The Cost of Wedding Photography: Justifying the Rates

© Paul Mozell 2006

You’ve picked a date for your wedding, reserved a function hall, and the next item on your list is to shop for a wedding photographer. A quick scan on the web reveals prices from $1000 to $4000 and you conclude that this may not be simple process. Do you shop based on price or do you call the photographers who have the coolest web sites? And you wonder, how do these folks get away with charging thousands of dollars for 6 hours of work? As a professional photographer my goal today is to de-mystify the process and to explain the pricing and work that supports those rates.

The Importance of Photography
After your glorious day of love, celebration, family reunion, great food and wonderful music has wound down, you’ve returned from a fantastic honeymoon, written all the thank you cards, found places for the gifts in your home and exchanged many of them, the only tangible thing that remains is your wedding album. Beautifully bound in leather with photographic montages permanently laminated and protected from fingerprints and damaging light and moisture, your album preserves and revives the memories of that wonderful day. Your photographer is keenly aware of the importance of this record of one of the most important days of your life. The wedding caterer is committed to serving wonderful food, the florist delivers and arranges spectacular flowers, and the band or DJ plays exactly the tunes you want to hear, but nothing remains of the work of those service providers, except perhaps a table centerpiece and a frozen piece of wedding cake. The creation of this photographic family heirloom has significant value.

But he only worked for six hours!
It is likely that the total time your photographer spends working on your wedding both before and after the event will exceed the time he or she spends at the church and the function hall. You will probably have one meeting in the photography studio or at your home reviewing the photographers portfolio and making a preliminary selection of an album style. Alternatively, you may have a virtual meeting with the photographer online while he guides you through a password protected website like the one you’ll be using after the wedding, to view your proof images.

Immediately after the wedding the photographer will spend several hours editing between 600 and 1000 digital image files; keeping only the best to show you. If your photographer is one of the few professionals still working with film he or she will be shipping or hand delivering a precious cargo of exposed film to the best specialized wedding lab he knows to be developed and printed. Next, the photographer prepares a book of several hundred 4×6 inch proofs, or does some online editing of your images. Digital imaging now makes it possible for you to see your proofs online often one or two weeks after the wedding. In the old days it might have been 4 to 6 weeks. Keep in mind that the photographer is working on these edits Monday through Friday, in between the weddings and Bar Mitzvahs he or she is shooting each weekend.

A few short years ago you labored over a proof book with perhaps 200 images to make a final selection of 20 or 24 photographs that would appear full-frame in the final wedding album. Today, your photographer is likely to instruct you to select your favorites, totaling perhaps 30 or 40 images, which will be used in a complex yet flowing book design. Each page may contain several images, some in black & white, some with enticing spots of color on bouquets, and some designs will spread over 2 pages like a magazine spread. Your photographer and/or a professional designer creates these pages in what can be a very time consuming process. Next, final prints are ordered from the wedding lab and the photographs are assembled and mounted in the beautiful wedding album either by the photographer or by the manufacturer of the albums.

The Photographer’s Investment in Equipment and Resources
Although the digital revolution has eliminated the cost of film and improved the yield of quality photographs during the shooting and editing processes, many of the photographers’ costs have increased in recent years. The medium format Hasselblad, Bronica, and Mamiya cameras and lenses that were the standard gear for nearly all wedding photographers have been rendered obsolete by high-performance digital SLRs and lenses. Before, a Hasselblad kit of 2 bodies and a few lenses plus flashes could last a photographer years, if not decades. Now, the digital revolution forces us to upgrade cameras every couple of years. A typical professional camera body suitable for weddings runs between $1000 and $4000 and lenses from $500 to $1700. Professional camera-mounted flash units are in the $350 range and then there are tripods, filters, camera bags, memory cards, portable hard drives, laptops and countless other little devices that help make each job run smoothly. And, your photographer needs backup units of all critical gear because equipment failures cannot stop him from capturing a wedding that happens only once.

Back in the studio your photographer has invested in one or more of the faster Mac or Windows computers, extra large color corrected monitors, and costly software like Adobe Photoshop. He pays membership fees to professional organizations, subscribes to professional publications, pays fees to use certain photo lab services, attends conferences and workshops, pays assistants, and insures all that equipment. And I’m not even touching on the cost of studio strobe lights, painted backgrounds, props, studio rental, and internet services.

Like many things in life and in business you get what you pay for. Sure, a photographer whose ad on Craigs List says she does weddings  for under $1000 might do a good job for you, but do you really want to take that kind of a chance? You won’t regret hiring a photographer whose rates initially seem high. Consider the investment in time, equipment, supplies, and overhead that photographers must manage before delivering an heirloom album and you’ll see that the rates are fair and reasonable.

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One Comment:

  1. I like that – very nice.

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