

    People shouldn’t HAVE to pay $3000+ dollars to have wedding photography, and they don’t have to. They CAN hire someone on Craigslist for $500 or ask Uncle Bob to do it. They should celebrate their wedding in whatever way they want without feeling pressure from society to spend a fortune.

    But they can also CHOOSE to hire someone with great experience with difficult lighting situations who knows what to do, a creative approach and eye, great people/posing skills to naturally make people look awesome, so much wedding experience to know what’s going to happen and be ready for it all in a second before it’s over forever.

    If you can’t tell the difference between Uncle Bob shooting your wedding on automatic, and a seasoned artistic professional illustrating your day beautifully, then just choose to use Uncle Bob…but do not devalue someone’s talent, skill, experience and career by saying that photography shouldn’t be a profession.

  • Jacques Cornell

    Accidentally hit “vote down” instead of “vote up”. Don’t take it personally.

  • Anonymoose

    So, Nikki – what do you the rest of the year (8 months without wedding)? Slack off?

  • pseudoknot

    $400 for a car lease? Leasing luxury cars is quite expensive. If the author was so broke, why doesn’t she have a used car that she doesn’t have a monthly payment on. I understand she is trying to make a point, but it is very poorly done.

  • ISO640

    You’ve obviously never run a creative small business, have you? I’m a web developer/designer by trade and sure you can have your niece/nephew/Indian do it for you for a fraction of the cost most will charge but more often than not, you get what you pay for.

    As a hobbiest photographer, I could put a shingle up and charge to take photographs, because, hey, anyone can do it but not everyone can do it well. And if someone is going to pay me to do something, I want to do it well, not just because I have cool gear and I can. I’ve seen some portfolio’s of so-called “professional” photographers, that I suspect have the same logic as you do… they’re work speaks for itself, as do the often negative comments that accompany it.

  • michigan

    Bravo! Thanks for writing!

  • Toua Lee

    many jobs required a professional. Repairing a computer isn’t one of them. You ever repaired or diagnose one before? i’ve done it XXXX times and never had a failure. anyone with a great deal of knowledge in computers will know, if not all, most, of the potential problems that can go wrong and will go prepared.

  • Joe

    I agree with the frustration that photographers have in feeling like they are asked to justify their pricing, and as an event planner I understand the price – BUT – I have to say, I think your logic is way off.

    It isn’t about your living expenses, or your costs. Specifically, let’s tackle your car: you actually really should only quote the government rate of .55/mile (I think that’s it) for that one individual client. Quoting the entire cost of the vehicle per client makes your pricing seem inflated. Same goes with your house. I’m guessing your house isn’t strictly used for your business, so you can’t really claim 100% of your rent as a business cost.

    Rethink your strategy when discussing your pricing with your clients. Clients don’t want to hear they’re paying for your rent, your lease, your pet’s food, etc.

    You are a luxury service. You provide a service that offers peace of mind and memories that will last for a lifetime and be passed down from one generation to the next. If there’s a photographer that charges $4,000 for their services, and they’re able to make a living off that, there’s a reason: they’re making a living off of their talents and they have the talent to create a living as a self-employed photographer.

    Someone who’s charging $200/$300 is most likely a hobbyist at best, and couldn’t possibly create a living charging that. It’s a side gig, it’s not top priority. No bride likes hearing they’re second to something else.

    I often hear from clients that they have a cousin/uncle/brother/great aunt/etc. that has a “fancy camera” – my response is always the same: “I have a really nice, expensive set of calphalon pans, but sometimes even my dog won’t eat the stuff I cook.”

    Just because you have the equipment, doesn’t mean you have the talent. Talent is what your client wants to hear they’re paying for, NOT your lifestyle.