The question about why wedding photographers can be so expensive often comes up in conversation with couples during wedding consultations.
I’ve even seen those comments on Facebook wedding forums that look something like:
“Photographers are just exploiting weddings for profit because they feel like “couples will spend ANYTHING” on their wedding”
“Photographers are there for only a few hours! It’s a rip off to charge that much for a few photos!”
These are some of the comments you might hear from people who are in shock after getting a quote from a wedding photographer. With so many different packages/collections/”investments” that photographers offer, it’s really hard to work out what the average wedding photography prices are or should be. It can get a bit overwhelming.
I figured since I’m often answering this question - I should try and demystify why wedding photographers cost so much these days!
So let’s start with an average quote for $2,000 for an 8 hour wedding day. The immediate assumption is that the photographer is earning $250 an hour… but if you take a closer look you will see a professional photographer isn’t making anywhere near that amount. Let’s break it down and see why you might be surprised.
1.The Wedding Itself
The most important and obvious part is the labor. An average wedding lasts from 6 to 12 hours. Your photographer will most likely arrive long before the main event to capture the bride and groom getting ready, details and decorations, etc.
During the wedding, a great photographer will never sit down (besides a quick break for dinner). They’re always running around, ducking, diving and crawling sometimes to get a unique shot each time.
To ensure they’ve captured everything - most professional photographers will have taken between 800 and 2000 images by the end of the day. Sometimes more. Also, if your photographer has an assistant or a second shooter then the cost will go up since they have to be paid as well.
2. Unseen Work
Most people don’t realize that a photographers job is not over once the wedding day is done. Photographers don’t just download the images from the camera and put it on a disk - there’s a lot of time spent editing images to ensure each one is high quality. What are the things photographers are working to perfect in each image?
Image style (the look and feel of the image - what makes one photographer unique from another)
Those things don’t even include the really important images that need extra time for creative work or retouching. Check out the example below of how professional retouching can make a huge difference!
So let’s math - if a photographer is working on 750 images to deliver to a couple and that photographer spends just 60 seconds on each photo in editing - that’s 12.5 HOURS of additional time after the wedding a good photographer is working to hand craft images the bride and groom will love.
Now let’s break that $2,000 fee down to an hourly rate. Based on my experience we’ll assume it takes the photographer:
2 hours for pre-wedding consultation
3 hours to prep for the wedding day (ensure gear is in working order, collect info and schedules, plan out routes and shots, ensure 2nd photographer or assistant has everything needed, etc.)
9 hours wedding day (8 hours of actual shoot and early arrival for set up)
12.5 - 15.5 hours post production
2.5 hours album design
3 hours admin work (emails, calls, accounts, etc)
Total hours worked - 32 - 35 Hours
$2000 divided by 33 hours is $60 an hour
Now you might be saying to yourself that $60 an hour is still incredible pay for a photographer. They are just someone who is clicking buttons on a camera!
Unfortunately, that’s only for labor and minimal level of service. You then have to take into account ALL the other costs involved in running a small business.
3. TAXES - one of the only sure things in life
As a small business owner, photographers also have to pay taxes on their small business. How much that is differs depending on the state they are in and what kind of products they offer - but in 2019 the effective small business tax rate was 19.8%. That means that on the $2000 wedding a photographer has booked, nearly $400 of that wedding is going towards taxes.
The equipment your photographer brings to the shoot is no ordinary camera equipment. Professional digital cameras a lenses can cost between $2k and $8k.
That’s just for the primary camera and lens! A great photographer will always bring a backup camera (or cameras) as well as various types of lenses in case the primary fails.
They also need batteries, memory cards, filters, flashes and other lighting equipment. Then there’s the cost of computers and professional photo editing software like Photoshop.
A photographer’s equipment will last for a long time, but it doesn’t last forever. If you want the best technology capturing your wedding, you want photographers to update their gear often!
With equipment at that value, smart photographers have their gear insured in case of damage or theft. Even more important - your wedding photographer should also carry AT LEAST general liability insurance. What happens if a photographer’s light stand falls over during a reception and someone gets injured? Who is going to be responsible for that?
Here at Angled Light we carry a 2 million dollar general liability insurance policy. It’s very important to keep everyone protected.
6. Studio Rent
Many photographers work out of their homes, so this may or may not apply… but many photographers actually have a real studio space they work in. This is a huge asset for couples both before and after they get married!
7. Marketing and Advertising
How did you find out about that photographer? How did you see their work? Here’s just a few ways photographers pay huge costs in advertising.
Google search ads
Print products given out to community and businesses to promote service
We believe in the power of print! There’s nothing like holding the artwork a professional photographer has created of you and your loved ones in your hand.
Albums, storybooks, USB drives, online galleries, prints, wall art, canvases, acrylics. All these products are incredible, but they also add to the photographers’ costs.
9. Experience/ Education
Most wedding photographers didn’t just buy a camera one day and decide “I’m going to photograph weddings!”
Professional photographers invest a lot of time and money on education. That includes courses, seminars, on-the-job training and apprenticeships.
Even after gaining the knowledge, they spend years perfecting their practical skills. Things like lighting techniques and posing.
So, why is a wedding photographer expensive?
It’s really pretty simple; wedding photographers invest a lot of time and money into developing their skills. They invest in their business to provide a reliable wedding photography service. They do all this because they are passionate about photography and your wedding.
Great photographers take a lot of pride in their work. Most will go above and beyond to capture moments in the most artistic, creative and meaningful way.
Now - I would never suggest to a couple they should blow their budget. You should never go into marriage in debt! I do suggest to think more about quality than quantity when it comes to your wedding photographer. Maybe you can only afford 6 hours of wedding coverage. Just choose the most important 6 hours of your wedding day you want a professional for and have your friends capture the rest. Most of the time that means your photographer will be there to capture the ceremony and reception.
Or perhaps just reallocate money from parts of your budget that doesn’t matter so much to photography.
Really, at the end of the day it really comes down to how much capturing those memories beautifully matters to you and your family.
“It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money — that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.”
“There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper. And the people, who consider price alone, are this man’s lawful prey.”
– John Ruskin (1819-1900)