I’m about to dish out some pretty difficult news.
Weddings are expensive as heck.
Now they don’t have to be! You can really throw together a backyard shindig, full of love and draped with happiness, and I promise that it will be just as magical as if you’d spent $100,000.
The Knot has the average cost of a wedding in America at right around $35,000, but that sounds like a pretty low estimate to me. In New York, you can expect to drop around $80,000, and often times more. And a big chunk of that is often times wedding photography. So I’m here to give you insider information and tell you why. Accompanied by some images from a winter elopement I shot in small-town, backwoods Ohio!
Before I dig into the why- I want to write a brief disclaimer.
First- I’m not complaining about weddings. If you’ve been following along for a while, you may know: I only do what I’m absolutely thrilled by. The day I start to dislike any aspect of wedding photography, I’ll stop. Instead, in this blog post, I’m just laying out some of the behind-the-scenes things that go on that might contribute to wedding vendors’ prices.
And secondly- I’m not telling you to go drop money you don’t have on a wedding. I’m not saying that more expensive weddings are more beautiful or more memorable or more important. That’s not what weddings are about, and that wouldn’t be a true statement anyway. What I will say is that you should do what you want to be surrounded by those who mean the world to you (which is sometimes just 2-5 people!), in a place that feels like home, with the one who matters the most. You can accomplish this in a courthouse or in the most extravagant ballroom. At my wedding, we ate shrimp & grits above a bar where I got drunk on $2 tequila sunrises in college… and it was the most perfect setting because it was exactly what I wanted, surrounded by exactly who I wanted.
So all that being said- this is a fairly straightforward post. Weddings are expensive because…. well… they take a lot of work! And if you value other people and their time, this is not a difficult concept to grasp. Wedding days might last only 8-12 hours, but the preparation and post-production are so much more than that! I shouldn’t need to elaborate anymore because you should just trust me that my time is valuable, but just to drive it home, I’ll walk you through the wedding process, from the photographer’s point of view.
I think there’s a common trope that if you tack on the word “wedding,” people just jack up their prices, but that’s simply not true. In fact, I start working months and sometimes years before the wedding day, so the idea that it’s just one day of work is a little bogus. Here’s how it goes: you, the couple, see my work online and reach out. Communications start, which I know may seem like not a big deal, but now amplify that by 10, 20, maybe even 50 inquiries at any given time (lol I don’t have 50 inquiries but some people do hehehe). I’m constantly emailing or texting with at least one couple. It takes a lot of time and back and forth to go through everything with each couple, and it costs a lot of money to afford services that help manage and streamline everything for you. In most cases, it takes both time + money. I’ve got my pipeline incredibly streamlined, but I still care so deeply about every single one of my couples and want their experience to be a personal one, which means I’m a part of each decision they make. This is time-intensive, and it’s only the communication leading up to the big day.
Now let’s fast-forward to the wedding day (don’t you wish you could just skip all this planning and get married already!?) (hi, may I suggest a fun elopement? More on that in a later blog post!).
By now, I’ve put in several full weeks of work to make sure that we’re already good friends before the wedding festivities even begin. You don’t want some random stranger or somebody who doesn’t know your specific timeline, favorite people, and unique details to be photographing your wedding, so all of this preparation is really, really important! And all of it takes time, and time is money.
Let’s tack on eight hours of work for that wedding day. Then let’s tack on an extra 20 hours of editing time for all those photos.
And don’t forget about overhead or cost of doing business! I didn’t really go into everything, but it’s so much more than just an expensive camera or lens. I just spent $300 on memory cards and lens caps alone. I use industry standard software and equipment that costs money to maintain, even though we sometimes think of it as a “one time $1000 camera purchase,” which is well below the actual cost of a camera anyway! At the very bare minimum, your wedding photographer deserves to cover the cost of shooting your wedding, and if we believe in ethics at all, then we also have to believe that their time is worth it, too.
At the end of the day, I just want to make a living doing what I love just like everybody else. You can pay for an $80k wedding and hire a $500 photographer, and your wedding will look like a $500 wedding. Or you can have a $5000 wedding, hire a $4000 photographer, and your wedding will look like an $80k wedding. It’s all about what you find value in on your wedding day!