Why is wedding photography so expensive?

I just had to write this article today, after seeing this job request in Oneflare for a wedding photographer (this was a genuine ad posted on January 31st, 2018). 

We are looking for a photographer to photograph our wedding. We will offer $40 per hour for a photographer. No travel is required between venues.
— Oneflare Wedding Quote Request - January 31st, 2018.

I have absolutely no problem with this person posting such an offer in a free market and according to their budget. But the question I would really like to know is whether they will also want to include:

  • The time to plan and prepare for the wedding including looking at sunset and sunrise times and plotting the exact angle and intensity of the sun around the wedding photography timeline using virtual sun planning software.

  • The time to prepare the contract agreement and resolve any questions or concerns from the client including revisions.

  • The two hours preparation time to painstakingly charge all batteries (30 in total including AA batteries for flashes), do a full gear inventory check, load an entire boot load of equipment into the car and run through a checklist.

  • The one hour preparation time for the photographer to get dressed and groomed for the wedding, plus prepare spare clothing in the event of rain.

  • The two hours total time including travel spent visiting the wedding location in advance, to scout out suitable portrait couple locations, check the ambient lighting at the right time of the day, and liaise with the venue on whether they allow light stands and where their $25'000 of equipment can be left during the event, safely and securely.

  • The 30 minutes it will take on each camera body to test the camera for all functions, clean each lens individually using alcohol, special lens cleaning tissue and a blower (there are 6 lenses in total) and make sure every setting on the camera is correct including writing in raw to both cards and that the cameras are in perfect working order. 

  • The 5 minutes it will take to sync the time on both camera bodies to the exact second to ensure correct timeline and chronology of the event, back in the editing studio.

  • Upon returning home with the raw files the 14 hours in total it will take to import the 2000 raw files at 34MB each (about 7GB of raw data) and then backup these to three separate locations then convert them to DNG format for faster processing, and finally apply the necessary camera corrections to each photo such as lens distortion corrections etc. before then looking at all 2000 photos individually and grading them from 1-5 to cull them down to an acceptable catalog of photos and then individually editing each photo for colour, contrast, saturation, vibrancy, sharpening, noise reduction, clarity etc.

  • The one hour it will take to then prepare the online gallery including uploading the finished photos in high resolution, choose a cover photo, select the top 30 photos as highlights, send links and passwords to clients etc.

  • The 45 minutes it will take to export the final images a month later to USB drive and send in the post.

I suspect this client did't realise there was this much involved in shooting a wedding (at least professionally). This would quickly add up to over 21 hours of additional time.

If they did I would happily take them as a client for $40 an hour, because even though my hourly coverage rate is much higher, most of the work shooting a wedding is not seen by the client.

That would make their 7 hour wedding cost $280 at $40 per hour, plus $840 for the additional time which they now see is vital for producing professional photos. In total, the quote would be $1020 if only these two things were considered.

My current pricing is $1700 for seven hours of coverage, so how do I justify charging this extra $700? The problem is I also have expenses that can't be ignored such as purchasing and maintaining a reliable car, registration and insurance, equipment insurance, public liability insurance, and over $25’000 worth of equipment that has to be maintained and replaced on a regular basis.

For every critical piece of equipment I also need a backup and to bring with this with me, such as camera bodies, light stands, additional lighting etc.

I also purchase and spend time watching numerous photography training courses throughout the year which is vital to maintaining my professionalism. I spend about an hour per day on education and training.

My camera and lenses are sent to Canon Professional Services every year to be checked, sensors cleaned and kept in top condition. Every 6 months I painstakingly check each lens for focussing anomalies and micro adjust them which takes about two hours.

My main processing computer a MacBook Pro 2017 cost $5000 and the NEC monitor I used to colour grade photos $1800. Both these devices need to be colour calibrated every 30 days, which takes about 30 minutes. I also need to maintain a backup computer in case my main system is not operating.

I have essential mobile phone expenses, electricity, internet costs, parking costs, website hosting costs, GST and taxes and a whole raft of other costs to factor in. My scheduling, booking, software and cloud hosting costs alone cost over $3000 per year.

It is essential to be listed on sites like photographers.com.au, Service Seeking and EasyWeddings.com.au. Together these sites cost over $150 per month just to be listed and found.

So yes, I would have to charge an extra $700 at least just to cover some of my other expenses, and my total quote would be $1700 for seven hours of coverage (based on an effective hourly rate of just $40). 

When you look at it like that (which is a very honest portrayal of the time and costs that go into being a wedding photographer) it is clear to see that charging $200 per hour for only the time spent on the wedding day, is actually the same as charging $30-$40 per hour for everything that really goes into it.

A the very minimum think of it like this, for every hour that the photographer is shooting, they will put on average between two and three hours into other tasks. So that $200 hourly rate is more closer to $70 even just on that basis.

The problem is, if I was charging $40 for coverage time I would make a loss of $160 on operating expenses alone, and by the time your wedding date arrives you would find I was no longer in business.

At $280 revenue, I have already lost $160 before I even leave the house because of the $440 in fixed costs. Once I actually work for seven hours and take between 1500 and 2000 photos, even assuming a minimum wage of $18.29, that is a further loss of $146.32.

Now you take away those 21 hours of extra work that are required to produce professional photography reliably, and that equates to a further loss of about $374.00.

The total loss for taking this assignment and delivering professional photos would be $660. So by paying a professional photographer $280 to shoot your seven hour wedding, they are taking an up front loss (even at minimum wage of $18 per hour) of $660.

It is very easy to see an “hourly rate” of $200 per hour and think this is excessive. But the photographer is actually only making $30-40 per hour for the 29 hours + invested into the wedding, and allowing for operating costs. Once I deduct operating costs which are fixed, my actual hourly rate at $200 is closer to about $25 per hour.

Shooting one days wedding coverage is actually equivalent to about one weeks full-time work.

There is just no way to run a wedding photography business and charge $40 per hour for coverage and sustain that business. In other words, if you book a wedding photographer for anything less than $200 per hour coverage, they must be independently wealthy!

Chris Jack