Wedding Tips: Why Does Professional Wedding Photography Cost So Much?

As Brides and Grooms begin planning their wedding, of course they want all the nice things and entertainment their budget can afford. It is nothing for them to spend thousands on their DJ, several hundred on their wedding cake, and even more for food and table decorations. We haven’t even talked about the dress or tuxes yet. Each of those start to add up fast and the money gets short and the budget gets blown.

Yet, in a lot of cases, the last thing that gets booked is usually the photographer. The scrimping has to be someplace and every couple knows that “anyone with a decent camera can take great photos”, right?

Let me say this as politely as I can- Wrong.

It’s Not the Gear that Counts.

I have in my possession, thousands of dollars worth of Professional quality gear. Great cameras, flash units (several), Studio equipment, light stands, light meters, and I can go on and on. This is gear ANY photographer would love to have, and most Professionals already do have and more. But if I put that equipment in the hands of someone who hasn’t mastered getting the camera out of Auto mode, they would be totally lost here. Could they make a photograph? Sure, but would it have all the things that make it a Professionally made photograph? Probably not.

Here is a CLUE for you couples- it’s NOT the gear, camera, lighting, or anything else that makes a “Great Photograph”, but the person behind the lens that CREATES the photograph that really matters. Ansel Adams was one of my “mentors” when I started in photography and always used to tell people at his classes that “a photograph isn’t taken, it’s created”.

Far too often, many couples are tempted to go the “cheap” route in their wedding day photography. Whatever person who claims to be a “professional photographer” that offers them the cheapest price, is where they go. What they usually discover is that NONE of the photographs look like they what they have in their minds eye once they see them when they hire this person. Add to it, they are probably hiring an “enthusiast” who want to make a little extra money by being a “weekend warrior wedding photographer”. Anyone can buy a decent camera down at Best Buy and take OK photographs. But it’s not the gear that makes the professional but how it’s used.

So What’s Involved in “Creating” a Photograph

First, I can tell you from experience, you make a LOT of mistakes. I started with film, and every time that shutter was pressed, it was costing me money. Film costs, processing costs and print costs added up fast. I am grateful I learned on film, because that “learning curve” happened fast since I was not going to “waste film” on something that wasn’t properly exposed, composed, or something I wouldn’t share with others.

A true professional is ALWAYS perfecting their craft. We study, we attend seminars and take courses, we take a LOT of photographs to test out something new and exciting, and we do a lot of things wrong as well as a lot of right things we can use with our clients. We learn lighting techniques and the role light plays in our craft. We learn new compositional techniques and new ways to enhance our photographs to make them unique. And as a wedding photographer, you learn to create a style that makes your photographs unique from everything else out there. Even one “signature shot” can take months or even years to perfect and we work to have that available to our clients. The way I started photographing my first wedding is far different than the way I shoot one today. It is that “learning curve” I still work to perfect today as there are so many new and exciting things happening in photography today that was never possible with film.

So Why should I pay you 3 times what some want?

Lets first talk about what goes into photographing your wedding PROFESSIONALLY and perhaps you will get a better understanding of the costs involved.

When I first start with a couple, I spend the time needed to get to know them, their personalities, and their desires. Anything less than a couple of hours isn’t serving them properly nor is it going to result in great photography. Unless I do this face to face, there isn’t any possible way to provide them what they want. Far too many brides and grooms want to “text it in” and hope they get everything they want. I call this “Mistake #2” and one that can cost you more tears after your wedding. Get to know your photographer as much as they can get to know you. This is where creating the magic begins. Do an Engagement Session so you can work together and make special magic happen at your wedding day.

I also work with them to create a timeline and a shot list. I ALWAYS visit their venue ahead of time together, unless it is a distant wedding or the couple is coming in for a destination wedding. Even then, I do the research of their venue to understand the layout, the locations for the best photographs and have an understanding of what is happening and when. I study other photographers work that have photographed there as well. This way, I don’t miss shots and I am in position when those special moments begin to happen. I rarely miss them since I instinctively know when to press that shutter.

Most wedding days are around 8 hours long- from the preparations to the exit. Some are up to 12 hours. If you hire me for the full day, I am there and ready to capture those special moments. It’s more than just “pressing the button”, but involves finding the light, using it, creating the composition, and setting the camera for proper exposure no matter how good or bad the light might be. It means using flash if needed and in the proper amount and location to give you the best photographs possible. It means I work HARD to get every shot and understand the flow of your wedding day. I work to be unobtrusive and almost invisible to you and your guests and to capture MOMENTS that are not posed or contrived. I put 110% of myself into every wedding and leave exhausted from your day. And I have a LOT of photographs for you in the end.

Then, the real time involved in creating the magic begins. Every image I take is looked at, edited, enhanced, and reflects what your vision says your photos should look like. I will spend between 40-80 hours pouring over your photographs and making sure each meets the level of quality professional images you expect. If you want an album or photobook and have ordered one, I will spend another 20 or so hours doing the layouts and sending you PDF proofs for approval and making sure that the story of your wedding day is reflected in those images.

I also have to create your online Gallery and upload your photos for you to have the ability to share with friends and family. And I have to keep you involved in the process all the way to the final images you select. So what it boils down to is that I will spend a good 2-3 weeks of actual time from start to finish from the time we meet until the time we have the final product. You are simply not going to get this commitment from your “weekend warrior” wedding photographer. They work a full time job and their time commitment isn’t possible to give your the results you expect.

So let’s explore my overhead involved for a moment so you can get an idea of what a true Professional Photographer is facing when they go out to photograph your wedding:

  1. Camera costs. A true professional level camera can reach upwards of the $5-6,000 price range. (I shoot Nikons, so visit their website and price a couple) That’s just for the camera body and includes no lenses. Add a few lenses from $700 to $5,000 each and you have in one camera set up an easy $8-10,000 just to provide the quality images you desire. And because my equipment is put into a Factory service center yearly for cleaning and any repairs needed, I always have equipment I can depend on for the rough service they often encounter. The life of a professional level camera is about 3 years, so replacing them is always a necessity, not an option. Your amateur level “Best Buy” equipment just can’t handle the service a Professional puts them through.
  2. Backup equipment. No Professional will never show up with one camera, but has another compete setup above. I carry 3 cameras at every wedding complete with lenses and all the other gear needed to photograph your wedding. My $600 flash units will work all day like the abused children they are, where as the “cheap Walmart” flash could easily fail. I have backups to each of those as well. I “backup” my backups. I also carry light meters, filters for lenses, color balance cards, and a whole host of things needed to handle creative or tough lighting conditions.
  3. Business License and Taxes. Yes, I have to pay those fees and they aren’t cheap. I operate as a business and not as a novice or enthusiast that is trying to make a little extra money and has no Business license nor pays taxes.
  4. Indoor studio lighting. What if your outdoor wedding is rained on? I carry a fully portable studio so we can get the great photographs in spite of weather. Costs- $3-5,000 just for ONE studio setup.
  5. Insurance. Yes, I carry liability insurance in case something is broken and it is my fault or someone trips on a light stand. Cost $450 a year.
  6. Computers and software. Each of your images are processed on color calibrated computers and with the best software I can find. Costs there- $3,000 up yearly.
  7. SD Cards and backup storage. Quality professional SD cards my cameras require are $50-60 each. I have so many I lost count. I also archive your images on multiple backup hard drives in the event a computer crashes so they are always available. Easily I have invested $1500 or more for this type of service you get.
  8. Website and related costs. Because of the type of online ordering and other services you get, my website and other costs probably will seem high to you. But to get the very best, you have to pay for it. My website costs run $6-800 a year along with domain and other charges needed to assure security features you demand.

So you get the idea here of what expenses I have and I haven’t even touched the travel and other office equipment, lab costs, or any of the other things required to keep the business going. And unless I can charge enough to pay those expenses and have a little left over to pay my other personal bills, then you aren’t going to get what you expect me to deliver.

In Closing, a Simple Question

So let me ask you this one simple question. Are you, as a couple, who desire to have those great and unbelievable wedding images ready to scrimp on the photography? Few of the “weekend warriors” are committed to providing you the service and excellence you desire. What I offer has taken years to build, years of study, and years of experience to obtain. And because I genuinely LOVE photographing weddings and have a real passion to create something uniquely you, every moment is dedicated to offering my very best.

I wish I had time to tell you the number of couples and their horror stories from their wedding photographs. I have seen them and yes, they are bad. And they expected so much and got so little. I have had brides come to me in tears and been asked to “fix” their photos for them and have politely had to refuse. I can’t fix poor composition, poor lighting, and photographs that have been made with no understanding that a great photograph involves more than “pressing the button”.

Bottom line. Hire a true Professional photographer to photograph your most special Wedding day. You are far better off scrimping on the food a bit and getting great photographs you will cherish for years to come. Trust me, your guests won’t remember a single song played at your wedding from that $2000 DJ, but you WILL remember those very bad wedding photographs every time you look at them.

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