The Value of Wedding Photography
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The Value of Wedding Photography

This article is to educate potential/future, past and present clients of mine as well as industry professionals, peers and friends. It is a collaboration piece written by Nicole Rork and Trevor Campbell.

I’m going to start this off with a story from a fellow photographer regarding professional service. This story was about her hair stylist:

She said, holding up a pair of her professional scissors, “You can trim your own hair. Or you can have your mother trim your hair. Or you can come here and have me trim your hair, style it, make sure it gets washed and conditioned properly, have options such as highlights and up dos, and when you leave you know without a doubt that you’re going to LOVE your hair.”

Then she added, “Do you see these scissors?”

Everybody nodded.

“Julie,” she said, “how much does a pair of normal, everyday scissors cost you?”

“Uh, I don’t know. Maybe $10 if they’re pretty nice ones?”

“This pair of professional scissors I’m holding cost me $400. And I have to replace them about every 3 months. But Julie here doesn’t want you (pointing to one of the customers) to be the one holding these scissors. She wants me because I know what I’m doing.”

And she added, “Professional services by trained, experienced, talented people costs money. For your money, you get more than just a body holding a pair of scissors, or just a body holding a camera.”

As a professional wedding photographer in the poor economy that we live in, it’s hard to stay afloat in this business, but somehow, I’m still doing it because I’m passionate about my work and my clients. I always have the option of low-balling myself and matching every single $500 wedding photographer offer… but I don’t and here’s why.

When deciding on a wedding photographer with a budget in mind, brides aren’t thinking about a lifetime investment. Things such as food, flowers, and decorations only last for so long after your wedding, but your photographs will last your entire lifetime and generations to come.

I’m going to run through the things brides don’t think about when selecting their wedding photographer and why you should think twice about hiring a cheap one.

Service & Personality
This is probably one of the important things to keep in mind. You aren’t just paying for the photographer to take your photos, you are paying for a professional service that has taken years to perfect. Not every photographer is suitable for every client. Take that in to account as well as the services they offer.

Serious professionals will want to meet with you in person to discuss your wedding. If that’s not possible, they will want to talk with you on the phone. This is important because you know exactly who will be shooting your wedding and you aren’t just another client to them. If it is possible, a professional will scout the area beforehand to get an idea of the location to start planning for photos. Joe Photographer might not even meet with you or ask any details until a day or two before your wedding.

Does your photographer seem excited about your wedding? Do they ask a lot of questions about you and your fiance? Are they becoming acquainted with you? Joe Photographer could probably care less about you and photographing your wedding, it’s not his passion. He probably has no desire to get to know you either. He will want to get it out of his way as soon as possible. He’s going to shoot and burn you a disc of photos. You will most likely not know what to do with a bunch of unedited photos. It is important for a photographer to become acquainted with their clients for a couple of reasons. One – photographing someone you know is a lot more rewarding than photographing strangers. Acquaintances are more comfortable in front of the camera when they know their photographer. Two – this builds trust relationship, which is very important in this business.

Does Joe Photographer have a backup plan in case he can’t make the wedding? Of course not, and if he does they will be equally skilled as him, if not worse. Professionals will assure you that in case of any emergency, there is a photographer with at least the same skill level and talent that will be there to take their place at the same price.

Skills & Talent
This doesn’t happen overnight. Any professional in this business has taken their time to learn their skill and utilize it to its fullest. This goes from learning how to work a camera properly, learning how to meter, learning the importance of light and also how to deal with emergency situations that may pop up. What if Joe Photographer is changing memory cards during your ceremony and misses the first kiss? That’s a very important photo and he missed it! A professional knows when they should be changing their memory cards and it’s certainly not in the middle of events.

Anyone can pick up a camera and take pictures, but not everyone can capture raw emotions in their purest form. A skilled and talented photographer knows how to do this and it comes naturally to them.

Joe Photographer decides he wants to tackle the wedding photography industry and buys himself a nice camera with a kit lens. He offers to shoot your wedding for $500. Keep in mind, he has no idea how to use this camera, how it works and he probably shoots in Auto Mode. Also, Joe Photographer is probably a beginner who is trying to be able to charge what the professionals do but can’t justify it yet. There aren’t wedding photographers who’ve been doing it for years that still charge $500.

You cannot learn this, nothing personal. It comes natural and not everyone has talent behind a camera. They may have the skills but not the talent and creativity to take the photos to the next level and make them stand out from others.

People underestimate the value of ones time. There is more time involved in shooting a wedding than people give credit for. Sure, there’s the actual time to shoot the wedding, but what about prep work, what about behind the scenes? It all adds up and it’s all not free.

First and foremost and probably the biggest factor in what makes up price is the time of the shoot. The photographer is at work when he is shooting your wedding. They are not there to have fun, although that doesn’t mean they won’t be. Regardless of their demeanor, they are working hard and under a lot of stress. This time is precious and has to be mitigated in a timed and precise manner to be able to adequately cover an entire wedding. Some weddings may only need you for a few hours and brides might think that is reason to charge less, but this often complicates things and makes a short time even harder to work with, making that time even more valuable. By the opposite logic though, a long wedding with lots of pre-wedding photos is valuable in the fact that the photographer is there shooting that entire time.

This can account for the bulk of what a photographer spends their time on for a wedding. If you want a perfect photo, a photographer is going to take the time to analyze all the fine details of the photo and make sure they are exactly right. Between color correction, exposure adjustment, sharpening, and cropping, this can take a great deal more time than actually taking the photos themselves.

There are a lot of other small factors that make up a photographers time spent working on the wedding. Like doing consultations with the bride and groom to personalize their experience and find out what they’re looking for with their photos. Researching the locations is another overlooked time expense. Many photographers will go out on location and scout out places for photos and talk to the managers at these locations to get things in order even before taking one photo. You also have to include travel time. If the photographer lives an hour away, that’s 2 extra hours it’s taking them to shoot that wedding. They may not be working, but it’s time they’d have available for more work if they weren’t shooting your wedding, so you can’t discount it.

Although a photographer may own all of their equipment prior to shooting your wedding, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be included in the cost of the photography package. Equipment costs take away from expendable income and need to be budgeted for by any photographer.

Wear Items
Certain pieces of equipment need to be replaced, repaired or just maintained at certain intervals to remain functional. Take a camera body for instance. The shutter inside a camera is only rated for a certain number of actuations, normally somewhere around 80,000. If your photographer is taking somewhere around 2,000 photos during your wedding, you are taking away from the lifespan of that camera and it will eventually need to be replaced. This was directly the cause of the clients and they should be paying a portion of that. It’s an overhead cost, not an out of pocket expense. This is just one camera. All professionals have at least two camera bodies, sometimes more as a double backup.

Although a camera lens is not a wear item, it’s certainly not a cheap piece of equipment. Top quality lenses start around $1000. If you want to have a reasonable selection of lenses and have your photographer be able to capture each and every important moment of your wedding, they’re going to need several of these. Many photographers utilize any tens of thousands of dollars in lenses alone when they cover a wedding, but it’s easily reasonable to assume the photographer needs at least a few thousand dollars in lenses to be able to professionally cover a wedding.

Don’t expect to see anything more powerful than an on-camera flash on Joe Photographer’s camera if they’re only charging you $500. Professional photographers bring with them many studio lights, stands, accessories and battery packs. All of these cost money, and take time to learn how to use them properly. Using good lighting for formal portrait shots can easily be the small factor that takes a snapshot into a keepsake.

Assistant/Second Shooter
I don’t mean to belittle the use of an assistant by lumping them in with the rest of the equipment, but that is the easiest way to analogize their cost. Whether a photographer chooses to use a second shooter to help capture all of important moments at your wedding, or just needs to have someone help with setting up lights and positioning people, both of these positions are not free of charge. They have to be paid by the photographer and that expense is not going to come out of pocket, it’s going to factor in with the price. You are rarely going to see a $500 photographer with an assistant or second shooter.

Packages and Products
Does Joe Photographer offer you the option for prints, proofs, online proofing, albums and digital copies of your wedding photos? The most he will give you will probably just be a burned disc of all of your photos, leaving you to sort through them and edit them yourself. He might throw in a couple of prints straight off the Do-It-Yourself Machine at the local drugstore.

The important thing to remember is that you aren’t just paying for a product, you are paying for a piece of art and a lifetime memory. Drugstore prints won’t last long because they aren’t printed on professional grade paper from a photo lab. You always get what you pay for.

Overhead Expenses
This topic is almost never taken in to consideration by clients. Running a successful business isn’t easy or cheap.

Let’s say a wedding is 50 miles away. That’s 100 miles, round trip. If your photographer isn’t driving a hybrid car, that’s at least 4-6 gallons of gas. That’s also 100 miles closer to an oil change and general wear and tear of a car.

It is important for the photographer to have good website presentation. For some clients, it may be the only way for them to get a glimpse into what the photographer sees. Professional photography websites can costs hundreds to thousands of dollars in developing and design.

When it comes to marketing a business, this is where most expenses go to. Anywhere from online advertising, print, media (magazines, catalogs, etc) the cost of advertising is a pretty hefty price tag.

Office / Studio space
For those photographers that don’t work out of their home, they rent their office and studio space. Depending on the size, they could be paying $1000+ a month for their office or studio.

Taxes / Accounting
Enough said.

If your photographer is serious about their job/business, they are insured. They’ve invested years and thousands of dollars on their skill and equipment. The least they could do is insure it in case something breaks during the wedding. What if Aunt Susie trips over their tripod and sprains her ankle? You’re covered if they are insured.

Now that I’ve covered the main expenses behind the price tag, you can understand why wedding photographers charge what they charge. If you can cut down on expenses for perishable items and spend more on a lifetime of memories, you won’t regret it.

* Disclaimer – All names mentioned in this article were made up on the spot for quick examples.

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