I get asked this question at times… while doing some research I came across a number of articles written regarding wedding photography cost by Brian Powell Photography … its rather a lengthy explaniation, but honorest I doesn’t see any other way of explaining it. Some of this pricing is right on, others he’s on the lower end for expenses and cost and lets not forget continuing education. This article is geared towards wedding photography but can easily be incorporated towards all types of photograhy. — Francine
Per Brian Powell Photography:
Oh, the question for the ages! Google this and you get an array of answers as varied as the people that post them. I even saw an article online that listed ‘wedding photographer’ as #10 on a list of the top-10 ‘most overpaid jobs in America’. Really?? The median 50% of photographer incomes in the U.S. (2008) was ~ $29,440, so let’s not kid ourselves into thinking wedding photographers are getting rich quick. Another photographer’s perspective is here, and quotes the PPA research that shows how wedding photographers running their own business full-time must earn a minimum of $2,200 per wedding just to break even!
Let me preface this with an important point: do not choose a photographer based solely on price! Let me reiterate that; price should not be the determining factor. Do not set out to ‘shop’ for a photographer with price-range being your number one, end-all priority. Of course, we all have budgets. Costs have to be considered, but when it comes to capturing the moments of your wedding day and telling that story for your lifetime–other factors should compete well for that priority. I know it’s cliché, but the photos are really all you’ll have to keep afterwards (besides each other, and the rings) so they better be good. That being said, price is not always proportional to quality. In general ‘you get what you pay for’ is a useful reminder, but there are wide discrepancies within that I’ll touch on later. So now that we understand price should not be the determining factor, let’s look at what does go into the actual cost.
I’m a big-picture guy (no pun intended), so let me first outline the three subcategories that affect your total wedding photography cost:
- the photographer’s talent (creative), skill (technical and people), and experience (trust, reliability).
- the amount of time the photog invests in your wedding and the photos (and the rest of the business).
- the inherent expenses that the photographer has (costs of doing business, costs of deliverable products, costs of living, etc.).
Continue reading for a bit more elaboration:
1) Now that first one’s a tough one to quantify, but it’s important. You’ve heard the saying ”don’t trust your wedding to your uncle who likes to take pictures.” Maybe we can’t quantify it, but I can, however, sit down with you and tell you the difference between any number of photographers when it comes to talent and skill–and these are not baseless opinions. These are things like “Is that photo even in focus?” “What’s wrong with this composition?” “Why is this image way underexposed?” “See how this B+W is actually really gray?” and “Why did he feel the need to jam the horizon at a 45 degree angle on most of his photos??” Those are some technical aspects, but I know most people can more easily tell the difference in creative ability, timing, perspective, etc. In the end, for brides and grooms, the determining factor is usually something referred to as style.
What style do you appreciate more? What value can you place on beautiful photos of the biggest day of your life? The questions you answer in this category are where your value comes in. After considering costs and time, which I’ll describe below, you need to consider the unique talent of your photographer. If you’re stuck looking for just an average-priced (or cheaper) photographer, ask yourself “Do I want average (or worse) looking photographs for the rest of my life?” I’ve actually lost a few potential clients over a couple hundred dollars difference, and when I saw the portfolio of who they booked to photograph their wedding, I ask myself “They’re sacrificing that much quality for lifelong photos, over that small price difference?”
2) OK, I need to step down from the soapbox of #1 and move on to something a little more objective 🙂 Time is a number, in the end, that is a plain fact: how many hours does a photographer invest in your wedding. It’s naive to take the total price and divide by the hours you see that person on Saturday. I wish it were that easy! Let’s run down my own list:
- first consultation meetings, emails/calls: 2 hours
- engagement shoot, editing, create disc, upload to gallery: 3-5 hours
- follow up communication and/or meetings: 1-2 hours
- stopping by the rehearsal to plan and prepare: 1-2 hours
- actually preparing and packing the night and morning before: 3-4 hours
- wedding day coverage: 10-12 hours
- downloading and editing images: 10-15 hours
- uploading to web gallery, create DVDs: 1-2 hours
- creating album or book: 5-8 hours
- follow-up communication/revisions/delivery: 2-3 hours
- total travel time (local wedding): 2-3 hours
Total comes to about 40-50 hours per wedding. This does not include the time it takes to operate a small business week to week: web site design and maintenance, marketing materials, meeting and communicating with prospective clients (some of whom may never actually book me), travel out of town, training and education, maintaining or replacing equipment, researching and ordering new equipment, reading and learning new things, paying bills and filing taxes, meeting the CPA or insurance agent, other bookkeeping and archiving images, etc. This all adds up, and must be spread across all weddings.
3) Now the costs can vary widely between photogs, but for each photographer the expenses they do have are set. This category can be broken down into two parts: photographic costs and cost of living. This post focuses on photo costs, but remember that a photographer with lower costs of living may be able to work for less than someone who supports a family of four (*ahem*).
A ballpark figure to think about: For a top wedding package, I might use over $13,000 worth of equipment to photograph it all. Let’s break that down:
- Canon 5D camera body: $2500 each
- Canon 7D backup camera body: $1600
- Four premium lenses: $6500
- tripod and/or monopod: $250
- two camera bags: $90
- two Speedlight flashes: $800
- stands and umbrellas: $650
- two studio strobes: $575
- lighting bags and softbox, etc.: $350
- wireless trigger and receivers: $220
- stepladder, ext. cords, etc.: $50
- batteries for camera, charger: $250
- batteries for strobes (two dozen lithium AAs): $60
- memory cards (at least 48 gigs worth): $240
Most of this equipment is on a 3 year (or less) replacement or upgrade cycle.
Guess what: again, we can’t just stop with what you see on your wedding day. What about all the costs that you won’t see? Here are my examples. Remember that I am running a pretty tight ship on low overhead, so these are definitely on the lower end of the spectrum.
- taxes! yes we do pay income tax: take a look at your pay stub!
- Sales tax on products and goods, self-employment tax
- website hosting, domain name, email: $70/year
- online gallery hosting and print ordering: $150/year
- iMac 21.5″ with 4g RAM and 1tb storage: $1600
- external backup hard drive: $70
- fireproof safe box: $65
- non-photo printer: $85
- various software including Photoshop: $600
- monitor calibration tool: $150
- laptop computer: $550
- cell phone and minutes: $100 and $150/year
- the price we pay for an album/book: $200-$500
- costs of high quality DVDs, CDs, etc.: $30 for 10-pack
- office supplies, postage and shipping: varies
- buying sample prints, business cards, promo items: $175/year
- vehicle gas/maintenance: use your imagination
- business insurance (both equip. and liability): $320/year
- professional memberships: $350/year
- conferences, workshops, travel: varies
- advertising: $40/month
- compensation for an assistant or 2nd photog: $200-$300 per wedding
Of course both sets of costs are divided by the total number of weddings (and portraits, stock, etc.) that I do each year or two. Even then, you can see how each wedding has an inherent actual cost embedded in the package price. Photographers who lease a retail space or studio? Well, there’s another few thousand each month. Again, these are just my examples and many photographers will have much higher costs incurred. The “GWC” (Guy With Camera) who just shoots some .jpg photos for you and make a CD later that night? Well he can do it for $400 but there’s where you start asking for trouble. You’ve heard the horror stories…and they’re the first thing I hear from many clients. So sad. If I had to add to the list of reasons to book someone, or reasons it may cost more, I would add trust. In 30+ weddings, I have not missed one and not ever ‘lost’ or accidentally erased any wedding photos. I’ve shot at least two (that I remember) while pretty sick. Copies of every shot are backed up and stored in my fireproof box until they are safely edited and uploaded to my online store and delivered on DVD.
So to summarize, the cost of wedding photography is in those 3 main parts: the time involved, the business and equipment expenses, and the talent/service/skill of the photographer. Hopefully this information gives you a better picture of what costs affect the wedding package pricing you find. Hopefully you can also see the importance of hiring someone you can trust, with the talent and skill to create beautiful photos—the ones of your big day that you can show off for a lifetime.
Filed under: Making of a Wedding, Master our Art, Miscellaneous, Photography | Tagged: photography cost, wedding cost | 2 Comments »