I get requests from couples almost daily wanting to know “how much do you charge” to photograph their wedding day. It’s the #1 question and I do understand why they are asking. In most cases, they are basically “price shopping” and want the best “deal” they can get. Invariably, when I give them a range of prices, they tell me “THAT’S too much. I can get someone to do it for $400!”.
Sure, it seems to “make sense” to save money, but did you know that it could be the most costly mistake you make? And the sad part is, you won’t know it until either a few weeks after your wedding or perhaps even a couple of years later!You’ll find one common thread when it comes to professional photographers. We, generally speaking, are creative individuals and often lousy business people. As professionals, with long term businesses, have learned to be good business people as well as good photographers. We spend a lot of time working to perfect our craft, constantly upgrade our tools, and work to find better ways to express our creativity with workshops, classes, and courses. We invest in ourselves to stay on the cutting edge of new trends and techniques that digital photography has made possible. And we enjoy success in our business that keeps our doors open. So WHY should you care?
Weddings are always a “one shot deal” for photographers. You can’t go back and recreate that wedding day once it’s over. If you “missed it”, you can’t go back and fix it. Having a solid business with reliable gear and equipment is vital to assuring YOU have actual photographs. So why is that $400 “Wedding Photography Deal” not such a wise decision?
Who are these $400 Photographers?
Many of these are pretty much entry level photographers. They can’t compete in experience or quality at this stage in their photography. So the only thing left is to “cut prices” and try to compete until they have the necessary skills to actually charge what need to charge to be profitable. (Remember, MOST are lousy business people). Many have a brand new DSLR and since “my camera takes great pictures”, they all of a sudden feel they can be “as good as any professional” and make a little extra money. Weddings seem to be a good idea since they can do THAT on the weekends and work their real Full-time job.
Most have only photographed a friends or relatives wedding and have no real training as a second photographer with an experienced professional (which EVERY top-notch wedding photographer usually has done!). They have never been exposed to any lighting courses, think their “camera” is what does all the work and they only have to point it and push the button. AUTO mode is their best friend. What they capture is pretty much a “no brainer” decision and, depending on lighting conditions, they MIGHT get a usable image.
Why Should You Care?
First, as “lousy” business people, usually the last thing a photographer sits down to do is figure out if they are actually making any money with their photography. Now you might THINK we get to “keep everything we take in” so that $400 sounds like we are making a LOT of money for one days work. Unless we are making an actual income that’s enough to pay the bills you have, as well as we also have, then reality sits in and either one of 2 things will happen:
- Prices must be increased to cover expenses AND to pay ourselves an income if we want to survive.
- You decide that “there is no money in photography” and put your camera and gear “For Sale” on Craigslist
There is a LOT of work after the photographs are taken if you want to offer your couples the QUALITY images they paid you to provide. On average, with an 8 hour wedding, I will spend 60-80 hours actually perfecting every photograph, retouching, and turning those photographs into the cherished work of memories YOU want. So that 8 hours is really more like 70-90 hours. Do a bit of simple math. It works out to $4-5 per hour AND there are other expenses that come out of that- equipment depreciation, computer costs, software costs, taxes, camera cards, repairs and service to equipment, batteries, website expenses, printing costs, bookkeeping costs- I could go on but you get the idea. So what the “bottom line” starts to look like is that $400 photographer DIDN’T MAKE A DIME! The real facts tell us that 95% of these photographers won’t be around inside of 2 years and 90% in less than a year simply because they aren’t making any money by “competing by price” for your business.
What that COULD cost you!
Here is usually what you get for your $400.
- A “photographer” who probably isn’t a trained professional in lighting, composition, or any of the other things that make a great photograph. (Some will actually have TWO photographers who are identical. That means you get twice the risk!)
- You get images with very little editing to perfect each image
- The chances are, you will get a few acceptable images, but NOT a lot you absolutely LOVE.
- You are left on your own in actually PLANNING your photography- they have little experience in doing this and think you just “show up and shoot”.
- The chances are, your “photographer” doesn’t have very much experience with weddings and doesn’t understand the flow of the day and proper placement of him/herself for those fabulous photographs you see from other brides.
- You get no “after the wedding” service to help you with any other photo products you might want and are left on your own.
- If you aren’t satisfied, and have issues, you probably will get very little help in resolving them
- Should something happen to your photographs, you probably will never be able to replace them since your “photographer” isn’t going to be around very long and chances are, they never thought to archive those images on a separate drive. And if they did upload those online, and go “out of business”, they probably aren’t going to pay the expense needed to maintain them.
So WHY should you care? You got a “good deal”, right?
As true professional photographers, we are no different than that of your employer. They have business expenses that must be covered from the selling price of the goods and services they provide. Whatever is left after those expenses and YOUR salary you earned, is what they get to keep. Few professional photographers “make a lot of money” as you might think. But we too, like getting paid for our work as you do with your job. We still do what we do because we love creating stunning images that bring tears to our clients eyes because these are priceless, timeless memories that last beyond our years.
In doing so, we offer you a lot of things that you might not realize how important they are until it’s too late. Some of those things include the follow:
- We take pride in the quality work we create. We understand our gear and use it to create images you will love and cherish. Unlike some “newbies”, our gear is professional grade and we don’t know what “AUTO MODE” is supposed to be used for. We also carry backup equipment to photograph your wedding- just in case.
- Our education is ongoing and never ends. We stay up to date on the latest uses of our gear to create images your “$400 photographer” is still unable to create. We invest in the knowledge needed to become even better.
- We have the experience and almost always have mentored under another photographer to learn our craft before we set out on our own. Some of us have degrees in photography.
- We archive your images in multiple places. We have no plans to “try this to see how it works out”, but have made a commitment to photography as our livelihood and our business will reflect that commitment as we operate successfully as customer service oriented establishments. Should something happen to your photographs, we are able to recover them for you.
- Chances are, you will get so many great images, you won’t know what one is your “favorites”.
- We edit each and every image to perfect it. Our time commitment is “whatever it takes” to assure you the quality you hired a professional photographer to create.
- We offer the products you desire whether it’s prints, albums, photobooks and includes designing those products. We don’t use “consumer labs” either as most of those don’t offer archival printed products that will soon fade or discolor in a few short years. (This is an entirely new topic, but if your $400 photographer can’t explain the difference, you might reconsider hiring them!)
- We work with each client in planning, offering suggestions based on our past experiences, and have several years of experience in photographing weddings. There is NOTHING like the experienced photographer when you need help and suggestions to get you the images you desire.
- Here, you can insert your own reason for wanting to hire a true professional photographer, because there are many.
When will you know you actually “made a mistake”?
Often times, that will come inside of the first 5 minutes after seeing your wedding memories for the first time.
I meet with clients and no less than 2 or 3 times a month, I hear how “we wish we had better wedding photographs” after seeing the kind of quality work wedding photography professionals can create. I even have couples ask me “can you fix my wedding photos?”. Unfortunately, that is seldom possible. Amateur images are still filled with the countless amateur mistakes and you can rarely do much with poor lighting, poor composition, and poorly posed subjects.
Also, in a few short years- probably less than you realize- you will discover that the digital format of your wedding photographs is going to be an issue when you choose to view them down the road. A few short years ago, we stored our images on “floppy disks”. Files sizes were smaller and “floppy’s” were a compact medium to store a good number of photographs on. We could easily store an entire wedding on 1 or 2 disks and we actually believed we had “archived” the images for future access. Today, there are no computers with an “A drive” and an add-on peripheral is nearly impossible to find.
DVD/CD drives are also becoming a thing of the past as well. Apple no longer offers optical drives in their new computers. Ipods have replaced DVD’s. Cloud storage has replaced the optical R/W drives. USB is going wireless to other devices. So what technology for photography is on the horizon? New and better file types, coin sized storage media, and whatever else that can be developed that is faster, stronger, and more mobile for photo storage. That DVD you have today, probably will be pretty useless inside of 3-5 years or less. As will your USB drive as soon as something faster is developed and probably is totally wireless.
Every good professional photographer still understands and believes that there is ONLY one way to assure you have your photographs years and even decades from now and that is in the printed form. Not your “Walmart” prints either, but true, archival photo paper that uses the silver halide method where chemical processing is used to develop and preserve your images for 100+ years. This is WHY photographs that were professionally produced decades ago, are still vibrant and colorful and haven’t faded or discolored. One thing that will NEVER change is that the human eye will always be able to see the visual image in printed form as long as it is available to see. It’s never obsolete.
It is probably very possible that your $400 photographer is only going to offer you a DVD/CD or USB drive with all your images on them. Recent surveys of couples married over the last 5 years has indicated that one of several things have happened to their wedding photographs in this form:
- They are tucked away in some drawer. Someplace. We have to look.
- We put them somewhere in the last move and really haven’t found them yet.
- We wanted to print them (or make an album or photobook) but haven’t had the time or learning how is just to difficult. We thought it would be easy and fast, but after an hour on the website, we gave up.
- We have them, but the disk is damaged and our photographer is no where to be found.
- We loaned them to my mother and she hasn’t got it back to us (or lost it).
- We’ve looked everywhere and can’t find them, but we KNOW we have them!
- We can’t view them since they are on a storage medium that our old, broken computer could read, but our new one can’t.
- Our disk is just plain lost. (or the files were accidentally erased by our 4 year old!)
As you can see, one of the most important days of your life as digital images only is usually relegated to a life that is short and one that is probably obsolete when you get around to actually reliving that day with “digital files only”. And that is what your photographs actually are- your ability to relive your wedding day as if it happened that moment you open your photos.
And if one of these reasons is due to something happening to your photos and your $400 wedding photographer is long gone, then so are those memories!
Preventing the Disaster that Could and Probably will Happen.
No one wants to find out too late that you made a mistake. And no professional photographer that is dedicated to serving you for the long run, is going to want to see you make those mistakes either. So here are a few question you should be asking BEFORE you start “price shopping” and actually commit to that $400 “wedding photographer”:
- Are you a full time professional photographer or do you have another full-time or part-time job?
- How long have you been in business and do you have a Business License?
- What education or mentoring have you completed?
- What backup equipment do you have and bring to my wedding?
- Do you edit every image or do you just shoot my wedding, make a few minor adjustments and “burn a disc”?
- How do you archive my wedding images? And for how long?
- Do you offer print products that are printed from Professional Only Labs or do you use a “consumer lab”?
- Do you do album or photobook design?
Now that you are armed with what questions you should be asking, long before you ask “how much do you charge”, you are going to be able to find your photographer that is truly a professional, will charge you based on their knowledge and ability to provide you great service and an experience you will love, and most importantly, you will have photographs that you can always have to relive your wedding day! None of us like making a mistake we can correct but we hate even worse making one because we thought we were getting a “good deal”, only to discover after it’s too late to actually correct it since that is now impossible.
Not all “wedding photography” is alike. Some comes with a “cheap price” that has a huge cost later. Don’t be victim to a mistake that you didn’t mean to make, but later find out you made a big one with no correction. There is a 95% chance that your “$400 wedding photographer” isn’t going to be around in a couple of years and when you need them later, you are pretty much just our of luck. Or you could be one of those couples who “wish they had better wedding photos”. Now you are armed with the information needed to make sure you aren’t!