Why does a wedding photographer cost SO much?!
"Seriously. for 4 hours everyone is charging over a grand! That's like $250+/HOUR, right?!"
There's a lot more that goes into wedding photography than just the few hours you see your photographer shooting. Here's a breakdown of the costs we accrue and all the hours of labor that go into a single wedding.
My goal here isn't to convince you to take out a second mortgage to pay for your photographer (pick a photographer and price point that works for you), but I want to help you understand why some photographers cost more (hint, it's not just because they're popular). While I based this breakdown entirely on my business, hopefully it will help you better understand any photographer you chose to work with and give you important talking points when choosing that photographer.
If you're on my site, there's a good chance you're shopping around for an elopement photographer. By now, you've probably noticed that there is a pretty wide range of choices and price levels. No joke: you can hire someone's hobbiest uncle on CraigsList for $200 or an acclaimed photographer for $15,000+. Why such a price gap?! I'm here to break down the costs and labor that goes into wedding photography to help you understand why most people you'd want to hire tend to cost at least several grand for a full day of photography.
What does it cost to be a professional photographer?
Being a professional is expensive. Last year alone, I claimed about $13,000 in costs to run Knots in the Pines. While costs are different for everyone, here's a rough breakdown of where our money goes.
1) A 4-year degree in Fine Art Photography from a prestigious school where my personal mentor was a Guggenheim Fellow (She was the COOLEST! I'm totally not embarassed to admit that I'm still rocking a school-girl crush a decade later.)
Cost: $30,000+ (I try not to think about it since I finished paying it off this year ❤️)
2) Professional grade gear that is all insured and constantly getting replaced, because let's face it, adventure elopements are pretty hard on gear and I break lenses about once every 3 months!
Cost: $5,000 / year
3) Backup gear. You'd be pretty pissed if we met in the remote mountains of Utah and 10 minutes into shooting your wedding, some gear broke and I just shrugged by shoulders and was all "I guess that's it, folks!". We have to always have a backup camera, lenses, memory cards, batteries... etc.
Cost: $1,000 / year
4) Image backup. Speaking of backup, we better take good care of those photos! We store our photos off site, and until they're backed up off site, we store them two places locally. Shooting roughly 100GB/week, that's a LOT of storage! No joke, I have FOUR backup drives in my studio, totaling 22 TB in photos!
Cost: $500 / year
5) Permits and Park Fees. I believe in supporting our parks, so we not only pay for annual passes in places where we shoot a lot, but we also inform parks that we'll be shooting and pay applicable photo permit fees.
Cost: $600+ / year
6) Niceties. I want my clients to have a great time, so Joe and I always have stocked packs with everything from snacks to first aid to spray-in shampoo and hairspray to a flask of High West whiskey. When we meet clients, we frequently treat them to a beer or coffee. We also send thank-you gifts for people that leave reviews (hint-hint!).
Cost: $700 / year
7) Advertising. A full-time professional photographer needs clients and getting clients can be expensive. Between maintaining this website, Google ads, and being on major wedding search engines like The Knot and Wedding Wire, this is one of the greatest costs of being self-employeed.
Cost: $3,600 / year
8) Travel. We do charge travel fees for some of our clients (e.g. out-of-state weddings), but as a whole, we're cover the costs of maintaining our vehicle, gas, camping, etc.
Cost: $1,500+ / year
9) Software. Photoshop, Lightroom, and PixieSet (the website I deliver photos with) all have monthly subscription fees. Some years I'll also invest in other software (e.g. Image RAW processors, editing programs, etc.).
Cost: $700 / year
... and so, so, so much more
It's tempting to believe that the main work a photographer does is shooting images. If only that was true!!! I fact, for each hour I spend behind the camera, I spend about 10 hours in the studio editing, corresponding, advertising, etc.
Average hours I spend per week working:
Here's a quick breakdown of what a normal work week looks like.
Shooting: Time spent with a camera to my face
Traveling: Driving time
Editing: Taking all of your photos and making them look incredible by correcting the colors, brightening your eyes, and making the album look continuous.
Gear maintenance: While some weeks I just have to wipe things down, other weeks I get the *pleasure* (read sarcastically) of completely disassembling lens to fix focusing mechanisms or cleaning the sensors on the inside of my cameras
Client Communication and Support: Sending emails, planning the perfect hike for an elopement, contacting vendors, applying for permits, Zoom meeting, etc.
Client Acquisition and Advertising: This is everything from posting on Instagram, maintaining my website, working with advertising platforms, meeting potential clients, and responding to inquiries.