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.
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I have 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 include in the time estimate…

  • The one hour to plan and prepare for the wedding environment including looking at Google Earth, Google Maps and plotting the exact angle and intensity of the sun around the wedding photography timeline.

  • The two hours it takes to drive to meet the couple and go over the entire wedding timeline in detail. The extra 30 minutes it takes when the photographer gets back to their studio to compose an email with the photography timeline so everyone is on the same page. The additional 30 minutes of emails that are required as the couple makes final adjustments to the timeline.

  • The 30 minutes time to prepare the online booking link & contract agreement and resolve any questions or concerns from the client including revisions.

  • The two hours preparation time to charge all batteries (30 in total including five different types) and do a full gear inventory check, check cameras and load an entire boot load of equipment into the car (seven bags in total).

  • The 60 minute preparation time for the photographer to get dressed and groomed for the wedding, plus prepare spare clothing, shoes and full wet weather gear in the event of rain.

  • The two hours total time including travel spent visiting the wedding location in advance before the wedding day, to scout out suitable family group photo and couples portrait locations, double check the lighting at the right time of the day, and meet the venue co-ordinator for any final briefings and information.

  • The 15 minutes it will take on each camera body to test the camera for all functions, clean each lens individually using Purosol, 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 20 minutes time to load and format four sets of SD and Compact Flash cards (eight cards in total) and ensure the cards you are formatting have been backed up to three locations before hand (just in case you are accidentally formatting a recent wedding!).

  • The 10 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 2200+ raw files at 30MB each (about 70GB of raw data) and then backup these then convert them to DNG format for faster processing, and finally for Lightroom to process 1 to 1 previews. 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 finally individually editing each photo for colour, contrast, saturation, vibrancy, sharpening, noise reduction, clarity etc.

  • The one hour of close couples portraits touch-ups that will be required such as removing pimples, stray hairs where possible 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 10 photos as highlights, send links and passwords to clients etc.

  • The 90 minutes will take to export the final images a month later to USB drive, drive to the Post Office, wait in line and then finally send the USB drive in the post.

I suspect this client did't realise there was this much involved in shooting a wedding (at least professionally). This would easily add up to over 28 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. The vast majority of time it takes to shoot a professional wedding the client never sees or understands. That is why wedding photography seems expensive.

My current pricing for six hours coverage is $1800 as at September 2019. It takes approximately 38 hours of time to prepare, execute and deliver a six hour wedding. Therefore, my actual hourly rate is closer to $47 per hour (not $200 per hour).

But there is a problem with this simple calculation. This hourly rate is simply my income and does not factor in costs. Real costs like 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.

In 2019 alone my expenses for replacing, repairing and maintaining camera equipment was over $2000. I also spent over $3000 in accessories such as memory cards, backup drives, replacement lens hoods and lens caps, light stands that were damaged by intoxicated wedding guests etc.

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. This cost alone is about $600 per year.

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.

One internet connection is not enough. I also need to maintain two internet connections in order to ensure delivery of photos to a tight delivery schedule. I also need two phones (1 primary phone and 1 backup for Google Maps etc.).

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, website hosting and cloud backup services such as Dropbox Premium 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. I could not operate my business successfully without these advertising costs.

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.

Think of it like this, for every hour that the photographer is shooting, they will put on average between three and four hours into other tasks. So that $200 hourly rate is more closer to $50 just on that basis (before taking away expenses!).

Chris Jack