Why GOOD photography is expensive

Alright you guys, I need to vent! A friend of mine shared a craigslist ad with me that left me baffled. To be honest, I fought everything in me to not sit down and write this woman an email myself. However, I knew that would just be a waist of my time, so I am writing a post about it to educate readers and future clients. Before I explain why good wedding photography is expensive, please read this craigslist ad below:

If you are not a photographer, you may not see why this is bothersome and you may even agree with this woman. As a professional photographer though, I was pretty furious while reading this. A main reason I felt so frustrated was because this woman has NO idea what she is talking about. If you are going to try to take a stance about something, at least educate yourself on the topic first. If you read the ad above, this woman clearly thinks that a photographer pockets every dime they charge their client. However, that is 100% false. Never do I receive payment from a client and get to keep it all. Money from each check is put aside for taxes (we have to pay those too, craigslist lady), paying for the use/insurance of equipment, and paying an assistant/second photographer. What we are pocketing is money we pay ourselves for our TIME AND TALENT.

“All they’re are doing is hanging out and taking tons of photos and editing them”

 Man, that sentence really sets me off. Yes, photographers show up on just that one wedding day, but the work really begins after a wedding. I think a lot of people forget that because they only ever physically see the photographer working on the actual wedding day. Photographers need to be paid for sitting behind their desks countless hours editing images and designing albums. Just like anyone else who works, we need to be paid for every hour that we are clocked in.

When you pay for a quality product/service, you are going to spend more money. It is that simple. You can buy running shoes from Payless and have them wear out on you very quickly, or you can spend more money on a top of the line running shoe and have them last you a significant amount of time. This is a perfect example of the phrase ,”you get what you pay for.” I have heard countless stories of people saying, “I wish I never hired an ametuer photographer to shoot my wedding. I should have paid for a PROFESSIONAL photographer because I only like 3 photos of the hundreds of images he/she gave me.” I feel terrible when I hear those stories, but that is a huge reason why I am in this field. I never want people to have to utter those words. I know I can/do deliver a high quality product and service to whomever hires me, which is why I am confident in where I price myself.

Referring back to this ad, why would this woman think she should be able to pay so little for an “exceptional, amazing, talented, and fun photographer.” Exceptional photography does not come cheap, honey! And you know what, craistlist lady? Good luck to the poor sap who takes on the job of being your wedding photographer. They have a long road ahead of them . . . (and probably months of extensive therapy afterward).


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  • Kristen - AMEN.

  • April - Thank you, Maggie dear! So well put. People truly don’t understand the money photographers put into the job.. I mean, the equipment alone…! And, oh yea, there is this thing called my COLLEGE DEGREE that I am still paying off, because I’m educated and I know what I’m doing. And the hours of editing… ooohhhh the hours…. You can go ahead and pay your $300 for your wedding photographer, Craigslist lady.. I’d really like to see them once they’re finished 😉

  • Sarah Potter - I am a photographer from the Puget Sound area and just heard about this ad. This mindset and attitude upsets me but at the same time, it’s our job as photographers to educate the clients about things like this to set the record straight. Nicely written post Maggie…I hope that with time and proper education, more people will understand the value and effort we put into producing our images for the client. If they don’t, then honestly I wouldn’t want them as clients anyway. You get what you pay for, personally I wouldn’t risk that theory with my wedding photos – but if craigslist lady wants to – good luck to her!!

  • Kayla F - Nicely said Maggie! I have wanting to write something in rebuttal to this as well, but feel that I might say things that would come back to bite me…much like the craigslist lady. I am currently in the building my portfolio stage and do have lower prices than the average, but will be increasing them as soon as it is feasible. Sadly, it is people like this that make me hesitant about doing so, but there is no way to make a career out of photography and to grow without being financially able to do so. Lovely post!

  • Emily - I am NOT a wedding photographer but, being a small business owner (electrical contracting), I completely agree with you Maggie. People complain that we are overpriced also, however all of our electricians have to go through 5 years of training before they are considered an electrician. We’re not some “Joe Blow” off the street who decided they can to electrical work. There is so much overhead that most consumers don’t realize. Insurance, taxes, vehicle cost, cost of equipment, labor, and then we ARE a business, so we have to make some kind of profit. I also have just remodeled my bathrooms and I went with the cheapest company. BIG mistake! 7 months later, my basement bathroom still isn’t done! I completely agree that you get what you pay for. I would gladly spend any amount of money on a photographer for my wedding, because 20 years from now, the best memory I will have of my wedding day is through the photos and I don’t want to regret who I chose to take them each time I look at them. Believe me, there are other areas you can sacrifice, you don’t have to pay $15,000 for a wedding, but I wouldn’t sacrifice the photographer.

  • cheryl - I hired a cheap photographer for my wedding and the pictures are not great..this was 21 years ago and I regret it to this day. To add to it,I contacted him a year later to get some reprints and my negatives had been damaged and he had destroyed them. This was after a previous reprint where they all came out with a pink tone on them. I seriously thought about having my husband and I repose for wedding pictures several years later. Yes, photographers are expensive, but as I have explored a photography career, I understand so much better where the price is coming from. The artistic view, the time editing and the talent a photographer brings to the table all should be taken into consideration. I had a strict budget for my wedding, but wish I had found a way to bump it up a bit for photos. Live and learn…and yes, you get what you pay for!

  • Janinecoveney - Right on, Maggie.

  • Doug - Well said, Maggie. My daughter is a professional photographer, and a good one if I do say so myself. Before she decided to follow her dream and become a photographer, I was somewhat uneducated about what it takes to do what you do. After seeing the hours she puts in to make sure her clients get the very best for their money, I have a much greater respect for this art (and it is art), or for anyone who decides to start their own business, whatever the trade. The money is well earned, craigslist lady. Quit trying to skate through life expecting people to give you something for nothing. Why don’t you ask your Aunt Gladys to bring her Kodak pocket camera with her to your wedding, and see what you get.

  • Andrew Kilpatrick - Okay, let’s break this down a bit for Craigslist lady.
    I’m guessing she will want to pay $1,000 for photographing her wedding. She’ll want full day coverage which is oh say 11:00 am to 11 pm. 12 hours. She’ll want an album and some prints. Oh, and she’ll want the digital files since they don’t cost us anything except the blank DVD.
    So, $1,000 minus
    $100 for assistant #1
    $100 for assistant #2 or 2nd shooter
    $60 for State taxes
    $130 for federal taxes
    $500 for the wedding album
    $25 for gas.
    That leaves $85. With this $85 I get to work:
    12 hours at the event, plus
    2 hours the night before preparing all equipment for the wedding, I.E. gathering all materials, charging batteries for cameras and flashes, loading equipment, ect.
    2 hours in the morning getting ready
    1 hour to drive to the event
    1 hour to drive back home
    1 hour to unload and put away all equipment
    2 hours to download the digital files and back them up
    20 hours to edit 2,000 images, upload the images to the secure website and Facebook, design the wedding album, go over the design with the bride, fulfill any print orders, burn the DVD of images and run it out to the post office for mailing.
    That’s 41 hours for my decently priced, exceptional, talented and fun professional services. That means I get to make $2.07 an hour. With this $2.07 an hour I need to pay for my:
    $2,500 Canon 5D Mark II
    $1,800 Canon 7D
    $1,100 Canon 24-105 mm f/4 image stabilized lens
    $1,800 Canon 70-200 mm f/2.8 image stabilized lens
    $450 Sigma 15mm f/2.8 fish-eye lens
    $500 Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens
    $400 Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens
    $900 Elinchrom lights
    $1,200 for three 580EX II flashes
    $650 Photoshop CS5 editing software
    $100 a month for online hosting
    $2,000 Computer (computer has to be powerful enough to handle the thousands of large files) and 24″ professionally calibrated monitor
    $450 a month Minivan payment (gotta be able to transport all that equipment to the wedding)
    $300 a month for insurance
    I’m sure I’m forgetting something but that also doesn’t include paying my mortgage, utilities, food, clothes, health insurance…you know, the normal stuff.

    I like to tell people this. When you hire a professional lawyer, you aren’t getting any item. You are paying for their expertise, time and service…Being able to do something well that you can’t do yourself. They go to school for years to learn their craft as do the best professional photographers. What do lawyers charge, like $200 an hour? If you took that 41 hours that we normally put into a wedding and charged $200 an hour your bill would be $8,000. Most of us wouldn’t be at even half that price. Shooting a wedding is one of the most challenging jobs in the industry. There are no second chances, the lighting is often horrible in the churches and receptions and everything is a rush. One small mistake on your camera settings and you get blurry, improperly exposed images and there is no fixing it. You have to be perfect every time. You have to have back-ups to everything in case something fails. We often deal with people getting mad at us because we got in their way when they tried to take a picture. I actually had a guest post this comment on her facebook page; “Stupid photographer got in my way”. It’s a tough complicated and thankless job. I’ve personally been lucky in that just about all my Brides and Grooms have been very appreciative of my services and products.

    So no thanks cragislist lady. I’m sure Uncle Bob has a nice camera. Let him photograph your wedding.

  • Erin - Wedding pictures are forever. I think I’d pay a million dollars for the perfect image of the perfect moment. Pete has never stopped saying “I want pictures like Maggie takes”. Worth. Every. Penny.

  • Kimberly Chorney - Maggie you ROCK, people just don’t get it….

  • Dumb Blond no more - My sympathies for the lady on “Craig’s List”, she no doubt is having sticker shock to the costs of a wedding these days. I feel your pain; HOWEVER, the comments here from professionals here is so TRUE! It does take all the cost and time. I am a professional photographer, I do mostly stills for the books I write. Once in a while a friend will ask me to do them a favor. Photograph their wedding. I get a free meal, right? I get to be there and well, just take pictures all day. Stress over many details, AND DON’T HAVE TIME TO EAT, and then go home and spend another 24 hours editing, making a CD, whatever the agreement was. And,
    no mention of what I charge, heck, I’m a good friend, why should I charge. No gift either, or even a thank you note. They use the pictures on FB and make prints and don’t give me a photo credit either. So why do I do this? That’s a good question because most people don’t realize what they are getting. This lady on Craig’s list would not even appreciate the photos if they were FREE! NO KIDDING.

    Now, I charge. Now I watermark. If you don’t value yourself than no one else will.

    BURNED TOO MANY TIMES. No more freebies!

  • Tierney - I am laughing so hard. This is the best 🙂

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