Let me first start off this article by saying that everyone out there has a different opinion of what “expensive” is. Some people consider $1,000 to be “expensive” for a photographer while others are happy to pay more than $8,000 before they consider it being “too expensive”. So remember… “expensive” is a relative term!
There are so many articles out there about “Why are Wedding Photographers so Expensive” and I don’t want to just regurgitate those. Frankly, as a professional photographer, I find that some of those articles are written as a way to justify overly inflated prices. I want to provide you (the reader, the bride, the general public) with information to help you understand the components that go into determining the price of the service so that you can better understand the mysterious secrets behind wedding photography prices.
The Second Photographer
It’s funny how wedding photography has evolved over the last two decades. Back when photographers primarily used film cameras – brides and grooms would get 200-300 pictures (on average) of their wedding day and they were more than satisfied with that. Now that 99% of photographers have moved to digital, we can take (and clients expect) 1,000 or more photos of their wedding day. In addition to a lot more photos, clients are now expecting two photographers! Wedding websites and magazines preach the benefits of a “second shooter” and make brides feel that they are losing out by only having a single photographer.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of a second shooter when it’s appropriate to have one (but that’s another article!) but it baffles me that clients don’t seem to understand that there is an additional cost to having a second shooter. The more staff your photographer has, the higher their costs will be because they have to pay the salaries of the staff. Afterall, you don’t expect the staff to work for free, do you? Some photographers also have behind-the-scenes staff that do their editing for them or staff that are assistants (carrying bags, setting up lights, etc) without taking photos. The long and the short of it is: The more people involved in photographing your wedding, the higher the cost will be.
The Gear – Cameras, Lenses and Flashes
Professional photography gear is not cheap! Let’s just say that the amount of equipment your photographer has with them on your wedding day probably exceeds the cost of your catering bill and dress combined! And then there’s the backup equipment! Any professional photographer will bring twice the amount of gear they anticipate needing just in case of technical malfunction.
Like a carpenter or a dentist, a photographer can’t do their job properly without the proper tools. Professional equipment lasts for several years, but as technology grows your photographer needs to invest in newer equipment in order to maintain the expected level of quality. The cost of maintenance and equipment is part of what determines wedding photography costs. Someone who is willing to photograph for 12-hours and give you all your photos for only $500 might not have any backup gear! They might not even have professional grade lenses (which would make them no different than your uncle with the ‘fancy camera’)
The Gear – Software and Websites
Gear doesn’t just refer to the camera and lens that your photographer is holding – gear also refers to the software used to process your pictures and the websites/blogs that attracted you to them in the first place!
Owning programs like Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop aren’t cheap! And yes, a truly professional photographer has bought the program and uses it legally. Software needs to be upgraded frequently and the computers themselves need to be upgraded as the software requirements grow more extensive. Owning a website and paying for a website designer is also very expensive and can run into the thousands. All these fees play a part in how your wedding photographer determines their prices.
How did you hear about your photographer? Did you find them at a wedding show? Were they one of the first results in your search-engine search? Maybe you saw an article about them in a magazine. Or was it good old-fashioned word-of-mouth? Word of mouth advertising is the best because it’s free! But.. the truth is… it’s not nearly as effective as advertising at wedding shows or being featured in magazines. Although we appreciate word-of-mouth advertising we still need to find other means of advertising if we want the business to grow as only a small percentage of bookings come from word-of-mouth adveritising.
Certain popular Toronto wedding shows charge photographers thousands just for a booth! And websites like TheKnot.com, although a fantastic source of information, charge several thousand for front page advertising. Search Engine Optimization (the thing that helps your site show up in the first few search results) is quite an investment, too. The more aggressively a photographer advertises the higher their costs will be because they have to compensate for the insanely high cost of advertising.
Studio & Office Rental
If you have chosen a photographer who owns a studio or who has a storefront/office, there’s a good chance that a portion of their wedding photography fees will be used towards paying their rent or mortgage for that space. The larger the space, the larger the fees! Keep this in mind if you happen to walk by a big studio, fall in love with their portraits, then fall on the floor when you see their prices.
Many clients take one look at a photographers prices and immediately think “Boy! That sure is a lot of money for one day’s work!” Fact is, unlike your caterer, DJ, or decorator – your photographer’s work starts long before your wedding day and continues on afterwards, too! Not only has your photographer invested time to meet with you (often several times) and take and edit your engagement photos, they have on average, 80 hours of work just editing your wedding day pictures! (Not to mention the time it takes to back up 40, 50, 60 gigs worth of files!) For your average photographer, this means that for every 1-day of wedding shooting, they have approximately 3 weeks worth of work.
What about integrity? Customer service? Commitment? Many other popular (and infinitely re-blogged) articles about wedding photography costs mention integrity and commitment as reasons for the price of wedding photography being high. While I understand their good intentions, these articles can often give the reader the impression that choosing a wedding photographer that costs less than $4,000-$5,000 will result in them being treated like second-class citizens. That makes me mad because it’s just not true! A good business owner will treat all their clients with the same amount of respect and professionalism and be committed to every project they do regardless of how much the final invoice will be. Granted – not everyone is a good business owner. There are some sketchy people out there whose only goal is to make a quick buck, but that’s why you need to thoroughly interview your wedding photographer and make sure you are comfortable with them before placing any deposit or signing a contract.
So what do you do if you want amazing photos but you’re on a budget?
Do your research! Use the information I have given you to help find photographers that are not only talented, but affordable too! If you find someone who owns their own business and has no staff to pay, there’s a good chance that will save you a fair chunk of change. This might mean that you have to give up your fantasy of having a second photographer though. (But do you really need it or do you just want it?) Find a photographer who has all the pro gear they need (including a couple flashes, pro lenses and camera bodies as well as backup equipment!) but who also works out of their home so they don’t have huge studio rental bills to pay. Don’t go to major wedding shows to look for vendors if you are on a budget! Wedding shows are very expensive for the exhibitors and your chances of finding vendors who can work within your budget are slim to none. Use social media! Do searches on Facebook and look at the Fan Pages. Why not follow up your Facebook searh with a quick look on local classifieds like Kijiji? Social media and classifieds are an amazing way to find truly talented vendors that will work within your budget. Finally, if you can find someone who is a part-time wedding photographer you can often save a huge chunk of change. Sure it might take an extra week or two to get your photos – but it’s definitely worth it considering the amount of money you’ll save. I feel like I must say this though… be aware of those who just seem too good to be true. A “professional” photographer who will photographer an entire wedding for just a few-hundred dollars will often only be a semi-professional needing to build a portfolio or not have the equipment needed to get you the photos you want.
So the moral of the story is… there is a method to our madness when we photographers determine our wedding photography prices! Some of us set it up so that we have the same salary as an average Joe while others pay off their Ferrari’s – but the price of a photographer doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of their work – they may just be running a very expensive business that you’ll be paying for. Always interview your photographer and choose the one that not only suits your budget but who you connect with!