It’s a common theme that professional photographers hear about and talk about: the value of the photos we produce. In Facebook groups we are inundated with “ISO reasonably priced photographer” or “doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.” (Side note: if you post looking for any service anywhere ever, please just avoid these phrases since you’re more likely to find your perfect service provider if you post an actual budget estimate you’re aiming for.) Sometimes they are prefaced with the exasperated questions, “Why is wedding photography so expensive?!” And search posts like that lead to a lot of discussion in professional groups about our own pricing and offerings and how they compare to our local competitors.
Which brings me to my post today. In one of the various discussions the point was made that when people see a price for a service, they do the math about how much that is per photo (or hour or whatever) and think, “Wow, that’s a lot!” and leads to a downward trend in consumer investment. And it was countered with cupcakes.
That’s right, CUPCAKES.
The person making the cupcake counter-argument alleged that such consumer thinking happens anywhere and we shouldn’t worry ourselves over it. After all, you can go to the grocery store and get a dozen dry, inexpensive pre-fab cupcakes, or you could go to a boutique bakery and pay the same price for one really amazing cupcake that is more beautiful and delicious. This argument is totally valid, and I’m not here to dispute it. I want to expand it.
When you hire a photographer, you are not hiring someone to just take some photos. You can do that yourself with your phone all day every day, and your phone photos aren’t a totally shitty quality like they were circa 2007 when phone photos were basically only usable on the phone. However, the equipment professionals use will create a better quality image than a phone, and then also the photographer will add their artistic touch both in the capture and edit of the image, making it truly a work of art. Anyone who’s been a guest at a wedding and tried to photograph into the sun with their phone the way I am with my camera can attest to how their phone captured an alright photo, but my camera caught it better.
So quality is Reason #1 that you hire a professional photographer instead of just always taking your own photos. But as I said, you don’t hire them just to take photos.
You hire a photographer to commemorate an occasion & capture your authentic essence.
Coming back around to cupcakes, the point was raised that people regularly go the cheap route for their cupcakes, even for special occasions, because they don’t notice the quality difference or care. So this is the thing that gets me about the cupcake argument: you are not emotionally attached to cupcakes. Okay, yes we are a little because they’re yummy, but it’s not the same. None of us are buying cupcakes for every birthday and saving one from the dozen in a special cupcake preservation box, which we then take out every so often to reminisce about who we were and the fun things that happened in our lives at the time we had purchased that cupcake and not eaten it. But we do this with photos, either in physical or digital formats.
Photos are some of the most precious things you can procure for yourself throughout your life. They document who you were at a given time. And I don’t just mean what you looked like. A great photographer will take the time to loosen you up, get to know you and capture your personality in the photos. Professional photos will also capture the connections and relationships with the people in your life, and in the case of weddings, your raw emotions during the day. Every time you look at a photo you’ll be reminded of the day and stories will come running into your mind, eager to be told. Your children and grandchildren will see these photos of you (provided you #printyourphotos!) and get a more full understanding of who you are as a person. You won’t just be Mom or Dad, or Gramma or Grandpa; you’ll be a fully formed person in their eyes with a rich history and an identity that’s all yours.
So, why is wedding photography so expensive?
Because they aren’t just photos.
When you hire a professional photographer, you’re hiring someone to capture your most precious memories and your authentic personality, and we take our responsibility seriously. Professional photographers have invested hours upon hours of study over the course of years to perfecting our skills and are constantly trying to improve our craft. That ranges from the technical study of creating our images to improving our posing and prompting techniques to bring out your best and truest self in the images. Spending on professional photos should never be an investment you’re afraid to make because when all the cupcakes are gone, the photos are going to be what remain to tell the story.
The Other Reason Wedding Photography is So Expensive….
Being a wedding photographer is a complicated life. We often spend 40+ hours on one client’s wedding between the planning, phone calls, engagement session, wedding day, editing, creating albums, etc. We also spend an insane amount of time on potential clients that never book with us (a.k.a. working for free). Not to mention the hours we spend on administrative tasks like marketing, bookkeeping, and so on.
And then of course there’s the fact that weddings happen seasonally (despite wedding photographers having work to do year round for those weddings). So it’s not like we can book a client for every weekend of the year. The average wedding photographer who works alone (no employees or associate shooters) can only manage about 20-25 weddings per year before suffering from fatigue & burn-out (which means reduced service quality). That means that wedding photographers have to make their entire business’ income to cover expenses and their salary off of those bookings. Higher end photographers that provide a better client experience usually have to take on fewer weddings to be able to provide that level of service, which means that they need to charge even more.
So yes, you could go with a wedding photographer who only charges $1000 for all day coverage, but think about how many clients they need to take on in order to achieve a salary above the poverty threshold ($13,171 in 2020).
Spoiler: it’s not 14 weddings.
Photographers only see about 30-40% of the business revenue they generate after expenses and taxes. So a $1000 photographer would have to book 37 weddings per year to earn half as much as a full time Target cashier.
I don’t know about you, but I would want to be photographed by a photographer who feels valued and still finds fulfillment in their work, not one who’s feeling burnout and resents how much work they’re doing for so little.
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