The Cost and Value of Wedding Photography

This is a post I’ve literally had on my “to blog” list for…FOREVER, and today, I’m finally tackling it. As a bride myself, I know how important it is to decide on a budget and stick to it. It’s so easy at the beginning of the planning process to “assume” what each part of planning a wedding costs and nowadays there’s so many things you can do yourself to save money. Maybe this could be a whole other blog post in and of itself, but what I “assumed” before I really started planning was never very accurate. To many newly engaged women and men, I feel like photography is definitely one of the things where the perceived cost is usually substantially different from the actual cost. There are so many options out there, but in most cases, just like many other things in life, you get what you pay for.

I think a lot of this perceived cost by the general public comes from how easy it is to get into this profession. My dog could literally go to Best Buy, buy a camera, and call himself a photographer. Okay, he can’t, but you get where I’m going with this. What most people don’t understand is that we’re really more business people than photographers. It’s a good week when I get to spend any percentage of the hours I’ve worked that week, actually shooting. Many weeks of the year, I am here in my office, behind my desk, staring at my computer screen…all day. From 9 am to 5 pm. Managing finances. Writing blog posts. Staying on top of taxes, licenses, permits, and insurance. Budgeting for new equipment, computers, hard-drives, back up systems, etc. Emailing with clients. Emailing with photographers. Emailing with vendors. Marketing. Marketing some more. Advertising planning. Designing marketing materials. Managing my marketing plan. Networking. Continuing my education. And then I shoot on the weekends, when most people are spending time with their families. You get the drift.
So, when a newly engaged bride assumes that they are hiring a photographer to arrive on their wedding day and shoot for eight hours, unfortunately that’s not all that they are paying for. The costs necessary to run my business and in turn just show up that day are endless, and not cheap:

– Phone and internet
– Office space (in my case heating/cooling, homeowners insurance, mortgage)
– Vehicle costs (gas, maintenance, insurance, repairs)
– Business insurance
– Web hosting, website membership, and custom blog
– Client proofing and management systems
– Professional associations
– Business cards, brochures, other marketing materials and marketing costs
– Partnership expenses
– Workshops, seminars, conventions, books, education
– Templates/design
– Editing and photo management software
– Computer and additional hard drive space
– Camera equipment and upgrades
– Lenses, flashes, and other crucial accessories

Over the course of a photographers relationship with a bride, it’s not unusual to invest between 50 and 80 hours in that one client. After managing business operating costs, there’s also a great deal of time involved with wedding and portrait clients. Time is money. These time commitments include:

– Initial inquiry, emailing and correspondence
– Meeting/consultation if necessary
– Filing paperwork, contracts, receipts, invoices, hiring a second photographer (weddings), other administrative duties
– Location scouting
– Engagement session prep: cleaning equipment, trip plans, session plans
– Travel to engagement session
– Time shooting engagement session
– Travel from engagement session
– Image downloading and backup
– Image culling
– Image editing
– Image backup
– Formatting blog post
– Uploading galleries or packaging and delivering products
– Arranging publication
– Client correspondence
– Wedding prep: cleaning equipment, trip plans, wedding plans
– Travel to wedding
– Time shooting wedding
– Travel from wedding
– Image downloading and backup
– Image culling
– Image editing
– Image backup
– Formatting blog post
– Uploading galleries
– Arranging publication
– Client correspondence
– Product design
– Product packaging
– Product delivery
– Follow-up

And this is really just the bones of the client relationship…of course there are always things that come up, additional questions, commitments, needs, etc. My goal with this blog post is not to whine and complain about my job…I love my job and enjoy each of these steps in the relationship with my client. My goal, rather, is to educate brides and photography enthusiasts about the costs of running a business and how you could expect these costs to translate into what you will pay for wedding photography.

Recently, Lauren at Every Last Detail published this short blog post as a precursor to a more detailed one coming soon. From a 2011 survey she did, Lauren discovered that the average price of wedding photography is $3520. Of course you can find photographers with smaller packages and fees for less, or photographers with larger packages and fees for more. But I will remind you that 9 times out of 10, you get what you pay for. This number is simply a realistic average.Obviously when planning my wedding, I knew that our photographer was one of, if not the most, important vendors we would hire. I definitely considered that when determining what percentage of our budget we were willing to allocate to photography. To me, photography is something worth splurging on. Some brides melt over flowers, their dream dress, and the stunning work of event designers. I completely understand that; I do. But honestly if you skimp on photography, how will you remember those things you loved so much? When hiring a wedding photographer, I encourage you to seek that balance between style, technical expertise, personality, and cost. Cost is not the most important part of the equation. Finding someone who can document those parts of the wedding that mean the most to you, whose work you appreciate, whose skills and expertise you VALUE, and who you get along with (think about how much time you spend with your photographer on your wedding day!) is incredibly important.

In all honesty, it’s difficult to create and manage a business model which makes your photography business profitable and eventually lucrative. The above costs are simply to operate my business and work with a client. This is how I make my living, so this doesn’t even get into my costs of living and what I take home. And just like everyone else, I also pay taxes. Most photographers are comfortable, but not filthy rich. They work hard, dedicate hours of energy and passion into creating beautiful artwork for their clients, and do it for the love of preserving time and emotion. I am a huge believer in quality over quantity, and that photography is something you don’t want to skimp on.  After all, these are family heirlooms; your wedding images or album is the only tangible thing you take away from your wedding that will remind you of EVERY single thing that was so special about that day.

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