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.

  • Josh

    I’ve gotta give people more credit than that. ;) The comments here seem all directed to discuss this blog post (from which the CL ad was merely a jumping off point.) And the points in this blog post are just as relevant today as they were 2.5 years ago.

    In any case, thanks for the clarification.

  • Jane Prusakova

    of course, wedding photogs’ prices are wack. Wacky low, that is. What does a wedding cost now – 25K-50K? Maybe a hundred friends and family and neighbours will attend and see (and promptly forget) the festivities, complete with a bunch of silly little things that did not go as planned.

    The photographs will be shown to 3 times as many people over the following many years. The photographs will be picked out by the bride to show her off from her best side only. The photographs will replace most of the memories for people who were at the original wedding, including the bride, and create the memories for people who were not. All of the above is priced at 10% of the cost of the actual wedding. That’s a huge bargain.

    There is a lot of competition among wedding photographers. If anything, the prices are too low.

  • Kristian Neely

    I am really glad a professional broke that down. I don’t do all that much paid work, but it’s really hard to figure out how much to actually charge that’s still reasonable for both myself and the client when someone does ask me for photos. They are also investing in your skills, knowing that you take quality photographs and not just blurry snapshots, as well as editing. It takes a lot of time and practice to learn how to nicely edit things in Photoshop (or whichever program). Time I had to pay for in order to gain that experience.

  • kaytie

    I want to know where she finds an accountant for only 500$ a year..

  • CMH01

    Not anyone can charge 3-5k (or more) per session. If you don’t think the photography is worth the money, then don’t buy it, or you go out and start your own photography business to put those guys out of work.

    My wife quit her day job because she wanted to become a full time photographer. She’s got a knack for photography and business, and in the supply/demand world we live in she now is booked for years in advance. None of her clients flinch at her prices because they want quality and are willing to pay for it.

  • CMH01

    Being a second photographer can be a nice break for professionals or a good chance for someone with potential but no client base or portfolio to book weddings themselves.

    If you were a photographer you would know how nice it is (as a second shooter) to not see the bride/event planner/mother in law until the day of the wedding and then hand over your memory cards at the end of the day and head home with a check in your pocket to go to sleep.

  • aj1575

    I don’t like to be rude, but I have one question after reading the article. When I understand the article right, the every shooting gives about 40-45 hours of work. This is worth one week of work. If about 20 weddings are shoot per year (equals 20 weeks of work) , what does a wedding photographer do the remaining 30 weeks of the year?

  • citymother

    Tell you what. If its just the CAMERA that is making these photos you go out and make an exact replica out of your favorite shot by one of these so called “artists” or “professionals”. Yes new shoes every season. REALLY.

  • Trina D. Photography

    Thank you very much for posting this. I’m so sick of being asked if I just hand out the CD, will I go down on my price! Prices are set for a reason to offset the cost of running a business. Do you go to a restaurant and try to negotiate a price for your meal?

  • Stuart

    I like the sob story about paying rent and car payments. We all have those expenses! I don’t care! Am I supposed to feel sorry for you cause you have payments to make? Hell no! The bottom line is I can pay you 3,000 bucks for just wedding photos or Ican buy a bad ass camera for the same price (those cameras take good pictures by themselves) and have a friend that’s into photography take em and get close to the same level of quality and KEEP THE CAMERA! Sorry but you didn’t convenience me that your prices aren’t outrageous. Also sounds like you need a day job if your only making all said and done 7Gs.

  • SplashMTN

    This comes off as extremely whiny. Yes, you have bills – just like everyone else and some things cost a lot of money. You chose to be a photographer so you have to deal with the associated expenses.

    I’m not defending the person who posted the craigslist ad. I understand that there is a ton of work that goes into wedding photography and believe that photographers should be paid well for their work, but the tone of the article makes it hard for me to take it seriously.

  • Desiree Cotton

    I so agree with you 100%!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am also a photographer and in this day & time EVERYONE wants something for NOTHING!!!!!!!! I just wish they could understand all the work that goes into all of what we do!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you for posting this!!!!!!!!!

  • Ryan Cooper

    I’m not sure what the prices are like in PA but I live in Vancouver and base car insurance here that covers collisions and liability is $250/month and that is on my 10 year old vehicle, on a brand new one it is quite a bit more than that. I imagine we aren’t the only place with prices this high.

    I don’t shoot weddings but all my costs of doing business here would be much higher than what was listed above.

    $840/year in gas is an extremely low number given current gas prices. If I was driving around to and from wedding here I’d be spending over $300 PER MONTH on gas, easily.

    Also why shouldn’t clients be paying for her rent? Isn’t that how jobs work? We work so we can earn the money to pay our rent? How else would she pay her rent? Magic beans?

    Speaking of rent, wow $600/month for a house? Must be nice. If I wanted the same here I’d be like at $2500/month.

    If you paid your photographer $400, good for you, just know that they are working for slave wages. If I were to start shooting weddings full time and charge $2,500 per wedding and shot 20 weddings per year, I’d be bankrupt. Probably twice over. At $400 I wouldn’t even be able to cover my rent, let alone any other costs of living.

    Wedding Photographers aren’t over priced, they are cheap. If my vehicle breaks down and I need to take it to a mechanic who quotes 35+ man hours for the job I’d be looking at $6,000 + cost of parts. So by your logic a photographer asking $3,000 for a wedding is being ridiculous by asking to earn HALF as much as other equivalent trade professionals in other industries.

  • Ryan Cooper

    You are surprised by the fact that someone who makes their living on their feet manages to need a new pair of shoes once per year? Really?

  • Ryan Cooper

    Shouldn’t hurt at all, it makes sense that an amateur has better photos in their portfolio than a pro. The amateur spends the majority of their time practicing their craft. The pro spends the majority of their time practicing business and marketing.

    The pro, though, is reliable and consistent. The amateur only shows you their best work but doesn’t show you all the work they screwed up.

  • JJ

    are you retarded? paying $15,000 taxes on $50,000?! everything you listed are write-offs since they are all business related expenses. you would have had a car regardless even without the business. any mileage you accumulated are business expense (irs website can tell you exactly how much you get per mile).

  • Silverstream

    Your argument lost any impact when you deduct your entire rent and car and car insurance as a business expense. I’m surprised you didn’t include food and toilet paper since those things maintain you as a living person which is needed to push the trigger. You miss the real expenses which is the time spent learning and honing the craft. Equipment of course is a real hard cost but to accurately reflect an annualized cost, you would need to figure the change in value of the equipment over the year. You could use straight line depreciation but that doesn’t truly reflect the residual value that items like lenses have that can hold value for a decade or more.

  • LukefromUD

    I know that this probably won’t be noticed in the swarm of 1500+ comments, but I think that something that is missed here, even beyond all of the costs to the photographer and whatnot.

    If a photographer works 5 hours at the wedding and 30 hours in post-processing, neglecting hard-drive and DVD costs, etc. the photographer is still getting under $85 per hour.

    That is less than you pay to have your car fixed, build a fence, caulk a tub, get your motherboard replaced, and many other things, and many photographers go to school for their careers. $85 is an EXTREMELY FAIR hourly rate. Frankly, $150-$250 doesn’t seem unfair either.

  • Jon Hillenbrand

    Well stated, Nikki. I agree 100%

  • LiveFromATX

    what i don’t understand is why SHE pays the assistant. In my job I hire tons of photographers for professional shoots and the assistant is always just another line item for the CLIENT.

  • Deacon Tyler

    It’s both hilarious and a crying shame that people will drop $5,000 on liquor for their wedding without batting an eyelash and then spend a month price shopping for photography and complain about the prices. Which is going to last longer?

  • JJ

    seeing Nikki’s photo on her website, she could eat a little less….

    the fact is there are a lot of expenses she would be paying regardless being self employed (i.e car insurance, health insurance, car payment, gas, internet). The $500 she spent on the accountant is obviously wasted if he is not educating her on all the legitimate write-offs to run her business. she is trying to get it all back in the 20 weddings a year when all the capex items (i.e laptop, cameras, lens) should be spread out over the years. restaurant owners don’t charge $1000 a plate to try to recover pots, pans, rent, tables, silverware, etc in one setting.

  • Heart_the_Hunter

    So she watches TV for 8 months?

  • Silverstream

    I agree. There are a lot of good reasons for a wedding photographer to charge $3000 but most of what she lists are utter nonsense. Nikki needs some serious business/tax lessons. There was a wedding photographer complaining about her business profitability the other day in a facebook group with 4 kids, working husband and a house that looked like it was easily a 1/2 million plus residence. I’m guessing that I would have been extremely happy with a third of her income.

  • Joshua Harrington

    this would be a great justification if it wasnt COMPLETELY skewed and one sided. i would love to see this person use this kind of math when they do their taxes. can we say AUDIT!!!!

  • Conrad Jaye

    You can save yourself some money by editing on a pc. All the same stuff at half the cost.

  • Noone of Consequence

    The justification is fine and the price might seem fair to you but it’s still ridiculous to pay $3000 for pictures when you can get some kid from high school photography class to do it for $50 with cheaper equipment and more free time on his hands and you end up with about the same result.

  • Devin Hull

    About the same result? Let’s see: a kid with hardly any experience or someone with tons of experience and training. Yeah that seems about the same.

  • Devin Hull

    I think I just got cancer.

  • Devin Hull

    No you couldn’t. I bet you that $300 they wouldn’t look anywhere near as professional.

  • T.W

    Yu should really look into finding someone who knows how to do books because all of those expenses you named that have to do with business are all deductible against your income as a small business owner. this means you ould be able to get most if not al of your taxes back and end up much better off financially. I understand the purpose of your post and agree with the prices you charge but you could be making more money if you structured your books better.

  • Trevor Ballard

    Yes, yes i could. Easily. Maybe even a middle schooler if i have some extra free time to show him how to adjust settings on a nikon

  • wri7913

    This is part of the Cost of Doing Business (CODB). All these things listed by the OP are part of why Weddings cost what they cost. This is also why portraits don’t cost $80 like a Sears when you go to a professional photographer. They do have to pay the rent, pay for equipment upgrades and all the other little things that keep them in business.

  • wri7913

    Having a 5 – 8 megapixel camera on your iphone doesn’t make you a professional photographer. Having a decent camera still doesn’t make you a professional photographer.

    Having the skills to consistently make great photographs in ANY condition or ANY situation is what makes you a professional photographer.

    Also most professional photographers belong to professional organizations where they hone their craft, study up on industry changes, etc

  • wri7913

    Most photographers charge a day rate or half day rate. Setting her hours at 8 hours is indication that she is booked for the day with this particular wedding. Whether she actually spent 8 hours shooting or only 5 hours doesn’t matter as the fact that booking the wedding means she most likely cannot shoot any other bookings that day.

  • Megan Cohen

    She also mentions expenses that are YEARLY even though her “wedding season” only last 4 months. Really she she have talked about the money she makes all year if she was going to equate it to yearly expenses. Or, if she isn’t working all year, be glad that she can make $35,000 in just a quarter of the year when most people don’t have that luxury.

  • Ricardo Colonia

    I think your response is not so wonderful. You should have focused on the value you are giving when making unforgetable and of the highest quality the memories of an unique event. Instead you focused on YOUR costs. Anyway, all the best for you and keep on loving one of the most wonderful professions out there!

  • Michele

    New shoes are an absolute necessity. I’m a second shooter and I’m on my feet for 12-16 hours for each wedding. Cheap shoes make for very unhappy hours on your feet

  • jartog

    well I don’t agree with $3000 but on the other hand im a photographer I charge $1800 for a 10 hour pkg. I know some of you may think this is a lot but you have to think there is other factors like editing afterward. I spend an additional 15 to 20 hours after the wedding editing over 1000 pictures. Then there is other time like ordering and setting up albums. Also another factor is a photographer may not know when there next wedding is so its not steady income.

  • Joe Pecci

    You paid for a years worth of living expenses in 4 months worth of work. You still have 8 months to work and bring in income sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me.

  • myidoru

    ‘Only feel like working four moths a year and make so goddamn much I can do it too, boo hoo, let me subtract gas and car and rent although no-one else does then pretend that’s my gross income ‘ is what I read

  • AToyRobot

    I see a bunch of people saying they could just take photos themselves of get a high school kid to do it – if that’s your prerogative please do that and see just how sh!tty those photos look once they’re done.

  • wilmark johnatty

    The first list of items make a poor argument. I am a photographer who believes that customers think you should work for “free” but i wont factor in 100% my rent OR cost of a car other ridiculous items. There is other better argument that’s DIRECTLY and 100% related to doing a job, part of which is the seasonal, the time spent and overheads and then there’s the artistic component. If you think you can get a friend with a DSLR to do your job – that’s OK too – it just means that you don’t appreciate quality/creative part of the service and shouldn’t be looking to hire a professional photographer. Those are risks we all take when trying to cut costs.

  • Jay Arellano

    And you do what? Sit on your ass the other 8 months of the year?

  • Devin Hull

    Knowing how to work a camera is the easy part. Anybody can learn how to shoot manually on a dslr. The part that is unlikely is a kid that young having composition and style as good as a professional. That is the part that takes years to develop to a point that people are willing to pay for. I know how to use a camera like any other pro, but doing a wedding is a lot of stress. One chance at every shot during the ceremony. Your middle school student, messes that up because he is still new and it will result in one unhappy bride.

  • Devin Hull

    If you just want snapshots that have nothing special about them, sure anybody could do it. Why pay someone when you could just grab copies from your Aunt Marge?

  • Stephenie

    Okay, you pay for what you get. If you want the photographs like the professionals that charge 3000 then pay for it. Some of you make the argument that you shouldn’t have to pay our rent? When you get a paycheck what do you think they are paying you for? They are making sure to be able to pay your rent, insurance, ect.

    I for one think this women is entitled to her opinion, but as a photographer so am I. If you dont want to pay that much FINE, but dont whine about it. No one truly needs to hear you complain about how you dont want to pay for something you want.

    So while you go into a job and sit around in an office for 8 hours a day or whatever you do, we are also running around hauling heavy equipment and searching for the perfect shots so you wont be unhappy with our work. We are trying to make you happy so when you look at your images it wont look like a 10 year old ran around and shot them. You say we aren’t there for 8 hours you’re wrong, we go to the rehearsal so we can see how everything will work, we meet with you before hand to understand what YOU WANT and then we show up for the big day early to capture all the images you want and then we stay during the “party” to capture everything for you. If you think that we do nothing but take pictures and edit them YOU’RE WRONG! It takes a good 30-40 hours a wedding if not more when you add in the total of the meetings, rehearsal, wedding, editing, and the delivery after everything. Just to ensure you are happy with our work. This might sound a little nuts and that Im jumping back and forth but I am so unhappy with the way this is said and how people are complaining and stating that she is right. Please think before you blab about things you have NO IDEA about.

  • Jon

    You could apply her argument toward anything you want but can’t afford. Just for fun, let me try using her argument as a photographer:

    WHY is finding amazing camera equipment so difficult? :/

    “I am a photographer who is trying to make a living taking photos and I have yet to find a decently priced, exceptional, amazing camera.
    WHY because if the word “CANNON/NIKON” is involved companies think they can change you $ 3,000.00 for a camera? Oh, because no photographer is going to go without so they are going to pay it, because they HAVE to. They are ripping people off for all they have! Why when you want to start a business it costs you AT LEAST 15 grand after all is said-and-done? Its such CRAP!! I love you CANNON/NIKON but i think your prices are WACK. All your camera does is take pictures…. and that’s worth 3 GRAND!!! You’re making so much money its crazy. I just wish you would be more realistic. I mean the “average” photographers salary for 1 freaking month is somewhere around 3-4 grand. So you’re going to take someones WHOLE MONTH paycheck for one camera and lens? Just because you CAN!!?????? So that maybe they will not be able to feed themselves or pay any other bills they have, right? It makes me SICK!
    I know I’m speaking for more than just myself right now. A lot of photographers out there think the same thing. & I bet all you fancy Canon and Nikon executives wont even read this. oh-well.
    Maybe there are cheaper camera companies that will read this and LOVE to have me as a customer :) ”

    Here is my point: When I started as a photographer I couldn’t afford the camera I wanted…I just couldn’t. So I had to make due with what I did have. I had to accept that I wasn’t going (and still don’t have) the biggest and the best. I had to save for a long time before I was able to afford what I do have. I didn’t blame the camera companies (though that would have been easy to do).

    This article (in response to the CL ad) did a great job laying out the costs of a photography business. There are unseen costs in ANY business…a small photography business included.

  • cappy

    is the same way with wedding season, only with a kitchen worth over
    $50,000 and an inelastic monthly overhead of over $5,000(before the
    owners take home a dime). I totally understand that more goes into the
    finished product than people will ever see at the event, but the biggest
    thought that pours through my head while reading this is, “OH
    YEEEEEAAAAARRRRRR!!!” I’m sorry she has to lower herself to doing senior
    photos, but the first half of this sentence is copiously sarcastic.

  • Kellyruss

    So all other stuff aside she just showed us she makes $72-$90 an hour for her work. Every business owner has expenses so although she is listing this massive pity party for herself it really means nothing. When all is said and done that is her hourly rate. I really don’t think she is hurting at all with that hourly rate and the person making the comment still has a valid point.