Why so much for wedding photography?

I am tired of clients declining my services in favor of hiring a family friend or a company that doesn’t care about them or their needs for $750.  I am tired of feeling like I have to defend my prices to myself and others.  I am tired of feeling the weight of the financial burden of being a self-employed photographer.

The fact is, the joy of being a self-employed photographer is that I mostly get to work from my in-home studio and I’m doing what I love, but the woes are many.  I work until a job is done and when a job is done there is always one in line right behind it (this means 9-5 begins to look ideal as I often spend 10+ hours a day and a lot of weekends working).  While I work clients are calling upon me to finish faster despite the fact I’m still well within my deadline.  And with all of this I am scraping by to pay the bills because December – March is the SLOW SEASON.  This means $50 – $200 portrait sessions are attempting to pull the weight of all our bills (roughly 10 – 40 of these would satisfy that need), but there are business expenses to be looked after as well.

So, now I seek to educate my readers in hopes of more considerate client to photographer dealings. I hope I don’t sound angry or mean because I am not, I am just disheartened.

Before I divulge, thank you so much to my brides and other clients who love and appreciate who I am and what I do.  I am ever so grateful to you and the joy your support and encouragement brings me and my family!

Why so much for wedding photography?

This first section of data was taken from a blog by Nikki Wagner because my statistics are in a significantly lower price bracket but I still have these expenses and needs and yet I still get complaints.

“Dear Bride,

I am a wedding photographer in the Erie, PA area. Wedding season only last about 4 months here, so I photograph an average of 20 weddings per year for an average of $2,500/wedding (which totals about $50,000/year).

  • That being said, I am a small business owner, so I pay all of my taxes, totaling about $15,000/year, which leaves me with a gross income of around $35,000
  • Of that $35,000 I pay $600/month in rent for my small house and garage which I converted into my studio (which is where I would be editing your wedding images).$35,000 – $7,200 = $27,800
  • Then I have my car, which I would use to get me to and from your wedding, which I pay $400/month for the lease, plus $200/month in car insurance. $27,800 – $7,200 = $20,600
  • To get to your (and my other brides) wedding consultation, second wedding pre-consultation, the wedding itself, and to and from the printers I spend $840/year in gas money. $20,600 – $840 = $19,760
  • I also have $500/year insurance in case you sue me, or if any of your drunk guests would happen to break any of my equipment. $19,760 – $500 = $19,260
  • You also probably found me through my website, which I pay $30/month for hosting, and another $30/month so that you can view your photos online and share the images with your friends and family. $19,260 – $720 = $18,540
  • Or perhaps you found me through my advertisements in the newspaper or local bridal magazines, or a bridal show that you attended that I paid to have a booth at. $18,540 – $1,000 = $17,540
  • I also pay $250/month for my own health insurance in case I were to get hurt at your wedding. $17,540 – $3,000 = $14,540
  • I pay $200/wedding for a second shooter for your wedding, so that you can have more images and different angles, as to make sure you get the best images possible at your wedding. $14,540 – $4,000 = $10,540
  • I also need to have a new pair of shoes ($100) every season because my shoes get worn out and dirty from season to season. $10,540 – $100 = $10,440
  • I need high speed internet so I can upload all of your images online, my home phone for my business and my cell phone so I can communicate with you. $10,440 – $2,500 = $7,940
  • Oh yes, and I also pay a lawyer to make sure my contracts are iron clad and an accountant to make sure that I am paying all of the taxes I need. $7,940 – $500 = $7,440
  • Sometimes I attend workshops and seminars to teach me how to better my business, and make my client happier (that would be you), as well as keep up on the trends and learn new techniques so that I can make sure you have the best quality images available.

That would technically leave me with about $7,000/year to feed myself, buy groceries, pay for my heat and electricity, clothe myself, etc. But, usually I end up reinvesting whatever I have left on upgrades and new equipment.”

-stats from Nikki Wagner

Now for stats by me…

For your wedding I bring my high quality professional equipment to ensure your wedding images are the best I can make them.

  • I have two Canon 5D Mark II cameras (I keep both strapped on me all day to ensure if one fails I have a back up) = $4,000
  • I also have high quality lenses to capture your low light special moments:
    Canon 85mm f/1.2L lens = $1,200
    Canon 50mm f/1.2L lens = $1,440
    Canon 35mm f/1.4L lens = $1,330
  • I have lighting equipment to give you great family pictures:
    Light stand, light box, external battery packs: $1,000
  • I have brilliant flashes to capture all the moments at your reception
    Canon 580EX II = $650
  • I also have multiple battery backups and memory cards and a bag to carry everything in = $1,000+

After spending 8-10 hours at your wedding, I then come home to my home office and spend about 20-25 hours editing your images, creating your album, blogging about your wedding, posting pictures on Facebook, ordering your prints and burning your DVDs.

  • I edit your photographs using a 27-inch iMac computer = $2,500.
  • I edit your photographs on Adobe Lightroom ($200) and Adobe CS5 ($400).
  • I buy custom DVDs in bulk for $300
  • I archive all of your photographs on a 2TB external hard drive = $220.
  • I also have office expenses as far as buying paper, staples, envelopes, packaging, filing cabinets and files, etc…
  • I also spend time and money ordering your prints and albums, paying for shipping, going to the post office etc.
  • Lastly, but certainly not least, I am fully educated with a bachelor’s degree and that came at a price of $300,000 +


All of that being said, I’m constantly pinching pennies, and take on many family portraits, senior portraits and any thing else I can get in order to make ends meet.

Photography is my passion and my livelihood, and it is also expensive. Yes, it seems like a lot of money for one day, but one day isn’t all I spend on you or on my business. I know you will spend thousands of dollars on a wedding dress, flowers, a venue, and on catering which you are going to have for only one day. The photographs I give you will be the only thing you have to remember of that one day for the rest of your lives.

I do feel insulted every time a bride scoffs at my price.  I hope you can see why in light of the full description of what my financial life looks like.  I understand every bride has their budget.  So brides, please know when you set your budget to factor this information in when deciding how much you will spend on your photographer and know that we are in charge of your memories of this special day of yours.  And please know that there are people behind that camera and though our goal is to serve you we do have feelings.  When you insult my work or my price I take it personally because I do consider my photography art and art comes from the heart.


Kaia Calhoun

Blog post inspired by Why Wedding Photographers’ Prices are “Wack”

6 thoughts on “Why so much for wedding photography?

  1. I feel your pain, but there are a few things that need to be put into perspective.

    1. Value is subjective. It’s based on culture, social economics, and education. People in lower income levels tend to have less education and price is more of a factor than anything else.

    2. Though the IRS might recognize you as a business, you own a job. Not a business. A business is a system that works whether you are there or not, a job needs your time and energy and hen you go on vacation (if you go on vacation) the job stops.

    So you can either move to a bigger city with higher income levels and higher levels of education with potential clients that will see the value in your prices or you can change your business model so you have a system rather than owning a job. Let other photographers work for you. Don’t be the photographer, own the studio and hire the photographers. Then go out and shoot what you really love, at your own pace w/o the headaches and stress.

    • Hi Chris,

      I understand your reservations.

      1. Yes value is subjective but based on my culture, social economics and education (not to mention resources and equipment) this is the rate my service is valued at. I am not asking for lower income people to pay a higher price. I am asking for every economic level to understand why photographers like me need to charge what they do for the service they are asking for.

      2. I am a business. Unlike a lot of freelance photographers I own a studio. I also run my business like a business as I hold normal office hours (9 – 5 weekdays) in addition to working Saturdays and some Sundays. It is common to think a self-employed photographer’s “job” stops when vacation comes but, the fact is that the work never stops. I usually am still working when I am on vacation unless I can manage to get ahead in the work load and sacrifice getting a little behind while I’m away.

      Your definition of “business” is skewed to our culture unfortunately. A business as a group of people running 24 hours a day is new to the past 10 – 20 years. Before that, businesses operated under daytime hours and well before that businesses started as a one man venture (ex: bakers and butchers). I am a business because I fit the definition of a business which is why the IRS sees me as a business and why I pay ridiculous taxes because of it.

      BUSINESS: an occupation, profession, or trade (dictionary.com)

      I live just outside Chicago so I am in a big city with higher income levels. And the value in my service is that my clients work with me directly and create a relationship with me, not a system.

      Perhaps this puts a few issues into better perspective for you? Thanks for your comment and asking for some clarity on topics I didn’t discuss enough in the original blog post.

      • I’m sorry if I offended, but when I said business I wasn’t using Webster’s dictionary definition. I was referring to the “cash flow quadrant” made popular by Robert Kiyosaki in Rich Dad Poor Dad.

        You have employee and small business owner on one side of the quadrant and investor and business on the other side. The way the rich define business is having a model. If you ever read The E-Myth Revised you will have a better idea. Basically, when you own a real business, employees do the work of the business and the owners are responsible for moving the business forward. Growth. If you can’t go on vacation for a week or two w/o losing income because you are not there to do the work of the business, then what you own is a job, not a business.

        Again my intention is not to offend. I am currently studying photography, and have done fashion design and illustration for half of my life. I know all to well how under valued creatives are. Especially as a photographer. The assumption is your photos are good cause you have a fancy DSLR. People think they can pay their friend or cousin a few hundred bucks and get the same results cause they too own a fancy DSLR.

        I get it. The point I’m trying to get across is one that wasn’t brought up in your post, but was alluded to. In creative fields the pay tends to be modest. The hours long, and the appreciation almost non existent. Any shmuck with photoshop, a DSLR or dream weaver feels like they can create work with value, so it’s hard to convince them your training and experience is what they are truly paying for.

        So by realizing that having a certain business model (small business where you basically own a job) as well as being in a creative field the effort to pay ratio is a lot less than other business models.

        Again. I truly hope I didn’t offend. I was just drawn to your post because I identify with it so much. I just want you to know you have the power to change it and its not by reinventing the wheel, or trying to help potential customers see real value in you and your services. That’s an uphill battle. Once we realize we cant change anyone but ourselves, You’ve tapped into the real power.

      • I got ya, that makes sense. And I appreciate the validation in your third and fourth paragraphs. Totally nailed it 🙂 It totally will all continue to be a battle and I’m sure there’s plenty more learning to be done as I get deeper and deeper into the business.

        What do you mean by “I just want you to know you have the power to change it and its not by reinventing the wheel, or trying to help potential customers see real value in you and your services. That’s an uphill battle. Once we realize we cant change anyone but ourselves, You’ve tapped into the real power.” Are you referring to the “business” model you outlined above that?

      • Rather than try to explain this concept myself, I will just offer two books that really helped me understand the same point Im trying to get across. The E-Myth revisited and Rich Dad Poor Dad. I get books recommended to me all the time and rarely read them, these two however are priceless for anyone starting a small business. If you every read them let me know what you think. Good luck and stay positive until then.

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