• Emily Wilkerson

Why is photography so expensive?

Updated: Jan 19, 2020

I read a lot of really tasteful articles about why wedding photographers shouldn't talk about their cost breakdowns and profits because it cheapens the product and is unprofessional- and I understand that vantage point but I think it's valid to wonder what exactly you're paying for when you hire a wedding photographer. I want to educate people when they are curious. There are no dumb questions, right?

I want to look deeper than the rule of thumb "don't go budget" because yes, if someone offers "good prices" as their main selling point that's a red flag. That's unfortunately where so many photography horror stories come from- but that's for another blog at another time.

My goal is to share a little bit about the heirloom side, and a little bit about the business side of a photography business.

Photo by Emily www.fernandfountain.com October 2019

Why is wedding photography "so expensive?" Let's go deeper and ask what you really mean: what are you spending your money on? I know I wondered when I hired my wedding photographer, way back before I was a photographer myself.

First let's break it down into two questions:

1) What are you purchasing when you hire me to photograph a wedding?

2) What costs are in the background of my business when I sign a contract for your wedding?

Photo by Emily www.fernandfountain.com June 2019

First question: What are you purchasing?

I shoot your wedding and a few weeks later I deliver your gallery and you go through it and relive your wedding day. You see yourself crying tears of joy. You see your now-spouse filled with excited anxiety right before the big moment at the aisle. You see the crazy party on the dance floor. You see the way your mom is crying as she zips your dress from behind. You get choked up. What did you purchase?

You purchased an experience from me. Reliving your wedding day is an experience you want for the rest of your life. You purchased emotion. You now have a hard copy of the emotions of your wedding day- I'm telling your day as a story. You purchased your story. All the planning you poured in to this day is now a piece of your history and you are holding it in your hand. You make a lifelong investment when you hire a wedding photographer.

Photo by Emily www.fernandfountain.com May 2019

Not every photographer wants to work like I do, and that's fine, so I speak for myself when I say this: When you hire me to be your wedding photographer, you aren't just purchasing someone to follow you around and "document your day." You're purchasing the intangible things you want to see in your wedding gallery: you're purchasing a story of emotions, reactions, in-between moments when you're waiting for the next thing on the list but an unscripted highlight happens.

It's the intangible moments in the photos that you are purchasing from me. You're purchasing an expert to look for the little things that say the big things, so you can hold on to your wedding day for 50 years.

Photo by Emily www.fernandfountain.com June 2019

Things become more expensive as they become more valuable. I'm a huge fan of deals. I thrift obsessively and I am always at the sale rack. I'm super frugal. But it's important to know that the shirt I get at my local consignment store for $3.99 isn't anywhere near the same quality shirt I'm going to get from Madewell for $99.00! One shirt will last longer than the other, be made ethically, be a better fit, have better seams, and so on.

When you're looking for someone to photograph your wedding you're not saving money by going to the lowest bidder- you're actually wasting that money and losing lifetime memories.

Bunny trail: Photography isn't even the close to the most expensive part of a wedding. PetaPixel says that "...relative to the price of a wedding, [photography is] quite affordable.The major [wedding] expenses are... the venue(s), liquor and multi-course meals for guests, a multi-tiered cake, flowers, decorations, entertainment, your wardrobe, makeup and hair, accommodations..."

Photo by Emily www.fernandfountain.com June 2019

This leads us to the next, more practical question, which is probably what you came for: What are the background business costs?

Let's put a starting number on a hypothetical wedding package to keep things concrete. Wedding Wire says most couples spend around $3,000. Apparently wedding photography is 12% of the entire wedding budget.

What does that hypothetical $3,000 go towards?

1- Taxes. $900 of that money will go straight to the government. That's the least fun part. #smallbusinessowners

2- Insurance. I insure my camera equipment! I joke that it's worth more than my car... but that's not a joke.

3- Software. My editing software is a monthly subscription.

Photo by Emily www.fernandfountain.com May 2019

4- Marketing. How did you hear about me? If it wasn't word-of-mouth, it was marketing. Marketing costs hundreds of dollars a month. It costs a lot of time, too. Websites don't update themselves!

5- My website is a monthly subscription.

6- Second shooters/assistant editors. If I hire someone else to shoot part of a wedding day I trust that person so I pay them well! That's a few hundred dollars as well. Sometimes I need help when I run behind so I hire someone to edit for me.

7- Equipment replacement/repair/purchase. I often upgrade or replace gear and part of my wedding packages goes toward funding the next time I need to care for a piece of my equipment or buy something.

Photo by Emily www.fernandfountain.com June 2019

After all my up-front costs have been paid, there's my time to account for:

8- Editing. If I am at your wedding day shooting for 8 hours, I'm not making 3k in 8 hours. The vast majority of the work I do is after your wedding day, in the background- not during the actual number of hours I'm shooting on your wedding day.

I have to cull out all the photos that aren't good enough. Then I change 8-21 specific settings per photo before it's finished. You're getting approximately 700 photos back from me (my most popular package). I spend 15 minutes on a single photo sometimes. Sometimes I remove a fire hydrant. I make your skin flawless. My whole culling & editing & photoshopping process takes anywhere from 25-35 hours. I go though your whole album 3 times to make sure it's perfect.

9- I also need to factor in the clerical time throughout this process. Meeting you for coffee to go over and sign the contract, the organizational and vision casting phone calls/meetings we have; these times I get to hang out with you are SO FUN for me but it's also part of my job. Weddings average 6 hours of clerical work for me- from our fun talks to my visiting/researching the venue, to my contingency planning, to carefully selecting my second shooter, etc.

Photo by Emily www.fernandfountain.com June 2019

10- I keep up on my trends and sharpen my skills with continuing education. I take at least one class/webinar/mentor session each month.

11- Accounting. Taxes are complex, you guys. I don't want to get in trouble. So I hire a professional to keep me organized and safe.

So now, 6 years after I got into this game, I understand what I am actually doing when I sign a wedding contract. I am giving you the intangible luxury of remembering. Wedding photography is a luxury that serves you for 50 years and it's your legacy to your children and grandchildren. I take that seriously.

Now you know my perspective of my wedding photography and some background business responsibilities that enable me to competently give you a very high-value emotional experience of your wedding day. Your photos (and your rings) are often the only things you will have from your wedding day for the rest of your life. I put in the work to ensure that you'll be radiantly happy with the gallery I deliver so you can relive your wedding day joys always.

I just can't beat this closing sentence from PetaPixel: "Good wedding photography is a luxury service for a luxury occasion that commands luxury prices. As the saying goes, “You get what you pay for.'”

Photo by Emily www.fernandfountain.com August 2019

Happy New Year, friends.

Hit me up if you read this through and have any follow-up questions or thoughts.

"Average Photography Cost" https://www.weddingwire.com/cost/wedding-photographer

"The Unspoken Reason Why Wedding Photography is So Expensive"


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Lifestyle photography, documentary videography. Authentic, unposed storytelling.