I was having a discussion with a friend concerning Professional Photography and why it is so expensive.
With the change from older cameras--with film cost, developing, technical expertise requirements...to the digital world with cheaper cameras and auto programs, why do some photographers cost $500 and some $5000? Let's consider Wedding Photography for an example.
According to the Professional Photographers Association of America, the target profit margin for a wedding photographer is 35%. So, if a photographer charges you $1000, he’s probably making $200-$350 after expenses. Of the vendors you hire for your wedding...your photographer may have the greatest overhead. I carry $15,000 worth of equipment to a wedding… equipment that gets broken and must be repaired or upgraded. I have a website, marketing materials, studio management software, graphic design software, insurance, advertising, etc. Those are the expenses that eats up 65%-75% of your money.
--So, let’s say I charge $2000 to photograph your wedding. With the above formula, I can make, $600. “$600 for one day’s work is pretty good, right?” But it’s not one day’s work. It’s a week of work. Unlike the DJ at your wedding, my day doesn't end when the party stops. Also, let’s not forget the 2-3 hours spent meeting with you before the wedding. Add another 2-4 hours if you had an engagement session. Then there’s the 7-10 hours of work on the wedding day. Lastly, a typical wedding has 15-20 hours of post-production work to go from Raw files to that finished album and archived file images.
That $600 is now divided by a week -- not just a day
The next question is, “If they make so little, how can any photographer afford to shoot for $500-$1000?”
They can’t. Anyone shooting at that price is not making their living as a photographer. They are a student, or they have another job. Sometimes they are learning how and what to shoot building a portfolio towards being a full-time photographer. Some just do it for fun.
The question you have to ask with these photographers is what corners are they cutting to stay so inexpensive. Are they licensed and insured? Do they have backup equipment and expertise if a problem arises? Are they a business that will be here after the wedding?
Business costs: A high-end photographer will have a business license, studio management software, liability insurance, a good website, a Studio perhaps, utilities, rent, and other marketing tools… all of which cost money.
Equipment: A high-end photographer will be using pro-level gear. What does that mean? ... better picture quality, and enlargements, but the biggest impact is low-light photography. Pro cameras and lenses have the ability to shoot in darker places (like churches and reception halls) much more effectively than cheap gear. This is why, when you look at a low-end photographer's website, you 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. And many beginning photographers have not yet mastered on and off camera flash skills. Then consider I carry a backup of all my equipment, so 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.
Skill and talent: Believe it or not, it takes money to have talent. Hi-end photographers are constantly training, taking classes, reading books, etc in order to improve their craft. We travel to seminars and week-long classes to stay on top of our game.
Assistants – many high-end photographers have an assistant or second-shooter who must be paid.
So when trying to decide how much money to spend on your wedding photography, 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? Do you want to save money on the chance that the cheaper guy starting out or the person with a cool new camera, has the skills to capture those moments? And don't ask a family member or friend to shoot your big day. If they do have the gear and skills, they will be tempted to celebrate with you and might miss key moments. Don’t be the person who looks back in 20 years and says, “I should have hired a better photographer.” No one ever looks back and says, “We should have cut corners on our photography.”
Am I saying I am worth the money, yes! But most importantly, I want you to ask the right questions and hire the professional you need. Talk to your pros about your day, session, job, or what ever you need done. If they are not the right fit, they can suggest the person to interview. So hire someone because of quality and character not the cost of their 8x10s.