A common question I hear is 'Why is wedding photography so expensive?' And a quick assumption that follows after someone learns I am a wedding photographer, responding to the presumed overpriced transactions,"Wow that's a really profitable market!" These are familiar thoughts, and to be honest, until I immersed myself into the wedding photography industry did I fully become aware of how little I knew about all the unknown parts that go into entrepreneurship and running a business full time. The aspects of business that as customers, we never think about. And until I became a wedding photographer did I realize that 'all that profit' has a cost. Simply put, it doesn't just go into my bank account.
Every wedding photographer runs their business differently, it's what makes their experience, brand, and delivery unique to them and what matches customer demand. I cannot speak for every photographer's process but I can defend that whatever their price points are, they have strategic reason for it.
So what's behind that price point anyway?
1) Taxes. This should be no surprise here. Just like every other American making money, I have to pay my taxes and April 15th comes every year to collect it. Similar to purchasing a product online, tax is dded to the cost at check out and this is how some photographers choose to process their payments. Others include it in their quoted price, but either way you are paying for the taxes of your photography service because taxes make the world go round. Just kidding, my right handed brain can't grasp taxes which is why I outsource this task, which brings us to number two.
2) Expenses. After taxes, there are business expenses. Things that simply make our business run! Every business has expenses and generally speaking, the more profit they are making, the more expenses they are probably expending. From editing software, marketing needs, packaging and products, to website hosting, and etc. Every business has different needs, but there are still expenses to be paid.
3) Equipment. It's so much more than a camera. There are multiple lenses, flash lights, batteries, straps, stands, SD cards - and don't forget the back up for all of it. And all that gear needs repairing, cleaning and preventative maintenance, and eventually replacing. This gear can take time to acquire and quickly adds up in cost, most photographers are showing up to your wedding day with at least $10k in gear. Not to mention this equipment needs to be insured, cause well accidents happen. In my first few years of business, I wasn't even making profit because I was purchasing the gear I would need to capture a wedding day well.
4) Skill. Wedding photography is a skill. Sure anyone can take a picture and just about everyone has a camera available pretty much all the time. But not everyone can do it ten hours every Saturday. A wedding day is joyful and wonderful to be a part of, but so. much. happens. behind the scenes that is often unexpected, and your photographer has to be a professional handling the unexpected with flexibility, class, and a smile! And this only comes with experience and practice. A professional thinks fast on their toes. Knows how to see light and make light when it's not present, cause photography is all about capturing subjects with light. Without light, you have no photo. Switching settings and guiding people quickly because when the photo time just got cut form 1 hr to 30 minutes, you still have to know how to deliver the very best you promised. A professional knows not all will go as planned, and is basically a part time ninja to still make the very best possible! It's so much more than a camera, it's so much more than a good picture. A wedding day involves so much that you don't want to risk it with someone who doesn't have the experience of anticipating and working through the unforeseen. And frankly, that is what you pay for. The experience and the guarantee.
5) It's a business. My photography is not a hobby. I set my prices so that I can contribute an income to my family and our financial goals. If I am not making profit, then I am not running a business. Photography is my full time job because I connect people and their stories through photos. I have learned the skill, and will continue learning it to build a successful business. I love what I do, but it's still work. A whole lot of work. And just like any job out there, I don't always feel like doing it. But when I show up to a wedding day the couple I am serving always comes first. It's their day, their story, not mine. I make it the best experience for them cause that's my job.
When couples get engaged, and they start planning their wedding, I think many create a budget that is unrealistic to what things actually cost. When they inquire about photography, they become shocked because it wasn't what they expected or budgeted. And then an experience that mattered so much to them is something they have to compromise on. Let me first say this. It is completely okay to have a budget on a wedding, and to make conscious choices to stick to a small budget. I applaud every couple who sticks to their budget, especially if they desire to not bring debt into their marriage. In fact, that was me. We did our wedding under $5k. We picked out three things we valued for our wedding day that were our must haves. We were aware of how much those things realistically cost, and simply made everything else work. We compromised on a lot, and had to get really creative with our wedding, but looking back I wouldn't have had it any other way cause we had our three things. Photography, a meal with our friends and family, and great music to dance to celebrate into the night to.
I think it's important to choose together what your must haves are, and have a budget that accurately represents how to have them. When choosing those must haves, consider it in a future thought. What do you want to remember when you look back on your wedding day? What will last? What can you pass on to help tell your love story for generations to come. Maybe you have dreams of passing down a wedding gown, so you want something timeless, high quality, or from a favorite designer. Maybe you want your guests to have an amazing night by sharing a delicious meal and dancing all night long to great music. Maybe you want to get married in a beautiful and exotic place. One thing to consider is that most things on your wedding day will only last twenty-four hours. The next day they will gone, and will only be a memory. But a photo, that will be there the day after, the year after, and every thing after. It will capture the memory of your best friends dancing and laughing, it will document the pretty venue, the details of your dress, and your first kiss as husband and wife. I think your future self will thank you when someday you look through your wedding prints with your grand-kids, having every photo to relive every favorite moment with them, telling the story of when it all began.