Wedding Photography: Investment not Expense! [San Francisco, Monterey, San Luis Obispo Photography]

Probably as most wedding photographers, I struggle with balancing the cost of my services with the value they provide. It's important to me to stay busy and make a profit without working myself to death. One of my principle goals as a wedding photographer has always been to provide a quality service at a fair and affordable price. I firmly believe that all couples should be able have a skilled and professional photographer at their wedding. Still people often wonder why wedding photography is so "expensive" and how one photographer can cost so much more than another.

Let's start at the beginning, getting a bride to call or email me. On average a photographer can spend up to 25% of their revenue on marketing and advertising. Bridal Fair, good online listing and print ads are not cheap. As a photographer with a strong marketing background I have spent the last 3 years optimizing my marketing programs but not all photographer have the background I have. Even with this said, when you call or email me I've still already spent a decent chunk of your fee just to get you to contact me.

The bulk of my wedding day work occurs between the ceremony and formals. This is the most stressful part of my job both during and after the wedding. Couples often want to squeeze a very large list of portraits into a small timeframe. They want get to the reception and also to save time (aka money.) I often have to work very quickly and be extremely precise to stay on schedule. Also I don't know if you've ever wrangled 30 people but it can be very difficult to keep everyone focused, on point and looking at the camera usually leading to more editing work in the following days. Realistically if I had to weigh the cost of a wedding by its parts I'd say ceremony =25%, formal portraits =50% and the pre-ceremony and reception combined =25%. Of course I can't really price a wedding this way, mostly because it is confusing. This is why most photographers have packages with a minimum. I have a 6 hour minimum on my wedding packages. Anything less than that makes the day too rushed.

I always work with a trained and experienced 2nd photographer, who is paid. (How do you think I get such lovely shots of me working?) Not only is it good to have a second point of view but I can't be in two places at once. Ultimately this policy saves you money. If I didn't include this on every wedding you would have to hire me for additional time to cover the day. I also consider this a good insurance policy because if I miss a shot my 2nd almost always got it. It's just not realistic to assume that I can capture every single moment at a wedding. If Aunt Betty is doing something funny while we are out taking sunset portraits, my other photographer is most likely going to catch it.

There is a misconception that once the wedding is over my job is done. Not only do I spend a decent amount of my week doing marketing but I spend at least 3 hour editing for every hour that I shoot on the wedding day. If you are having an indoor ceremony its more like 4 hours because I will have a third camera. The third camera allows us to cover the ceremony from multiple points with minimal movement, so we don't disturb the guests.

Considering there are only 52 weeks per year, I only have that many potential Saturdays and a few Fridays & Sundays to make income. December through March is considered the planning season so not a lot of weddings take place during this time. On average I do about 2 weddings per month. So my hourly rate, minus expenses, spread out over a regular 40 hour/52 week salary really isn't as glamorous as it might seem on your contract.

The digital age has changed the way many people think about photography. It has also change the way they want to receive their images. Photographers used to charge a fee for the wedding day coverage but also retain the negatives and print rights for their images. All of my client receive a print quality DVD of the images. Many of them opt to print their own images and make their own albums. If I didn't include this I just wouldn't sell weddings. Unfortunately the quality of prints from a professional lab is far superior to the prints that your desktop HP or local Rite Aid can provide. Also this takes a whole revenue stream out of play that used to be available to photographer, forcing us to increase the cost of our base service to balance.

You might be thinking, "Yes but you no longer have to pay for film and development." It can be argued that digital images are higher quality than film, so is it expected to receive a better and more convenient product at a lower price? Professional equipment is very expensive and technology is fast moving. In addition to a nice collection of lenses, I have a very advanced digital camera that allows me to shoot with minimal flash in low lighting. This allows me to better capture the ambiance of your indoor wedding and reception. However, it was a pricey investment that will likely be outdated in a year or two. I just met with a bride from several years ago to take her digitized copies of her film images. She said she really wished that her wedding had been shot in digital because film is such a pain and the quality isn't as nice.

"Why are portraits so much less?" Portrait sessions are priced differently because they are a totally different type of work. I am the only photographer so I don't have twice as many images to edit. I only have a few people to direct, photograph and edit blinks etc. The lighting conditions are usually similar over large groups of images, so I can apply changes to groups of photos as opposed to editing each image individually. Also portraits aren't my primary focus so I don't spend much on advertising. I consider engagement session to be an add-on to the wedding package, not a separate sale.

It's important to think of your wedding photography as an investment. Your memories are very valuable and these images should last several generations. Choose a professional photographer and leave hiring and training the students to us. You don't want to be the one training someone to be a wedding photographer on your wedding day. If you are thinking about it see Marisa and Mateo's Story.

I always say there are three P's to choosing a photographer: Photography, Personality, and Price. Obviously you want to like the photographic style but there are usually a few photographers in a local area with competing styles. Once you've found a style you like Personality and Price usually make the final decision. Your photographer is going to follow you around all day on one of the biggest days of your life. Make sure you like them! Also its common sense, "if I can get the same thing for less than why not." Just don't devalue the service you are receiving. Each photographer has their own specific values and formula to make their business work. A photographer that charges more can do less weddings, thereby offering more service to each couple. The service a professional will provide is worth the investment.

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