Disclaimer: I know - I'm deviating. You knew it would happen. My other nine fingers can't seem to abide the one-fingered photographer in me: Must. Write.
Moving on - let's talk about the cost of wedding photography, shall we?
I met with a bride-to-be a couple of weekends ago; she was looking for a wedding photographer and a mutual friend had referred her to me. I'm just starting to get serious about wedding photography; it's not the sort of thing you just jump into - though, I'd actually rather prefer it that way. What's that expression? Analysis paralysis. Anyhoo, I'd done months of research specifically on wedding photography, I have my business plan, the equipment and the know-how; let's see how this goes.
How strange! As I'm sitting here at the bookshop writing this, a woman walked in wanting to know if I could hang a flyer up on the window, "Sure!" say I - she hands it to me and, low and behold, it's for her wedding photography business. No kidding - just happened 30 seconds ago.
Ok - back to that in a minute. So, I meet with the Bride-to-Be and we talk a little bit about what she's wanting, the location, date, etc. All right up my alley, no problem at all. Then we get to the tough part of the discussion - the cost. As soon as she saw the prices/packages I offer she said, "I met with a photographer last week who can do 8 hours, give us an album and a CD of all the images for $1,500." I told her that I couldn't compete with that price point but, in lieu of showing her an expansive portfolio of wedding work, I'd be happy to do their engagement session for free so they could see if we're a good fit. I'm guessing since I didn't hear back from her, she went with the $1,500 photographer and I am completely okay with it.
I know what you're saying, "Why wouldn't you take the job for $1,500 - don't you need the experience if you're thinking about doing this seriously?" That's a fantastic question, thanks for asking.
Oftentimes when folks hire a photographer for 8 hours, they may not realize that 8 hours of location time equates to about 32-48 hours total time with editing and design. Although it varies among photographers, we can take anywhere from 800 to 1500 images over the course of 8 hours. This figure also varies, but clients can usually expect to have anywhere from 400 to 600 images to select from; it takes a lot of time to go through those images and prepare them for a client. And, remember, these just aren't casual shots taken at a backyard barbeque - the photos taken at your wedding are meant to be treasured for generations so a good photographer will (or should) create individual pieces of art that capture the essence of that day - all the love and emotion swirling around two people who've made the decision to spend their lives together.
Besides one another - what else can you take away from the day? Yup - the photographs. So it's a big job - an important job and not one that should be assigned lightly or to the lowest bidder because it's true - you will get what you pay for.
Digital images are great, but they only last as long as your Facebook account - or until your hard drive crashes - or until you move and the CD gets lost (scratched, broken) in the shuffle. There are several companies out there that photographers work with to custom design wedding albums that will look as beautiful now as they will in 50 years - the real deal, not something you go pick up at Target. Just as every wedding is unique, so is every wedding album; designing an album that honors the personalities of the bride and groom is a collaborative effort that takes a lot of time and you want someone who's dedicated to making it absolutely perfect in every way.
"We don't want actual pictures, we just want the CD so we can make prints ourselves."
Okay - well, this can happen, but it's not inexpensive. Whoever takes a picture - whether it's a professional photographer or Aunt Sally using her iPhone - legally owns that image. Say Aunt Sally snapped an amazing shot of the family dog airborne and about to land in the $4,000 wedding cake, and say, somehow, that image ended up on the web. Then say someone from The Denver Post or The Knot or even some random blogger came across it and printed/posted it. Legally there are a few things Aunt Sally can do - but the bottom line is she owns the photograph and is entitled to compensation and a photo credit.
We all have different practices when it comes to the CD; some photographers say no outright because they don't want to mess with the legalities. Most photographers (including yours truly) will provide some/all images at a fair price as long as the purchaser agrees to sign a Limited Copyright License Agreement. Note: Even with this contract - the photos will still and forevermore belong to the photographer; the purchaser/licensee is free to make prints of the images but may not alter the images or transfer the agreement to another party. Expect to pay upwards of $125 for each digital image and/or negative.
"Wait! I thought you said a 'fair' price!"
Ah - ok! Let's use one image as an example - a formal shot with the Bride and Groom, their parents, grandparents, siblings, nieces and nephews. The potential exists that 10 people in that photograph will want a copy of that photograph - maybe an 8x10 to frame and put on the mantle. To purchase 10 8x10s from the photographer who either processes the image herself or works with a lab to do it, it'll cost somewhere around $250. If the client opts to purchase the digital image instead, there's not only a great savings benefit for the client, but the photographer is adequately compensated for providing the product. In fairness, you can't expect someone to give their work away - they've got bills to pay and mouths to feed, after all.
As an aside, did you happen to read the story about the woman who downloaded 24 songs from the Internet without paying for them? The Federal Jury found her guilty and fined her $80,000 per song - $1.9 million. Oops. Just like recording artists like to be paid for their music, photographers like to be paid for their photographs. Only difference with this example is that with images you are welcome to make copies - not so much with the music (lest I lead anyone astray).
Okay - so maybe now you have an insider's view of some of the factors involved with what you probably wouldn't see or otherwise know watching a wedding photographer at work the day of the wedding. Let's go back to the woman who brought in the flyer. "Packages start at $600 and include 30+ hours of editing. Book now and get a free engagement session." I checked her website and noted that the $600 package is for 5 hours and includes the CD. This photographer is working for $17 an hour and giving her work away. Even if she booked one wedding a week for an entire year, she's only making $31,200. That's got to cover her costs to run a business and to run her household. I won't comment on her work, but her business plan isn't at all sustainable.
She might book a lot of weddings at that price, but she won't be in business long. Not knowing what her overhead or business costs are - or if this is how she makes her living - she may even go deep into debt. Sadly, this will be true of the $1500 photographer I mentioned earlier. These folks may love photography, but it's never going to love them back at those price points - they'll get sloppy with their work because they know they have five more $600 wedding scheduled in the next two weeks, frustrated that they can't get everything done or meet the changing needs of the couples they've booked and, ultimately, have to throw in the towel or, better yet, change the way they do business.
"Why do I care how she chooses to run her business, I like her prices and I can afford them."
True that. Clients are on a budget and the cost of a wedding can be staggering. Decisions have to be made on where dollars can be spent the most wisely. Good photographers know their worth and they're also wanting to build healthy relationships with their clients with the hope that they will be considered in the future (maternity and newborn sessions, birthdays, family portraits, etc.); we're motivated to provide the best possible results every single time. The quality of work preferred is completely up to the client.
Since it would be tough to do my own, there are three photographers here in Denver that I would hire to do my own wedding in a heartbeat; the least expensive package among them probably starts around $4,000. Paying at least that is worth it because the photographs, to me, are important. In fact, my husband and I got married at the courthouse and we didn't have a photographer; I'm actually really sad about that. Ahhh - we can renew our vows in Italy and do it then - perfect! Ha - I digress...
Flowers get thrown out, food gets eaten, the dress gets boxed up and put away - but photographs last forever (not to mention the fact that they capture the food, the flowers, the dress, and the dog jumping into the cake). Good photographers know this and it shows in their work and work ethic; it's not about booking as many weddings as possible at the cheapest cost, it's about building relationships and trust and knowing that each wedding has its own subtleties and nuances and really taking the time to draw those qualities out and capture them in a way that evokes the emotion of that day for many, many years to come.
In that regard, the work of a good photographer is priceless. But then again I'm completely biased. :)
Now, about that trip to Italy...