Behind the Scenes With A Wedding Photographer: Why We Charge What We Do
Alrighty, are y’all ready for a deep dive today? So often, I see articles that pop-up online decrying the prices in the wedding industry, that they are criminal, a rip-off, or that we’re just running away with crazy profits, when that’s simply not the case. So for today’s blog post, I wanted to take you along behind the scenes of a wedding photographer’s business, and why it is that quality photography costs so much!
When it comes to working weddings, it’s both so much fun, and so much stress, after all, there is no do-over! Contrary to what you might think though, we are not getting paid the big bucks to be there on your big day, and we’re not trying to rip you off. $2000-$4000 for is average and customary for wedding photography in my area, as there is quite a bit of labor, gear, and business costs that goes into the overall experience.
When clients first inquire, I usually spend about 3-5 hours emailing back and forth and meeting in person before a contract is even signed. Then it is normally about 7-10 hours preparing for the wedding in sending emails back and forth confirming details, arranging timelines, prepping equipment for the event, visiting the venue to location scout, and more depending on how intricate the day will be. So let’s say that before the wedding day, I’ve probably already spent 11 hours or so working on that client’s project before I’ve even set foot on location for the event.
On the day of the wedding, I usually try to arrive about an hour early so that I ensure that I don’t get stuck in traffic, have time to location scout for the day of, and make sure that I have all the details I need together in an area to start photographing. This is in addition to the 8-12 hours that I will usually spend on site a given wedding day. By the end of the wedding day, I’ve usually invested about 21 hours into the wedding experience, and that’s without the most intensive labor part of the process, the editing.
For editing I usually cull through the full set of 4000-8000 photos two to three times to make sure I’ve gotten all of the usable images for the day, this usually takes about 5-8 hours to accomplish. Then, once I have the photos down to 1200 or less, I begin to edit the photos. I edit the photos by making small adjustments to over 70 different aspects of the photos in Lightroom alone, and that’s not even going into Photoshop. With photos usually taking an average of 3-4 minutes per photo, editing a wedding with an average of 800 images would take about 40-50 hours. Then there is usually at least 3-5 hours spent in Photoshop doing additional retouching for each wedding, doing face swaps for blinking eyes, fixing stray hairs, covering up unsightly distractions.
After the editing is completed, there is yet more time spent on uploading the images do a digital gallery, laying out the online gallery for easy viewing, and sending announcement emails to let the clients know the gallery is ready, this usually take 2-3 hours. So in total, the amount of labor hours that I put in per wedding averages out to about 75 hours, this is just the beginning. Keep in mind, that I do recommend that most weddings have a second shooter, and I also often work with a lighting assistant to ensure the best photos possible, so that’s an additional 20 labor hours, which brings the total for labor hours to 95. The labor costs however, are only the first half of the costs that go into documenting a wedding day.
As a professional wedding vendor, I am required to carry one million dollars in liability insurance to work with private venues, in addition to the insurance I carry on my gear for it if is stolen or broken. I also pay for several other services integral to running my business, subscriptions to Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop for editing photos, Squarespace and GoDaddy for hosting my website, Pic-Time for hosting client galleries, HoneyBook for managing client relations, accepting payments, and sharing contracts, Plann for scheduling out social media posts to attract clients. Monthly costs for business subscriptions and insurance comes out to around $197 per month or about $2300 a year.
Then there is the cost of the camera gear itself. The body of a professional camera can by itself easily cost $2000 (industry standard is to have two camera bodies, both in case of a failure, and so you can capture both close up and far away at a moments notice), then there are the lenses, which easily range from $500-$3000+, as well as flashes which run around $200-$400 per unit, and flash modifiers which cost anywhere from $50-$500 per item. Then, once you have all of the gear, you still need a good computer and hard drives for file storage and backups, which runs another $3000-4000. So at the end of it all a full work kit for a professional wedding photographer can easily cost $12,000-$15,000.
In addition to all the up-front costs, we photographers also have to set aside money for continued education as well as taxes, and paying our bills. So, considering everything that goes into running a business to service wedding days, about 95 labor hours per wedding, about $200 a month in business fees and insurance, around $15,000 in gear, $1000 - $2000 a year in continuing education, not to mention taxes, I think $2000 - $4000 for a wedding package is a pretty good deal!
I understand that it can feel like a massive price tag, and I completely understand how such a sum can be hard to swallow for what at first glance may seem like not much work, but I assure you that quite a bit of time, effort, gear, and love go into each wedding that I document. Quality photography is an investment, for both the photographer into their gear, education, and time, and the client into their chosen photographer to document their precious memories. When it comes to memories and keepsakes, you shouldn’t skimp.