Have you ever wondered why wedding photographers are so damn expensive? How can anyone justify charging £1000+ for one day’s work? After all, a good camera costs about a thousand pounds, right? After that, it’s just plain greed!
If you are shopping for a wedding photographer, you might be shocked at the incredibly vastly ranging prices out there – so why should you pay more. Do you actually get a better product?
Professional wedding photography is far more complex than most people give it credit for. To simplify this, I am going to outline my business into a few categories:
If your wedding photographer turns up with just a basic digital SLR camera and a lens, you need to seriously lower your expectations. Not all cameras are built equally, and to further this point, I use 5 different lenses at each wedding. Then there is the back-up body, flash guns, lighting, stands, tripods, triggers, spare batteries, memory cards and modifiers. These should all be the highest caliber – including the back-up gear.
For those who don’t understand the first thing about photography, let’s make this an analogy about cars. Say you want to win Formula 1. Your Ford Mondeo just isn’t going to cut it. Yes, it has 4 wheels, can go over 100mph given a long run-up, and may be better for carrying your family – but on the circuit you are going to keep getting lapped by Ferrari, and finish last. Like cars, camera equipment has its limitations – and better gear costs a lot more.
My cameras cost around £2500 each. Each lens cost around £1000 (and I have 5). Flashes are a few £hundred, and the lighting I use for the first dance is another £1500.
All of this means I am able to get far more flexibility and be more creative in terms of shots – regardless of the location, lighting and weather.
Now let’s imagine that a novice has bought exactly the same equipment as me, and shoots their first wedding. Does that mean that s/he now delivers the same product?
Let us stick to the racing car analogy. Imagine that you have just passed your driving test…and then you are put on the grid in a F1 Ferrari car at Silverstone. What do you think your chances are of a podium finish?
In all likelihood you will either immediately stall, or go flying into a barrier. You probably won’t even learn what all those interesting buttons on the steering wheel do, and when to use them.
This is the same principle when applied to photography. You can’t spend £3000 on a camera and become a photographer overnight. Or not a good one anyway.
All those buttons and dials? They are there for a reason. A good photographer will be changing settings constantly as they move around, without ever looking away from the subject, in case they miss a shot. Experience has given me the knowledge to read the scene and lighting, and to change camera and lens setting instantly, without taking my eyes away from the viewfinder. This muscle-memory knowledge and know-how has taken years and literally hundreds of thousands of shots to achieve.
Meanwhile, I am guiding the subjects on where to stand, where to look, how to pose whilst composing a shot using the environment around me. I do this with confidence and a smile, putting the subjects at ease.
Even if a photographer can take a great landscape photo, it doesn’t mean that they are great with people. People are shy, timid creatures, and need to feel relaxed and attractive. They need to be guided with ease, as they may not be that comfortable in front of cameras. They may need help posing and letting go.
These are skills that a lot of clients don’t realise is important – until they have a photographer that is not confident themselves, taking awkward photos of them.
Another big misconception about wedding photography pricing is how long photographers are getting paid for. I charge around £1000 for an 8-hour wedding. On the face of it, that’s £125ph!! But look more carefully:
Even by the time a wedding starts we can add a few more hours. It is likely the client and I have met beforehand, and exchanged numerous emails and phone calls. I will have created a wedding plan for the day, tested and packed my gear, and travelled perhaps an hour to the venue to scout out the location beforehand.
Afterwards I pack everything away, travel back, back everything up and upload photos. Now comes the time consuming part.
Editing for a standard wedding takes 15-20 hours. Sometimes more. I look at each of the 1000+ photos taken individually on the screen, and apply filters, crops, effects and other editing to over 600 photos. Then I have to make back-ups of these, and post them out to client. Oh yes…the computer, hard drives, USB sticks and software aren’t free either – and that all adds to the cost.
In total I usually spend 30-35 hours on one wedding. So that’s not £125ph anymore. In fact it’s around £30. There are also social media and websites to keep updated, accounts to keep on top of and advertising campaigns to be created.
So, I have invested in my equipment. Simplicity says that the costs stop there. Unfortunately there are the many hidden costs that clients are almost completely unaware of:
Monthly insurance for my equipment
Monthly website costs
Regular essential advertising costs
The list goes on
When you have taken into account the upgrading of equipment, as it becomes worn/obsolete, the hourly rate drops further still. To around £15ph.
Then consider that all this equipment becomes obsolete and needs to be upgraded regularly, my wages drop even further.
So how come some other photographers are so cheap??
Imagine you are shopping for a new car. In fact, make that a used car. You find a few Ford Mondeos on the internet, and noticing that some are better deals than others, you play the sellers off against each other, trying to get the best car for the cheapest price. You find a 2001 Ford Mondeo for £400 in Blackburn. This is the deal to beat! Now imagine the reaction if you phone up a Ferrari garage and say you are after buying their car…but they have to match £400. It’s a bit like expecting Michelin Star food for McDonalds prices, or U2 to perform for the same fee as a local pub band. The product is not the same.
There are a few reasons you may find photographers for, say £250.
1) They are either new and inexperienced, and need to build their portfolio. We all started here. They are unlikely to have the equipment, experience and expertise of a seasoned professional – and they have not realized the costs of actually making wedding photography a sustainable business yet. If they are good, their prices will soon jump up. I charged £200 for my first wedding – but I am a lot better now, and have invested £1000s into much better equipment since.
2) They are hobbyists who do a little photography in their spare time. Some photographers actually have another full-time job which pays their bills. They are able to charge far less, as they consider this sideline a hobby. If it all goes wrong, it does not effect their income. But do you really want your wedding photography to just be someone’s hobby?
3) They just aren’t that good. Perhaps they have tried charging more for their packages before, and customers would not bite. There are some photographers out there who have taken literally hundreds of weddings, but their product has never really improved. Perhaps they don’t edit their photos properly – or at all.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
At the end of the day, everyone has a budget. If you have done the maths over-and-over, and you can really only afford £400 for a photographer, then you will find one. If you look hard enough, you may find one who destined for great things and bag a bargain!
However, it is unreasonable for a clients to expect a creative to work for as little as possible. Or to ‘price-match’. No 2 photographers (or other creatives) are the same. They are different people, with different styles and different results. Asking them to heavily reduce their prices is actually rather insulting. They have not plucked a price out of the air, and if they know their craft and business – they will charging exactly what they are worth.
My advice is to meet photographers, as rapport is so important. If you don’t feel comfortable in their presence, you won’t look comfortable in your wedding photos. My next piece of advice is ask to see entire wedding albums. Photographers will always show off their best work on websites, but you need to be sure that they offer entire coverage that is consistently excellent.
After location, the photographer is the 2nd most important element of your wedding. Photos will be all you will have to show your family and friends in years to come, and cutting costs now will only lead to regrets later.
If you wish to meet me beforehand, I offer a free no-obligation meeting with couples first. Other photographers should do the same, so meet a few. Just don’t book someone without seeing full albums first.