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Why is Wedding Photography So Expensive? – Q&A

By Matthew Saville on October 26th 2013

Question | Why is Wedding Photography so Expensive?

Have you (wedding photgraphers) ever gotten this question from a friend, family, or a potential client?  At first it’s just something you brush off, because any full-time wedding photographer knows just how much hard work they put into a wedding, and usually their annual household income turns out to be pretty modest.

However for those who are curious, there are a handful of photographers out there who have actually taken the time to break down a typical wedding photography package so that you can see exactly where all the money goes.  A friend of mine, wedding and portrait photographer Megan Kuethen, wrote an article recently that caught my eye.  You can read Megan’s Article HERE.

Answer | Wedding Photography Pricing Explanation

However, it got me thinking.  This pricing structure is only mission-critical if you shoot FULL-TIME, for-profit, and you’re using wedding photography to pay your bills, save for retirement, etc….

Unfortunately, the laws of supply and demand don’t care if you have to put your kids through college with your wedding photo career. Not if there are a few hundred other hobbyist photographers nearby who shoot part time for dirt cheap, and deliver comparable results.

This is how industries shift and wax / wane over time. Yes, depending on where you live the ~$4K example listed above might be barely enough to live off even if you shoot 30-50 weddings per year. But customers will only understand and agree to pay a higher price as long as they believe that hiring a full-time, career-oriented photographer is their best choice.

Which, seemingly these days, is at risk of no longer being true. I know quite a few people who have awesome, well-paying white collar / blue collar careers, but they like shooting weddings on the side because it’s a creative challenge. They don’t need to turn a huge profit, other than to pay for their next lens etc.. (And many probably don’t pay taxes on that income, either) I also know a few pros who were extremely talented and profitable, but they simply gave up and returned to a “9-5” job because it just made better financial sense in the long run.

So, how do you compete with all this, as a full-time photographer?

Fear not, fellow pros, there are certainly some great answers to this seemingly loaded question. However at this point, we’re basically answering a very different question: “Why should you hire a full-time photographer, with years of experience, instead of a part-time photog who has less overhead?”

1.) A part-time photographer is usually far less experienced, and regardless of their artistic eye or technical understanding, the consistency of the final delivery might be all across the board. Sure, their portfolio might have 20-30 stunning photos in it, but you have no idea where those pictures were taken; they could have been made at workshops, or over the shoulder of an experienced wedding pro they were 2nd shooting for. Bottom line- view a photographers’ blog and peruse the most recent 50-100 weddings they’ve shot. If they don’t consistently blow your mind, that’s a red flag.

2.) A full-time photographer with years of experience shooting hundreds of weddings is going to know how to handle ANYTHING, and how to keep you calm even if things run a little behind or get slightly chaotic.  They know how to get great photos even if the lighting or location changes, etc. etc. Also, their portfolio is probably entirely made up of real-world clients, not models, and galleries of entire weddings, not just their best 1-2 photos per wedding for the ONLY 10-20 weddings they ever photographed.  That, and I don’t know any other part-time / beginner wedding photographers who can nail focus on a bride’s eyelashes like I can.  ;-)

3.) Any part-time photographer who has experienced enough “tough days” to qualify for #2, well, they’re probably going to start charging about as much as you do as a full-time photog anyways, so you’re back to square one!

4.) A full-time photographer will always have more time to dedicate to correspondence, getting your photos delivered in a timely manner, and simply being more established and reputable overall.

[Rewind: Click here to read our complete guides to wedding photography equipment!]

So, there you have it. Make no mistake, professional photographers need to be careful, because the industry is changing dramatically this decade, and a chunk of the business is going to transition to part-time, side-job types.  This includes both the highly skilled, talented bunch who deliver stunning results and charge as much as (or more than) a full-time photog, AND the “good enough” crowd who deliver results that “barely qualify for” their price tag… Either way, in my opinion a working pro needs to be ready to answer questions about their pricing, their value, and understand how much hard work it is going to take to continue to bring in enough work to support themselves full-time.

wedding-phot-graphy-expensive-650Nikon D700, Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G
Processed using the SLR Lounge Preset System V5.1

Please feel free to comment with your own input, or if you have any further questions!
=Matthew Saville=

Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

Follow his personal wilderness adventures: Astro-Landscapes.com

See some of his latest wedding photography featured on: LinandJirsa.com

8 Comments

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  1. David – Thurtell.com

    Professional wedding photographers must already have very much experience so they can see the proper angle. Price to be paid is consistent with the results to be obtained later. Remember, this moment will not repeate so the couple should not hesitate to choose a professional photographer.

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  2. Markus Staley weeding photography

    Every one wants that him /her marriage pics should be different from others and Markus is the best photographer you will feel in every pics this is something different.

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  3. Tyler

    Who is you audience in this post? I am a part time pro, but I am not the Sterotype. I shoot commercial advertising photography. I pay my taxes I have a business liscense and charge full time pro rates. I keep a full time job because I can find a balance between work and my business. I have only been pro a few years, but I have discovered that full time pros, especially wedding photographers, complain a lot. Constantly blaiming lost income on iPhones or cheap inadequate photographers. If you find yourself complaining about other photographers or smartphone cameras step it up or move on

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    • Matthew Saville

      Tyler, I can totally understand what you mean. I have had that “get over it and step up your work!” discussion quite a few times now, actually.

      However you are definitely not the MOST common type of photographer, at least not for the wedding / portrait industry. The whole reason you charge a full-time pro rate is because you have experienced enough hard work to NOT be willing to shoot for less, and you have the day job that allows you to not compromise on your pricing as a photographer.

      There are, unfortunately, still many people who rush to shoot full-time, they dive in head first before they can float, so it is easy to get stuck in the downward spiral of a price war.

      So in the end, I would say that the smartest people are the ones who create options and backup plans for themselves. People may say that if you don’t take any risks you’ll never achieve your dreams, and I totally agree with that, but I’m just saying that there are also excessively foolish ways you can go about pursuing your dreams, and I prefer to spend at least most of my life with my feet on solid ground…

      :-)
      =Matt=

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  4. Michael R.

    Good article, Matt, but there is one thing of the supply- and- demand- equation that no one seems to consider at all:
    How huge is the actual demand for a four- digit- wedding- photographer at all?
    Please, don’t get me wrong: doing your math, subtracting expenses, taxes, yadda, yadda, leaves you with a four – digit- tab for your client to pick up. And you’re most certainly worth every penny.
    But: a lot of prospect clients plain simply can’t afford a full- time shooter. You can’t lower your rates without going broke, they can’t find the budget for you.
    So, most full time shooters who complain about the weekend- warriors don’t see that those couples on a tight budget never would have done business with them in any place, and in fact are not taking away any of “their share”.
    For those couples on a tight wedding budget it’s either Uncle Bob or no pictures at all. Or, at the very most, a weekend warrior charging a few hundred for the wedding.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Great point about the budgets of the clients people are going for. I think that is something easily overlooked, some people simply don’t have the budget for a full-time wedding shooter. Which is why good enough or really good weekend warriors can do it for cheaper and get a lot of business.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Michael, I suppose it really depends where you live. In some areas, these market brackets may translate to a sub-$1,000 market, I don’t know. But then again, the cost of living is probably adjusted accordingly too.

      All I know is that around here in Southern California, there are LOTS of folks willing to pay four digits for wedding photography, in fact if you pay less than that around here it is almost a guarantee that your photos are going to be horrible.

      So, like I said, it just depends on your area.

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  5. Anthony T.

    Good Stuff Matt!

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