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Why is wedding photography so expensive?

December 14 , 2014 by: Haje Jan Kamps Business & Legal, Most Popular on Photocritic

I’m often asked about how much people charge for photography, and then frequently in the context of wedding photography. Honest truth? I don’t really know, but the persistent feeling out there is that wedding photography is really, really expensive.

This is, in fact, true – it ain’t cheap to get your wedding photographed – but have you ever thought about why that might be? I decided to find out, and spoke to Randolph Quan, a London-based wedding photograher.

So, without further ado – In Randolph’s own words…

Spring is in full bloom here in the UK, so the hectic summer wedding season is about to arrive. Lately I’ve been getting a lot of couples asking me why wedding photography prices are so expensive. While it may seem like wedding photographers live an amazing life by charging through the roof for a day of work, it’s hardly the case.

It goes without saying that weddings are a costly affair. From the venue to the caterer to the wedding favors, the tab just keeps getting higher, and it often seems that wedding photographers are charging a large chunk of that tab. But have you ever though why wedding photography prices are so high? It’s because of the associated costs of being a wedding photographer.

Being a good photographer is an expensive investment. Sure, you can find cheap wedding photographers out there, but they’re cheap because they’ve possible cut corners on equipment, and insurance. Or they’re just plain stupid (you hired cheap and stupid?) So let’s take a look at what goes into a photographer’s overhead that adds up to the final cost of your wedding photographer.

1. Labour costs. This one is pretty standard across all industries. A photographer’s work doesn’t end when your wedding does. After the 5-10 hours they’ve put in working (on a Saturday, no less) at your nuptials, the photographer spends hours and hours editing your images so you get a wide array of perfect photographs by which to remember your day. Its not uncommon to work a full 3-4 days editing a wedding. Their time is even more valuable when you factor in the limited number of weekends in a year there are for a photographer to work.

2. Staff salaries. If you book a photographer that comes with assistants or second photographers, your cost is going to be higher. In return for getting more images from various places on your day, your photographer is going to have the pay those assistants.

3. Equipment. The pieces of equipment a photographer carries around is not your typical point-and-shoot. High-end lenses and bodies average around £1500 each. Photographers also carry back-up equipment in case their primary equipment fails, which adds to the cost of the wedding photography prices. In case your photographer is living in the Jurassic period and hasn’t switched over to digital (there are a few out there, somewhere), you also have to factor in the cost of film. Good wedding photographers easily can bring over £10,000 worth of equipment to shoot your wedding. Add in the prices of computers and editing programs like photoshop ( you did buy it right?) and costs begin to skyrocket. Luckily, its not always necessary in the UK to own a car so let’s not go there.

4. Insurance. Because cameras and equipment cost so much, photographers are smart to insure them. Just in case your drunk (who your mom insisted on inviting) cousin Jimmy decides he wants to spray champagne all over the wedding photographer’s equipment for a joke.

5. Web site. In this day and age, a photographer has to market himself with a very high-tech, professional Web site, which can cost a lot to design and maintain if the photographer doesn’t have web design skills. Its not unreasonable to spend over £5000 a year on website updates, and online marketing such as the sponsored links on Google.

6. Advertising. In that same vein, photographers also have to spend money on other types of advertising such as ads in the newspaper, business cards and brochures.

7. Photo extras. If you knew how much albums cost you’d have a heart attack. Albums are extraordinarily expensive and are often added into the wedding photography prices. Don’t forget the time it takes to design them as well.

8. Education. The more educated a photographer is, the better techniques and specializations will be used while shooting a wedding. As everything else, that education comes at a cost through instructors, college degrees, extra classes and seminars, etc. Intangibles such as expertise aren’t easy to measure monetarily, although we try!

So while you may be asking, “why does photographer X cost so much more than photographer Y?” the answer might be simple: Photographer X has spent more money developing his or her business into a full-fledged photography service, which ends up costing more money than an inexperienced photographer who moonlights part time on the weekend.

….And those Porsches we drive up to your wedding in just don’t pay for themselves now do they? :-)

About Randolph

Randolph Quan is a London reportage wedding photographer. You can follow Randolph on Twitter and Flickr or contact him via his website if you’d like to get a quote to get him to photograph your wedding.


All images are courtesy of Randolph. This article was originally published in 2009, but was then fully updated and revamped in December 2014

About Haje Jan

This post was written by Haje Jan Kamps, who has written 565 articles for Photocritic

Haje has written half a dozen books about photography. He spends most of his time running Triggertrap, a company that creates creative tools for triggering your camera.

His most recent books are:

16 Comments

  • […] you’re still not sure why photography is so expensive, there are plenty of photographers who’ve done their best to break down their costs and explain […]

  • You can literally make this argument for any occupation.
    Since I am in medical school, I will use the exorbitant costs of receiving medical care/treatment in the USA since that is most relevant to me.

    So why does it cost $75 for medical gauze (aka bandages) in an emergency room, you may ask?
    1. Labour Cost – Doctors are on call / on shift, and may be well into the night to provide care. So even when you leave, there are still medical records and prescriptions and issues to sort out.
    2. Staff Salaries – Especially relevant for private practitioners who may hire nurses in addition to receptionists.
    3. Equipment – MRI machines, CAT scans, X-Rays, etc. Well into the millions.
    4. Insurance – ridiculously high insurance rates for doctors (especially every surgeon, OB/GYN)
    8. Education – if you want to even bring up education, please look at my 8 years of schooling that will cost upwards of $500,000, not to mention debt and interest over the years.

    Point is, this argument is moot.

    • David…it’s not an argument, it’s a response to everyone’s question, “Why is wedding photography so expensive?” Now people have their answers.

      When you get this question for your occupation, you can copy and past your answer above.

    • How is it moot? You’re going to be a DR. Depending on how good you are, the investment you’re making is well worth it. Why can’t it be the same for wedding photographers? The argument spans to anyone who invests time and money into their careers. These people are doing this as a career and they’ve invested a lot into it, same as you. If you feel like you’ve put more into yours than a photographer that’s fine, you’ll definately make more money than the majority of them. But you really can’t make that claim for healthcare. People see doctors because they NEED to, thy might die if they don’t. People choose to hire a wedding photographer, they need arguments like these to
      make it clear to the clients that they get what they pay for.

      The bottom line is, people can choose to hire or not to hire. If they want quality, they will have to pay for it.

      *my experience comes from weddings as well but I’m only a hobbiest photographer. I am pretty successful in the music industry but spent a good portion of my career playing weddings.

    • I totally agree. He also mentioned wedding couple need to pay for marketing cost? Not a cool thing to say. If that’s the argument, then photographers that pay more for marketing should be more expensive, not necessarily people with good skills. So people should avoid photographers with lot’s of marketing?
      Any sensible business person knows that marketing is the service provider cost. It improves the brand and you can charge more if branding works. Consumer should never be paying for marketing. This article is killing the photography business by giving misconception.

      • Precisely. 100% agree with winter. There are some service provider costs that can’t be accurately gauged, or calculated (and more importantly, SHOULDN’T).

        If you want to drag in every little detail, then you should be paying for the food that the photographer is eating, because he/she needs to be well nourished so their hands don’t shake while taking pictures. Laughable argument, admittedly, but true nonetheless.

        • well, you DO have to add the food you will eat and your business requires you to have an income that surpasses the expenses. If you wanna forget about recoverin those 500 k you spend on school, thats alright, but dont ask that everyone else to do the same because thats stupid. Now, every client doesnt have to pay you 500 k for your education, but you DO need to try to get that back somehow gettin a buck or 5 bucks from every patient at least for that concept. Dont be naive and read about business.

          • Rest assured, I will certainly do what is necessary to recover my investments in terms of charging for services rendered — thanks for your concern though.

            I am merely pointing out that these arguments are weak and unpersuasive at best. Anyone can hyper-inflate and exaggerate their costs by including any number of expenditures. The reality is that photographers need to charge this much because they can’t pay their bills otherwise, same as any other job. Rationalizing it as this article does simply makes readers cringe at how distasteful and flawed the underlying logic is.

            By the way, I was an econ major in undergrad. Nice try though.

  • I don’t disagree with wedding photography prices; however, this article is terrible at justifying it.

    Points 1 & 2 are the same point. Point 3 is fair, but hardly worth beating into the ground as every profession has expensive tools of the trade – you don’t hear McDonalds saying it should charge more for a BigMac because it’s deep fryer costs an exaggerated figure of what it actually costs.

    Point 4 is a duh, we don’t need the silly example.

    Point 5 is what throws me off. I know dozens of photographers and not one has spent this much on advertising or their website. They’ll admit it’s important and some may spend money on it. Maybe a quarter of the figure suggested – and that’s a one time fee. Truth be told, a photographer’s website should cost few k to build and about $10/month to maintain.

    Point 6 is at least honest in saying it’s redundant.

    Point 7, what’s a photo extra? you never told us.

    Point 8. Never, never do you charge people for your education. That’s ridiculous to mention here. You go to school or study under someone to improve yourself, which then improves your skills and knowledge improving your ability to perform, which in turn allows you to charge more. This is the most absurd point- for any profession.

    Never did the article mention that you’re paying so much for a wedding photographer for their skill, their experience, the talent… You never went into the comparison of Aunt Judy and Uncle George with their point and shoot camera and why. Ultimately, in ten years you’re going to look back at these photos and say one of two things. “wow, these photos suck, i wish we hadn’t used cousin Larry,” or “these photos really turned out great, i’m so glad we spent the extra money on a qualified professional” .. Perhaps. I support wedding photographers in every way and hope they can make a living doing what they love but you don’t need to belittle your profession by justifying it with exaggerated figures and redundant explanations.

    • I agree with this post.
      I have nothing against wedding photo prices, but ultimately, I think it comes down to a matter of skill.
      If one person is better than another at taking pictures, or spends more time editing, etc, it will show, and in the ideal capitalist economy, they will be the ones whose services will most be vied for. It’s almost like bidding for the photographer’s time.

  • *paste

  • Great post. I may have to refer some clients here. Cheers

  • Most of these are BS excuses. For Example

    3. Equipment – That “equipment” is not bought for every wedding, nor even every year. Lenses, Computers, Software, Camera Bodies are not disposable items and any one of these items will last for years. Not to mention they are business expenses and can be factored in to the year end taxes.

    5. Web site. – If you’re spending 5000 gbp a YEAR on website maintenance then you’re a complete idiot. A website for a small business doesn’t cost that much and if you didn’t get the source and access to make editing updates yourself then your business sense is seriously lacking.

    The only reason wedding photographers are so expensive is because people will pay that much. It’s supply and demand. If people quit hiring you at these prices then your prices would drop in a heartbeat.

  • […] Why is wedding photography so expensive? | Photocritic. […]

  • I think I’d have more sympathy for these kinds of posts if I didn’t know plenty of people who just decided one day to start a photography business and charge like established professionals.

    In a business where you don’t have to prove your credentials or even have them in order to put out a shingle, I actually don’t think it’s out of line to be skeptical of a photographer’s quote. I definitely know photographers who are overcharging for their level of experience and skill because they’ve decided to start a business now. I’ll pay for experience and expertise if you can prove you have it, but I’m going to expect to, as you say, pay for what I’m getting. If what I’m getting isn’t what you would like to charge for, it’s not unreasonable for me to object. And it’s not unreasonable for me to expect you to justify your fee.

  • Add to that the fact that people don’t want just the “traditional” wedding shoot anymore. Many want several days of production, including multiple settings and aerial fly-bys. Good wedding photographers are worth every penny, but many cannot afford them. I’d hardly be able to afford to hire myself — and I’m not that good!

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