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“You Charge How Much?!” | What Actually Goes Into Wedding Photography


POSTED IN: For My Brides

“Wow, that’s so expensive!”

As a photographer, that’s a response I see a lot. The truth is that my services aren’t for everyone, and that is absolutely ok! There are photographers out there for every budget. But it hurt a little more today when the inquiring party added “I’ll just find a friend with a camera” to the end of her reply. Ouch. If you really want to know how to devalue my business, that was it right there.

But another line in that same email said “I guess I was completely uninformed as to the costs involved with a professional photographer.” And thus this post was born.

My goal in writing this is to simply explain what all goes into running a wedding photography business, not to change anyone’s mind about what photography “should” cost. But the primary thing that sets me apart from your “friend with a camera” is the fact that this is, in fact, a business, and has all the same overhead and costs any other business would. At the end of the day, all the explanation in the world still won’t make me a good fit for everyone, but maybe it will help with some of the sticker shock. After all, unless you’ve been in my shoes, you probably don’t realize what all is involved in producing the images you see on my site, just like I’m sure I don’t fully understand what a dentist or a mechanic does and why they charge what they do.

Gear: Let’s start with the most obvious hard cost: my gear. While camera equipment has become dramatically more affordable in the last decade, it is still far from cheap. Every piece is an investment. Over the last 5-6 years, I have invested in pro-grade camera bodies, top-quality lenses, and lighting gear. Now some of you may be thinking “but my friend/aunt/cousin has the same camera as you.” It’s true that anyone can buy the camera I have, but I have two of them. I have multiples of everything because if something happens to one of them on a wedding day, I have backup so I won’t miss a beat.

Technology: In addition to my gear, I have a MacBook Pro, editing software, and external hard drives to store all my files. I’ve spent the last several years learning Photoshop forward and backward and refining my editing style to consistently produce quality images.

Education: While I’m not formally trained (I don’t have a degree in photography), I have invested a significant amount of time (and money) in education. I’ve paid for various courses covering a variety of photography topics from camera functions to posing, and spent countless hours mastering my camera. I do not shoot in auto; rather I have learned how to set my cameras exposure settings manually in order to get the exact photos I want in any lighting situation.

Branding & Advertising: My website, hosting fees, business cards, branded packaging, etc. are just a few of these expenses. I have invested in a designer who developed my brand, created my logo, and designed my website.

Insurance: This one is pretty self-explanatory. For the same reason we insure our houses or our cars, photographers insure their gear, and often have liability coverage as well.

The Time Investment: This part will probably be the most surprising for a lot of people. It seems to be a common misconception that photographers are charging several thousand dollars for “only 10 hours of work.” Sounds like a pretty sweet deal right?! I mean, who wouldn’t want to make $250-400 per hour? But the reality is that we spend a significantly more amount of time on every client. Below is a breakdown of the average amount of time I typically spend on a single client – from initial inquiry to final image delivery. Again, I have to stress that this is an average, some clients require more, some less, and that other photographers may have more more or less time in their typical work flow. Everyone is different, but much of this is pretty standard. I do not outsource any part of my work so every item in this list is personally handled by me.

Booking: 2 hours

  • Initial emails and/or phone consultation, follow up information, in-person consultation (optional), contract finalization, sending a thank you note & welcome packet, including ordering a personalized gift and a trip to the post office.

Engagement Session: 7 hours, 20 minutes

  • Session prep – finalizing the location, scheduling, and prepping the client so they get the best out of their session (1 hr)
  • Driving time (30 min, depending on location)
  • Engagement session (2 hrs)
  • Backing up files, culling, editing (3 hrs)
  • Blogging the session (30 min)
  • Uploading full gallery and notifying client (20 min)

Wedding: 29 hours

  • Sending and reviewing questionnaires (30 min)
  • Timeline planning & answering client questions (1 hr)
  • Cleaning and packing gear, preparing SD cards, reviewing details (1 hr)
  • Travel to and from wedding (1 hr, depending on location)
  • Shooting the wedding (10 hours)
  • Downloading, culling, editing (15 hrs)
  • Blogging the wedding (30 min)

Final Delivery: 30 minutes

  • Ordering custom USB, prints, and finalizing images (15 min)
  • Sending final product to client, including trip to the post office (15 min)

Albums: 12 hours

  • Image selection, album design, sending to client for proofing, making changes, sending to client for final approval, ordering & delivery.

Total time: 38 hours, 50 minute to 50 hours, 50 minutes. 

Hopefully this post has provided a new perspective and that costly wedding photography package seems a little more reasonable when you’re looking at 40-50 hours of work rather than 10; and that’s before you consider all of the costs I’ve mentioned above and the 30-40% we have to pay right off the top in self-employment income taxes. All around, photography is an investment. I have invested a lot of time, money and passion into my business, and believe that photography is an investment for my clients, providing them with beautiful memories they will cherish for generations to come.

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