Wedding photography... Why so expensive?

July 12, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Hey there, Mat here.... 

I just wanted to jot down a note regarding wedding photography by the numbers... 

As a pro photographer, I am often asked; "Why are wedding photos so expensive". This instantly puts me on the defensive. It's really not hard to defend our prices as long as our expenses and time are broken down. Not to mention the education and experience we've had to acquire over the years, and the stress involved with making sure to capture the correct shot! 

So, let's break down the actual time required to deliver wedding photos to a client. Let's begin with the initial calls and conversations. From the very first phone call the clock starts. I have to do an initial interview finding out what kind of images the client wants, hard times, locations, etc. This can be done over a phone call, or it may require a face-to-face visit. Either way, I'm devoting an hour or three for this.

Next is the ceremony. I arrive to take photos of the bride and groom prior to the wedding. Basically, I'm covering the entire day. I'm their until the end of the reception. My average is about 11 hours. Now, in the old days at this point, I'd process the film and be done. I also use to charge a lot less.

Now, with the use digital cameras the process is quite different. Typically, I shoot around 800 images per wedding. Next I have to edit out the "blows" or unusable (blurry, eyes closed, bad light, bad background, etc.) images. We'll say, that takes 10 seconds per image to view. That puts us up to 2 hours just to get down to the base images. I have about a 75% shot rate which puts us at about 600 images. 

Next in the process is color correction, light adjustments. This is the real aspect of post production. Some images take about two minutes to color correct, some will take 15-20 minutes. For this, we can average each image gets about 5 minutes of attention. This adds up to about 50 hours. 

Now the admin stuff, email correspondence, phone calls, drive time, computer hick-ups... We can conservatively add two hours. This put us at about 65 hours (This figure is probably closer to 70 hours). Montana minimum wage would be $513.50 just for the time alone! How often do professionals with many years experience make minimum wage? 

And what about prints? If digitally processing and printing "in house" you've just added another week's worth the time. 

Now we need to start figuring in hard business costs; taxes, vehicles and insurance, hardware and software, cameras and lenses, office space lease/ mortgage/rent, printers, inks and dyes, gas, NON BILLABLE TIME put in for advertising, networking and... Blogging!!! The list continues on and on... Granted a lot of these things are often one time purchases, but purchases at thousands of dollars at a time. For example, the contents of my camera bag is in the ballpark of $5000. (about three weddings for free) Computer system software, printer and hard drives are again over $5000. Oh, and by-the-way I spent thousands of dollars on film cameras which are not pretty much useless. Lenses go bad. Cameras break and wear out. Business equipment costs real money. 

Finally... The intangible costs...

I've been shooting weddings for the last 16 years, film and digital. I know the "must have" shots. I know the flow of the wedding... And realistically even after ALL the planning done by the wedding planner, who actually conducts the pace of wedding day? The photographer... There is a huge amount of stress and pressure on the photographer to make sure that the expectation of the bride is met (after all they are paying a lot of money!).

Artistic talent is subjective, however there is also a technical side to "creating" a photo. Thought, knowledge and skill are put into every image even before the curtain slides and shutter opens. After a number of years behind the camera there is a certain amount of instinct that shows through too. Design software has a STEEP learning curve that takes weeks just to get a grasp of let alone use as a tool. Intellectual art background doesn't just happen over night, therefore isn't free... Most people have never heard the word/term Bokeh. If you have, you've been talking to a photographer. 

Now, especially with a film background, knowledge of camera systems and how they operate is a degree in itself. Years of using the effects of aperture, shutter speed, focal length and strobes is undeniable and unmistakable. It is what makes the distinct difference between a camera phone snap and the capture of an artistic, beautifully composed, and technically influenced memory that is so crisp that it can be blown up to poster size and displayed, image....


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