Why Is Wedding Photography So Expensive?

July 31, 2018

...he asked, following with a blank stare.  


I didn't really have an answer ready.  I stumbled through a few half-formed explanations.


"Well, I mean, it's a long day of shooting.  And I'll spend hours editing the photos; I take thousands per wedding so it takes awhile.  And there's the consultations before and after, that takes time.  Plus, you know, it's a lot of pressure..."


I could tell he wasn't convinced. 


Isn't it easier with digital cameras now?  Couldn't you just video the wedding and then take frames from the video?  How much editing do you really NEED to do?


I shrugged.  It wasn't the time or place to get into a sales pitch about all that's involved with shooting a wedding, or involved with modern photography for that matter.  In his mind, a photographer is worth only the hours he/she shows up to press a shutter button.  The idea of paying for the skill, or equipment, or artistic vision of a photographer didn't make sense to him.  


And, to be fair, I could understand his questions.  He had seen quotes from $3,000 up to $10,000 to shoot the same wedding, the same people, at the same location.  Why so much?  Why the massive swing?  In his mind, photographers are just taking advantage of the "wedding tax" and charging out the nose for the same service.  


I get it.  I see lots of different work from photographers, and if you're only looking at the final product, it seems that sometimes you can get phenomenal photos for a bargain, and sometimes very mediocre photos for what seems like a huge markup.  The quality of work doesn't always seem to correspond to the price charged. 


(Up to a point.  I think once you get into the upper echelon of wedding photographers, the relationship between price and photos gets easier to see.)


So, I've been internally debating this question.  Why do I charge what I charge?  Why do weddings cost so much to shoot?


For me, I think there are 3 major factors that go into what I charge.  The first is the most obvious: the actual wedding day. 


Most weddings are about 12 hours of shooting, and for me at least, it's not just randomly floating around the event and snapping photos at key moments.  Knowing where to be, what to anticipate, how to read people in the moment, how to direct people for portraits, how to work my gear, how to adapt to change (or outright catastrophe), what to look for in the lulls and how to react in the action; all of these things go into a very long and exciting day. 


And sure, people may think "Well, yeah, this is what I'm paying for.  I could get my nephew to just take pictures with his iPhone if I just wanted snapshots".  And they'd be right.  But the experience and ability to capture a fast-moving event while still maintaining an artistic vision is the thing you pay for, not just the time the photographer is there wandering around.


The second is probably the second most obvious: the photos.  It's no secret that every photo you see is processed in some way, even if it's extremely subtle.  Your #nofilter photos still are being touched by the software in your phone to boost color, contrast, and detail.  The photos from your wedding photographer will absolutely be touched by software.  How much and how carefully will depend on the skill and artistic taste of your photographer. 


There's a saying in the film industry: the best visual effects are the ones you don't even notice.  And I think that's really true when it comes to photography, especially weddings.  Sure, there may be some artistic flavor in the color and toning of a photo that adds to the mood, but that's not really what I'm talking about, and that's not really all that you're paying for.  Beyond the sheer amount of time it takes to process the thousands of photos taken during a wedding, you're paying for my ability to elevate those photos in a way that isn't immediately obvious.  




The third factor is all the background noise behind my business card.  First, I've got my camera gear, which will need repair and updating.  I've got my website fees, online storage fees, hard drives (photos sure ain't getting any smaller!), batteries, editing software, gas to get me to shoots, consults with clients, consults with non-clients...and so forth.  Again, you may say, "Well, yeah, that's just the cost of doing business!"  And again, you'd be exactly right.  It is the cost of doing business.  So that's why I build it into my cost of shooting a wedding.  


I don't mean to sound...spiteful.  The man I talked to didn't mean to belittle or undervalue what I do; he just didn't really understand all that I actually did.  And if I'm being honest, it was a bit of a process to break it all down.  Because I truly don't want to rip people off, or just take advantage of the 'wedding tax' that seems to be attached to all things wedding-related.  I feel that I give a fair price for my end product, and I also feel that I am being paid fairly for my time and effort.  So, I hope this breakdown helps shed some light into the background behind the photos, and for those photographers reading this, hopefully you can settle the debate about your own work as well.

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