As the expression goes, "Good photography is never cheap. Cheap photography is never good."
For the most part, that is true. Lately I find myself being underbid for weddings by cheap photographers (in the $200-1500 range), or by someone with a "friend with a nice camera". Today's marketplace is overpopulated with people who got a "nice" camera for Christmas, and with the help of a Facebook business page and some Instagram filters, boom! They're professional photographers!
I charge about $2500 for an eight hour wedding, including some perks like a canvas wrap print, online gallery, crystal usb in a satin box, etc. So how can some photographers cost $500 and make a living?
Truth is, they can't. Unless they have a day job, live with their parents or have a sugar daddy, they can't make a living on a $500 wedding.
Here's a reality check for anyone considering an inexpensive wedding photographer. Let’s start by looking at a broad number: 35%. According to the Professional Photographers Association of America, that’s the target profit margin for a wedding photographer. The target. Many make less. So, for every $1000 that a photographer charges, figure he’s probably taking home $200-$350 after expenses. Of all the vendors you hire for your wedding, your photographer will have the greatest overhead. I carry $20,000 worth of equipment to a wedding… equipment that gets broken and must be repaired or upgraded. I have a studio, utilities, a website, marketing expenses, a million dollar liability policy, indemnity insurance, a business license, federal, state and local taxes to pay. That’s where 65%-75% of your money goes.
Still, let’s say a photographer charges $2500 to photograph your wedding. With the above formula, that means he makes, say…$875. You might be thinking, “$875 for one day’s work is pretty good!”
But it’s not one day’s work. It’s a week of work. Unlike the other vendors at your wedding, when the wedding is over your photographer is just getting started. First, let’s not forget the 2-3 hours he has spent meeting with you before the wedding. Add another 5-6 hours if you had an engagement session. Then there’s the 7-10 hours of work on the wedding day. Finally, there can be as much as 20 hours of post-production work on a typical wedding.
So, that $875 is now a week’s salary, not a day.
Anyone shooting at $200-$1200 is not making a living as a photographer. They are a student, or they have another job. Sometimes they are building a portfolio towards being a full-time photographer. God bless them, everyone needs to start somewhere, but they would be well served to start as a second shooter for an experienced photographer.
A cheap photographer will often not have the professional equipment needed to do a wedding properly. "You're just being an equipment snob!" you might say. But I can tell you that a prosumer camera bought at Sam's is not going to have the low light capabilities in that dark, candlelit church that my $3500 cameras have. That is why, when you look at the website of a low-end photographer, you will see so many pictures that were taken outdoors, without a flash. Their indoor pictures don’t look good because they don’t have the right gear. Add to all of this the fact that I carry two of everything and you can see where the costs start to mount up. The cost of this level of expert equipment is passed along to the client. So, just because a photographer charges more doesn’t mean he makes more.
Foto Flashback! Flashback Flashback Flashback
When we got married in 1981, we were too poor to pay attention. Fortunately, I had a mother in law who was a wedding cake baker by trade, and the venues, dresses, and flowers were donated to us. Our wedding photographer was a nice gentleman who was friends with my mother. He was a weekend wedding photographer, an advanced hobbyist, to put it kindly. He shot our wedding for $95 for 95 5x7 prints ($253.87 in 2017 dollars). There were a few good pictures. There were even more that weren't. Blurry, awkward, out of focus, underexposed pictures. Some moments were missed entirely like the first kiss. It was such a disaster that we never made a wedding album. That's right, a wedding photographer without his own wedding album.
The bottom line when trying to decide how much money to spend on your photography is to remember that your wedding pictures will be the only thing that is left after the big day. They will last forever and be passed down to future generations. Do you really want to cut corners on your memories? Don’t be the person who looks back in 20 years and says, “I should have hired a better photographer!". Find the photographer whose work you love and who you'll be comfortable having around you all day at your wedding…. and figure out a way to hire them. It doesn’t have to be me… there are plenty of great, professional wedding photographers out there who will do a good job. Just don’t pick according to price. Pick according to quality and professionalism. You’ll be glad you did. (By the way, I offer financing...)
Bonus: Newbie Photographer Red Flag Warnings
If their website says:
"I'm an available light photographer!" ...It means, "I don't own a flash or if I do, I don't know how to use it."
"I'm an on-location photographer!"... This is obvious: " I don't own a studio."
"I am passionate about photography!"....Passion is no substitute for experience.
"I LOVE LOVE LOVE photography!" ....A variation of the above, and love don't pay the rent.
"I love Jesus and photography!" ......I'm not risking Hell by commenting on this one.
"I specialize in Family Portraits, Teens, Weddings, Maternity, Pets, Boudoir, Sports, Commercial, Nature Scenes and everything in between!" ....Please look up "Specialty".
Any "photographer" that also sells Arbonne, Mary Kay, Amway, Shaklee, Beauty Control, or any other MLM on their website.
I'll add to the list as necessary. Good day.