All Photos by Crystal Whiteaker of Crystal Lily Photography
Unsure Why Wedding Photographers Charge High Prices? Here’s What You Should Know before You Book.
Chances are you or someone you know has gotten married or is getting married and wedding photography has proven to be a pretty important but rather tough decision. Money is almost ALWAYS a major deciding factor and the words cheap, affordable, and expensive are all relative when it comes to finding someone to capture such an important milestone.
There are a LOT of wedding photographers out there and pricing is all over the place when it comes to what different photographers offer. With so many newly engaged couples out there who have questions about why pricing is the way it is — and why some photographers aren’t willing to work for a lower price than others — it seems time to shed some more light on why wedding photography pricing seems to be so freaking high.
Some of this may be obvious while the rest could be a little more eye opening. Photography goes beyond the camera, editing, and business license, but it’s easy to forget that we photographers are not simply showing up and taking pictures. These are the things that drive the prices you see.
1. Photographer Knowledge and Experience
This probably goes without saying, but a photographer who has been in business for ten years, operating as a well-oiled machine, is going to charge more than a photographer who’s been in business for a couple of years and is just starting to get into a good flow.
A more experienced photographer is going to have an entire system in place with contingency plans for more potential mishaps than a photographer who hasn’t yet “seen it all” so-to-speak. That’s not to say a photographer who has been in business for five years can’t charge as much as one who’s been doing the work for ten if they’ve come up quickly.
The other side to this is obviously the quality of their work. The work will always speak for itself. It’s easy to tell a great photograph from an okay one and when you see a consistent portfolio (whether it’s great or okay), that’s going to factor into the value of photography.
What it really comes down to is workflow, capability, and skill. If you compare photographers who have it all together on the business side — along with a consistently strong body of work that represents their style and ability to operate their equipment — with a photographer who’s a little more “green” you’re going to see differences in pricing and this may also factor into the quality of your photos.
2. The Cost of Equipment
Cameras, lenses, memory cards, lighting, batteries, film, and the bags to carry it all Are. Not. Cheap. There’s seriously not any other way to say it. And sure, it’s easy to think that the price tag for one or even a handful of weddings could pay for it all, but these expensive pieces of equipment also require maintenance.
The other fun fact: it’s not just the cameras that cost photographers. Computers, hard drives, back-up hard drives, printers (if the photographer prints from their own studio), and the ridiculous amount of accessories that make all of these things work together add to the price tag.
If your photographer shoots with multiple top of the line cameras and lenses throughout your wedding day, goes home to upload your files to one hard drive and then backs it up to another hard drive, while editing on a nice big monitor; chances are you’re gonna pay more for that experience compared to a photographer who doesn’t have the same fancy setup.
To take it even further: if you choose a photographer who also shoots film, you’re definitely going to be paying for it.
3. Your Wedding Photographer’s Time
Time is probably the most overlooked aspect of photography. Most people might spend a total of 8 to 12 hours interacting with their photographer from the first introduction thru the wedding day. Guests see photographers arrive, photograph the wedding, and then leave. Depending on delivery time, whether it’s a week or several weeks later, pictures arrive and that seems to be it; but there are so many more hours that go into a client experience that people don’t often see.
Depending on the type of experience a photographer puts together for their clients, the amount of time spent has a huge impact on pricing. Compiling questionnaires, wedding day timelines, visiting venues, and correspondence not only with the client but also other vendors to keep everyone on the same page are all small pieces that photographers might incorporate into their workflow to create an extra memorable, valuable experience for their clients. Then of course there is the editing, but I think it’s safe to say most people know by now that aspect takes time, too.
4. Software, Systems, and All Things Web-related
I’m gonna skip right over Photoshop and Lightroom, because those are a given. Websites are also a given — they cost time and money to build and they also come with an annual hosting fee. What isn’t always a given are things like online galleries for clients to view and share their photos, client management systems where contracts, forms, invoices, and scheduling can be streamlined, accounting programs, album design programs, and even owning email addresses come with a cost.
There are a lot of little things that are a pretty big deal when it comes to creating a top notch client experience and a huge chunk of it has to do with the software and systems photographers use.
5. Licensing and Insurance
It’s no secret that in order to run a business you need to file with the state and get a license to operate. Depending on the state a photographer lives and operates in, the fees to obtain a license are going to vary. If they operate in multiple states, that will also affect their expenses, which almost certainly factors into their pricing.
What is often surprising to people is the fact that photographers also need to carry insurance, and not just insurance to cover their equipment either. Most wedding venues will not allow vendors to operate without liability insurance and that goes for photographers, too. Photography accidents are rare, but it’s better to have peace of mind to pay a little more for a photographer who is insured rather than deal with the repercussions of a rare accident.
6. Heirloom Quality Products
Every photographer offers products and what they choose to offer or even include in their packages is going to vary. Photographers that cater to high-end clientele are more than likely offering high-end, heirloom keepsakes, while photographers who work in more mid-range price points may shop for less expensive offerings to help keep costs low for their clients.
7. Marketing Costs
We’ve all heard the expression “It takes money to make money,” and it definitely applies in the world of wedding photography. Every photographer is going to have a different approach to getting their name out there and how much they spend on marketing may very well factor into their cost.
If a photographer is subscribing to resources like WeddingWire, TheKnot, or even Facebook ads, there’s a good chance it will have an impact on the cost of their services. If they participate in wedding expos, they’re likely factoring that into their pricing as well.
8. Fewer Weddings, Higher Prices
The amount of weddings and sessions a photographer chooses to take on each year will have a big impact on pricing. A high volume studio that photographs a significant amount of weddings and sessions is going to be able to offer more competitive rates than a boutique studio that has to limit the amount of work they can take on.
9. Studio/Office Space and Employees Costs
This is an easy one. If a photographer has a studio or an office space, there’s no doubt their business costs are higher. And another fun fact: having a studio space means they need additional insurance from what they carry if they’re simply working from home and photographing in various venues. Toss in an employee or ten and of course costs are affected. And guess what? Employees means even more insurance!
Regardless of whether a photographer has a studio or employees, they can always count on having utility bills, because it would be impossible to run their business without them.
10. Taxes, Legal Fees, and Accounting
This is pretty straightforward and also super boring. Even non-business owners hate this stuff, but it’s all necessary in order to run a legitimate business and just like the fancy camera equipment, these things don’t come cheap.
11. Photography Education
This one is big for photographers and I hope I’m speaking for all photographers when I talk about education, because we value doing whatever we can to improve our craft and our businesses to better serve our clients. We’re asking you to invest in us, because we’ve invested in ourselves.
From the equipment and software to the insurance and legal stuff, we’ve spent countless dollars and hours learning how to navigate the business side of things and operate our gadgets. We go to workshops, take classes, collaborate, and share ideas in order to deliver an experience that makes you forget that we do so much more than click a few buttons.
12. Providing You the Best Wedding Photography Experience Possible
When you’re shopping for wedding photography, no matter who you hire, know we aren’t simply throwing out arbitrary numbers for the fun of it or because we’re greedy. Your experience matters, your memories are important, and we hope you see the value in what we provide.
Crystal is a Los Angeles based photographer who lives for good vibes and real experiences. She's a free spirited, shamelessly goofy, travel junkie who she thinks she can dance. Crystal is focused on giving her couples great memories to share with the people they share their wine with, because what good is a fun experience is you aren't going to re-live it over a good bottle of vino and laughter?! Crystal also believes in spreading the love so a portion of the costs from every booking goes towards an organization in need.