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Why are wedding photographers so expensive?

First of all…

This blog post was written with the Portuguese public in mind. The information contained here is, in most cases, only applicable to the reality in Portugal. As such I have a done very lose and sometimes poor translation of the original.

I had the idea of ​​writing this article a few months ago, when I started thinking about creating a blog. I have not researched other articles that may be on the blogosphere about this matter, so I don’t know if there are any. This is just my opinion based on my experience as a wedding photographer over the past 6 years!

I hope this text will be useful for couples looking for a wedding photographer, as well as photographers who have some difficulty in defining the amount they should charge and possibly for curious people, who do not understand why some wedding photographers charge so much!

In relation to my fellow photographers, in my opinion it is good that there are so many out there and with such varied types of work. I see no harm in having some charge so little and others so much. I do, however, openly criticise the photographers that don’t behave in a professional manner! It’s bad for the client, the photographer and the profession!
Here are some examples: I do not criticize the photographer that charges 200 € for photographing a wedding and delivers a work that I would rate as less interesting, as long as the client likes it! What I criticize is the photographer who gets booked for a date and then cancels it because he managed to sell that same date for a higher price. Or the photographer who does not know how to make a backup and will sooner or later end up losing the photos of a wedding. Or even that photographer who calls the bride and groom on the eve of the wedding day to inform them that there will be a price increase, then on the wedding day seems to be bored doing his job. I saw the latter happen to a family member of mine when she hired a photographer I recommended based on his portfolio, of course I never thought he was such a bad professional.

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The transition from analogue to digital and the impact on photography services

Even the youngest couples who are getting married nowadays certainly remember the days of film photography. It was customary for people to go to a photography store looking for a wedding photographer. These stores, on the other hand, offered a range of products and services and it was usual that most of the revenue came from developing and printing photos.

In the first decade of this century, we moved from the analog to the digital era in photography. This revolution had a profound impact in all areas of professional photography, especially in photography stores that started seeing people printing their photographs less and less.

As a result many stores closed. Until that point there were few photographers photographing weddings exclusively, but the demand from couples getting married was ongoing so some of the personnel from the shops continued offering their services as wedding photographers only. The couples started doing the research online, looking not only in their area of ​​residence but also at the regional and national level. The photographers began having more competition, so they had to differentiate themselves by the type of work they presented in their portfolios, greatly helped by the ease of editing the digital files. This process became increasingly more complex, as such photographers started investing in specific training for social wedding photography. 

In the space of approximately a decade, we have moved from a reality in which photography was done in analog format (as part of a list of services provided by photography stores) to professionals dedicated exclusively to wedding photography, with work differentiated from one another and an effective marketing process.

Over the past 10 years, wedding photography has gained immense strength. It went from a type of photography with little prestige to one that is now in fashion, with a lot of presence on social networks and lots of international contests.

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Expensive and the cheap are relative concepts, so let’s talk numbers!

I like to do math! I’m not one of those weird people who have math as a hobby. But I am still weird because I have Excel as a hobby 🙂

I was an amateur photographer for many years. I started in the film era and had a lot of fun developing photos in the darkroom. With social media my friends all knew about my passion until one day they started to invite me to photograph baptisms and weddings. I tried and liked it, until I decided to leave it in engineering and become a professional photographer. The second I decided that I was going to be a professional photographer, my costs immediately increased! In order of values, I started to have: salary, social security payment, possibly a space to work, photography and computer equipment, marketing, training and insurance.

This is what distinguishes the amateur from the professional: the professional lives on what he does, so all expenses must be borne by the client. It is transversal to all business areas. On the other hand, when a professional dedicates all his time to a certain area, he becomes better than the amateur who devotes less time to him.

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Author photography vs multiple teams

I started my career in photography so that I could do something that I’m happy with (otherwise I wouldn’t have left engineering).

Over the years I have developed my own photographic style and it all starts with my relationship the couple right from the first meeting and ends with a choice of photographs in order to tell the story based on what I know of the couple, as well as a doing a custom edit to each photo. This is called author photography, which means that each photograph is the result of a process of self-discovery and improvement. As such each photographer has his own.

Every now and then I tried to have teams photographing my weddings. I am sure the couple liked the final result, but I made the decision that it is definitely not for me. It turns out to be more administrative work and extra problems to solve and in the end, during the editing process, I have to build the story based on the photos taken by my team so that I can tell the story. I much prefer to be the photographer, with full awareness of what I’m trying to tell as I’m photographing.

I have nothing against photographers who choose to have second teams or photography stores that have several. It is simply not the type of photography I want to do, because it is too commercial and ends up adding distance between me and the couple, as such the creative process that I described previously is limited, as will the final result be.

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The minimum value

I will then calculate the minimum value that suits my reality as an author, which means that I am always the main photographer for my weddings. This means that there is a maximum number of weddings that I can photograph per year. How many?

Almost all weddings take place on Saturdays of the months with the greatest demand, that is, from May to October. In 6 months there are approximately 24 Saturdays so potentially 24 weddings. There is always each other Saturday that is not closed, but this is offset by weddings on other days of the week and months with less demand. Through conversations with other photographers I have also noticed that the ideal number revolves around 24 weddings, there are those who prefer to have 20 and those who reach 30. The consensus is that more than 30 is too stressful.

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Salary and risk

Salary constitutes the largest slice of the pie when calculating total monthly expenses. It will ideally be “as high as possible”, but what is an acceptable minimum value? Management experts say that monthly housing spending should not exceed ⅓ of the net salary. Nowadays for a modest apartment on the outskirts of Lisbon the rent is between 500 € and 900 €. With luck we can share that amount with our better half so the net monthly salary should be between 500/2 * 3 = 750 € and 1350 €. But this is the salary recommended for those who have some professional stability, with a job from 9 am to 6 pm and with time to enjoy the weekends, without great concerns about market fluctuations and risks inherent in having their own business. For example, if a photographer breaks an arm, he will no longer have a living for a few months (yes, it has already happened to me!). Either if a machine falls into the river (it almost happened to me) or is stolen we may lose € 3500 (body) + € 2000 (lens) = € 5500.

It is then necessary for our salary to compensate for the risk, so that we have a working capital when things go less well (think COVID-19).

There is also the less good component of being “always working”, the prediction of those who aspire to have their own business. Many extra hours, and bad times! Missed many Friday nights with friends and family Saturdays. Sometimes entire weekends are lost photographing days in a row, a few more days are lost recovering from the beating that makes the whole body hurt!

Considering all this, what is the decent salary for those who want to do, or do, wedding photography as a career? € 1000? No thank you! I would not accept less than 1500 € and even that amount leaves a sour taste in the mouth (and a feeling of lightness in the pants pockets).

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Let’s do the math

I will not be describing all expenses in detail. I have already justified the larger ones, which I will include with the others in the table below. I have broken down monthly and annual expenses and at the end I divide the total by the number of annual weddings, in order to calculate the minimum amount to be charged per wedding.

To have some flexibility I will consider three scenarios, of photographers with different costs. Here is the description of each one:

  • Photographer 1: self-employed person who works at home, simplified accounting; the amount of material you have is the minimum necessary; he lives far from a large urban center, so his income is lower so his salary may also be; is dedicated exclusively to wedding photography.
  • Photographer 2: self-employed person working in a cowork space; it has several lenses and two machines to work with, that is, the necessary material and some backup; lives on the outskirts of a large city; dedicates 90% to wedding photography.
  • Photographer 3: worker with incorporated company and his own workspace, for example a studio; has the necessary material to work in various situations and backup this material; has more spending on computers; lives near the center of a big city; because he has a work space he manages to have other workers and manages to do work in other areas of photography, so only part of the revenue comes from weddings.

These scenarios only serve to give an idea of ​​the values ​​and do not mean, for example, that a photographer who works at home no longer has material and a company established.

Tabela de comparação entre 3 tipos de fotógrafo

We concluded that the minimum amount to be charged for each wedding is between 800 € and 1050 €, on average. According to this way of doing the math, there is no point in making a discount because a wedding has fewer hours – not without increasing the value for a wedding that has more hours, so that the average value is this.

I also draw your attention to the fact that these values ​​do not include VAT, both in expenses (because they are deductible) and in the final amount presented. The real value will be 23% higher!

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Supply and demand

The above values ​​are however only the starting point for the minimum amount to be charged per marriage. In reality, there are more and more professionals in the market with differentiated work, the result of years of experience with a lot of trial and error, to develop a unique (and salable) style. If there are few colleagues with this type of photography and many customers who want it, it is only logical that the values ​​start to rise. A professional who is able to sell his work quickly will increase his values ​​in order to close the ideal number of weddings he proposed. This is a game of nerves, because the market is constantly changing and the way we presented our work last year may not be the best way to reach customers this year. It is necessary to control very well the pace at which marriages are closed in order to be able to correct the values ​​up or down.

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Marketing is everything

We will consider two scenarios: a photographer with a very differentiated and attractive work that does not invest in making his work visible to potential clients (aka marketing). A second photographer with banal work but who has a very good marketing strategy and as such reaches many grooms. It is easy to see that the second photographer will be able to sell his work more easily, even at higher prices, than the first. This means that the law of supply and demand only applies when supported by good marketing.

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Perception of value

Let’s talk about the extremes: there are customers who do not understand why a photographer charges more than the minimum wage to take a camera (“just like the one they have at home”) and take some pictures here and there on the day of the wedding.

On the opposite side of the spectrum there are customers who have followed a particular photographer for years and who even define the date of the wedding according to their availability.

In the middle are those customers who value photography in general and the wedding photographer’s particular vision in a particular way. 

I can say that I have had many clients over the years that I came to discover having photography as a hobby, that is, they value photography as a form of personal and artistic expression. I have heard several colleagues complain that social media and the widespread use of mobile phones with cameras have made photography less “magical” and that people have given less credit to photographers. I feel exactly the opposite: that now people value photography more precisely because they can also take and publish. They perceive better than ever the difficulty of getting a good photograph and realize the importance of being able to do a consistently good job.

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There is an ideal photographer for each couple

The style

There are several interesting videos on youtube in which they put several photographers photographing the same scene, with completely different final results. We all ended up liking the style of one or the other photographer more. Not only of the subjective quality of each photograph, but also of the “mood” and “feeling” of the photographs. There are also types of photography, in which the wedding fits, in which there are other important characteristics such as story-telling, ie the ability of the photographer to be able to link the photographs in order to show what is important and which contributes for the story you want to tell. Within the style of photography I like, photo-journalism, story-telling is, in my opinion, one of the most important characteristics for the quality of the final work. 

Then there are also those who give importance to the way photographs are delivered, for example in album, fine-art prints, large format, even polaroids, among many others. Personally, I love fine-art prints and one of the reasons why I have my studio is precisely that I can dedicate myself to printing photographs, because I believe that this contributes a lot to a better experience for my couples!

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The personality and the experience

But the photo report on the wedding day is not limited to the final result of the photographs that are delivered! It is also very important that the couple get along with the photographer, because he is probably the person who will spend the most time with the couple throughout the day.

There are those who believe in love at first sight, in yin and yang, in the other half of the orange, in destiny. I believe that there is an ideal photographer for each couple!

I’m not that dreamer … I don’t think there is only one photographer for each couple, there will certainly be several with the style that we like and that we will get along with, but within those there is the one that we are most comfortable with and love the work – this is the photographer with whom we will be more comfortable throughout the day, with whom we open up as a friend and allow him to see parts of us that are so intimate that they are so real. The result of the photographs at the end will make all the difference!

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The investment

Of course, the value that each photographer charges is relevant! If my ideal photographer charges much more than what I am willing to invest, I will probably have to choose a cheaper one. But I didn’t want to do a last few calculations, I promise this time without Excel tables!The total investment for a wedding can go from big to astronomical, but it is rarely or never “small”. Among the several thousand euros we have invested, the photographer represents a small but necessary percentage! What is the difference in value between that photographer that I “like” and the one that I “adore”? One may be € 600 more expensive than the other, but that € 600 corresponds to what percentage of the total marriage? 2%? 0.5%? Is that why I will save on my wedding experience and the memories I will have for the future? Because at the end of the day this is the visual heritage that we will leave for generations to come! What I didn’t have to have a good report on my parents ‘wedding, or even pictures of my grandparents’ weddings!

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Last words

For the couples

Anyone who has had the patience to read everything so far will certainly have the patience to choose a photographer they like 🙂

What I have to recommend is simple: start by seeing what is done today in wedding photography! There are always new trends, new styles and new photographers with a lot of talent to appear. Do your research well, be it through Google, Instagram, Facebook and any other platform that you find interesting. Look at many different styles and decide between the two of you the one you most identify with. Then look for photographers in that style. On Instagram it may be easier to find this style based on #hashtags. Then contact those you liked the most and see if they have “chemistry”. Based on style, chemistry and investment value decide which is your ideal photographer!

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For the photographers

If you are a photographer, you are my colleague! I don’t see you as a competitor.

A few years ago I had an interesting conversation with an amateur photographer who was finishing his engineering degree and was interested in photography. We were talking about the differences between the two areas and that I didn’t see other photographers as competitors. He did not understand my vision, he thought that the other photographers were competitors and should be treated in this way, so I explained: “when you are working in an engineering office, will you see your fellow engineers as competitors?” “Of course not!” He said. I replied: “now if the economy goes down, you, who were among the last to join the company, will be the first to be fired! Your colleagues will be your competitors for the places that are still available in the company! What matters is the law of supply and demand: in times of abundance there is more demand than supply, so values ​​rise and everyone is happy, in times of crisis it is the opposite. The difference is that when people have their own business, they don’t go out on the street, they have to lower their values ​​beforehand. It is almost as if the evil is distributed among the villages. It seems to me that this competition is not as bad as that of a company in which some are left with nothing and others have to work overtime to earn the same as before, or less ”.

We are colleagues and if we help each other I am sure our area will be better! If I can help you with anything, please get in touch!

For my fellow photographers I also wanted to address the theme of “specializing vs diversifying for security reasons” but that will have to be for another post, because this one is already going to be very big.

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If you liked this type of post please leave a comment for me to continue creating content that may be relevant to you!

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