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Why do Wedding Photographers Cost So Much?

December 3, 2017

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Hi I’m Morgan! I’m a photography educator and Raleigh, NC newborn photographer and family photographer.

Meet Morgan



I’ll give you five seconds to guess my most frequently received objection to my wedding photography services. If you guessed “price” or “budget”, you’re today’s winner! Congrats!

One of the most widely regretted decisions for a newly-married couple after their wedding is that they didn’t spend enough on wedding photography. Despite that fact, though, many engaged couples choose to sacrifice in the area of photography when it comes to their wedding budget. And let me assure you, you are almost always sacrificing something when you choose to cut costs.

Before I get into those sacrifices, though, I want to take a moment to explain where we wedding photographers come up with these “ridiculous” numbers. It’s easy to look at the cost you’re quoted for eight hours of coverage on your wedding day, divide that number by eight and think, “WOW! I wish I could make that much per hour!”. You tell yourself it’s insane to pay someone that kind of hourly rate, and you move on to someone cheaper.

Well, my friend, what you probably don’t know is that most wedding photographers put in MANY more hours than the time they spend with you on your wedding day.

The Hourly Rate of a Wedding Photographer

It starts with your initial inquiry, where we take the time to thoughtfully reply to you and share more information about our services. Then, maybe we meet with you to talk more about your wedding day and learn more about you. If you decide to book with us, we put together your contract and invoice and happily email back and forth with you answering any and all questions you have.

We take the time to prep you for your engagement session. We then edit those photos, share them on social media, put a blog post together for them and then deliver all of them to you.

Throughout the span of your engagement, your photographer likely checks in with you at different points. Whether it’s just to say hello, send you some useful wedding information or help you in planning for your big day, we’re taking the time to touch base with you and ensure that all of your needs are met.

When it gets closer to your wedding day, we’re checking in more frequently. Maybe we’re helping you perfect that timeline to ensure you get every single photo squeezed in there, or perhaps we’re working with you to gather all of the details for your day so that we’re adequately prepared. Whatever it is, we’re busy prepping for your day so that you can have the best experience ever.

After your wedding day, there’s still more work to be done. The simple act of reviewing all of your photos to choose the very best ones and tossing the ones that don’t meet our standards (we call this culling) is extremely time consuming. EXTREMELY.

When the culling is complete, then we begin editing the hundreds of photos from your day. We post them on social media and blog them so that you can have a glimpse before you receive all of them. And then once they’ve all been edited to perfection, we deliver them, hold our breath, and hope and pray you love them as much as we do.

Every photographer’s process is different. There are things I do in addition to what’s listed above, as I’m sure the same can be said for many photographers. But these are some pretty basic steps that I would assume most wedding photographers also do.

When all is said and done, I spend about 40 hours on a single wedding. Not eight or ten or however many hours I’m physically there the day of. FORTY.

You may be thinking that that still sounds like a high hourly rate, but the fun isn’t over, sister. We also have to account for the cost of goods.

Oh, and before we get to that, did I mention we pay taxes? Because we do. We love handing over a third of our earnings to the government, but I digress.

A Wedding Photographer’s Cost of Goods

Did you know that photography is extremely expensive? Every piece of equipment we use has cost us a pretty penny. From camera bodies to lenses to flashes, these aren’t things you can go pick up for a hundred dollars a pop.

I have one camera body that set me back about $2,500. That’s one body. I carry two camera bodies to all weddings. The lenses I own range in price anywhere from $600 to $1,600. This stuff is not cheap at all, you guys. And I’m not what you would classify as an equipment junkie. I own what I have to have to get the job done, but it’s still costly.

We also have to own a computer in order to edit your photos (and yes, that means we have to purchase editing software as well), communicate with you via email, share your photos on social media and blog about your wedding.

And then, we continually educate ourselves. I’m in the midst of completing two courses right now, and more often than not, I’m enrolled in at least one course. And why? Because I want to make sure you have the best possible photos you can have, and I want to make sure I provide you with an incredible experience while I’m at it. So I take it upon myself to learn and stay up to date with industry trends.

What You Sacrifice

At this point you may be saying that you understand, but you don’t think that all of that is necessary. And you know what? To some extent, you’re right. BUT (you knew there was a but, didn’t you?) if I decided to cut back costs in one area or another, my clients would have to give something up for that.

Sure, there are cheaper lenses and camera bodies out there, but then I can’t provide as high quality of photographs to my clients as I’ve promised. I don’t have to educate myself either. I could just keep trekking along with the knowledge that I have, and that would be fine. But I hold myself to a higher standard than that. I want to provide my clients with the very best that I can provide them with. Part of doing that is continually becoming better at what I do.

There’s also no written rule out there that I need to own a computer to share images on social media and blog regularly. But let’s be honest. How many of you would even know I exist if I didn’t do that? Probably not very many. It’s a pretty standard form of marketing these days.

Farmer and Frenchman wedding. Photographed by Morgan Williams Photography.

What this all comes down to is this: You usually get what you pay for. I say usually, because there are always exceptions to the rule. There are photographers out there who undervalue themselves just like there are photographers who overvalue themselves. But generally speaking, you do get what you pay for.

The tricky part is being able to recognize upfront what it is that you’re sacrificing. It’s easy to be fooled by a gallery of gorgeous photos. If you only compare photo quality and price, you may regret that decision down the road.

Maybe you’re still receiving beautiful photos that you love, but you’re sacrificing on turnaround time. You don’t get receive your wedding gallery until three months after your wedding instead of three weeks after your wedding.

Or perhaps your photos are gorgeous, but you rarely hear from your photographer. After you sign the contract and pay the retainer to book him or her, you don’t hear from them again for months. And when you reach out to them, it takes weeks to get a reply.

When you charge less, you usually have to take on more clients in order to make up for the loss in revenue. This results in longer turnaround times and less promptness and personalization throughout the entire process.

I mean, think about it. It takes a lot more time to serve 30 couples as opposed to 15, right? Imagine a restaurant filled with 30 tables of couples being served by one person. Everything is going to take longer than if that person had only 15 couples to serve. It will take longer to greet them, get their drinks, take their orders, serve their food and hand over the check. There’s simply no way around it.

The same holds true for a wedding photographer. So as you’re shopping around, ask about turnaround times. Ask about their communication policy. Ask how often you can expect to hear from them.

Don’t just look at a photo and price tag, sign the contract, hand over some cash and be on your merry way. Know what you’re getting, and know what you’re sacrificing.

I do recognize that everyone has a budget when it comes to wedding costs, and I definitely respect that. I also know, though, that paying someone thousands of dollars to document your wedding day can seem unnecessary if you don’t know everything that goes into it. And for as much information as I provided in this post, this is truly only the tip of the iceberg.

So when it comes to choosing a wedding photographer, of course, pay attention to your budget. Don’t spend $8,000 when your budget for photography is $4,000. But if you want to find a photographer whose photos and experience you love, don’t kick someone to the curb over $500.

Move some things around in other areas of your budget and make it work. You’ll be happy you did when you have your wedding gallery full of beautiful photos back in just a few weeks and aren’t badgering them via email to respond to you over the course of your engagement. You can’t put a price on peace of mind and a good experience. So do what you can do to make your engagement and wedding photography experience the best it can be.




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