There I was reading pointless status updates on Facebook rather than doing what I should have been doing. I should have been editing pimples off the faces of pubescent girls, whitening teeth, removing braces and making people into what they want to be. I should have been applying glam filters to RAW files, cloning over distracting background elements and adding my logo to reduced photos for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. But, I chose to see pictures of what friends had for dinner, learn that someone’s baby was having trouble leaving breast for bottle and view videos of hilarious cats. Then, there it was …
“2,500 – $3,500 for wedding photographer??? I went into the wrong line of work!”
I set my Russian Caviar aside and summoned the butler to bring me another glass of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon so I could contemplate the poster’s point. I considered getting into the Bentley to be driven to the Marina to see in my pro photographer colleagues on their yachts to ask their opinions on the meaning of the post.
But the butler didn’t answer my call. Instead, my wife, sitting at the kitchen table working her third job, gave me a look like I was crazy. My caviar plate was a bowl of microwave popcorn and my Bentley turned out to be a Hyundai Accent that was less expensive than my camera, sitting in our one-car garage while our 2006 Nissan with 146,000 miles sat outside in the driveway. None of my colleagues were at the marina and the only time we get to go on yachts is when someone hires us to capture their event in pictures.
But, my friend’s status update made me realize that he, an administrator and executive who is probably pulling 80 to 100 Gs a year, thought he should have been a rich photographer instead.
Pass me the popcorn and I’ll let you know what your photographer is facing and why she charges “so much.”
First, according to Payscale.com, the national median income for photographers is $36,000.00 a year. Those on the highest end of the pay scale bring in about $85,000.00 and those on the lowest are at $9,000.00-$12,000.00.
When you pay your photographer $3,000.00 to shoot your wedding, you are contracting for usually 8+ hours of services the day of your event AND 20+ hours after you head for your honeymoon cruise. Most of us work late into the night to get social media photos up in a preview gallery for you and your friends. Yes, we want our logo to be seen when you share your pictures and tag friends.
Out of that $3000 comes your product. Is it a leather album with two smaller albums for parents, a slideshow of images, an online gallery? Let’s subtract our cost of supplying those things and estimate $800.00 for product.
Did we bring a second shooter? Let’s subtract another $300 for that since we pay them out of what you pay us. That leaves $1900.00 or $60 an hour. Not bad, huh? Wait, there’s more…
Out of that remaining $1900.00 comes our business costs which include advertising, travel, equipment, computer editing software, technology upgrades, mailings, internet bills, web storage fees, professional membership fees, equipment insurance, liability insurance, continuing education. I’m amazed at my friends who also maintain studios outside their homes with rent, utilities and insurances. More and more of us are opting for home studios for obvious reasons. If I have to pay for a studio my fees are going to need to go higher.
Yes, you’re right, your wedding isn’t our only wedding. We shoot other weddings too but we do 90% of our wedding business in June-August. That’s 12-13 weekends if we book solid. Saturday is the big day but we do pick up a few Sunday weddings too, if we’re lucky. The rest of the year, especially after October is pretty dead. That means wedding photographers have got to make 80-90% of their living in 10-12 weeks, especially in the Northeast.
So let’s imagine we totally book out our summer and bring in $35,000 on weddings. That would be great! We’ll then shoot as many portraits as we can and hope to have a strong senior picture season because we know, in the Northeast, we’ll be doing next to nothing except paying out to advertising and bridal shows to get next summer booked to do it all again.
Still think your photographer has got to be rolling in the dough? Your photographer also has to take care of his own health insurance, retirement account and self-employment taxes. Paid vacation? No such thing.
What’s the morale of the story? Don’t go into photography solely for the money. The good news is that “photographer” made it into the top 200 jobs of 2013. The bad news is it is number 172 behind taxi driver at 146. (http://www.careercast.com/content/top-200-jobs-2013-161-180). In 2010 we made it to 146 on the jobs list in the WSJ.
Wedding photographers are not getting rich. They charge the lowest rate they can to stay in business and make a living. Their cost of business, quality of equipment, education and experience sets their rates. But, be careful! Our field also allows for any Tom, Dick or Sherry to purchase an intermediate level camera, kit lens and flash, throw up a website and hang a shingle proclaiming themselves “professional” photographers. They’ll even set rates similar to area established pros. Always ask how long they have been shooting, where they studied photography and what professional associations they belong to. Will they shoot your wedding with a backup camera in their bag in case of equipment failure?
With established professionals providing a resume beyond “self-taught” and “I love photography,” you are not getting ripped off. Trust me, like every small business owner in America, your photographer is doing his best to make a living doing what he loves while providing you with a product that will leave you raving about his services.
Interested in photography for big bucks?
Don’t quit your day job…