Why Are Wedding Photographers So Expensive?
At some point during wedding planning the time arrives for the loving soon-to-be bride and groom to start looking at wedding photographers.
You may already know of one or two photographers through recommendations from friends or family, but if not, the 3-step process for finding a local wedding photographer is straight-forward:
Go to Google and type in "Wedding photographers in Cardiff".
Look at the websites of Cardiff based wedding photographers in the search results.
Open dialogue with the photographers that take your fancy to see if they are available on your wedding date.
While you're in the middle of step 2 it's perfectly normal for the couple to question "why are wedding photographers so expensive?".
Whenever I'm discussing photography with someone and mention that I shoot weddings, many drop in a "good money in that" comment, or something similar.
I don't get annoyed by such comments because I totally understand that most things related to weddings are super costly, from venue hire to bride and groom attire to food per head to wedding photographer. It feels as though everything comes at a premium.
This has to be taken somewhat with a pinch of salt as the cost of very similar packages can vary wildly based on the location. For example, a London based photographer may charge far more than a photographer of similar experience operating in a small rural village in Wales where the cost of living is far less.
Anyway, for those who do believe that wedding photographers are expensive, I'm going to try to tackle the elephant in the ceremony room and break down why that's the case.
Things That Make A Wedding Photographer Expensive
There are many things that a wedding photographer factors in when deciding how much to charge - this is also why most photographers offer a range of different packages at different price points.
When determining how much to charge for a specific wedding photography package, a photographer will typically consider the following:
Wedding photography experience
Travel to and from locations
Hours communicating and meeting with clients
Hours photographing the wedding
Estimated editing hours
Inclusions such as photo book design and prints etc.
I'll give an example using one of my own wedding photography packages below before diving into more detail about some of the considerations.
Breakdown of Expensive Wedding Photography Package
Each photographer is a little different in their approach when it comes to choosing what they include in a package and what they charge, so I can only use myself in this example and outline why I charge what I do for wedding photography.
Let's take my most expensive photography package as an example - I charge a whopping £1450 for "The Bells & Whistles" package (less than the UK average, I'll add!) - I mean, I charge this at time of writing. If you're reading this several years later and I've yet to come back and update this article the price might be frustratingly more!
So, what does £1450 get you?
This price means that the couple, in total, receives:
Approx. 20 years photography experience and professional-grade camera gear;
Estimated 2-3 hours in total communicating with the couple (e-mails, messages, phone calls) plus fuel to visit them to discuss the wedding photography and the day in general in more detail;
Fuel and my travel time to and from the wedding venue(s) on the day - usually no more than 2 hours total (or 1 hour if ceremony and reception is at the same venue);
Estimated 10-or-so hours of total wedding day coverage from bridal prep through to first dance;
Estimated 25 hours culling and professionally editing images in both colour and black and white versions;
A £20 wooden engraved USB stick;
Estimated 10 hours designing a large photobook;
Printing of the high-quality photo book that costs approx. £100;
Delivery of USB and photo book - often in person if in South Wales, which often takes up to 1.5 hours for return journey, as I prefer to ensure they safely arrive!
So, let's now do an estimated mathematical breakdown of this package:
Estimated Working Hours = 50
Package Cost Income = £1450
Expenses From Estimated Cost of USB and Photobook = £120
Typical Total Fuel Expenses = £20
Package Cost (£1450) - USB and Photo Book Expenses (£120) - Fuel (£20) = Revised Income (£1310)
Let's get an hourly rate from that....
Revised Income (£1310) ÷ Working Hours (50) = £26.20
So, a typical £1450 wedding package nets an equivalent £26.20 hourly pay before tax.
Not bad, certainly far above the current minimum wage, as if an out-and-out wedding photographer shooting this package can land enough weddings per year to account for the typical 2,080 annual working hours (this would mean 40+ weddings), this would put them on a pre-tax salary of £52,400.
However, I am certain that very few photographers could commit to 40+ weddings year after year - that is some tiring work in an industry that's very seasonal. This is why most photographers shoot a wide range of different things (portraits, headshots, events, parties, sports, animals etc.), plus there are additional costs that I haven't even included here that a photographer may pay such as insurance for equipment and public liabilities.
Those few photographers who do turn such high numbers of weddings per year are likely to use a trusted company or work in partnership with a second shooter who shares photo editing duties, which would incur additional expenses or the splitting of income.
Furthermore, a wedding photographer will either spend many hours each year doing their tax returns or will pay an accountant to do so - another time or cost that drives down an equivalent hourly rate.
So, let's dive a little deeper into the things that make wedding photographers feel as though they have to charge so much....
The Wedding Photographers Experience
There is likely to be a clear difference in price between a photographer who has just started out and who hasn't photographed many weddings compared to a photographer who has several decades of wedding photography experience under their belt.
As with any trade, you can expect a wedding photographer to gradually increase the amount they charge so that their prices are in line with the increasing experience and skills that they offer to the couple.
To gain experience and continually improve their skills, a photographer must spend endless hours working on their craft, practicing techniques, developing a style and perhaps attending beginner/intermediate/advanced photography workshops and courses along the way.
The Camera Gear They Use
Professional camera gear certainly doesn't come cheap, as much as I wish it did. Just like any tradesperson who has to consider the cost of their tools when considering their overall pricing strategy, a photographer has to do much the same.
Now, it's important to understand that you shouldn't choose a wedding photographer based solely on their camera gear. A wedding photographer certainly doesn't need to be using the very latest equipment to achieve wedding photos you're happy with. Photography is always subjective, but old film cameras and lenses from many decades ago are still capable of capturing gorgeous photos when in the right hands, as are DSLR's from the early 2010's and prior.
With all of that said, camera gear, especially the latest models of camera bodies and lenses, run into several thousands of pounds per piece. Then you have things like camera bags, tripods, memory cards, batteries, battery grips, external flash units, filters, cleaning products, camera belts or holding systems, computers, hard drives, editing software subscriptions, plus the costs of the energy they use to do the editing. The list goes on.
Time and Fuel to Travel
It's often overlooked, but a wedding photographer typically does a fair bit of traveling around either side of the wedding - both before the wedding day, on the day, and after.
Firstly, the obvious thing a photographer has to consider is where the wedding is taking place. If it's local with limited short journeys required, it makes it easy for a photographer to bake this into the listed price.
However, if the wedding is taking place in a different city that's far away or even abroad, there are obvious travel costs and time considerations they must take into account.
Often times a wedding reception takes place at a different venue to the ceremony - many couples wed in a church and then travel along to the venue that's hosting the reception for them and their guests. This travel distance could be anywhere from under a mile to several miles away.
A photographer often travels to meet the couple to discuss the wedding photography in more detail if they live close enough. This could be at their property, a neutral venue, or even the venue the wedding will be taking place.
Lastly, some photographers, like myself, opt to deliver images to their clients in person whenever possible. This decision would of course be the photographer's own doing, but it's something they may also bake into the wedding photography prices they charge.
Hours Spent Meeting, Photographing and Editing
A photographer will spend many hours in total working on things related to a couple's wedding photography.
This begins (and ends) with communication with the couple. E-mails, phone calls, messages and meeting in person to discuss the wedding photography can amount to several hours in total. A photographer won't directly charge you for the time like a solicitor firm would as it is of course all required as part of the service, but it is generally considered when they think about how much they'd like to charge for their collective time.
The bulk of time will be spent photographing the wedding, culling the images and then editing them - also photo book designing and/or arranging of prints etc. if required.
A photographer can't have an exact set time in mind as the photography between weddings can vary a fair bit, so the editing time can be nothing more than a typical estimation when deciding on a price.
Some weddings demand far more editing hours compared to others, perhaps due to particularly difficult lighting situations or because the bride or groom requests specific edits to many images etc.
Additional Photography Business Expenses
Some of the additional expenses that a wedding photographer has to consider when deciding on the price of their packages includes the cost of insurance for camera equipment and public liability, adequate computers, external hard drives, subscriptions for editing software like Lightroom and Photoshop, USB sticks, printing of photo books etc.
Freelance wedding photographers have no workplace pensions put in place, so they have to arrange and pay into anything privately. The same is said with all aspects of administration, from time spent keeping on top of bookings and communications to running tax returns. It's either time spent sorting everything themselves, or expenses paid out to other professionals to manage it for them.
Then there are marketing costs, from running advertisements and designing/maintaining/hosting websites to those photographers who attend wedding fayres.
Some photographers also pay for courses that they choose to attend throughout their career to further enhance their skills.
I'm sure there are further expenses that I haven't highlighted, but hopefully this gives you a better idea as to why wedding photographers seemingly charge so much.