Writing a blog about the cost of wedding photography may seem controversial. Typically, my blog is a positive place where people can come and see how the most recent wedding shoot went, or, take a look at what else I've been up to. But just recently I started to think about pricing. I know my prices are low (very low) and they should be higher If I ever plan to do what I love full time. The thing is, I don't compare myself to any other photographer so I don't want to set my prices based on what the competition is priced at - I just try to strike a balance between what I think my images are worth and what I think a client will pay.
I figured the only way for me to know if my prices were right was to work out the numbers. So I started to do some research into the costs of wedding photography. I already knew that the average cost of a wedding photographer has been around £1,300 - £1,450 in the past few years, but I wanted to know what brides and grooms thought of prices. It's one thing for me to value my work, but what value do brides and grooms put on the memories of their weddings? I set out by first recalling the situation I was in when I got married a few years back...
I didn't hire a photographer at my own wedding
You may think as a wedding photographer that I will have some pretty amazing photographs of my own wedding day, right? Surely I pulled in a favour with a wedding photographer friend of mine? You may even say that because I knew what it was like to be behind the camera - my wedding day pictures should be brilliant - as I would know what to do when in front of the camera...?
My wife and I got married before I really found photography and before I decided I wanted to be a wedding photographer myself. I was the person on the wedding forums looking for a wedding photographer that would cost me £200 and not a penny more. At the time I could not understand why someone thought they could get away with quoting me £2,000?! After all it was just a day of pointing and shooting and an album I wanted - we were even getting married locally and I could buy an album off the internet for £40! I could take some pretty brilliant pictures with a point and shoot and even handed my brother my Sony Micro four thirds camera for the day (thinking that by having good camera in his hands we would end up with at least a few album-worthy images.
On one forum I saw what I thought was a genius Idea to save money on your wedding! One bride had suggested that she was going to purchase some disposable cameras and put them on each table and ask her guests to take photos. The guests would then leave the cameras behind, or, take them and get them developed and send copies of the photographs back to her and her husband. If truth be told, even now the idea sounds somewhat romantic. I remember selling the idea to my wife: "It'll be our wedding day, seen through the eyes of our closest friends and family" I said.
We didn't have a large wedding, just a few friends and our close family. Unfortunately, no-one knew how to take a picture the way I wanted them to. Sure, some were exposed properly and I've got my eyes open in a few, but they are not images I'm proud to show off. They're not images that take me back to the moment when I see them. They have no 'Wow' factor. I wish now that I'd spent some money and hired someone who knew what they were doing. I'd have spent that £2,000 in a heartbeat if I knew what I know now.
I didn't put enough value on my wedding photographs.
I wish I had memories like these:
Oh here we go!
Now, You may read this and think "Oh here we go, he's just scaremongering and trying to get us to spend all our budget on him"...I promise you that is not my aim. I'm not trying to convince you to hire me for your wedding. If you read this and at the end you understand the true value of a wedding photographer and you then hire someone else; I will still be overjoyed that all I achieved was to encourage you to hire a professional to capture your wedding day for you.
Quite simply - I don't want you to be able to relate to my story. I don't want you to email me in six months time and say "You were right!". I don't want my story to be your story.
So, what did I find from my research?
- Firstly, you only have to type the words 'Why is wedding photography...' before Google completes the question for you by conveniently adding '...so expensive?'.
- And secondly; there are no shortage of photographers scrambling to explain the costs of wedding photography in a bid to tackle the belief that wedding photography is expensive.
Any good wedding photographer will know what a wedding costs them to photograph. They will know how much they have left after their fixed-cost outgoings. They should even know what a wedding will end up paying them as an hourly rate, (which I will come to later). So it doesn't phase many wedding photographers to say "That'll be £2,000", but it still surprises most couples.
It makes me feel very much like there is a battle going on between couples and photographers, just like the battle I was having when I got married. And I think I know why...
It's just one day of shooting...right?!
Searching through blogs and forums I've found there to be one very common misconception: That shooting a wedding is a one-day deal where we turn up, press a button and then go home. There is one fantastic 'rant' from an american bride mentioned on Kristen Booth's blog where she says "I mean the “average” persons salary for 1 freaking month is somewhere around 3 grand. (Thats making 19$ an hour) So you’re going to take someones WHOLE MONTH paycheck for one flippen day of photos? Just because you CAN!!??????". If you click the link you'll see that Kristen has answered this rant in her own, very unique way.
But this 'Craiglist Bride' as Kristen calls her, had it all wrong. I worked out that I spend at least 38 hours producing wedding photographs when I shoot my entry level package: 10 hours on the wedding day. 22 hours editing the images. 2 hours of travelling. 2 hours of talking and discussions with my clients over the course of the build up to the wedding. If a client chooses a more premium package from my price list I'll end up working even more hours.
What's my point?
Today I want to answer this question slightly differently to most: I want to demystify the cost of wedding photography and lay the costs on the table and break it all down so that you can see that after the confetti has been cleared away, the average wedding photographer is likely take home less than most people do from the average 'day job'.
Lets look at the numbers
So, when I decided to start shooting weddings I thought I knew exactly how I was going to separate myself from the competition: I would be the amazing photographer charging crazy low rates. I would end up being super busy and would rake it in by simply shooting so many weddings. The quantity would make up for the low price, I thought. This is how my first 5 weddings went:
(Please note from this point on I am representing my figures at a very basic level)
- Wedding #1 was a favour to a friend. If they hadn't hired me, they wouldn't have hired anyone. I charged: £0
- Wedding #2 was a result of word of mouth from the first wedding. I couldn't charge much more as I did their friends wedding for free! I charged £250
- Wedding #3 was a booking through Facebook. I was getting more confident so my prices went up: I charged £300
- Wedding #4 was another referral from the 1st and 2nd weddings so they wanted the same service and price. I charged £250 again
- Wedding #5 was for a colleague at work. I actually said I would do their wedding for free. They're friends of my wife and I and I wanted to do it as a sort of wedding present. They insisted on paying though and I made £250
Before I go on I will just say for the record that I am very proud of my first few weddings. I had a blast doing them, my clients are happy with their images and I don't regret ever entering the photography industry and I certainly don't regret charging those low prices. I love this job and I hope I can continue to enjoy it for the rest of my life.
So, total up my first few weddings and you'll notice a grand total of £1050. Not bad eh! Oh - I had to pay tax on that too, so %20 goes to Mr Taxman leaving me with a figure of £840 turnover. Still not bad eh?! (note 'turnover' - not profit)
So, I had made some money. From 5 weddings (with 1 being free) I had made £840. At the time I was very pleased, but then I did some math to figure out what my camera gear had cost me:
- Canon 7d:£850
- 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM II: £1600
- 50mm f1.8 £100
- Spare batteries & battery grip for 7d £300
- Canon 580EXII Speedlight (flash) £550
- My Camera bag was £70
- x4 Compact Flash Cards were £200
- Multiple SD Cards were around £150
- My Tripod was £150
- Batteries and battery conditioner for flash: £135
- There were other things too such as lens cleaning equipment, memory card readers and more that all amounted to something like £100
- I hired a Canon 24-70mm L USM for two of the weddings at £100 per rental; £200
Again, some quick math shows my camera gear alone at the time of my 5th wedding had cost me £4,905. That's around half the value of the gear a seasoned professional would carry with them!
There's more to take into account though. I'd then need to edit those images:
- A new laptop powerful enough to run Adobe Photoshop and LightRoom: £600
- Adobe Lightroom: £120
- Monitor for editing: £350
- CD's to burn client discs £20
- Network Storage so that I don't lose client images: £200
That takes my post editing costs to: £1290. Add this to the camera gear and my total outlay to shoot weddings now stood at: £6,195
There is still more to be accounted for:
- New suit & Shoes: £250
- Travel costs (Diesel) - I've worked out my mileage and to date I've travelled over 200 miles for weddings: £20
- Electricity when charging batteries and working editing and for my storage device that is always turned on. I would wager a guess at these being £100 over the course of those 5 weddings.
- Website & domain: £180
- Business cards: £30
These other additional costs amount to some £580. Added once more to the previous totals and I then realised my total outlay amounted to: £6,775 to shoot weddings. My £840 turnover now seems pretty small. After my 5th wedding I needed to go on and make a further £5,935 in order to break even on my investment. Only then would any money I make be considered profit!
I also realised at this point that I still hadn't insured my equipment, nor had I taken out the public liability insurance that most venues require before allowing you to work on their premises...but I couldn't afford those at that point.
Breaking even on my investment - How long will it take me to do that?
It was when I put these figures into a spreadsheet for the first time It dawned on me: Being a wedding photographer is expensive! But I now wanted to figure out how long it would take me to break even. There was no way of me determining what my turnover for the next year would be. I couldn't predict bookings. So, I started to look at my pricing and came up with some models & projections.
(It gets quite 'numbery' here, but please read on)
From the first 5 weddings I'd been averaging £250 per wedding. After tax I would be left with £200 per wedding. That means I would need to shoot 28 weddings at that rate to break even on my current investment. I figured if I had a good year and shot 10 weddings, I'd still have another 18 to go. At that rate It would take me 3 years to break even, at which point the cameras would need replacing, the laptop would need renewing and I'd be starting all over again...I worked out that If I am making £200 per wedding and working nearly 40 hours per wedding I was paying myself £5.71 per hour...the UK minimum wage is £6.19 (as of 2012).
Another way of looking at that is that if I were going to repay my remaining investment of £5,935 at that rate, I would need to work 1,120 hours...
So lets assume I worked full time in an office and took home the £5.71 per hour. If I worked 40 hours in an office every single week earning that hourly rate I would take home an annual wage of £10,923.20. That amount is simply not enough to pay my bills and that is based on working 35 hours every week - with weddings You can only shoot so many in one year!
I think from the above alone it's clear to see that charging these low rates was not a sustainable business model. It just would never work. It wasn't even worth me doing it as I had a 'day job' too. I'd be working around 80 hours a week whenever I shot a wedding!
Okay, that's enough number crunching for one minute - there's more to it that money and time...
So, as it stood I'd have to work over 1100 hours in addition to my day job for less than minimum wage. But there is far more to it than cash and time. Making a photograph is an art and a craft. If everyone could do it then these prices would be the market rate - why would you need to go and find someone when any uncle or cousin with a camera could do it for you? The fact is not everyone can do this. Sure, new digital cameras can take some of the technicality out of taking an image - but knowing how to instinctively use a camera, being able to see a moment as it's about to happen, and then capturing it perfectly - that's worth something too.
You're not just investing in someone with a nice camera, a smart suite and a cool website, you're investing in someone who knows what they're doing, someone prepared and experienced. You're guaranteeing yourself that you will get the photographs that will last you a lifetime.
What am I saying?
My point here is that if you're looking for the £200 photographer, or if you're employing your friend / cousin / uncle because they take 'nice pictures' you're simply not placing enough value of your own wedding. I'm not suggesting you have to pay a lot of money, in fact there are some expensive photographers out there who are not worth what they charge, I am simply urging you to employ a professional. I'm not looking to appear as a hero when I say this, but this is part of the reason why my basic price is one-third of of the market average: I understand that not everyone has £1,400 for a wedding photographer, I certainly didn't at the time when I was getting married.
What I am saying is don't measure the importance or value of your wedding by your budget, or what it's costing you.
If you can afford £1,400 or more on a wedding photographer you are very lucky. My advice to you is pay them that money, get them on board and ensure that they are involved in every step of your wedding day from start to finish. Make sure that your £1,400 investment is the best it can be by allowing and enabling your photographer to do their job.
I was stressing about costs in the build up to my wedding - worrying that what my wife and I had arranged wasn't going to be magical enough for her, that it wasn't the wedding she had dreamed of her entire life. She knew I was concerned and said to me: "In my culture it is said that 'the less extravagant the wedding, the more blessed the marriage will be'. I want our marriage to blessed" - the morale here is that the value should be placed on the wedding itself and how much it means to each person. The wedding should not valued in any monetary sense.
Whilst this is a beautiful sentiment and one with which I completely agree - It still doesn't mean that my wife and I have a single image as beautiful as our wedding day and that breaks my heart.
I urge you when planning your wedding to take photography into account right from the start and hire a professional. I would encourage you to spend a good amount of time searching for a photographer who both fits your budget and has portfolio that takes your breath away.
Remember, a good wedding photographer will also be a wedding planner, a friend and a guest on your big day. They will help you to work out timings for your wedding breakfast, they'll tell you that when you're having your hair done - be sure to wear a button up top so you don't ruin two hours worth of curling and hair-spraying. A good photographer will tell you to dry the stems of your bouquet so as to not wet your dress, but most of all you'll learn to trust them so you can relax safe in the knowledge that this person will be capturing the special moments of your big day so that you have memories you will be able to cherish for the rest of time. A good photographer will be the best investment on your wedding day.
If you stumbled across this post as a result of looking for cheap wedding photographers, I sincerely hope this will encourage you to consider the photography on your big day and what value you place on it. Please feel free to leave a comment below and get in touch if you have any questions about my story or the costs of wedding photography.