Why does hiring a wedding photographer cost so much?
As you go about planning for your wedding, one of the biggest educations will be getting a ‘realistic’ as opposed to an ‘idealistic’ view of the costs of your wedding. This is important so you can make wise choices regarding the venues and vendors to hire to make for the wedding of your style, personality, and dreams. Next to your wedding venue and wedding/engagement rings, your photographer is the most expensive part of your wedding.
Often couples will come to me with an ‘idealistic’ budget they have to work with. Sometimes this budget gets split up equally between the other vendors as if the photographer is an equal piece in this pie. Clients don't often see or understand why the cost of hiring a photographer may be higher than some of the other vendors.
Unfortunately, their ‘idealistic’ budget for photography is so far off from the ‘realistic costs,’ and a question I often hear from clients is “why does wedding photography cost so much?”
The reasons are many as you will see. To answer this question and shed some light on this perplexing subject, I put this article together giving you a ‘behind the scenes’ education from a professional wedding photographer about the costs and labor involved in photographing your wedding.
TIME SPENT ON YOUR WEDDING DAY
Your photographer will spend more time with you on your wedding day than any other vendor. They often start the day with getting ready shots early in the morning followed by the ceremony, portraits, and the reception. Your florist shows up and drops off your flowers. Your officiant shows up for around an hour to do your ceremony. Your DJ shows up for 4 to 5 hours for your reception and sometimes your ceremony. But your photographer is the only one that will be there by your side for your whole wedding day, clocking in anywhere from 6 to 12 hours. More hours translates into higher costs.
BILLING RATES FOR YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER
Photographers often bill or charge for the wedding day itself which is what most clients see. The photographer may have a rate of $200 or $300/hour or more. I have heard client's comment on how expensive that is saying "I am not going to pay that much per hour for a photographer." If that was the only labor in shooting their wedding I might agree with them however what client's don't realize, factored into this hourly rate is the ‘unseen’ or hidden work the photographer does before and after the wedding which turns out to be many more hours then the wedding itself. I will explain about this ‘unseen’ work below.
POST WEDDING WORK-EDITING, PROCESSING AND DELIVERY OF YOUR PHOTOS
After the wedding, most of your vendors will pack up their bags and their work is done. For the photographer, I often tell clients, after the wedding day is finished, is when the work begins. Why do I say that?
In this day of digital photography, the editing and processing of wedding photos has turned into a laborious process involving days of work. It is easy for me to spend 5 to 7 days of work in the editing and processing of a client’s wedding day photos. Part of that process is the downloading, culling, editing, backing up and uploading of hundreds of images to their online galleries. So the one day of work which the client sees turns into 6 days of work that the client does not see. I spoke a lot here about the post-wedding editing and processing of your images. I didn’t talk about the pre-wedding day prep of preparing for your wedding day which includes charging batteries for cameras, flashes and lights, formatting of memory cards, cleaning of lenses and general pre-wedding day prep. More hours of work translates to higher costs.
CAMERA EQUIPMENT COSTS
Good professional photography equipment is expensive!! There is no way around it. Good photos equals good equipment equals high costs. Professional level cameras and lenses are expensive. Camera costs can be anywhere from $1500 to $5000 for a full frame digital camera. A professional grade lens costs anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 on average.
What happens if this equipment breaks during a wedding? A good professional photographer will bring back up gear to your wedding. I bring 3 to 4 cameras to a wedding and all back up lenses, flashes, strobes etc. A photographer can have just in cameras alone from $3000 to $10,000. Add lenses and we are easily reaching close to $20,000 in camera gear to shoot a wedding.
Camera gear is worked hard during weddings and it wears out. Shooting 2000 to 3000 photos per wedding will wear out the shutter of camera in 2 to 3 years, requiring replacement. Lenses get banged around, they get dirty inside and need to be cleaned. They just wear out. To service and repair them can run into the hundreds of dollars per item.
LIGHTING EQUIPMENT COSTS
Up to 50-60% of a wedding is photographed inside, especially with dark reception halls that require additional lighting. Conversely, part of the wedding, especially portraits, are shot in the middle of the day during harsh and difficult lighting conditions, which can benefit tremendously and be enhanced with lighting equipment to create beautiful images. This lighting equipment takes the form of flashes, strobes, light stands and light modifiers, such as soft boxes, reflectors, and umbrellas. These can make a huge difference in the final appearance of your photos. Once again, you have all the added costs of the lighting equipment which can easily be between $2000 to $4000.
COMPUTER EQUIPMENT COSTS
Computer costs are also very high for photographers. Editing photos takes a huge amount of computer memory and RAM running graphic intensive programs like Photoshop and Lightroom. Specialized computers are needed to be able to work with images as well as numerous editing programs to edit and cull photos, and design wedding albums. Special monitors are also needed that achieve correct color balance, and it can cost thousands of dollars for the computer equipment to be able to edit, process and deliver client’s images, prints and albums. Archiving your wedding photos is important, requiring multiple backups drives for each wedding year as well as cloud storage which adds up in price.
PHYSICAL DEMANDS OF THE JOB
Out of all your vendors, wedding photographers have the most physically demanding job. Photographers can spend anywhere from 6 to 13 hours standing, squatting, running, jumping all while carrying 2 cameras with lenses, flashes, lighting gear, etc. Just the physical aspect of lifting a 5 pound camera 3,000 times in a wedding all start to wear on your joints, fingers, wrists muscles, back and neck. Overuse injuries are common including, tennis elbow, carpel tunnel syndrome, bursitis, back and neck pain etc. These physical demands can limit the number of weddings photographer can shoot in a given week and year
As I mentioned, shooting weddings is hard work. I personally shoot and edit all the weddings myself. This really helps me keep costs down and allows me to offer clients really great pricing, at the same time deliver beautiful work and service.
But many photographers can’t or don’t shoot by themselves, instead hiring assistants to carry and move gear, hold light stands, etc. There is a trend in the industry to hire second photographers or additional lead photographers. Many larger studios hire associate photographers which they pay as part of their ‘team’. Many photographers don’t edit their work, but instead outsource it to an editing company to do it for them. Hiring additional people quickly drives up the cost of your wedding photography packages.
You may have heard this before and not to sound too cliché, but it is very true; your wedding photographs are often the most important and lasting investment of your wedding day. The music will fade, your cake will be eaten, your flowers will wilt over time… however your photographs, prints and albums will be the most lasting, preserving the memories, feelings and moments of every part of your wedding day. Your dress, shoes, ceremony, cake, table settings, and all the venue details will be captured in these photos for a lifetime.
Some clients spend all this money on a great venue, then have a friend shoot their wedding, who does not have the skills, experience or equipment to give you the photos you deserve. My advice to you is… do not skimp on your wedding photographer! Skimp somewhere else if you have to. You have only one shot at your wedding day. A good photographer can make a not so good looking venue look great, but a bad photographer cannot make the best of venues look good.
These days everyone is calling themselves a photographer. Not all photographers are alike. Wedding photography is the most challenging and demanding form or photography there is. Hire an experienced photographer/photography studio with longevity, excellent reviews and awards etc. Look at their portfolio and work, get to know their personality and choose wisely as you have only one shot at this and you want it done right. The last thing you want to have from your wedding is regrets, especially when it comes to the photos that will capture and hold the memory of your special day for a lifetime.
See my video below—Hiring an experienced vs. inexperienced photographer for more information
|Choosing a wedding photographer part 1
|Choosing a wedding photographer part 2