Wedding couples don’t know why their wedding photography costs so much and I can relate to that feeling myself. We couldn’t afford wedding photography ourselves. We had to resort to friends and relatives taking our wedding photos.
And I wouldn’t know myself if I hadn’t talked with a local wedding photographer and listened to his story. I guess it’s really a story that many small business owners could tell.
Anyway, this photographer, I’ll call him Tom Jones – sorry, he didn’t want his name used. Tom started his photography business like many do – charging less that others who had “made it” in the business. I think that he felt like working with couples that were struggling and could only afford a few hundred bucks for a wedding photographer was his place in life.
Even he thought that those other full priced wedding photographers were over charging. In the beginning Tom’s wedding photo’s cost less than a thousand dollars. And I don’t believe that he ever wanted, or felt like he needed, to charge more than that.
I’ll tell you right now that Tom’s basic wedding package today starts at a thousand dollars and he said that he now averages somewhere around $2,500 to $3,000 for a wedding photo shoot.
So What Happened?
Well, as Tom explained. Most people know that everyone gets paid, in most part, form the hours that are put into the job. So when you start talking $3,000 dollars for a one day wedding shoot everybody thinks you’re making the big bucks, they do a quick math calculation and come up with the idea that you’re charging around $375 dollars an hour.
Unfortunately their wrong
But, behind the scenes Tom and every other photographer have to edit their work. Tom has been editing for a long time now and has it down to a science. But still, editing a wedding shoot takes him at least 3 days and sometimes 4.
I can vouch for that myself because I’ve been shooting video for a while now and the editing part just eats up the majority of your time. Editing video and editing wedding photos is different, sure. But the reality is that editing takes 3 to 4 times longer than the actual shoot, which is about the industry average.
And Tom said that the second thing you need to be constantly doing as a small business photographer is to be continuously marketing your business. And I’m sure everyone knows that, no marketing = no business = out of business. It’s that simple. And Tom spends at least one day a week just marketing his services, many weeks it’s more than that.
So between these two invisible “other jobs” that must be done, a one weekend wedding turns into another 5 days of work.
As Tom puts it:
“if you take all the hours that go into one wedding from start to finish and subtract just my overhead costs, that $350 dollar an hour myth turns into a $19 dollar an hour reality.”
Not bad, just not $350 an hour.
As Tom explained it, he tried hiring a just a photo editor to help lighten his work load – the problem was the editor wanted more per hour than Tom was making. The same thing holds true with marketing, if Tom doesn’t do it, then he needs to hire someone else to do it – and again, as he found out it costs too much to hire it out.
Good Photographers are worth it.
The last point Tom made to me was that good photographers are good at more than taking photos. He went on to explain his other skills. From what he told me, another largely unnoticed part of the job is to make the bride and groom feel comfortable on their wedding day – which is apparently no small chore.
And Tom has a way about him, calm, controlled, generally doesn’t let a lot of stuff bother him. I guess his calmness rubs off on other people; his calm helps make others feel calm when their around him.
And he is smooth, you’d never even know it when his equipment breaks or something else goes wrong, he adjusts without a hitch, never missing a shot and never complaining.
After listening to Tom tell his story you start to really have a better appreciation for everything that he has to do and why he needs to charge what he does.
Tom finished by saying how he doesn’t even know how he made it through those first couple years. He charged so little in fact that after his first two years in the business he was more in debt than ever. I guess he knew that he had to change his pricing model, or go out of business.
Well, that’s Tom’s story. I’ll finish with the story of my wife and I – it adds a little to Tom’s point.
My wife and I were married with a backdrop of the “Old North Church” in Marblehead, pretty sweet location. As I said, we had our friends and family take the photos and they did a good job, very good for total amateurs in fact. They all did the best that they could.
Like many, our wedding day was wonderful, but truth be told – we were overwhelmed, so many things happening all at once – it all became a blur, the wedding came and went so fast.
Unfortunately, many of those special wedding day moments didn’t get caught on film. Our friends just didn’t know how to do wedding photography, didn’t know what to look for. It’s not their fault, it was mine.
But now, looking back on our special wedding day we know that we should have hired a good wedding photographer.
Truth is, wedding day memories fade with time, blend into one another. Memories get confused, many get lost. We just wish we had a photographer to capture those special but fleeting wedding day moments.
You see, after the food has been eaten, after the flowers have wilted and the reception hall’s lights go out, the only thing left are your memories.
If we could go back and do one thing over, it would be to hire a good wedding photographer. We’re missing so many of our wedding day memories and we would give anything to have them back.
Tom’s story isn’t unique; many small business professionals could tell a similar story. And for the most part wedding photographers don’t explain to wedding couples all the work that goes on behind the scenes. And frankly, couples really don’t want to hear about it.
But I think the story needs to be told. Wedding couples need to understand that great wedding day pictures are not the result of just one day’s work.
For wedding photographers, the wedding is just the beginning.