I do wedding photography because I love it. Most of us do. You’d HAVE to in order to give up your Saturdays and stand for 12 hours at a time, right?
But without fail, one of the things that I struggle with the most as a wedding photographer is explaining to couples and their parents, who are often writing the checks, exactly why wedding photography carries the investment that it does.
Well, first of all… those images are what is left when your big day is over. You’ll cherish your wedding photos for the rest of your life.
Second of all, there is a great deal of work that goes into wedding photography, which, through no fault of their own really, many couples do not understand.
During this time of year, when I’m working so hard with couples to create efficient and reasonable timelines, the conversation about adding hours often comes up. It’s frustrating on both ends, but I think it’s time to share everything that goes into the dollar signs attached to photography.
My Fabulous Package consists of 8 hours of wedding day coverage with two photographers and an engagement session. The cost for this package is $3,600. With that you also get timeline development, venue coordination and the personal copyright release for your final digital image catalog.
I know it’s easy to think:
Molly charges $3,600 for 8 hours. Holy hell, she’s making $450 per hour.
Let me assure you, she is not.
(Side note: for this example, we are assuming that I shoot 28 weddings per year.)
A typical wedding cycle includes:
2 hours of emails and communications
1 hour of face-to-face wedding consultation
1 hour of contracting and finalizing paperwork
2 hours of planning and shooting your engagement session
3 hours of editing, uploading and sharing your engagement session
2 hours of final meeting to review timeline and finalize shot list
3 hours of wedding day preparation, including preparing gear and communicating with other wedding vendors
1 hour of wedding travel
8 hours of wedding photography
1 hour of uploading and backing up wedding photos
40 hours of culling, editing, exporting and uploading (minimum)
2 hours of blog posting, social media sharing and creating final USB
62 total hours involved involved in your wedding
Molly charges $3,600 for 62 hours. Oh no, she’s only making $58 per hour.
But again, she is not.
In this example, we haven’t even dealt with expenses.
Second photographer: $300
Self-employment tax: $468 (approx.)
Income tax: $648 (approx.)
Other taxes: $92 (approx.)
Health insurance: $138 per wedding
Liability/gear insurance: $25 per wedding
Gas and parking: $30 per wedding (parking for 2)
Plus other expenses like gas for my car, gear, website fees, postage, packaging, Starbucks for our meetings, etc. that I’m not even including.
That’s a minimum of $1,701 per wedding in expenses.
So, now we have:
Molly charges $3,600 for an 8-hour wedding, but has $1,701 in expenses, which leaves her $1,899 in profit. So, after dividing that by 62 hours, she’s making $31 per hour.
And we give up half of our weekends and at least half of our weekday evenings. We miss our friend’s baby showers and college football games and bonfires and other weddings that we’ve been invited to as guests.
I’m not complaining. I love my job. I’m just saying that $450 per hour and $31 per hour are not the same thing.
So, let’s look at the impact that adding two hours has on the bottom line:
It’s two more hours of shooting and 10 more hours of editing, so that takes us from 62 hours to 74 hours in total. It also adds $50 to our expenses because of the additional money that goes to the second shooter.
The net/net of that is this:
Molly charges $3,600 for an 8-hour wedding, but has $1,751 in expenses, which leaves her $1,849 in profit. So, after dividing that by 74 hours, she’s now only making $25 per hour.
It’s significant. Twelve more hours of work for a decrease in hourly pay. To anyone with a normal job, this wouldn’t make any sense.
So, asking your wedding photographer to stay for another few hours isn’t that simple. It’s a lot of time, which translates to diminishing profits, which isn’t good for a business with such slim margins to begin with. We have been standing for 10 hours, eaten our dinner on the fly, are dehydrated and have 20 pounds of gear strapped to our bodies. And, we’ve already heard the Cupid Shuffle 27 other times this year.
Your wedding photographer loves their job. But just because your aunt or your bestie does it as a hobby, it’s not the same thing. It’s how I pay my mortgage, and my electricity bill, fill my refrigerator and pay for Lucy Jane’s vet bills.
We have a fun job. But we’re not doing it for fun. It’s how we make our living.
You want a wedding photographer who has experience, who has the best equipment and who understands how weddings work. That, my friends, is why a great wedding photographer is always worth the investment.