Just recently, I had a couple of brides get in touch with me for wedding photos. Both on budgets, and both wanting packages for $1500 or less. I understand that in an economy strife with financial difficulties and severe money shortages, and many brides who want the best for their weddings, that pinching pennies is very important. The one thing that should help you get back on even ground though, is realizing that it doesn’t matter how much you spend on your wedding, or even how beautiful or fancy it is. The very one thing that matters, is at the end of that day in your life, you will have married your best friend. I think many brides forget this in the process of planning a wedding because it is SO (understandably) stressful. Watching money fly out the door left and right is never fun, especially when you consider how hard you work for that money.
However, with that said I want to set the record straight. After talking with my brides, I came across a Craiglsist Ad from one of my fellow photographers. She posted it on Facebook to share with us, and when I read it I was simply appalled! The writer wrote that she believes all we do as photographers is show up at a wedding, take a bunch of photos and then edit them. Adding insult to injury, she adds the fact that we are charging what we charge only because the word “wedding” is attached. Unfortunately, I think this is a common misconception, which led me to believe that maybe there needs to be some explaining done. Maybe with education, there will come some understanding. I think that because so many individuals make it look easy, and because so many photographers offer an entire wedding, all photos on CD, and prints at insanely cheap prices, that everyone thinks that ALL photographers should be able to do this. So I am going to do a side by side comparison, and tell you what my business expenses are.
First off, most cheap photographers can give you cheap print pricing because they do not print through a professional lab. They print through Shutterfly, Snapfish, Walgreen’s, Wal-Mart, etc. What you need to know about these printing labs, is that quality is not their number one priority. When printing through a professional lab, there are many things you’ll notice in a cross comparison of the same exact print. First of all, cheaper labs have cheaper paper. This means thinner, not as good of quality, and not as many options. It also means that your photo will print darker and in most cases it will lose much of it’s clarity. It will also vary depending on the lab you use, the technician working that day, whether they run it through color correction (I always state on my Print Release form that the technician is not to do a color correction.) I plan to do this comparison in the near future, so keep an eye out for my blog post. In the meantime, for reference take a peek at one of my absolute favorite photographers: Annie at Paint the Moon; (click on Paint the Moon to take you to her website and her print comparison blog). While you’re there, be sure to look around. She is seriously one of my all time favorite photographers. Gorgeous stuff!
Next, cheaper photographers also have cheaper equipment. My Canon 5D is an over $2000 piece of equipment, many photographers are operating with cameras that cost only a fraction of that. Add lenses and other equipment (flashes, stands, umbrellas, reflectors, etc.) into the equation and I easily have an investment of around $10,000-$12,000.
Cheaper photographers also tend to use cheaper editing programs. I have Photoshop CS5, and Lightroom. It’s not uncommon to see photographers either A) Not editing at all. or B) Using Picnik. Picnik’s basic features are free, while their more advanced settings are a cost of $25 per year. Granted, Picnik is now shutting their doors as they have recently sold to Google, but there will always be a cheaper or free editing program out there. It’s just the age in which we live, but what that means to you as a client is that you will have inferior editing results and you will also not have very good printing quality because these programs degrade the quality of images. CS5 and Lightroom are $900 and $300 respectively, they also have upgrades typically every year which cost around $200. Nowhere near $25 a year.
Many less expensive photographers do not have websites, insurance, they do not package their prints nicely for you upon delivery, advertising, and additional education.
Add to that the fact that we are responsible 100% for our own healthcare costs, 401K and retirement planning, travel costs, and studio costs.
Additionally, a wedding break down looks like this for me:
Time spent consulting with my client prior to booking: 1-2 hours
Time spent after booking, researching, traveling, and meeting with client: 2-6 hours
Time spent photographing wedding: 6-12 hours
Editing and preparing images for viewing: 20-40 hours
Meeting with client for print previews and delivery: 2 hours
This means on the very low end, I am spending approximately 31 hours preparing for my clients’ weddings. Far from being a single day of shooting and it’s over.
31 hours divided by $1300 which is the lowest price I charge for a wedding, is $41.94. But now, you have to deduct $300 from that because I give a $300 print credit to each of my brides & grooms which brings me now to $32.26. You also have to count that the government skims 30% off the top of all of my sessions which and now I am at $29.35. Figure in travel costs, at $4 per meeting, my insurance, premium packaging which costs $7.25 per package, the cost of my equipment, phone bill, website, etc. and I am down to around $12 per hour. But, this is only if I stick to 31 hours per wedding, when on average I spend closer to 40-45. I put a lot of time and effort into my interactions with my clients and as a result I barely make anything.
Many people also don’t realize that cameras and lenses require regular maintenance. Many people think that you buy a camera and the investment is done but that simply is not true. Gear needs to be cleaned and replaced. Batteries wear out, triggers break, umbrella stands fall, the list goes on. Equipment is a constant investment that never ends.
Why do I continue to do this then, you ask?
I do this, because I love it. I do this because I have an insane PASSION for it. I do this because the look on my brides & grooms faces on their wedding day is absolutely priceless. I do this because it brightens my life. I do it because I am not the type of person to enjoy being stuck inside all day. I enjoy working for myself. I enjoy making YOU happy. And more importantly, I believe that photographs are SO important. We lose people every day and once they are gone all you will have left is those photographs.
Your wedding is one day.
After it is all said and done, the food eaten, the dances danced, the hall decorated, the dress cleaned and put away, the tuxes returned, and the thank-you’s sent, the only thing you will have left are those photographs.
The only thing you will have to remember that single monumental day, is your photographs.
So you bet that choosing a photographer whose work you love, who inspires you, who you enjoy, is so incredibly important. I hear from my clients all too often, how much they wish they would have chosen a different photographer. I hear horror stories every single day, that if it were my wedding I would cry my eyes out.
Photographers are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. Photographers see the world in a way that most people don’t. When many people look out and see a dark, dreary day many photographers see opportunity. They are upbeat people, they make you laugh, they are as invested in your memories as you are. Photographers are beautiful, exceptional people. The majority of us are not in this industry to make money. The majority of us are in this industry because we love art, we love to create, and we are creative people.
When I read this Craigslist ad I was appalled, because I know how hard I work and strive. I know the amount of money I invest in my business and how much I give of myself to my community. Last year alone, I donated 2 sessions to military families, I did a Cutest Kiddo contest where I gave away TWELVE mini sessions, 12 8×10’s and 24 5×7’s, and a variety of other free sessions. Every year I give away at least one Senior session to a qualifying area Senior.
I realize money is a huge source of stress for many, it is for me too. I struggle just like everyone else, but I personally feel it’s time to set the record straight on how much a photographer makes and benefits from your business. I hear more often than I would like to, how expensive my services are. I understand that it may seem expensive, but photographs take a lot of time, and there is a lot of consumption costs that come along with it. I wish I could give my services away for free or next to nothing, but unfortunately that just is not the case. I’m writing this post today, not to insult anyone or to hurt anyone’s feelings. I am also not trying to call anyone out or target anyone. I simply would like people to see that while the misconception that we are raking in the dough at the end of the year is there, and many people believe it; it just simply is not true. I work hard for your business and I work hard to keep your business, I will continue on that same path because I am dedicated to this industry and I am dedicated to YOU, my clients. I hope this post makes you a little more dedicated to using my services in the coming 2012 portrait and wedding season. I’m so very excited at the prospect of providing the capture of your memories, and your lives. Thank you so much!
-Bobbie Sue Baker | Owner & Photographer at Violet Photography & Design