Why wedding photography cost so much?

The cost of wedding photography

Pretty much every wedding magazine or blog will tell you do not skip on wedding photographer.  There will be multiple helpful tips given on what items to save on (see example if you are interested here), but wedding photography rarely would be one of them for the obvious reasons. However, there is no secret that couples experience a sticker shock once they start inquiring about wedding photography prices.
There are numerous articles that have been written on that topic.  Some of them became viral (“Why wedding photography prices wack”), others were written locally (in Pittsburgh) and are pretty good as well.  I wanted to share my own perspective on this hot topic.

1.  Skill level

Just like in any industry, there are different levels of skill for every job – in the photo industry  wedding photography, I believe requires superior level of skills and massive experience.  When I teach my students who want to start their business in the wedding photography world, I always say “do not take any wedding bookings or try to get into the market, unless you nailed every single session for at least a year of full time shooting and under different lighting conditions”.  First thing I see my students excel at is the studio sessions, where lighting conditions are not changing, space and colors are the same as well. Second is outdoor sessions on sunset/sunrise.  However, there is a huge gap between a skill level required to nail a photo shoot with ideal lighting in the place that was chosen for the shoot vs. shooting a wedding.  Below are the reasons why:
 a) Lighting
As many of you know – photography is all about the lighting.  Lighting could make or break an image.  Majority of the wedding day is shot with not-ideal or difficult light.  In fact, only a small portion of the day (if you are lucky) could be shot during the sunset.  Most of Pittsburgh reception venues are inside and by the time you have your ideal golden hour  (8.20 pm for summer weddings), newlyweds are having dinner and already done with the photos.
A good photographer should be able to work with any lighting condition: soft or harsh, in the dark churches and dark reception halls with mixed lighting…  Here, in Pittsburgh, we rarely have outside ceremonies and reception with beautiful sunsets overlooking the mountains.  We have beautiful catholic churches, hotels and ballrooms, but in most cases they are pretty dark.  Being able to handle difficult lighting and still get amazing images is an exception skill.
b) Space constraints
 In Pittsburgh (and a lot of other cities on the East coast) the most common scenario for bride/groom preparation is either a hotel room (filled with all the bridesmaids, flower girls, mothers of bride and groom and hair and make-up people working their magic) or someone else’s house (add typical household items in addition to all the people getting ready).  Even if the room is lit perfectly (almost never the case) – small overcrowded space is a nightmare for a photographer who doesn’t specialize in weddings.
Many Pittsburgh venues have their ceremony, cocktail hour and reception at the same place, because of that you are often forced to take family images on the street or a parking lot.  Same with the bride and groom photos: you definitely don’t often have beautiful spots to take photos during the wedding as you do during the portrait session.  That’s not an issue for the skillful, experienced wedding photographer.  They know how to take beautiful photographs pretty much anywhere, but it would be a very challenging scenario for a photographer with lower skill level.
c) Time
This is self-explanatory: there are no mistakes on a wedding day.  For a bride, a shot with her mother-in-law would be as important as a shot with her best friend and with her favorite aunt and you only going to get a few minutes to nail EVERY SINGLE ONE of them.
d) Stress level and ability to relax people
Couple should look totally relaxed in their wedding photos, there are no doubts about it.  Even if the nerves are going through the roof, someone’s forgot something important, things are running late with hair/make-up … No matter what – it’s a photographer’s job to make photos look natural and effortless.  That alone requires enormous amount of skill.

2. Risk.

Wedding photography carries a different level of risk and the cost associated with it.  If things go terribly wrong during any other sessions – you have an opportunity to redo (family, newborn, senior photos, commercial/product photography).  It would be difficult to arrange, but it’s possible.  You can’t redo a wedding.  I was shooting non-stop throughout two of my pregnancies and having a terrible morning sickness and other symptoms couldn’t stop me (or any other professional wedding photographer) to perform any less during the wedding day.

3. Equipment, insurance and other fixed costS.

Powerful cameras with 2 card spots, an equivalent back-up for that camera as well as the back-up for lighting and lenses together with various business insurances comes at the cost.  I was a newbie once, and even though I had equipment to shoot weddings – I certainly wasn’t in the financial position to have the appropriate back-up a wedding photographer needs. Nothing happened (Thank God) but as soon as I got my first paychecks from my first weddings – I started upgrading my cameras on full frame duel-memory cards as well as buying back-ups for my other equipment.
It’s normal for newbies or non-wedding photographers not to have back-up equipment, but  I always recommend to my students to invest in back-up equipment as soon as they can and raise the prices to get that cost back.  Newlywed will be thankful if something goes wrong that they paid extra for that level of security.

4. “Invisible work”

– You found your wedding photographer somehow, right?  Whether it’s through Google, social media, wedding blogs, wedding magazines, bridal shows… all of that marketing not only requires photographer’s time, but in most cases significant finances.  A typical wedding photographer spends anywhere from $5,000-10,000 annually on marketing.
– A wedding photographer is not only a photographer, but also a business owner.   Most wedding photographers spend more time on working on their business than on shooting/editing because that’s what it takes to run a business.  Also, most established wedding photographers also hire other business professionals: lawyers, web designers, accountants, business assistance, logo designers, editors…

5. Education.

Wedding photography is a very dynamic field, the standards are always changing.  A good wedding photography workshop comes at the price ($2,000-$6,000 + flight/hotel ).
There are other factors that contribute into a wedding photography cost as well.  I hope I was able to clear the main facts.

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