Why Are Wedding Photographers So Expensive?

By Chris Cummins

The ceremony and reception venues are booked. You have an idea of the style of dress you want, colors and who will be your maid of honor and best man. The excitement is building! Next up is photography. You know you’re going to want wonderful pictures of your big day. But a cursory glance at wedding photographers and their prices can be an exercise in sticker shock. Photography without a doubt is expensive. But why? They’re just pictures for pete’s sake!

Here are eight reasons good wedding photographers are so expensive:

  1. They are qualified – When considering photographers and their fees it helps to remember you are not paying for merely a photographer’s time on your wedding day. You are paying for the 10, 15, or 20 years of commitment which is required to create wonderful images in the handful of hours they will shoot pictures during your wedding day. By paying more than you might have expected for a qualified, experienced photographer you are granting yourselves the extra reassurance you will enjoy your wedding memories for years to come. Like most professions, becoming a consistent quality professional photographer requires years of hard work. Many photographers attended college in photography, cut their teeth working for years as assistants or as newspaper staff photographers. They also spent countless nights surfing online forums talking about the latest and newest ways to improve their work. They are always networking and reading countless books just to keep up to date. They have shot many millions of pictures of a myriad of subjects. Your wedding shouldn’t be a long slog up a steep learning curve for your photographer. Your wedding pictures and overall experience ultimately will suffer.
  2. Important one-time events require serious responsibility – This is a once-in-a-lifetime event that is a culmination of months or years of work. There is no chance for a reshoot, not with so many important people in your lives coming from so many far away places to be with you and your future spouse for this one day. What happens if your photographer drops their camera? What happens if one of their camera disks is corrupted? What happens if your photographer breaks their ankle two days before your wedding? At each wedding, a truly professional wedding photographer has to be prepared for the risks of covering a one-chance event. That means keeping multiple disks on hand, image recovery software, multiple good quality cameras and a list of contacts that can fill in for them in the event they can’t shoot. The contingencies are numerous. Such preparedness can be costly and time consuming to maintain, hence the higher fees for clients.
  3. Seasonal nature of work – Photographers can only reasonably expect to have one wedding per week. These almost always take place on a Saturday. For many markets, including the market my business serves here in Kansas City, the winter months are not a popular time to hold a wedding. Weather can be very unpleasant and make travel downright hazardous. Hence photographers outside of the Sun Belt can expect to be busy only seven to eight months of the year. A photographer is having a very solid year if they have 20 to 25 weddings. In order to provide you and future clients an excellent service, photographers have to protect their business’ margins for the entire year with those 20 to 25 weddings.
  4. A single wedding represents a major time commitment – Your wedding is more than a commitment by your photographer for working the day of the wedding. They will pour many hours into the planning, editing, processing, presentation and shipping of the pictures, not to mention albums and other photography products included in their quoted packages. Your wedding will easily require 80 hours of your photographer’s time if not more.
  5. Tools are expensive – A qualified photographer will be carrying $10,000 or more in equipment on their person during your wedding. The digital camera gear will usually have to be replaced every few years. That’s expensive, considering professional caliber camera bodies cost more than $2,500 to replace. The photographer must also upgrade computers and software just as frequently. Add to that burden the normal wear and tear on all equipment and the costs become eye popping.
  6. Commitment to you – As a wedding photographer I can tell you it is much more pleasant to explain prices to clients once rather than apologize for the quality of their pictures forever. Ten years from now when viewing your wedding album, you will not be concerned with how much the photographer cost but you will be concerned with the quality of their work. Good is almost never cheap and cheap is seldom good. A good photographer understands this and builds their business with a priority placed on a commitment to your pictures and experience first and foremost.
  7. Growing the business is costly – A wedding photographer does not receive much repeat business from our clients. If we did that would mean a lot of failed marriages! Referrals to family and friends are not uncommon but there are only so many friends and family about to be married. Word-of-mouth business from happy clients is important, but it rarely is sufficient to fill a photographer’s calendar. Photographers, more so than other businesses, have to invest more into marketing plans that introduce their businesses to new potential clients. Many of these advertising efforts are expensive. A page 1 placement on The Knot’s photographers website listing costs more than $5,000 annually. That’s not cheap.
  8. Integrity – Imagine trying to decide between two photographers for your wedding, one photographer plays by the rules and doesn’t cut corners to save a few extra bucks but they have a higher price. Another photographer has a lower price but cheats the rules and cuts corners so they can low ball the competition. Which one is more likely to have your back when you need it? For some photographers integrity is sacred. They understand the long-term success of their business is impossible without it. Integrity requires them to deliver on their promises on time and exceed expectations. Their internal business affairs are conducted with integrity also. They pay their fair share of income taxes like you do and carry adequate liability insurance. Integrity requires them to collect sales taxes and pay them to state governments in their entirety on time. Such ethical practices are not always easy to maintain and often require us to pass on some of those costs to clients. Unfortunately for some integrity is seen as an inconvenience or an impediment. While these issues may not seem relevant to your decision in photographers, a person or a business which honors all of their obligations is much more likely to honor their obligations to you. A more expensive photographer doesn’t guarantee such integrity but it makes it far more likely.

Wedding photography is expensive. No one can disagree. There are a myriad of reasons a photographer has to charge such rates to ensure their survival over the long haul. As you ponder your options and choices don’t lose sight of how important your memories from this day will be to you. They shouldn’t be trusted with just anyone. The photographers may cost more than you originally expected but ask yourself a question: Is it better to pay more than you expected or less than you should?

Chris Cummins, is a Kansas City photographer and owner of Glow Imagery, a studio specializing in wedding photojournalism and contemporary portraiture. Photography has been his life’s work for 18 years. Chris has been intensely interested in photography since the days when wearing flannel, long underwear with combat boots was cool. He graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism with a degree in photojournalism in 1996. In Chris’ spare time he enjoys writing, reading, cooking and cinema.

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