So let’s go ahead and jump right to the elephant that often occupies the room when the subject of cost of photography comes up in wedding-related conversations. I’ll qualify all of the following by stating frankly that I speak only for myself, however having consistent conversations with other working professional photographers, I know that the majority of those who indeed make a living from their artwork approach cost in much the same way as I do. We’re like any other business owners. We compile our numbers in the same manner as any business out there should: look at the cost of doing business. How much is our annual budget, and what is the total number of billable hours per year?
When we’re talking wedding photography, the average number of billable hours is limited by the occasion. There are few photographers that will take on multiple weddings in a weekend. I, personally, only take on two per month. I feel like that gap allows me to focus on getting the previous event’s images to a baseline for my clients and have their online galleries available for viewing. Its not something I outsource, and I feel like my client experience is better for it. But, just for the sake of example, let’s say a photographer shoots one wedding per weekend, and their average package is $3500.00. That comes out to $156,000 per year. That may sound like a lot. But professional photographers running legitimate businesses pay taxes as well, and we lose an additional 1.5-3% for payment processing services. So we’re down to $120,120 before any of our expenses are taken into account.
We carry monthly expenses for liability and equipment insurance, web servers, Adobe Creative Suite to edit, hosting, online storage and hard drive backups, memory cards, and marketing and advertising. (Did you know that a single high-speed 256GB CF card is $169?!?) A good average for this category is around $9500-14,500 per year, depending on the market. You’ll find the most reputable photographers also invest quite a lot annually in continuing education as well. Given the ever-changing technological environment we’re in, not only is the equipment evolving, but so are techniques, allowing our creative abilities to stretch and grow, all to the benefit of our clients because that investment in education is made. So far this year, I’ve invested $11,284 in continuing education. Its a bit like paying college tuition every year of your career in order to remain on the cutting edge, learning from and collaborating with the best in the business.
All of that comes before a single piece of equipment is factored in. And let me just say, that stating that photography equipment is expensive is an understatement. Does equipment make the photographer? Absolutely not. Having the latest camera, lenses, etc. doesn’t make someone a professional photographer. It simply means they’re and individual who bought an expensive camera. The ability to use those tools while understanding the physics of light and having the knowledge of how to manipulate it in a pleasing fashion goes a long way, though. This is where knowledge and experience come into play. (Hint: Beware of those who carry big lenses and no off-camera lighting.) Last year, I spent $16,266.00 on equipment.
Hold the phone! We’re not done. We haven’t factored in a single product for our client’s chosen package. Albums, prints, wall art, etc. For me, that average is around $950 per couple, a la carte purchases not included. My cost may be higher than some, but I am rather picky when it comes to the quality of my product offerings. My albums are handcrafted. I print on the best papers in the world for products that are museum archival quality. For a photographer who shoots a wedding a month, that’s $45,000 per year. We’re down to $38,000 left in the annual budget and the photographer has yet to pay themselves a single dime.
I don’t say all of this to shame anyone, but rather to shed some light. If I were outside of the industry, I would likely be asking the same question: “Why is good photography so expensive? Don’t they just show up and shoot?” The answers are here, in the raw numbers. When all is said and done, and the number of hours spent on each wedding is calculated, it comes out to about $29/hr. That’s far less than my hairstylist charges, and I have to go see her every 8 weeks for upkeep. The milestones and lifechanging events a photographer is hired to capture? Those, for the most part, come once in a lifetime. Aren’t those moments at least worth the cost of hair maintenance?
Hopefully I’ve been able to shed some light on why a quality, knowledgeable, professional photographer may seem expensive in relative terms. We’re not out here trying to get rich. We’re here, investing in our craft, in your moments, because its what’s we love.